President C. Shane Reese and Sister Wendy Reese welcomed students back to campus with the first devotional of the fall 2023 semester on Tuesday at the BYU Marriott Center.
Sister Reese spoke of how to find comfort in Christ, even amid chaos and confusion. President Reese focused his thoughts on the guiding hand of the Lord, who, rather than letting randomness take over, leads our lives by divine design.
“My [freshman year] classes were a lot harder than I was expecting. It felt like I had to study harder and longer than everyone around me,” Sister Reese recalled. “I struggled to juggle my student job with my studies. Learning to live with roommates was very different than living at home. It’s fair to say that my first few weeks were not comfortable in several dimensions.”
Being comfortable is different from feeling comfort, said Sister Reese. The Savior has given us the gift of the Holy Ghost, which can bring a sense of comfort and peace into our lives that will help us overcome and endure life’s challenges.
“To find comfort that is long-lasting, we can turn to Christ — he will comfort our souls in ways that no one else can.”
Finding comfort in prayer
Turning to the Lord in prayer can be an immediate source of comfort to us, Sister Reese taught. Through her own personal experience, she knows that prayers can be a source of peace and comfort in whatever you are going through.
“As we pray and counsel with the Lord daily, our relationship with Him will be strengthened. We will feel His love, and He will guide and direct our paths.”
Finding comfort in service
While it may seem counterintuitive, Sister Reese shared that focusing on the second great commandment of “loving [our] neighbor as [ourselves],” is another way we can find comfort in Christ.
“As you go throughout this semester, think of someone you could serve. Be aware of those around you who may be struggling. It doesn’t have to be something big, but look for a way to serve that would be meaningful to them. Serving others will draw you closer to the Savior.”
Finding comfort in the temple
Reminding students that the close proximity of so many temples to BYU is no coincidence, Sister Reese invited all to make attending the temple a priority.
“I hope you will take time to visit the temple regularly during the semester. It will help you find answers to your prayers, learn more about the Savior and strengthen your testimony of Him.”
“Our lives are not disconnected from one another,” President Reese said. “They are intertwined in intricate ways. Just like a social network that forms as people make connections to others, the sequence of relationships that link you to others is a finite set.”
While connections to others may seem random at first glance, President Reese assured the audience that they are not.
Quoting Elder Neal A. Maxwell, President Reese added his testimony that, “none of us ever fully utilizes the people-opportunities allocated to us within our circles of friendship. You and I may call these intersections ‘coincidence.’ This word is understandable for mortals to use, but coincidence is not an appropriate word to describe the workings of an omniscient God. He does not do things by ‘coincidence’ but … by ‘divine design.'”
While God does not undermine His children's agency, He does love them, so He directs their paths to places where they can serve, to people whom they can love and to situations that can bless them, said President Reese.
“God is, indeed, intimately involved with the details of our lives because His love for us is infinite, eternal and complete.”
Coincidence vs. design
President Reese taught that “God’s hand is often manifest in our lives through His timing of the events in our lives.”
Often, individuals have great desires and try to make things happen on their own time. President Reese explained that this is ineffective and that part of submitting our will to the Lord’s plan is allowing for His timing.
“Most of the things that happen at uncanny times, the things we might call “coincidences,” can more accurately be attributed to the Lord’s will and the Lord’s timing.”
While this often requires patience and deeper discipleship, President Reese promises that the outcome of trusting in God’s greater divine design is well worth the wait.
People by divine design
Expressing his concern over what many have called the “epidemic of loneliness” among college students, President Reese asked those in attendance to “help alleviate the feelings of isolation and loneliness through dedicated ministering — both in formal assignments and any other time you feel you should do something kind for someone else.”
“Look up. Both upwards to God and up from your phone. Note that many on this campus are feeling a sense of loneliness. Some merely need a smile from you and from me. We can only see that need as we look up!”
While it can be tempting to worry about whether someone ministers simply out of obedience, President Reese believes this is a mindset worth avoiding. Rather, we should understand that the Lord puts people in our lives for very specific reasons.
“Whether you were cared for out of pure love or a noble sense of duty, it is a sign that God is in the details of your lives. He knows and cares for you. These experiences are a manifestation of His personal care and concern for you. They are not a mere coincidence.”
Places by divine design
“We hope that you will make your time at BYU a time of intensive learning, both on campus, on the temple grounds and in the temple. We will find more than mere coincidence, more meaningful experiences as we draw closer to the temple with our feet and our hearts.”
Along with the sacred experiences found within a temple, President Reese testified that the students attending BYU currently are not here by accident, but rather, they belong here and are prepared for all the opportunities and changes that are occurring.
An example of one of these changes is the new principle-based dress and grooming expectations, which has been approved by the First Presidency, including President Russell M. Nelson. President Reese said that it is clear that the “changes to the dress and grooming on campus represent an elevated approach, not a reduced standard.”
Inviting campus to join him in embracing the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and elevating our lives in a holier way, President Reese bore his testimony of the unity that will come to BYU as we do so.
“This will require effort from each of us. We will need to speak with civility and listen with soft hearts. I invite everyone on campus, employees and students alike, to be part of these conversations and to make adjustments, as needed.”