P.S. What is your dream? Eternal Roles and Responsibilities


Wheelwright DevotionalDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

October 19, 2010
President Steven C. Wheelwright and Daughter Melinda Brown

Steven C. Wheelwright: Good morning and Aloha! It's wonderful to be with each of you today and to have members of our family here with us. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to share this devotional with my daughter, Mindy. Given the topic of today's devotional, we thought it might be useful to have the benefit of two perspectives, male and female, older and younger.

My eleven-year-old granddaughter, Candace, who you just met, enjoys writing to pen pals. She recently gave her mother a letter to be mailed, who gave it a supervisory glance before affixing the needed stamp and sending it on its way. The short, handwritten note contained just a few, succinct details, specifically the proper spelling of the sender's name (that's Candace with an -ace, not -is), her current favorite books, and the fact that her big sister would be leaving for college again in a few weeks. The crucial information relayed, it was signed simply, "Your Friend, Candace." But then, this thought-provoking postscript was added: [slide 1] "p.s. What is your dream?"

Melinda Wheelwright Brown: My heart was moved by the sweet sincerity of Candace's question; with a smile, I wondered how both reader and sender would answer it. I knew how I would answer this soul-searching query. Hopefully each of you have seen devotional posters around campus and taken a moment to consider your response, as well. What is your dream? I suspect that the vast majority of us would answer similarly, that our dream is to have a happy family.

SCW: That's a fair assumption, according to recent research. A 2002 study of single adults enrolled at BYU-Provo asked what mattered most to these students. The results document that 90% of women and 85% of men assigned the highest ranking to "marrying in the temple" and "having children." You might be surprised that even in these turbulent times, a nationwide study of high school seniors conducted in 2007 found very similar results to the same question: 82% of young women and 70% of young men assigned the highest ranking in that survey to "having a good marriage and family life."

MWB: The restored gospel of Jesus Christ teaches very clearly that the dream of a happy family is a righteous one. In fact, it is much more than just a dream: It is the very reason we are here on Earth. As Sister Julie Beck, Relief Society General President, summarized: [slide 2]

We have a theology of the family:
The Creation of the earth was the creation of an earth where a family could live.
The Fall provided a way for the family to grow.
The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally.
The plan of happiness was a plan created for families. Without the family, there is no plan; there is no reason for it.

SCW: The Family: A Proclamation to the World powerfully supports the righteous dream of a happy family. Highlighting just a few important phrases from The Proclamation, [slide 3] we see that:

Marriage is ordained of God and essential to His eternal plan.
The family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.
The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave.

I think it is clear from both the Proclamation and Sister Beck's inspired comments that these ideals are long term, they are eternal, and therefore worth whatever is required of us to achieve them! Life is really all about family, that's why we share the same ultimate dream, the dream of a happy family.

MWB: Inseparably intertwined in a happy family are two critical components: a good marriage and good parenting. Sister Beck referred to these two elements as "eternal roles and responsibilities" and the Proclamation declares that these responsibilities are both solemn and sacred.

Unfortunately, the world tells us otherwise. The adversary tries to convince us that family is not really important, and he is having an uncomfortable degree of success. An ongoing research project called The State of Our Unions offers solid proof of this. For the past ten years, they have carefully collected data to track social changes in America with regards to marriage and family, and what they've found is far from encouraging. [slide 4] According to their studies:

Marriage rates are declining.
The average age of marriage is rising.
The number of births out of wedlock is increasing.
Married women are having fewer children.

SCW: The attitudes behind these numbers are concerning. The world's priorities are changing: Adults are placing career, success, and wealth ahead of family; governments are instituting anti-family public policies; and media flood the airwaves and internet with selfish, hedonistic messages. Referring to these anti-family trends, Sister Beck has noted that if it's anti-family, it's anti-Christ. Since marriage and family are central to the Savior's plan, anyone or anything that works to destroy these undermines His plan and is "anti-Christ."

MWB: With all these negative influences pushing in on us, fighting for our attention and distracting us from our eternal goals, how can we hold firmly to our righteous dreams of forming happy families? If you are like me, as a child I was pretty sure having a happy family would be easy. I grew up singing the classic Primary song "We are a Happy Family." You all probably know it: [slide 5]

"I love mother, she loves me,
We love father, yes sir-ee,
He loves us, and so you see,
We are a happy family!"

My misconception about the simple ease of family life actually continued until I reached college. I have a very clear memory of sitting in an economics class during my sophomore year at BYU-Provo. There was a young woman who sat a few seats ahead of me, and I had noticed that she wore a wedding ring. Imagine my confusion one day when she came in looking sad! "She's married!" I thought. "What could she possibly be sad about?!" Twelve months later, I was married, and though I was very happily married, I was quickly learning how naive I had been! I'd been a bit like the daughter who, when she announced she was getting married, added, "Now I'm at the end of all my troubles!" Her wise mother quickly responded, "Yes, Dear, but which end?"

SCW: Marriage and family life are wonderful but they are not easy! So how do we choose to proceed? The world's approach seems to be to wait: "Wait until you're done with school," "Wait until you have more money," "Wait until you have an established career." The Lord's solution is different. The Lord's way is to prepare: Prepare to be married, prepare to be a parent, prepare to have a happy family. The Lord Himself has told us, "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear," and this applies to marriage as well as many other aspects of life. Regardless of when these opportunities present themselves, preparing for the ideal is the secret to success. Elder Richard G. Scott said, [slide 6]

"Throughout your life on earth, seek diligently to fulfill the fundamental purposes of this life through the ideal family. While you may not have yet reached that ideal, do all you can through obedience and faith in the Lord to consistently draw as close to it as you are able. Let nothing dissuade you from that objective."

Sister Beck adds this very wise counsel: [slide 7]

"Live . . . so that you're brilliant in the basics, so that you're intentional about your roles and responsibilities in the family."

MWB: So what are The Basics that we should be intentionally learning in order to be prepared to create a happy family? We have prayerfully contemplated and studied that question and have distilled our thoughts down to a simple diagram comprised of seven principles and practices that will help each of us achieve our dream of forming a happy family. [slide 8, part1]

SCW: The first three principles, or characteristics, if you will, are commitment, sacrifice, and selflessness [part 2]. These are undoubtedly concepts you are familiar with but let's look at them through the lens of the eternal roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

The formal definition of commitment is "the act of pledging or engaging oneself." The two most important words there are act and oneself because being committed requires action, and that action must be completely personal. No one can force you to be committed to your spouse or family.

MWB: In our home, we have a saying we often use that reminds us that personal action and follow-through is required to achieve any goal. We say, "Make it happen, Cap'n!" Our eight-year-old Rachel might lament, "I wish I could play tennis as well as Dad!" And we reply, "Make it happen, Cap'n!" Or our teenage son might nervously say, "I sure hope I get an 'A' on Friday's physics test!" Again, we say, "Make it happen, Cap'n!" I occasionally get some eye rolling when I say this, but it reinforces an important truth: If you want to accomplish something, it will require your personal commitment.

The poet William Ernest Henley captured this idea a bit more eloquently than my phrase does in his poem Invictus. He penned:

"I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."

SCW: It has been said that [slide 9] "commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision, and gives us the 'right stuff' to turn our dreams into reality." Pursuing your dream of a happy family will require that kind of vision and that kind of persistence because I can promise you there will be hard days in your marriage and in your child-rearing. When the going gets tough, the committed get tougher. Right now, learn to be committed by living the Honor Code completely. Develop your commitment by following through with what you've said you'll do, in your schoolwork, your church callings, and with your friends. Choose to intentionally commit to the things that matter most to you, and when you are married, your total commitment will already be a habit.

MWB: The second principle [slide 10] is sacrifice. You might think of "sacrifice" as giving up something you value, but "sacrifice" actually means giving up something of value in order to attain something more valuable. There's another word we use for that idea, a word with a much more positive connotation, and that word is "investment." Just like an intelligent financial investment yields profits, wise sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.

SCW: The Savior taught that [slide 11] "whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it." There are many wise investments you can make right now that will pay big dividends later in your marriage and family life, even though it may currently feel like you are losing some "freedom" or "opportunity."

When I returned from my mission, I initially focused considerable time and energy on working out and getting back on the university swimming team. Prior to my mission, I loved swimming and competing with a winning team, and I had planned to continue that after my return. But with trying to complete my undergraduate studies, thinking about dating and finding an eternal companion, and preparing for graduate school, I soon realized that I would need to give up something I thoroughly enjoyed in order to pursue other activities of even more value for my future. It wasn't easy, but I decided I needed to sacrifice competitive swimming for more important long-term pursuits. It turned out to be a very shrewd investment.

MWB: [slide 12] Sacrifice leads naturally to the third basic principle for a happy family: Selflessness. Listen to this excellent description of selflessness carefully, and see if you know anyone like this: [slide 13]

"A selfless person is . . . more concerned about the happiness and well-being of another than about his or her own convenience or comfort, one who is willing to serve another when it is neither sought for nor appreciated . . .A selfless person [will] purge from his or her mind and heart personal wants, and needs, and feelings. Instead of reaching for and requiring praise and recognition for himself [or herself], or gratification of his or her own wants, the selfless person will meet these very human needs for others."

Did the image of your mother come to mind? This certainly describes my mother very well but remember, mothers are not born like this! Part of why moms act this way is because they practice being totally committed and sacrificing for their child's wellbeing every day.

SCW: You too can practice being more selfless by intentionally trying to make those around you more comfortable. Be friendlier, smile more, and offer your help frequently. Learn to put others first by holding open a door, allowing a driver to pull into your lane, or letting your roommate take the first shower. These may seem like small things, but little by little, selflessness will come more naturally to you.

Selflessness also has much to do with understanding our relationship to our Father in Heaven and having a testimony of King Benjamin's words: [slide 14] "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God." "Selflessness" is a divine word expressing a divine pattern of living.

MWB: A selfless husband or wife exercises great caution in avoiding any feelings of entitlement or resentment, both of which "demand much and give little." I remember a period of time during my husband's medical residency when I was feeling bitter about my situation. I felt entitled to a better lifestyle, one with an actual income and days off, and I resented the long hours he was away from our young family and that everyone in our neighborhood and ward thought I was a single mother. Gratefully, I recognized that these feelings were beginning to corrode our marriage, so I took my selfish attitude to the Lord and asked for His help. I received a strong and specific impression that I should offer more thoughtful prayers of gratitude for my husband. I began adding new comments to my standard prayers, especially family prayers with the children. I included things like, "We are thankful for all of Daddy's hard work to support us," and "Thank thee for Daddy's training and opportunity to help other people." The change was remarkable! My heart softened and our marriage was strengthened.

SCW: The beauty of these three principles is that they can be developed in various settings and in all stages of life. Just like any other skill you work on, over time, you will be better prepared to be committed, sacrificing, and selfless in your marriage and your home life. You will be well on your way to making your dream of a happy family come true.

With those three core principles as integral parts of your character, three basic practices will give you tangible experiences to better prepare you for your eternal roles and responsibilities of marriage and parenting. These are willpower, respect, and service. [slide 15]

MWB: Some of the greatest thinkers of our time have understood the importance of practicing willpower.

The ancient philosopher Plato declared, [slide 16, part 1] "The first and best victory is to conquer self."

The original Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, [part 2] reasoned, "He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others."

In more modern times, Ralph Waldo Emerson [part 3] wrote, "That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased."

SCW: All of these men understood that willpower takes practice! In fact, a recent psychological study was able to prove scientifically that willpower is like a muscle, becoming stronger with use. Those researchers discovered that

"Even something as simple as using your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth for two weeks can increase willpower capacity. People who stick to an exercise program for two months report reducing their impulsive spending, junk food intake, alcohol use and smoking. They also study more, watch less television, and do more homework."

The authors went on to summarize their results [slide 17] as follows:

"Consistently doing any activity that requires self-control seems to increase willpower, and the ability to resist impulses and delay gratification is highly associated with success in life."

MWB: It's helpful to understand the two important reasons why practicing willpower is so useful. First, exerting self-control helps build a habit of self-control. Second, by exerting self-control in one area, we prove to ourselves that self-control is possible in other areas as well. This is very empowering! It gives energy to Nephi's entreaty [slide 18] that

"[We] are free to act for [ourselves], to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life."

And it emboldens us to try an experiment on the Lord's promise that if we bring our weaknesses to the Lord in faith and humility, He will turn those weaknesses into strengths. As you prepare for and progress toward marriage and family life, pay special attention to practicing willpower. If you are committed and willing to make wise sacrifices, you will see your weaknesses becoming strengths.

SCW: Another important practice [slide 19] that certainly contributes to happy homes is showing respect toward others. Respect is part attitude and part habit, made easier if we understand and truly believe in each person's divine nature as a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven.

In family life, a respectful attitude towards your spouse and children will require your commitment and selflessness. Respect challenges you to think more of another than of yourself, even when you are tired or having a bad day or feeling increased stress. Many of you grew up with siblings, or currently have roommates, or have had mission companions, so you have already had opportunities to practice living with others, and you know it can be challenging! In spite of such challenges, the greater your respect for them as a son or daughter of God, the easier it is to resolve differences.

If you are still single, hopefully you are actively seeking dating experiences to give you practice in respecting those of the opposite sex, their different ways of doing things, their different ways of thinking, and their different ways of communicating. On good days, these natural differences between men and women may lead you to agree that opposites attract. On hard days, just remember that there must be opposition in all things!

MWB: As you date, practice good habits of respect, like attentive listening, maintaining eye contact, and being honest in your communication. Each of these actions will help others know that you care about them uniquely and sincerely, critical skills for a happy marriage and successful parenting.

One of the things I remember best from growing up in our home is how respectful my father was towards Mom and the kids. He never raised his voice at us, and he always treated us like we were every bit as smart and capable as he was; he patiently convinced us that we could do anything we put our minds to. A favorite injunction of his was "You're smart, figure it out!" Now, as a wife and mother, I realize what a gift that was. It's something I have intentionally worked at in my home because I know firsthand how good that always made me feel.

SCW: The third pattern [slide 20] we suggest you practice and make a habit is serving others. Successful marriage and childrearing require countless acts of service, from both husband and wife. My father, happily married to my mother for over 70 years, used to say that "having a 50/50 marriage never works; only a 100% marriage can succeed!" In other words, if each of you think of the other, help the other, and serve the other 100% of the time, you will be happy.

MWB: That kind of total commitment to serving one another does not come naturally! The natural man is selfish and self-centered, so service requires lots of practice. The good news is that our willingness to sacrifice our time, energy, and comfort in selfless service will make our own needs feel less important, causing selfless service to get easier and easier. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, [slide 21]

"He who lives only unto himself withers and dies, while he who forgets himself in the service of others grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity."

SCW: As young adults, you are at an excellent stage of life to cultivate a love of service. You are energetic and healthy, able to appreciate hard work; you are creative and industrious, able to see what needs to be done and capable of finding ways to make it happen. Do not believe anyone who tells you this should be a selfish time of your life! Instead, seek out ways to help others on campus, in our community, and around the world.

When I had been home from my mission only a month, I started dating Margaret. One day, soon thereafter, my mother wasn't feeling well. She asked me if I could fulfill her assignment at Welfare Square and can peaches with the Relief Society sisters. I was happy to do it, and while I've never done any canning since, I enjoyed that opportunity. That evening, I was surprised to realize the impact it had on Margaret when I was late for our date. She was not unhappy with me, as I had feared; on the contrary, she was impressed by the reason for my tardiness. This experience served as a great foundation for us to begin building a service-based eternal relationship together.

MWB: The final piece, the underlying divine principle that will help us succeed in these eternal roles and responsibilities, [slide 22] is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His divine plan of happiness. The Lord always desires to help us, but we must turn to Him for that help. We do not have to do this alone. We read in First Nephi: [slide 23]

"And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them."

In the most recent General Conference, Elder Scott expanded on the message of this scripture. He said there are two "empowering principles on which faith is based." [slide 24] First, "trust in God and His willingness to provide help when needed, no matter how challenging the circumstances," and, second, "obedience to His commandments."

SCW: The more you trust in the Lord and obey His commandments, the more your faith will grow. In fact, everything you are doing to deepen your faith and strengthen your testimony will prepare you to be a better husband or wife, a better father or mother. According to Elder D. Todd Christofferson, [slide 25]

"Our covenants supply strength, they produce the faith necessary to persevere and to do all things that are expedient in the Lord."

Or, as the Lord himself stated, "In the ordinances [and the covenants they represent]. . . the power of Godliness is manifest." So, each time we worthily partake of the sacrament or reverently attend the temple, we further prepare ourselves for our eternal roles and responsibilities.

MWB: As prepared as we may be, there will still be challenging times in every marriage and every home when you simply will not know how to proceed. At those times, you need to be able to live by the Spirit. If we are worthy and prepared, those are the moments when the Holy Ghost "will show unto [us] all things what [we] should do." In the past twenty years, I have benefited from the Spirit's guidance over and over again. When my worry over a child is so great that all I can do is fall to my knees and beg for the Lord's help, more often than not I receive an answer before I even finish asking the question. On one of these occasions, the answer I clearly received was that we needed to give our son a dog! This was not the answer I wanted. I am not really a dog person, but it was a wise answer, and it made a meaningful difference at a critical time.

SCW: One of my favorite scriptures about faith is found in [slide 26] Proverbs 29:18, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." I have a deep and abiding faith in marriage and family. I am grateful for parents who gave me that vision and taught me to have faith in marriage. And I'm grateful to have an eternal companion who shares an equally strong commitment to that same vision. We will soon celebrate our 45th anniversary, and we can both honestly say that our marriage is the best thing that ever happened to either of us. While it hasn't always been easy, it has indeed been a "dream come true."

MWB: Thirty years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball offered the prophetic warning that [slide 27] "the time will come when only those who believe deeply and actively in the family will be able to preserve their families in the midst of the gathering evil around us." It appears that time may well have arrived; there is nothing easy about raising up a righteous family in 2010 but that does not make it any less worthy of a dream.

Believing deeply and actively in our families can be challenging. One of the pivotal moments in my family life occurred 16 years ago as I was walking into church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I had two small children at the time, and my husband was completely consumed by his medical training, so the kids and I were visiting my parents in Boston that week. My father was the bishop of the student ward, serving young adults attending over a dozen nearby universities and colleges, including Harvard, and we had decided to attend their sacrament meeting. I was feeling particularly disheveled and discouraged that morning. I had a demanding toddler pulling on my wrinkled dress and an infant spitting up on my shoulder. I remember feeling overweight, under-slept, and generally unattractive as I walked into that building filled with intelligent, lively, handsome young people, many of whom were about my same age but seemed to have a whole lot more going for them. As I stepped into the chapel, I distinctly recall thinking to myself, "So, this is what I'm missing." At that very instant, a loving Heavenly Father allowed the Spirit to teach me a very important lesson through my mind's eye, as I had a fleeting vision of every one of those students turning around and looking at me with my beautiful children and saying, "So, this is what we're missing."

SCW: Brothers and sisters, even though it's hard, and the world tells you it's getting harder all the time, don't miss out on the blessings of fulfilling your dream and forming a happy family. Prepare now for the eternal roles and responsibilities of marriage and parenting. Elder Richard G. Scott counseled us in this past General Conference, [slide 28] to "become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become." A happy family is a dream worth preparing for and pursuing. If you patiently strive to stay committed to this goal, willing to sacrifice and invest in your future, selflessly living the gospel and increasing your faith, these blessings will one day be yours.

Actively seek out opportunities to practice your willpower, and learn to respect and serve others. The sooner you hone these skills, the more effective you will be as a husband or wife, a father or mother. The Lord loves you and would like very much to help you in this righteous goal. We pray that each of us can strive to fulfill our eternal roles and responsibilities in a way that will be pleasing to Him. We leave these thoughts with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Photo by Monique Saenz.