Thirty years ago next month, Sister Patricia Holland joined her husband, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who was then serving as president of Brigham Young University, in welcoming students to a new semester. As the students’ self-proclaimed “mother-away-from-home,” the Provo campus' first lady offered some of her best motherly advice during a 1988 BYU devotional.
Be your own best friend
“Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend in need,” she said.
Military historians such as Napoleon know better than most that an army cannot fight a successful war on two fronts, she said. There will always be external battles to fight — or “outside problems” to face — such as poor grades, dating frustrations or financial woes. But many create an internal civil war against themselves as they internalize fear, uncertainty, self-doubt and worry.
“The person who is engaged in such a constant internal fight has little energy and power left to win the outside battles,” Sister Holland explained. “To be successful in the many skirmishes of life, you cannot afford to be your own worst enemy. And taking the battles inside — firing mortal shells into your very soul — is potentially one of the most damaging of all human activities.”
While individuals can recover from an external blow — such as a missed date, poor grade or flat tire — turning outside matters into self-recrimination and self-criticism begins a battle “with a very high mortality rate,” she said.
As someone who has taken a lot of “needless shrapnel” from herself, Sister Holland counseled students to “make a distinction between your problems and yourselves.”
“Problems can be painful and dark and disappointing — but we are not painful and dark and disappointing,” she said. “We are children of God and must see ourselves as God sees us, recognizing the positive in ourselves, the part God loves so much, even as we work on what we may think are our freckles and warts and blemishes and big noses. You can change how you see yourself. You can!”
Put your negative thinking on the shelf
Sister Holland encouraged listeners to train themselves to put away negative thoughts and exercise “right thinking.”
“You can replace old doubts with new hopes. So clean out that closet in your mind and haul a load of needless negative baggage off to D.I.,” she said, and offered three exercises in right thinking.
First, remember that failure is temporary in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The decision to carry on in spite of disappointment turns the worst circumstance into success.”
Second, no self-pity. “And that means no self-pity,” she repeated. “Nothing dissipates our strength faster or more quickly drives away those who would truly wish to help us than self-pity.”
Third, eliminate all “would haves,” “could haves,” “should haves,” and “if onlys.”
“What has happened is past and finished,” she said. “Leave it there. Profound power will come in living and making things right in the present.”
To recognize areas of vulnerability and needed growth is to recognize a chance for divine influence, Sister Holland said, referencing the book "Further Along the Road Less Traveled."
"I have loved this thought: If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of personal disappointment and weakness, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.
And while the Lord is looking for a humble people, He will not "be particularly comfortable dwelling with a person who (to the exclusion of all other joys and blessings in life) ponders continually his or her problems, who is obsessed and finally immobilized by them, who hasn’t learned to bear those limitations serenely. That isn’t humility, it is near-blasphemy," Sister Holland said.
"When you dwell on your limitations excessively, to the point that they affect your inner view and strength, you mock God in His very creation. You deny the divinity within you. You resist the gift of Christ on the cross. So be patient in your pursuit of perfection."
Read the entire talk here.