After beginning a new school year August 31, students gathered in the Marriott Center as Elder Cecil O. Samuelson, of the Seventy and president of BYU, and his wife, Sharon, welcomed students from around the world to the BYU campus during the weekly devotional Sept. 8.
"As summer comes to a close and we embark on a new semester, I welcome you all to Brigham Young University," Elder Samuelson said. "We are delighted to have those of you for the first time, and are grateful for those of you who are returning."
With a new semester just underway, Elder Samuelson spoke of the importance of the future, and the impact of decisions made today on the future.
"Happily many of you believe the decisions you make today are real, and have either a positive or negative impact on mortality and the eternities," Elder Samuelson said. "I believe you are right, and encourage you to act and perform as you think and believe. . . .
"Living today is very important, because who you are now is greatly influenced by your past life, just as your future is impacted by your present experiences. In a very real sense, our entire lives are like our years as college students. At the end we will all be different than we were at the beginning, and what we do along the way has a great deal to do with our possibilities and potential outcomes."
Recognizing that life often takes different turns than some people are expecting, Elder Samuelson spoke of the importance of students' decisions are on the outcome of their future.
"There is significant truth in the notion that much of what happens to us is unexpected and not in our control," he said. "However, and this is most vital and critical to understand, the things of greatest and ultimate importance to us are largely in our control and within the scope of our agency."
Elder Samuelson taught of the importance of staying faithful, even when experiences out of a person's control come. Oftentimes those difficult experiences include sickness, abuse, not having the opportunity to marry or raise children, but, no matter what life brings, a person can control those things of eternal significance,
"Notwithstanding our best efforts, things rarely, if ever, turn out exactly the way we would expect, predict or desire. Life is full of great surprises both happy and sad," he said. "Nevertheless, I stand by my exertion that you are really and completely in control of those things that have ultimate importance."
Elder Samuelson spoke of three aspects of life that have ultimate importance.
First, he said, is the relationships with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, others and selves. Developing a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is crucial to success and happiness in this life, he said. Also included in important relationships are family relationships, even when spread across many miles and distances. He also mentioned the importance of understanding one's own personal importance and potential.
"You wont be successful in any of your other relationships if you don't have a healthy sense of who you really are," he said.
Second, Elder Samuelson spoke of the importance of making and keeping covenants.
"Keeping them is a fundamental component of your integrity and also your relationship with heaven," he said. "Holding to the iron rod has never been more necessary than in our lives today."
Third, he spoke of the importance of keeping commitments. No matter how large or small, keeping commitments in any responsibility — work, school, church callings, small jobs around the house — whatever it is, make your words your bonds, Elder Samuelson said.
Although the future does have many unknowns, Elder Samuelson said, by focusing on the eternally important aspects of life, happiness can be found and the future will be bright.
"Your futures are bright, brighter than you can currently imagine because you are children of God," he said. "You can make your futures as bright as you wish in the truly important things. Be sure to keep them in mind and not become distracted by the many temptations and diversions that will envelope you if you allow them to do so."
Sister Sharon Samuelson also spoke to students during Tuesday's devotional. In her remarks, she spoke of the importance of holding to the iron rod, as given in 1 Nephi chapter 8, throughout all experiences in life.
"Even though my husband nor I is a centenarian, we are old enough to have years filled with joys, blessings and successes, as well as challenges, sorrows and disappointments," Sister Samuelson said. "My life has taken many paths, and as I have travelled them my testimony of our Savior Jesus Christ has been strengthened daily."
Looking at Lehi's vision of the tree of life, taught in the Book of Mormon, Sister Samuelson spoke of the lessons learned about the course Church members should follow.
"You are living in a world where mists of moral and spiritual darkness surround you, where the adversary is seeking the souls of men through all manner of iniquity," she said. "The iron rod is a safe guide along the road to eternal life."
Just as the people in the vision pass through dreary waste and darkness, so do Church members today. But, just as the people in the vision had an iron rod to hold on to, Church members today must remember the guide given to keep them on the straight and narrow path.
"You have the word of God, or the iron rod, within your grasp at the present time or you would not be with us today," Sister Samuelson said. "Your lives are ahead of you as you search for happiness and eternal joy. In order to live with God once again, you cannot deviate from the straight and narrow path or lose your firm grip on the iron rod, or you will be as those that are lost in Lehi's vision."
Noting that various reasons and an abundance of excuses often cause grips to relax or let go, Sister Samuelson encouraged students to be strong and true to the word of God.
"There is no shortcut, there is just danger off the path," she said. "There is no shortcut to eternal salvation. You will run into difficulties but if you hold very tightly to the iron rod of righteousness, you will receive blessings of protection from the Lord. You will face opposition, but you have agency to make choices that will determine what happens to you both mortally and eternally. …
"It is so important that each of you clings tenaciously to the rod of iron every day and in every aspect of life," she said. "The Lord loves you and desires you to succeed in the righteous secular subjects in life, but not to the detriment of those things spiritual."