Chairman of the Rexburg Idaho Temple Committee
"Angels in Waiting"
October 21, 2008
Brothers and sisters, it is an honor to stand before you today. Standing here brings back very fond memories of serving in the BYU–Idaho first stake. As then, today I am touched by the tremendous spirit which attends large gatherings of BYU–Idaho students. When young men and women who live Christ-centered lives are together, when the Spirit of the Holy Ghost is invited into our presence, there is a synergy of learning which I have not witnessed in any other setting. Tremendous insight is gained, marvelous truths are revealed – oft times far beyond the content of the words spoken. I hope that today will be one of those occasions.
I pray that the Spirit of the Holy Ghost will be with us; that the words which I speak will be acceptable and pleasing unto our Father in Heaven. That they will be received by you in a manner that will provoke you to thought and touch your heart.
I have been pretty much a life long resident of Rexburg. As a life long resident, there are some things you learn:
I have learned that you are a blessing to this community. Your ranks comprise almost half of the population of Rexburg. Through your goodness, your cheerful smiles, your commitment to live clean and pure lives, Rexburg is a better place. I hope you feel welcome, I hope that you will feel part of the community
As President Clark mentioned, Jill and I had the sweet opportunity to be deeply involved in many of the events leading up to the dedication and opening of the Rexburg Temple. During the open house, over 206,000 visitors toured our beautiful temple. When mid January arrived, the students of BYU–Idaho returned from Christmas break. Engrained upon my memory forever will be the great excitement and reverent spirit which I witnessed as thousands and thousands of you came for a glimpse of the temple. Many of you came, arm in arm, time and time again. It was as though you felt at home there. I thank you for that sweet memory.
I am so glad Jill is here today. We met some 30 years ago here upon the campus of BYU–Idaho, then Ricks College. It was a blind date. I remember going to pick her up. It was apartment #22 of Hillcrest Apartments, then called Mansard Village. Jill answered the door. I remember how beautiful she was, her wonderful smile and sparkle in her eyes. I hoped that this was indeed Jill Anstead. I told her I was Richard and that I was here to pick up Jill. She sweetly smiled, looked me straight in the eye and told me that Jill had left 15 minutes ago. Luckily her roommates started laughing in the background. That day, I received the first taste of her unique sense of humor.
She is my friend – my best friend – I am so thankful that our paths crossed here at Ricks College so many years ago.
Brothers and sisters, the reason I share these accounts with you, is that years from know, it will be times like these at BYU–Idaho which you will remember. It will be of being in the temple, going to Church, walking through campus on a sunny fall day. It will be your relationships with roommates, ward members, faculty and those you date. These very personal experiences will be the source of fond and rich memories which you will draw on in years to come.
Today, I wish to speak of friends – and brief acquaintances – and the powerful impact they have upon us and we upon them. As I do this, I would like to share a couple of scriptures with you which will lay a foundation for what I have to share.
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, during his short ministry while on this earth taught eternal principles. He did so almost always with a focus on the importance of the individual.
In Matthew chapter 22 He provides us with a standard of how important we are to one another. To a lawyer who asked the question:
36 . . . which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
In the 25th chapter of Matthew, the Savior describes an event that will take place at His coming as he returns to the earth. I love these verses and perhaps I may take this account too literally. It begins in the 31st verse and describes that when the Savior returns to the earth with His holy angels He shall sit upon his throne. He will gather the inhabitants of all nations before Him and will separate them. Some on His right and some on His left. To those on his right, verse 34 reads:
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Somewhat confused, those gathered on His right hand respond by saying, Lord, we do not remember. We do not remember a time when we saw thee an hungered and fed thee, or thirsty and gave thee drink. When did we see you as a stranger and took thee in? or naked and clothed thee? Or sick or in prison and came unto thee? Then in verse 40 the defining remark of the Savior as to how important we all are to Him:
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
To the Savior, the poor, the hungry, stangers, the sick, the lonely, even those who are in prison, all are individually important to the Savior. So special are we to Him, the Savior tells us that as we reach out to one another in such circumstances, it is as though we have done it unto Him.
Brothers and sisters, always the question: What can I be doing right here and now to act upon that doctrine?
In that regard, I wish to share with you a letter which I received while I was serving in the BYU–Idaho First Stake. It was a letter from the mother of a young man sent to his bishop in our stake. It was received during the week we were about to call a new bishop. With the permission of this mother, I will share some of her thoughts about her son. I will not refer to him by his real name, but today we will call him Wilbur.
I am writing in hopes of receiving whatever help you might be able to give me in regards to my son, Wilbur who is presently in your ward at BYU–Idaho.
I have prayed and fasted for guidance and thought to write to you in case you might know how to reach him.
His dad and I spoke to him on the phone last night at which time he informed us that he is coming home at the end of the semester. He has planned to try to live with friends so that he can get away from the influence of the Church in his life. He says that he has prayed several times to know if the gospel is true and claims he has never received an answer. So now, he says, “I give up.” “I’m not going to try anymore.” He says it is misery to be around so many people there at school who say they know it is true and that their prayers are answered while his are not. “Therefore,” he says, “he is rejecting it all.”
Bishop, Wilbur has been struggling with this for several years. Somehow he is unable to recognize the still small voice and perhaps expects a lightning bolt or a vision. He has made some mistakes in his life . . . hanging around hard rock musicians who put no pressure on him to try to better himself and who are therefore, easy to “hang out with” because they have no expectations of him. Whereas, he feels that to be a faithful member of the Church requires so much obligation, more than he can stand without a testimony.
Though rebellious, we know our beloved son is valuable and that his soul is of great worth to the Lord. We love him tremendously and know that the Lord would not have us give up on him.
If there is anything you can do to reach my son’s heart or to help him with this struggle of faith, I would be eternally grateful.
As I mentioned, the Bishop handed me the letter near the day of his release. I immediately tried to contact this young man and found that he had checked out of school early and returned home. I called his mother to see what might be done – to see if there was something we might do to help him return. Wilbur had moved on, joining those who “had little expectations of him”
Later I contacted his mother to see how Wilbur was doing. During the conversation, she shared with me that she felt that things could have been so different if Wilbur had simply chosen to associate with different types of friends in his life – “good friends” as she described them.
I have thought a lot about that comment since then and about some of the comments the mother had written in her letter. Might I point two observations which this very insightful mother suggested would have been of great benefit to her son:
Wilbur needed to be with those who genuinely cared about him. Unlike Wilbur’s friends mentioned in his mother’s letter, friends who truly care do have expectations of us. Expectations which are not critical or intended to be overwhelming or burdensome; but a simple assumption that the best we can be is really who we are. Associating with those who expect little or nothing from us usually results in our actions yielding just that – very little. On the other hand, as we associate with those who recognize our potential, our true character, our tender heart; their association instills in us a desire to live according to our highest potential. We come to realize, as they do, that the best we can be really is who we are.
Wilbur needed to be around people who not only bear their testimony in Sacrament Meeting but actually lived their testimony through their actions, their selfless deeds of service and kind gestures. Through such examples, good friends provide us with occasional snap shots of what it means to be Christ-like. As we witness such qualities in others, the Spirit of the Holy Ghost whispers to us that these qualities are genuine, lasting, good and virtuous. We find ourselves wanting to incorporate those qualities into our lives.
Because Wilbur, while here, chose not to heed the promptings of the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, Wilbur’s mother had prayed earnestly that his path would cross with those who could provide an example, with those who could touch his heart, with those willing and worthy to be instruments in our Father in Heaven’s hand to deliver the message that God is mindful of him.
President Spencer W. Kimball once remarked:
“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other . . . In the Doctrine and Covenants, we read about how important it is to ‘succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.’ (81:5) So often our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks – but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds.”
- President Spencer W. Kimball, “Small Acts of Service,” Ensign, Dec 1974, 5
In February of 2001, our family was with a group who had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with President Monson as we were hosting him to speak at a CES broadcast originating from this campus. During the course of the afternoon, we listened to him tell story after story about his life – about what he does every day. Each story had one thing in common. Every account was about service to others, not in terms of speaking to congregations of thousands of people, but of individual acts by him or by others he knew who had reached out to lift another.
As we were preparing to leave for the fireside, someone asked the final question: What one piece of advice would you have for us as we part? I will never forget what he said :. He contemplated for a moment then he remarked, “Always remember, You never know whose angel you’re suppose to be.”
As I look at all of you, I see angels. Angels in waiting. Waiting for the right moment to assist our Father in lifting and helping one of His children who is in need. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland remarked in conference a few weeks ago,
. . . when we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day.
I want you to think with me for a moment and review our experiences of the past week. Please recall fleeting thoughts of those we encounter. Our thoughts might range from a warm smile at the shear thought or site of someone we really like to be around, to; “boy, I would really like to meet him or her”, [perhaps he is my eternal companion] to; “there is that girl in our ward who has had that tragic loss in her life, this time must be so difficult for her” to; “Hmm . . . there is that young man again. I keep seeing him around campus. He is always so very quiet and reserved. His spirit and countenance doesn’t seem to be smiling today, I wonder if something is wrong? I wonder if there is anything I can do?”
As we encounter others and witness our response, I would suggest that many of your impressions are very subtle yet very distinct promptings of the Spirit of the Holy Ghost to do something.
If you are like me, when I was in college, as I encountered someone who I was not familiar with or not comfortable in approaching, often I would shrink from the opportunity, moving on in my own busy life – afraid to put myself at risk.
Brothers and Sisters, there is a better approach. To quote my daughter Dani, “we need to put ourselves out there” What she means is to take the bold step to place ourselves directly in the path of someone who needs us. Someone who we are prompted to help. What she means is that we need to be deeply engaged in the business of being angels – instruments in our Father in Heavens hand to assist Him in delivering intended blessings to His children.
As I prepared my remarks for today, I again called Wilbur’s mother. I guess I was sort of surprised that 6 years later she still had the same telephone number and that she remembered who I was. She reported that although Wilbur had not yet returned into full activity in the Church, that he was making great progress. She expressed deep gratitude for BYU–Idaho and the students, ward members, faculty and priesthood leaders that are here. Given that he hadn’t had a very good experience here, I wondered why she had such gratitude for this place? During our conversation, the answer became clear. Because, as she said, he remembers. He remembers the associations – although very brief – which he had while he was here. He remembers the example of the people here. He remembers their testimonies.
She said her prayers, unknown to her at the time, had been answered. You see, Wilbur had been touched by some wonderful caring angels while here at BYU–Idaho. I am sure some of them didn’t even know it at the time, but they touched his heart through their example. Even though he rejected them while he was here, now he remembers. Six years later, he is now beginning to recognize the influence for good which was here. As we were saying goodbye, she remarked “My prayers were answered before and I have faith they will be answered again.”
Brothers and sisters, you are here gaining a wonderful education which will help you become a productive, contributing member of society. Never lose sight of how important it is while you are here – and always – to be constantly learning how to become an angel. Angels on earth, instruments in the hand of our Father in Heaven in helping him deliver intended blessings to his children.
In closing, I would like to read counsel given by President Gordon B. Hinckley to a group of students in similar circumstances to yours. In a commencement address at the University of Utah in 1998 he said:
I commend you on your accomplishments this day. I wish for you great success in your chosen fields. I can only hope for you that yours may be the rich and satisfying pleasure of going beyond your regular vocational pursuits and pausing to do that which will help in some way someone in distress to raise his or her eyes and look up to you and say, “Thank you. Thank you, for what you did for me.”
It will not be enough to be an able lawyer, a man of medicine, a skilled architect, a proficient engineer, or whatever. There will be the need for another dimension in your life – that of reaching down to someone who may be in distress to offer your strong hand to lift him up.
May You, who are blessed so dearly by being here be bestowed with courage, power and an added measure of love in your efforts to reach out to those among you who are in need. You will truly need it because, “Always remember, you never know whose angel you are supposed to be.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Increasing our Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
Audio of President John H. Groberg's BYU-Idaho devotional address, Fall 2008