Ethan’s Farewell Talk
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to thank my mother, grandmothers, and surrogate mothers this Mother’s Day for shaping me into the missionary I am about to be. You have contributed greatly to my own personal growth and, by extension, the growth of the lives I will have the opportunity to touch. I love you and I owe much of who I am today to each of you. Your examples and teachings are invaluable to young adults like myself who look up to you.
My favorite talk from general conference was Elder Donald L. Hallstrom’s “I Am a Child of God.” I could quote his entire talk and walk off this pulpit entirely pleased with what I had done because this talk is seriously amazing; however, I’m sure that you want to hear what I have to say as well since you won’t be seeing me here for a couple years. Elder Hallstrom opened by saying:
“Our most fundamental doctrine includes the knowledge that we are children of a living God… This doctrine is so basic, so oft stated, and so instinctively simple that it can seem to be ordinary, when in reality it is among the most extraordinary knowledge we can obtain.”
This rings true to my mind and heart every time I hear or read it. I AM a child of God. And so are each of you. With this status comes a host of responsibilities and blessings available to us if we realize our divine beginnings. One of these blessings is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” captures the Savior’s love and Atonement for us in a perfectly plain manner. I will read verses 1, 6, and 7.
- A poor, wayfaring Man of grief Hath often crossed me on my way, Who sued so humbly for relief That I could never answer nay. I had not pow’r to ask his name, Whereto he went, or whence he came; Yet there was something in his eye That won my love; I knew not why.
- In pris’n I saw him next, condemned To meet a traitor’s doom at morn. The tide of lying tongues I stemmed, And honored him ‘mid shame and scorn. My friendship’s utmost zeal to try, He asked if I for him would die. The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill, But my free spirit cried, “I will!”
- Then in a moment to my view The stranger started from disguise. The tokens in his hands I knew; The Savior stood before mine eyes. He spake, and my poor name he named, “Of me thou hast not been ashamed. These deeds shall thy memorial be; Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”
How amazing is the Atonement? It is a perfect sacrifice. Done for each of us individually and all of us collectively. Accomplished through an infinite and perfect love with only our imperfect love and obedience asked for in return. Our dedication to Him is all He wants, which is precisely the way to our exaltation. All that our allies in heaven want for us is to be happy, and that happiness in accomplished through living God’s commandments. Trials sometimes get in the way of our happiness and obedience, however, so on this topic, Elder Hallstrom questioned:
“When difficult things occur in our lives, what is our immediate response? Is it confusion or doubt or spiritual withdrawal? Is it a blow to our faith? Do we blame God or others for our circumstances? Or is our first response to remember who we are—that we are children of a loving God? Is that coupled with an absolute trust that He allows some earthly suffering because He knows it will bless us, like a refiner’s fire, to become like Him and to gain our eternal inheritance?”
So, what do we do when we are confronted with hardship? I hope that we can learn from the Savior and press on by the power of our love for and trust in Him. If that love and trust is not powerful enough to propel us past challenges, we must make changes in our lives to get to that point. He has given us everything that we have. We have literally everything we “own” to thank Him for. That includes our time. He needs us to be His hands on this Earth. Our spiritual brothers and sisters need us because He is not on the earth at this time. That is why I have chosen to serve a mission.
That is the responsibility of this mortal life of ours. To dedicate our time and talents to the perfecting of ourselves and to give our fellow men the same opportunities. This is an incredibly daunting task to accomplish alone, and luckily, we don’t have to. Jesus Christ has bridged the gap between perfection and imperfection. We have access to the greatest shortcut in the history of the universe. The Atonement is not just something we realize was performed by Jesus Christ. It is something spiritually tangible and accessible that each of us can and must utilize if we are to become perfected.
In Believing Christ, Stephen E. Robinson stated:
“Every human being, with the exception of Jesus Christ alone, has failed to keep all the commandments all the time. We may fail by differing degrees, but we all fail. That is why we all need help, why we all need a Savior, and why needing help and needing a Savior are no disgrace.”
I’m going to shift gears a little bit and talk about my family. Over the past few weeks back home, I’ve had the opportunity to see my brothers and parents do some amazing things. Alex got his Eagle scout award last night, something I am excited to see the other two accomplish. He has worked very hard to achieve that prestigious rank and I am so proud of him for putting in the time, effort, and knowledge required. Caleb performed in Del Webb’s Chamber Orchestra yesterday and did extremely well. That performance sounded more like a professional orchestra than it did a middle school orchestra. He is a truly talented and driven young man who is now taller than me. Hopefully he will stop growing soon, otherwise I’ll be coming home to a giant who can finally beat me in a wrestling match. Dexter is one of the most athletic kids I have ever seen. He is in the middle of two sports, soccer and football, and is a star player in both of them. He is quite a caring and loving boy. He impresses me daily with his depth of character and desire to learn of the gospel. Something I am very humbled about is the fact that Alex forewent participating in Zion’s Youth Symphony and Chorus (http://zionsyouth.org/) just to be available this weekend for family and especially for me. That brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart to know that my brother loves me enough to skip out on a life-changing experience performing Lamb of God in the Smith Center. It has astounded me to see the changes they have gone through just since I left for college in August. They have all matured and grown (physically and emotionally) despite my very poor example to follow. My parents have become more of my friends and mentors than the nagging, obnoxious, do-what-I-tell you kind of people my naïve and angsty teenage self often saw them as. They are a wonderful, compassionate, covenant-keeping people who are just as flawed as me, albeit with much more life experience in dealing with their flaws. I have learned a lot from them and I’m sure they have much more to teach me through their example and love. I love my brothers and my parents will all my heart. I am sad to leave them, and they are sad to see me go, but I know that we will be happy with the person they read about in their letters. They can pat themselves on the back for doing a good enough job on me that I am serving the Lord for two years. Imagine how proud of each of us Heavenly Father is when we serve him, with his perfect and unconditional love that goes far beyond any kind of love we have here on Earth. I know my parents, earthly and heavenly, are proud of me and love me. Of this love, Christ said in Isaiah 43: “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior…Since thou was precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee…”
We are the direct and lineal offspring of a deity who loves us so much that it is his work and glory to help us become like him. We are not alone at all in this mortal fight. How comforting is it to know that you have a real Father in Heaven, the most powerful being in the universe, the creator of everything, who is on your side? He is not a passive being who merely observes our lives and judges us according to our failed works here on earth. He does more than weep for our iniquity and rejoice in our righteousness. He actively participates in our happiness!
He answers prayers, I know this. I was in a dark place in the beginning of my first semester of college. Wait, this is BYU, how could I not be happy? Well, it happened. I was struggling with my testimony and my schoolwork simultaneously. I no longer felt the love that I was used to feeling from my God. It was not pretty. After a long time of not getting on my knees, I decided to try it again. I prayed that I would feel comfort again, somehow, some way. My prayer wasn’t answered until the following Monday when I got an email from my good friend Jerry who is serving a mission in Raleigh, North Carolina. I get super excited whenever I get his emails because he’s such a great guy. He said that he had been praying for me because he felt like I needed that. When I read that, I looked back on my week and counted the number of times God showed his love for me. I realized that God hadn’t withheld His love, I had just stopped looking for it. This reconfirmed my testimony that God never abandons us. He is always there with an outstretched hand, waiting for us to grab on and let him pull us up to Him. It is up to us to grab on.
Concluding his talk, Elder Hallstrom shared a story about the people of Liberia. In a church meeting, Elder Bednar spoke to the congregation. They knew hymns and scripture by heart in a way that I think most of us would be hard pressed to do. Mentioning how the congregation sang the last verse of “How Firm a Foundation,” Elder Hallstrom said the following:
“In one of the most remarkable spiritual events of my life, I was taught a profound lesson that day. We live in a world that can cause us to forget who we really are. The more distractions that surround us, the easier it is to treat casually, then ignore, and then forget our connection with God. The Saints in Liberia have little materially, and yet they seem to have everything spiritually. What we witnessed that day in Monrovia was a group of sons and daughters of God who knew it!”
The people of Sierra Leone are exactly the same way, so far as I have heard from missionaries, returned and current, who served there. They have very few earthly possessions, but their spiritual wealth is beyond anything I can comprehend. I love those people and I haven’t even met them yet. I only expect this love to grow as I serve them and teach them what I know to be true: that Jesus is the Christ, that he redeemed mankind from the Fall of Adam, and that he created this world and the innumerable volume of worlds inhabited by God’s children, of which we are a part. I love my God and my Savior and I love all of you.