On Dec. 3, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will celebrate his 80th birthday. Days shy of this event, Elder Holland joins the Church News podcast to share his testimony, offer his hard-earned life advice, and encourage individuals to turn to God amid the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During 2020, people across the globe have worried about their health and livelihood, he said. Many are turning to God. “If we haven’t been able to turn here, and we can’t turn there, we can turn up,” he said. “And I hope that one thing we’ve all done is come closer to God.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Today I am pleased to welcome Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Holland, we're talking to you today at a most unique time in history, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During general conference, you spoke about the pandemic and other trials that people face. Can you share some of the feelings that you've had during the past six or eight months, as everyone has been dealing with this unique situation?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Well, it has been unique and it’s been oppressive. I don’t think anyone maybe thought it would last this long, and I don’t speak just of North America. This is a global issue. Obviously it’s had an immediate impact on some people, on health, on disability for some, and death, tragic deaths, the sorrow we feel for those who’ve lost loved ones. So it’s had a kind of ultimate impact for some, but for others, and this is a larger group of others, it’s just oppressive. It weighs heavy on people’s hearts and souls, it’s changed so much of our culture, and how we come and go, and what we do and how comfortable we are. We’ve been awfully uncomfortable wearing masks and social distancing, and not many in crowds, and for us, not going to church, for a lot of other people, not going to restaurants, or theaters, or whatever. So it’s just really had an emotional impact as well as a physical one. And I think that’s the part where the Church, the gospel, the truth that we teach, that’s where that can be of particular help. Maybe it’s on the feelings of the heart, and the burdens of the soul. That’s what we do in the Church. That’s what the gospel does, is help to address those issues, and lift those burdens, and people really need those lifted right now.
Sarah Jane Weaver: At general conference, you used the word weary. What is your message for people who are weary right now?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Well, I think we have to carry on. I think when these times come, and thank heavens, they don’t come very often, we haven’t had very many pandemics. But I think of pioneers, our Latter-day Saint ancestors who must have been weary pulling those handcarts and trudging across the continent on foot, and with handmade wagons and carts. They were weary too. And so when you’re weary, I suppose that’s a time to reinvigorate, renew your strength, and that strength comes from heaven. Some of it comes from each other, we can help each other. I think there’s a great spirit in rallying together, and I can boost you and you can boost me and we’ll do better together, and I think, ultimately, that weariness is borne off by Heaven, angels, the Savior, in a dramatic way, of course, in an eternal way, by way of the Atonement. We’ve got a lot to cling to, we’ve got a lot to hope for. But it’s a time to square our shoulders and stiffen our back and be strong, because these times come, and life isn’t always pleasant. It isn’t always comfortable. When it’s tougher, we have to be tougher, we have to be stronger. That’s one of the nice things that comes. One of the silver linings on these clouds is that I think it makes us stronger. We work against that weariness and find that we’re better than we thought we were, we’ve got more strength than we thought we had.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You and I spoke by telephone last March, just as the Church was closing temples, cancelling meetings and returning thousands of missionaries to their home countries. And at that time, you said this pandemic is an opportunity for soul-searching self-examination. Can you talk a little bit about that, how this time can refine faith and strengthen character?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Well, I still believe it’s a time for renewal and contemplation, searching our soul, to use that phrase. I talked about it being a kind of an enforced Sabbath, that some things we’d always done routinely, taken things for granted, we couldn’t do, and so we were kind of forced to be the way the Lord would like us to be more often, certainly on the Sabbath, but maybe more often, anytime, all the time — and that is to reflect, to meditate, to pray, to search into our soul. I commented, I think it was to you, Sarah, when we talked earlier, that when there isn’t a lot of other company to talk to or have a conversation with, we have a conversation with ourselves. We look at ourselves. And, of course, one of the sobering realities is if we’re the one that we’re visiting with, if we’re the one that we’re communicating with, do we like who we’re communicating with? Do we like what we find? It’s a good time to say, “Am I the kind of person I ought to be? Am I the kind of person every day and in every way that I ought to be? When life is back to more normal standards and more normal ways, am I going to be a little better for it?” Because I’ve looked into my soul, saw some things that I hope I liked, but I may have seen some things that I didn’t like. This has given me some time to do something about that. We really do have more time, because some of the trappings of daily life have been stripped away, and that time could be used more valuably in searching our soul, and addressing this weariness, and drawing closer to God, being more the kind of person we ought to be.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I took that invitation to look into my soul and see if I liked what I saw there very seriously. It's certainly been longer than we thought.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: It has.
Sarah Jane Weaver: It’s certainly been harder than we could have imagined then. What have you come to as you’ve had the opportunity to reflect and pause and be thoughtful?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Well, some of those are personal, I probably can’t tell you what the really personal ones are, but the more obvious ones are that I want to be better in this calling. I want to be better as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have thought a lot about that, read a little bit more about it. I thought I’d read everything there was to read about it, but I discovered there were some things I hadn’t, so I read about the apostleship. And I think one of the vows I’ve made is to be better, to be more like the Lord expected me to be when I was called. I think I’ve tried to do that along the way, I think I’ve tried to be the best I could be, but maybe I can be a little better. I’ve loved what I’ve read about that. I’ve read about the ancient Apostles, read a little bit more about Peter, James, and John, and what their lives must have been like, and heaven only knows they had things – pandemics and worse. I read a little bit about Paul, and felt a lot more affinity for his shipwrecks, and his thorn in the flesh that didn’t get relief, that that was not taken from him.
And so, I've identified a little bit more with the apostleship. The early Apostles of this dispensation, and their sacrifice, their missions around the world, and the way they left family, and the strength of their wives, my gosh, I've come away with a love for the wives of the Apostles who let them go, and they stayed home to do the best they could, and fend for themselves and raise those children. All of that has a little more that's come in this period, I've had time to do that. And I hope to be a better Apostle, as a result of that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: During this time, unrelated to COVID-19, you also had some health challenges. If there’s any indication on the few emails we get at Church News, millions and millions of people are praying for you and Sister Holland. Tell us how you’re doing.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Well, I’m doing fine. I did have, and continue to address a couple of health issues. I’ve had excellent health all my life. I’ve been involved in sports and athletics all my life, but in the shadow of my 80th year, all at once, all at once, within a matter of just a few extended weeks, I had a number of health issues, but I’m doing fine. And (for) some of these, the recovery has been really miraculous. I don’t use that word lightly. I don’t use it lightly at all. But that’s the only word I could use for the recovery I’ve had from some of these issues.
I had one of my sweet doctors walk in with the results, a very happy report where something that wasn’t supposed to be remedied, recovery that was not supposed to be possible, was now happening, and tissue and organs that weren’t supposed to work were now working. And he said, to quote him, at least to paraphrase what he said, medically and scientifically, there was no explanation for the rather dramatic results that he was reporting to me. But he said, “On the other hand, I am a high priest. I am a bishop. I am a returned missionary, so I have other answers, other than my medical training.” He said, “It doesn’t hurt to have several million people praying for you.” And that was tender for me then, and it’s tender for me now. I know people pray for the Brethren. I hope they will all know that that’s appreciated and reciprocated, that we pray for the Church, and certainly do go on the strength of the Church praying for us.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’ve often heard you use a British phrase, “things are going to come right.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: That’s right. “Things are gonna come right.” That’s a particularly good British phrase. They leave out some pronouns, it’s okay, but things are gonna come right.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Tell us why people can look forward with faith right now?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Well, because we have a lot to do. I look at the prophecies, I think of the work the Lord wants us to do, I think of the destiny of this dispensation of the Church on the move. We got a lot of work to do. Any little ailments we've got, like the ones I've been struggling with, or anybody else, they'll pass. Pandemics, we haven't got time for those, they'll pass. We have a bright, bright future. Just the prophecies alone would indicate how much more is yet to happen before the Lord can come, or as the Lord comes, whenever that is.
And so I think we've only seen the beginning of the miracles of the Restoration. So much that is yet promised is somewhere out there to be fulfilled. So that's an exciting future. I get up every morning and if I'm not in the obituary column, I'm really excited to anticipate what is yet to come. Revelation’s still in store for the Church, collectively and for individual members. So boy, I'm Mr. Optimism. I've said, I'm not just that the glass is half full – for me the glass is running over the top and running down the street, and we’ve got nearly a flood with revelation and promise and optimism in the Church.
One of the Savior’s regular, consistent, repeated, I say, commandments. I don't want that to sound harsh. It's not harsh, but certainly an invitation like a commandment, and that was to be of good cheer. He just kept saying, “Be of good cheer. Don't worry, don't fear. Why don't you have more faith?” And I live by that. I love that. And I hope other members of the Church and those not of our faith can claim those promises and be of good cheer. We shouldn't be so fearful. Our faith will carry us forward with a lot of blessings, a lot of promises yet to come.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Are there things you know now that you did not know before the pandemic?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: Yeah, I don’t know whether it’s that I know them now that I didn’t know before, but I’m certainly conscious of some things now that I wasn’t conscious of before. However much I knew about them or thought about them, I don’t know, but I’ve had a chance to think about some things that have a much more powerful meaning for me now than before COVID-19.
One of them is how quickly we can be brought to our knees, I mean the whole globe, the whole planet. Whether you say, economically, there’s been terrible economic impact. A lot of people are out of work and wondering about incomes and have lost, particularly the kind of marginally young, or small businessmen and women. We’ve lost a lot of businesses, we’ve lost a lot of income, big industries like the airlines, and hospitality, hotels, so forth. These have been massively impacted all across the world.
So one of the thoughts I've had, and I put it in a gospel context, is how quickly, if the Lord, in a revelatory way, or an adversary force in a negative way wanted to, whatever the source, how quickly a global blight, a global plague, a global malaise can come over everybody and that really has happened. I knew that before, Sarah, but I'm not sure that I thought much about it before, because I haven't lived through one of these, most of us haven't, where the whole globe, the whole human family was affected one way or the other by this. So I've thought of the interdependence we have, the faith we should have, the love for the Lord we should have, the things that we take for granted that we should not take for granted, including His blessings. We ought to just be a lot more turned toward heaven, and each other, and goodness, because it can be taken from us. It can be stripped from us, and it could be far more universal, far more far-reaching, than even, say, a global conflict of war, as bad as that is, or a particular economic problem in a certain part of a continent. We've all seen those, but now, this has been big-time, this has been universal, this has been global, and I'm more conscious of loving God and loving my neighbor, the two great commandments. They've really, really taken on greater meaning for me during this pandemic.
The pandemic has not only sobered people — I think it’s frightened many people, not just for their health, not just because it’s a vicious illness, but because it does have its financial impact, and its social impact, and all these things we’ve talked about that have taken us away from each other, and from things that we normally do. So I think what we’ve been left with, fortunately, in a tremendously advantageous way, is that if we haven’t been able to turn here, and we can’t turn there, we can turn up. And I hope that one thing we’ve all done is come closer to God, that we know that He does not move. He is not subject to pandemics. He can not only cure that problem, but He can cure every other problem in our lives. He’s invited us to lay our burdens at His feet and that He is equal to it. “My grace is sufficient,” we keep reading in the scriptures.
So my testimony to the Church and to the world is that this is true. This is God's very truth. This is not a fairy tale. This is not something that I get up every morning, and ask myself, “how can I go fool another group of people today? How can I go pretend that something's true? How can I go work a great fiction, a magnificent fiction on the public?” That is not what I do. I would not do that, and my life is worth more to me than that, and my witness to my children and my children's children is worth more than that, means more than that, my integrity is more than that.
I get up every morning saying, not how can I pretend, not how can I act like this is true. My plea every morning of my life is, how can I convey what I know to be more true than anything on the face of this earth? How can I convey to some person, or persons, the reality of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the fact that God lives, that the heavens are open, that the Father and the Son appeared to a 14-year-old boy, and that I'm reaching out to the world as a result of that experience? That in the same commission given to Peter, James and John, I have a commission to stand by the Savior of the world, to defend Him and defend the rock that He is? He said He was the rock, and He is my rock. He's the rock of my salvation, and He's the rock of everyone’s salvation.
And that’s what I get up every morning, asking myself: How can I do it, praying for an extra period of time to know how to do it. Because it is true. Because it is not a joke. Joseph Smith and Hyrum (Smith) did not sit in Carthage Jail, ready to be executed by a mob. They did not pull out the Book of Mormon and say, “Let’s tell some jokes from this book we made up.” No one would do that. No one would do that. They read from that book because they knew it was true, and they knew it would be their salvation, if they stayed true to the Divinity that brought it, the divinity of God, the Eternal Father and the divinity of the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ, if they could just hearken to those truths and be faithful. So what if they were going to give their lives in the next 35 minutes? And so they did.
But that’s the feeling that I have. I would die for this and am perfectly prepared to do so. A missionary once asked me, “Elder Holland, would you give your life for the Church?” and I said, “Elder, I am giving my life for the Church. Every day, I’m giving my life for the Church.” Because I know it’s true. And I know the gospel is true, and people have every reason to be hopeful and peaceful and happy and safe, because it is true. Nothing else in the world could be more reassuring, and it’s the reassurance I would want to leave with them and I would do it in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, amen.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Thanks to our guest, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel, or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com.