President Kevin J Worthen and Sister Peggy S. Worthen welcomed students back to campus with the first Devotional of the semester. They spoke about building character and finding joy.
Sister Worthen shared a Chinese folktale about a boy who had a gift of growing beautiful things. Anything he planted flourished.
The emperor announced that he was going to have a competition: the boy who could grow the most beautiful plant from the provided seed in the set amount of time would become the next emperor.
The boy was elated; this was his opportunity to shine! Soon enough, though, he became discouraged when his seed refused to grow. His peers all had thriving plants and his refused to grow.
When the time came, he presented his pot of soil to the emperor, embarrassed that his plant had not grown at all while his peers had thrived.
The emperor, however, declared that he had won the contest! All of the seeds had been cooked, and none should have grown. The other boys hadn’t been honest, and the boy with the gift of growing beautiful things had won.
Sister Worthen made the connection that often the most important purpose of the many tests students face each semester has less to do with the subject matter than with the skills and character they are developing.
“The real purpose of your education is to help you become more like your Heavenly Parents, just as the real purpose of the emperor’s contest was to test the honesty and courage of his possible heirs,” Sister Worthen said.
President Worthen then spoke of finding joy, even among the challenges and stress that a new semester can bring.
In the October 2016 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson shared an address entitled “ Joy and Spiritual Survival .” The talk has been referenced by multiple apostles since then, prompting President Worthen to revisit President Nelson’s words.
President Nelson called joy “a principle that is key to our spiritual survival.”
“When we experience opposition, anxiety, heartache, pain, disappointment and sorrow – something all of us are likely to face in this coming year – how are we to survive?” President Worthen asked.
The answer – tapping into the power of joy.
President Worthen challenged students, faculty and staff to focus more on joy, seek to understand it better and come to view it as a principle of power rather than a mental or emotional feeling of comfort.
He described joy in six different ways:
1. Joy is not dependent on external conditions.
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives,” President Nelson said. “When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation … and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening – or not happening – in our lives.”
President Worthen said this quote from President Nelson is so often shared because it goes against the beliefs of the rest of the world. This, when taken literally, can bring joy even in the worst of circumstances.
2. Joy does not mean uninterrupted bliss and a life free of challenges.
“Suffering and adversity are part of the eternal plan, a part of the process by which we come to develop eternal joy,” President Worthen said. “Joy helps us transcend temporary trials; it does not eliminate them from our lives.”
We can have hope and strength when we remember that our trials don’t last forever and that joy can be constant, even through our trials.
3. Joy comes only through keeping God’s commandments.
The commandments are the guidelines for experiencing joy.
“It is only when we live in accordance with celestial law that we are able to experience celestial joy,” President Worthen said.
One of these commandments is to love our neighbors and demonstrate that love through service. Focusing on the well-being of others increases our joy.
4. Repentance is a critical part of experiencing joy.
“Many in the world, and too many in the Church, view repentance as an unpleasant, even dreaded process, confusing the consequences of failing to repent with repentance itself,” President Worthen said.
The opposite should be true. Repentance is a divine gift, and though it is not easy, if we repent, our ability to feel joy will grow.
5. Joy is a principle of power.
“Joy is not just a reward for a lifetime effort to follow God’s commandments and repent when we fail,” he said. “Joy can increase our ability to stay on the covenant path that leads to enduring joy, to do things we might not otherwise be able to accomplish.”
We can bring God’s power into our lives by focusing on joy.
6. Joy is possible because of Jesus Christ.
When the focus of our lives is on Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy. Joy comes because of Christ and His Atonement; Jesus Christ is the source of our joy.
“Christ is not only the author and finisher of our faith,” President Worthen said. “He is, in one sense, the author and finisher of our joy. We begin to have joy when we focus on Christ. We can then bring the power of Christ into our lives by focusing on joy.”
Next Devotional: Elder Michael T. Ringwood
Elder Michael T. Ringwood, General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will deliver the Devotional address on Tuesday, January 14 at 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center.
His remarks will also be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org, KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM and BYUradio.