PROVO, Utah — Years ago, while listening to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak at a funeral of a young man in her ward, Sister Michelle D. Craig learned an important lesson:
“[Elder Holland] reminded us what matters most in each ‘new day of opportunity,’” Sister Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, told students at Brigham Young University during a campus devotional on Dec. 11.
The Apostle’s words focused on prioritizing what a person spends their time doing and emphasized three things every person is able to take with them into the next life.
“Character, ordinances and family relationships — these three things became my ‘vital few’ — the things I would give my best time and energy to,” said Sister Craig.
Speaking in the Marriott Center on the university’s Provo campus, Sister Craig encouraged students to not waste their "day of opportunity" and compared life to a testing center.
“Occasionally we are given true-and-false tests in life — clear right and wrong choices — moments of truth. At those moments, stand up. Stand tall. Choose with courage.”
But more often, every day life hands individuals multiple choice tests.
“Sometimes they feel like the ones we take and we’re convinced our professor is using to try and trick us,” she said. “Is it A? B? C? All of the above? Or none of the above? All the choices may be good, but wrong for this moment.”
Sometimes choices are between two good things — between studying and attending the temple or making the decision of choosing a major.
“Multiple choice tests of life — including our decisions about the use of our time — require wisdom and deeper understanding,” she said. “That’s why they are given to us by our school teachers and by the Great Teacher and Refiner of our souls.”
With those tests, every day is a day of opportunity, the Young Women leader taught.
“If we want to avoid wasting our ‘day of opportunity,’ the answer isn’t just to go faster,” she said. “We want to go in the right direction, to focus on the vital few things that determine our success. So, what should we focus on?”
Sister Craig expounded on the three things Elder Holland shared at the funeral — character, ordinances and family relationships.
“God gives us experiences from which He intends us to forge a more divine character and invites us to join in His work of gathering Israel and helping others enjoy eternal life,” she said. “That’s a big goal, but help comes disguised in small packages.”
Sharing of a time in her life when she was home with little children and her husband was busy with work and Church callings, Sister Craig spoke of how she felt exhausted and discouraged.
“I tried to make Sunday a special day — one where my children felt the Spirit and we learned the gospel together like I had heard wonderful women speak about at BYU Education Week,” Sister Craig said. “But I felt that I spent most of my Sabbath breaking up fights, cleaning up messes, working in the kitchen, entertaining children and watching the clock for when Boyd would finally make it home. Sunday was anything but a day of rest and spiritual renewal.”
After a long day she remembered feeling sorry for herself and falling into bed. She decided to read one scripture, despite not feeling like doing so. She sat up and opened her scriptures to read one verse, which happened to be Doctrine and Covenants 64:33 where it reads, “Wherefore, be not weary in well doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.”
She felt peace and light, and her heart was softened as she read that verse.
“You may or may not have children who challenge you,” she said. “You may or may not have a career, a calling, or a craft. You may be challenged by a spouse or by not having a spouse. The paths in front of you are as varied as the paths that brought you to BYU.
“But one thing I can promise you: God will be with you in the great work that lies ahead of you, whatever it is. Any worthwhile goal will require a lot of work and weariness and well-doing. You’ll need to push ahead when staying back and resting would be easier.”
The door to success turns on small hinges — habits of prayer and patience, turning to the scriptures and listening to the still, small voice.
“If you listen to that small voice, truly great things will proceed in your own life,” she said. “The influence of the Holy Ghost will change your character and you will find that, whatever your path, you will not have wasted your day of opportunity.”
“I believe that ordinances and covenants of the gospel are gifts from our loving Father; I believe they are weapons against Satan, and that they bring spiritual power,” she said. “Covenants can make an enormous difference in our lives.”
Spending time receiving sacred ordinances and making and renewing covenants will bless a person in every area of his or her life.
“We can have faith in the Lord’s arithmetic, that He will multiply and magnify our efforts when we make ordinances and covenants a priority,” she said.
Recognizing there is much in the lives of students they cannot control, Sister Craig reminded listeners they do have control over participating in gospel ordinances.
“You cannot always control if those you like don’t seem to like you back, if you don’t get the job or internship you wanted so badly, if your family situation is less than ideal, or if you struggle with physical or mental health challenges,” she said. “But there is something you can absolutely control; you can control if you will participate in gospel ordinances and how you will keep your covenants. And you will find that these ordinances will manifest the ‘power of godliness’ unto you.”
Since family relationships are among the few things a person is able to take into the next life, they are one of the very “vital few” things a person should focus on and pay attention to, she taught.
“Whatever your challenges, look up and see others around you,” Sister Craig said. “Don’t see only the dirty dishes — the problem sets to finish, the chapters to read, finals to take or your phone. Notice those around who need help. You can show that you love your sibling more than you love watching your favorite show; you can show that you care more about roommates’ feelings than you care about being right; that your concern for others in your ward is real and your affection isn’t fake. And then you will have relationships that show you have not wasted your time on earth, but that you are joining in God’s great work of lifting His children.”
As an individual uses his or her “day of opportunity” well, they will have opportunities never dreamed of, Sister Craig said.
“It is my prayer that each of us can be intentional in the way we use our time and energy. Making sure that time is spent on the ‘vital few’ activities rather than the ‘trivial many’ will bring happiness and peace not only in this life, but in the life to come.”
For Bethany Fry, a student studying statistics from Vancouver, Washington, Sister Craig’s words were a good reminder that “every day is an opportunity.”
“I liked the reminder to take time to take time to talk to a roommate and do things that are more important — minister time,” she said.
For Amanda Crandall, an employee in the Special Collections section of the Harold B. Lee Library and mother of two 6-year-old boys, Sister Craig’s talk helped her remember to “not see people as interruptions.”
“I like the reminder to never let a problem be my focus,” she said. "People are more important."