It is not so much abilities, but choices that make the difference in life, said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf during the opening session of the 187th Semiannual General Conference on Sept. 23.
“There may be many things about life that are beyond your control,” he continued. “But in the end, you have the power to choose both your destination and many of your experiences along the way.”
Speaking during the General Women’s Session, President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, told the worldwide congregation that they can allow circumstances “to make you sad” or “to make you mad.”
Or, “you can find joy and happiness in the grace of God and in the love of Jesus Christ. You can be glad. I urge you to fill your hearts with gratitude for the abundant and limitless goodness of God.”
President Uchtdorf began his remarks by speaking of three sisters who lived “a long time ago in a distant land.”
The first sister was sad, he remarked.
“Everything from her nose to her chin and from her skin to her toes seemed not quite good enough to her. ... When someone criticized her or forgot to invite her to something, she would blush, walk away, and find a secret spot, where she would let out a sad sigh, and wonder why life had turned out to be so bleak and cheerless.”
The second sister was mad, he added.
“She thought of herself as very smart, but there was always someone else who scored higher on tests at school. She considered herself funny, fair, fashionable, and fascinating. But always, there seemed to be someone who was funnier, fairer, more fashionable, or more fascinating. She was never first at anything, and this she could not endure.”
Sometimes, the mad sister lashed out at others and was always one breath away from being outraged by one thing or another.
Then there was the third sister, continued President Uchtdorf. Unlike her sad and mad sisters, she was glad. “And it wasn’t because she was smarter or more beautiful or more capable than her sisters. No, people sometimes avoided or ignored her too. But she did not allow any of that to bother her too much.”
President Uchtdorf said many years passed, and eventually each sister reached the end of her time on earth. “The first sister, who discovered again and again that there was no shortage of disappointments in life, eventually died sad. ... The second, who every day found something new to dislike, died mad. And the third sister, who spent her life singing her song with all her might and a confident smile on her face, died glad.”
Of course, said President Uchtdorf, life is never so simple. “But even extreme examples like these can teach us something about ourselves. If you are like most of us, you may have recognized part of yourself in one, two, or perhaps all three of these sisters.”
The first sister saw herself as a victim, remarked President Uchtdorf. “It seemed like one thing after another kept happening to her that made her miserable. With this approach to life, she was giving others control over how she felt and behaved.
“Dear sisters, why should you surrender your happiness to someone, or a group of someones, who cares very little about you, or your happiness?”
To those who worry about what other people say, President Uchtdorf suggested an antidote. “Remember who you are. You have the spiritual DNA of God.”
Even when his children stumble, God loves them, said President Uchtdorf.
“My dear sisters, please let these divine truths sink deeply into your hearts,” he pleaded. “And you will find that there are many reasons not to be sad, for you have an eternal destiny to fulfill.”
The second sister was angry at the world, said President Uchtdorf.
“Like her sad sister, she felt that the problems in her life were all caused by someone else. She blamed her family, her friends, her boss and coworkers, the police, the neighbors, Church leaders, current fashion trends, even the intensity of solar flares, and plain bad luck.”
Everyone else, she believed, was motivated by selfishness, pettiness, and hate. “She, on the other hand, was motivated by good intentions—justice, integrity, and love.”
President Uchtdorf shared that the year he was born the world was immersed in a terrible war caused by his own nation, “by a group of people who identified certain other groups as evil and encouraged hatred toward them.”
He said he shudders when he thinks about what happened in 20th Century Germany.
“Once you degrade a group of people, you are more likely to justify words and acts of violence against them,” he said.
In contrast the Savior asked others to love their enemies, President Uchtdorf said.
“We are responsible for our own discipleship, and it has little — if anything — to do with the way others treat us,” he said. “We obviously hope that they will be understanding and charitable in return, but our love for them is independent of their feelings toward us.”
The Authentic Disciple
The third sister represents the authentic disciple of Jesus Christ, President Uchtdorf continued. “She did something that can be extremely hard to do — she trusted God even in the face of ridicule and hardship.”
She maintained her faith and hope, despite the scorn and cynicism around her. “She lived joyfully, not because her circumstances were joyful, but because she was joyful.”
No one makes it through life’s journey unopposed, said President Uchtdorf.
The answer can be found in Lehi’s dream recorded in the Book of Mormon, he continued.
“If you find it difficult to hold fast to the iron rod and walk steadfastly toward salvation; if the laughter and ridicule of others who seem so confident, cause you to waver; if you are troubled by unanswered questions or doctrines you don’t understand yet; if you feel saddened because of disappointments, I urge you to remember Lehi’s dream ,” he said. “Never let go of the rod of iron — the word of God! And when anyone tries to make you ashamed for partaking of the love of God, ignore them. Never forget, you are a child of God.”
President Uchtdorf concluded: the promises of praise and acceptance by the world are unreliable, untrue, and unsatisfying. In contrast, God’s promises are sure, true, and joyful.
“I pray that you will choose to lift up your voice and make your life a glorious symphony of praise, rejoicing in what the love of God, the wonders of His Church, and the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring to the world.”