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Elder Holland at BYU: What one family’s story of forgiveness teaches about the meaning of faith


Elder Holland at BYU: What one family’s story of forgiveness teaches about the meaning of faith

PROVO, Utah — When life seems to be one incomprehensible tragedy and heartache after another, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told Brigham Young University students, “that is when faith in God, in Christ and in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will really count.”

The member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered this emotional plea: “Practice now and be strong now for those times of affliction and refinement that will come.”

In a BYU campus devotional on Tuesday, Jan. 18, Elder Holland recounted one family’s experiences to illustrate the difficulty of life’s lessons and what it means to faithfully submit to what God allows. He was accompanied by his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, who also spoke. Thousands of students filled the Marriott Center and listened intently to Elder and Sister Holland’s heart-felt remarks.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addresses BYU students in the BYU Marriott Center on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addresses BYU students in the BYU Marriott Center on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Jaren Wilkey, BYU

Russell family

In general conference about five years ago, Elder Holland relayed the story of Troy and Deedra Russell — a couple who found peace after Troy Russell accidentally ran over their 9-year-old son, Austen, while backing his pickup truck out of the garage. 

One might think losing a child the way they lost Austen would be enough of a test for anyone to face, Elder Holland said. 

But as King Benjamin taught, perhaps the fundamental purpose of mortal life is to “[become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” This requires one to “[become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him” (Mosiah 3:19). 

Elder Holland noted that “to inflict” in this instance means “to allow.” God will never do a destructive or unfair thing, he said, but because God is perfectly good, “everything He does is for our good.”

During the early morning hours of Sept. 8, 2021, Deedra Russell was driving on the interstate when she saw a pickup truck traveling south in her northbound lane at freeway speed. The 39-year-old inebriated male driver hit her head-on. 

During a BYU devotional address on Jan. 18, 2022, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shares a photograph of the wreckage of a collision involving Deedra Russell.

During a BYU devotional address on Jan. 18, 2022, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shares a photograph of the wreckage of a collision involving Deedra Russell.

Credit: Screenshot from BYUtv.org

In spite of what the wreckage could indicate, Deedra Russell was not killed in this collision. After 132 days of hospitalization — some 40 of them in intensive care — she is still fighting for her life. The other driver also survived.

Repentance

Elder Holland identified several gospel-related principles from the Russells’ experience. First, the driver and his family have taught what it looks like to feel genuine remorse, take responsibility for damage and suffering, change habits and behaviors, and ask God to carry what they can’t repair or repay.  

The driver was in the audience during the BYU devotional with his parents and some of the Russell family. He has written to, prayed for and visited the Russells, and he and his family donated what they would have spent on Christmas gifts to help offset the Russells’ financial burdens. 

Reading from a copy of a handwritten eight-page letter, Elder Holland quoted some of the driver’s words to the Russells: 

“Deedra, I feel so horrible [about what] I [have done] to you. My heart is [broken]. My lungs can’t breathe. I am so sorry for the pain you are in. … Troy, you are an angel [to forgive me]. … I am so sorry you had to go through so much in your lives already, and now this all because of me. …. [But] I am going to church again. I am reading my scriptures every night. And please tell the kids I am so sorry I hurt their mother. [Deedra,] I know I nearly took your life, but if it matters, you have saved mine.”

Elder Holland pointed out the wisdom of a loving Father in Heaven who gives parental calls and divine warnings that spare His children agony. That is why the Savior said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” 

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addresses BYU students in the BYU Marriott Center on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addresses BYU students in the BYU Marriott Center on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Credit: BYU Photo

“It is part of the apostolic burden for me to stand, for my colleagues and associates in the Twelve to stand, with the Savior in that plea, in that request,” Elder Holland said. “We always extend our love — always. We are morally obligated after that love to ask for obedience to the commandments as evidence of that affection.” 

Forgiveness

A second lesson from the Russells’ story, Elder Holland continued, is the need to forgive. 

“As angry as Troy and Deedra might justifiably have been over this terrible experience, they have felt that they could not and should not withhold forgiveness for him who gave offense,” the Apostle said. For the last five years, Troy himself has struggled with his accidental role in the loss of his 9-year-old. 

Applying this principle to BYU students, Elder Holland said: “There is not one of us anywhere on this campus who has not needed forgiveness for some mistake made, somewhere, sometime. Our deed may not have been as severe as the kind we are recounting today, but we have all made mistakes, and some of them were serious mistakes. I include myself in that list.

“Whatever the event, we all thank God for being the Father of forgiveness and for the gifts of mercy and relief He offers us, all of it ultimately coming to us through the majestic Atonement of His Only Begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

‘Why me?’

In moments of suffering and pain, the temptation may be to call out, “Why me? Why us? Why again?” or, “Does God really care about me?”

Though Elder Holland has never heard the Russells ask those questions, they would not be the first to do so. The Prophet Joseph Smith asked, “O God, where art Thou?” and even the Savior, while atoning for the sins of the world, wondered if He had been forsaken. 

The story of Troy and Deedra Russell, who are pictured here, was highlighted by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during a Brigham Young University campus devotional on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

The story of Troy and Deedra Russell, who are pictured here, was highlighted by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during a Brigham Young University campus devotional on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Credit: Troy Russell

The divine answer to these questions, Elder Holland said, is always the same: “Be still and know that I am God.”

“So, when you are being hammered on the anvil of adversity, when your soul is being refined with severe lessons that perhaps can be learned no other way, don’t cut and run,” he told BYU students. “Don’t jump ship. Don’t shake your fist at your bishop or your mission president or God. Please stay with the only help and strength that can aid you in that painful time. 

“When you stumble in the race of life, don’t crawl away from the very Physician who is unfailingly there to treat your injuries, lift you to your feet and help you finish the course.”

The meaning of faith

No one knows why sometimes someone is spared a tragedy and other times not, “but that is where faith must truly mean something, or it is not faith at all,” Elder Holland said. 

“What we need from all of us together, you and I, from those of you solidly in the Church as well as those struggling to hold on, is powerful faith, faith that sustains us here and now, not just on the day of judgment or somewhere in celestial glory.”

Sarah Jane Weaver: What Elder Holland taught me about exercising faith in Christ — even amid incomprehensible heartache

Elder Holland concluded by testifying of life’s process of refinement, of becoming “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord,” and the childlike faith and humility required. 

“I testify that when life brings you disappointment or sorrow — and on occasion it will — the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church that espouses the fullness of it are true and strong, they are what the Psalmist called ‘a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.’”

‘A God who thinks peace’

Prior to Elder Holland’s message, Sister Holland told students that she recognizes the many expectations they face and that some days may be painful, lonely and frightening. 

Sister Patricia Holland, wife of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addresses BYU students in the BYU Marriott Center on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Sister Patricia Holland, wife of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addresses BYU students in the BYU Marriott Center on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Credit: BYU Photo

When those days come, she asked them to remember a truth from Jeremiah 29 that she has held onto: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end [or a joyful end, the ‘end’ I want for you]. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall … pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.”

Sister Holland added her testimony: “I am old enough to bear witness of a God who thinks ‘peace’ regarding us, and not ‘evil,’ a God that will ‘hearken’ unto every single one of us in our times of need.”

Student responses

Several students commented on the spirit felt in the Marriott Center. Elder Holland offered the perfect message for the campus community at this time, said Megan Heaton, a BYU senior from Provo, Utah. “Every one was so grateful to hear his positive advice.”

As a missionary serving in England, Heaton watched the Church’s video highlighting the Russells’ story. 

She called it inspiring to learn about their faith and the experiences they have gone through since the video was created. “Even when people go through the hardest of times there is still always hope,” she said.

Brigham Young University students take notes as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a devotional in the BYU Marriott Center on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Brigham Young University students take notes as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a devotional in the BYU Marriott Center on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Credit: Jaren Wilkey, BYU

Addey Kerr, a student from Syracuse, New York, pursuing a degree in family studies, told the Church News that she appreciated the message of forgiveness and “understanding that there is a possibility for change.”

“Each challenge that comes our way provides an opportunity to change for both sides — the side that was hurt and the side that hurt the other party,” she said.

Jacob Smith from Eagle, Idaho, who is studying mechanical engineering, said during the devotional he thought of a friend he hoped was listening. “She just found out some really bad news that is going to affect her for the rest of her life,” he said of his friend.

Smith referred to the video Elder Holland showed during his message of Troy and Deedra Russell sharing their testimonies of remaining faithful in times of trial.

“One of the things that Troy mentioned in his testimony is that someone said, ‘Oh that’s probably the worst thing that can happen to you in life,’ and he said, ‘No, the worst thing is if you’re not with your family forever.’

“Troy and Elder Holland reminded me to think about the big perspective of things. The big perspective makes it a lot easier to get through life,” Smith said.

Watch Elder Holland’s devotional message here.

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