The lives of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Sister Patricia T. Holland have been shaped and sculpted in many ways by their dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elder Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has served for more than 30 years as a general authority for the Church. Prior to that he was president of Brigham Young University. Sister Holland served as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency, and the two have circumnavigated the globe as emissaries of the Church of Jesus Christ.
As Elder Holland reflected on their deep well of diverse and rich experiences while striving to engage in the Lord’s work, he said simply, “We’ve had the chance to spend our lives doing the most important thing in life.”
During a recent episode of the Church News podcast, Elder and Sister Holland sat down with guest host Sister Sheri Dew, a former member of the Relief Society general presidency and the executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp., and shared stories and lessons they’ve learned through several decades of faithful service.
Listen to Episode 84: Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Sister Patricia Holland, hosted by Sheri Dew, Part 1 — Service, health, faith and devotion to Jesus Christ
Turn to the Lord
Before Elder Holland was called as a general authority, Sister Holland accepted the call to serve in the Young Women general presidency as a counselor to President Ardeth G. Kapp. It was a busy time for their presidency as they worked to design and implement the Young Women theme and values program.
It was also a hectic time for their family. Elder Holland was a busy, young president of BYU, and their children ranged from grade school to high school. Sister Holland recalled practicing music with her children at 5 or 6 in the morning, driving up to Church headquarters from their home in Provo, staying in board meetings all day and then driving home late to try to care for her family.
“It was really quite overwhelming,” Sister Holland said. The pressures of that time “drove me to my knees. … I knew with all of these challenges that I already had, that I had to live by the Spirit.”
As a family, they were giving all they had, Elder Holland added. “It was a lot, but it was good, and we learned to be disciplined and help each other, and the kids were great. … They were magnificent about their support.”
It was a precedent that Sister Holland had already set in their home. Their children had grown up knowing that when they had a problem to take it to the Lord. “If they came home in tears about something, the first response from their mother was, ‘Well, we’ll pray about it,’” Elder Holland said.
They saw their mother petitioning the Lord for His help every morning. “They saw how much we love the gospel, and they supported that,” Sister Holland said.
In recent years, both Elder and Sister Holland have suffered serious health challenges; in each case, their health deteriorated to the point where it was life or death. Sister Holland called those experiences “a refined microcosm with a magnifying glass.”
”I have felt like everything I’ve done that’s been a challenge has driven me closer and closer to the Lord, everything,” Sister Holland said of their recent health issues. “And I don’t think you could have dark days without having light, or light without having dark. We need both of them so they can inspire each other.”
In Elder Holland’s case, he came back from being in a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane, to walking again unassisted. That process involved a lot of physical therapy, hard work and prayers. In the case of both him and Sister Holland, he said: “Prayer really works. Priesthood blessings really do count. The Lord is in charge, we all have problems. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, just goes on and on. We learned those lessons.”
It also gave them greater empathy “to know that real people out there have real problems and real fears, and they put a smile on and put one foot ahead of the other and get up every day to go face it, but they do so with burdens,” he said.
One of the pinnacles of Elder Holland’s term at BYU was completion of the Jerusalem Center, on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Kidron Valley in East Jerusalem.
At a recent 50-year anniversary celebration of the program, Elder Holland recalled the astonishing feat it was to get that facility built. “It really is a miracle,” Elder Holland said.
At the time they were looking for a spot to build, all they could find was an “ugly” little L-shaped piece of property in a gully with some goats. “There was nothing else.”
School officials showed the property to President N. Eldon Tanner, who was then a counselor in the First Presidency, and “you could tell by the look on his face that we weren’t going to get that piece,” Elder Holland said.
Instead, President Tanner walked up the gully and across the brow of the hill with the most spectacular view of the Old City anywhere in the area. “This is the piece. Get this piece,” President Tanner declared.
He might as well have been in London and declared, “Get Buckingham Palace,” Elder Holland recalled.
However, that’s the property where the current facility stands, which Elder Holland attributed to a lot of people who worked very hard and “one miracle after another: The right person at the right time, the right committee in the right hour, the Knesset (parliament of modern Israel) in the right mood at the right moment, and on and on and on.”
Sister Holland, who was at his side for much of the process, commented that her husband is a man of perfect faith. He has confidence that there isn’t anything that can’t be done with the help of the Lord. “He is a man of miracles because he believes that it could be done.”
Years later, as a junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Holland was called by President Gordon B. Hinckley to preside over the Church’s area in Chile. Although they had no experience with the culture, the people or the Spanish language, they accepted. “We had miracles up and down the land,” he recalled.
For example, about six months into their assignment, they attended a Saturday night stake conference meeting in Viña Del Mar (meaning “Vineyard of the Sea”), a lovely coastal city. Sister Holland told her husband that she felt she needed to speak about tithing.
Elder Holland replied: “We don’t know the vocabulary for tithing. I don’t know how you can do that.” To which Sister Holland replied, “Well, I don’t know how I can do it either. But that’s what I think I’m supposed to do.”
And for the next 20 minutes, she gave a sermon on the law of tithing in flawless Spanish. “I’ve never seen that before in my life, where she did not know the language and didn’t know the vocabulary and didn’t know the verb tense — but stood up and gave that sermon,” Elder Holland said.
As she thinks about their experiences in various areas of the Church, Sister Holland said she wishes she could tell young men and young women, especially prospective missionaries, that they don’t need to be afraid of missionary work. “They need to know that there are miracles in the Church. They’ve happened, and they will again and again and again.”
A church that leads to happiness
Despite all the troubles that currently plague the world — “It is true, the challenges of the world are greater than they’ve ever been, and they look like they’re going to be challenging ever more,” Sister Holland said — both Elder and Sister Holland offered messages of optimism, faith and hope.
“The more time you spend with God, the more you believe, the deeper you believe, the more you know Him as a God of love,” Sister Holland assured. “He’s a God of happiness, He’s a God of: ‘I’ll do anything to help you. I’m a God of forgiveness. I’m a God of patience. As you develop, My arm will be around you all the time.’”
Sister Holland testified that Heavenly Father is close to individuals through all their challenges. “We’re the most blessed people on the earth. It’s amazing to me how blessed we are.”
Elder Holland spoke of the last days of the Savior’s mortal ministry and that even with all that lay ahead of Him — the suffering, to bleed from every pore and cry out “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me,” to feel absolutely alone — with all of that ahead the Savior could say, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27). These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The injunction to be cheerful “makes our little problems seem pretty, pretty little, pretty insignificant, when you think of that call to be cheerful, to be peaceful, to see it through, to face whatever is going to be faced and to have a happy [conclusion].”
Elder Holland declared that this is the Church that results in happiness. “This is peace and cheer and good tidings. This is the good news, and that has been our privilege. … We’ve had the chance to do the most important thing in the world, with the most important and the most bountiful blessings, as Pat has just mentioned, that come from it, and that is to teach that Jesus is the Christ. And in this, in our case, that those truths, that peace, that cheer, that promise, that hope has all been restored.”
Whatever problem or “cross” individuals are called on to bear — illness; poverty; mental illness; social, racial or ethnic tensions — the answer is to take that cross and “march toward the sunlight,” Elder Holland said. “We can solve all these problems. The gospel, whatever the question, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer. And that’s what we’ve had the chance to try to say and declare and represent, and we want to do it better than we have. And we’d love the chance to try.”