How Elder Holland’s view of himself and others has changed during the COVID-19 crisis

When conditions improve and life after COVID-19 returns to “normal” — whatever that looks like — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said there is one lesson he is determined to carry with him: take time for personal reflection.

The member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently spoke with Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem, via recorded video-conference about using time during social distancing to look inside one’s self, make changes and do better. 

Elder Holland is one of dozens of religious leaders around the world featured in the Elijah Interfaith Institute’s “Coronaspection” initiative, which aims to share light and hope through introspection during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seeking “solitude” is something the Savior did — not to retreat or flee the realm but “to gather strength in order to return,” Elder Holland told the Rabbi.

With canceled trips, fewer meetings and minimal speaking assignments, Elder Holland has had additional hours to spend in prayer, scripture study and meditation. He said he hasn’t had this much time to himself since before he was president of Brigham Young University, more than four decades ago.

“I see things I’d like to do better,” Elder Holland said candidly, noting his general concern for others has been “personalized” through the COVID-19 crisis.

Now, he has “a determination” to return to his public service with “a little more sympathy and empathy, a little more insight and feeling for those out in that congregation.”

“I’ve seen more of their individuality and worth. I’ve seen them for who they are. I’ve seen them as children of God,” said Elder Holland, using his 90-year-old neighbor and the young boy on the street out his window as examples. “I always did, but now it’s a little different with a threat in the air we can’t even see.”

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Elder Holland said the coronavirus crisis is not God’s judgment on His children. But it’s a reinforcement that “we’re part of the family of God” and He wants His children to turn to Him. 

This lesson of “rebalance” — of turning to God, recognizing His hand and making changes, “repenting” to use a scriptural word — is “a universal need,” he said.

In the future, when Elder Holland sits in front of a congregation, meets with a youth group or talks to people at a public protest or rally, he said he’ll have a “much more personal view.”

“Those aren’t just nameless, faceless people. Those are individual people with individual needs and hopes, with dreams and joys and disappointments,” Elder Holland said. “I know that intellectually. I’ve always known it, and I’ve tried to treat people that way. But this kind of event has underscored that individuality to me. I think I am a little more sensitive to what those heartaches are.” 

When asked about fear and anxiety during the crisis, Elder Holland said his faith has kept him grounded, but he has felt concern for others. 

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem, interviews Elder Jeffrey R. Holland as part of the institute's "Coronaspection” initiative on June 8, 2020.
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem, interviews Elder Jeffrey R. Holland as part of the institute’s “Coronaspection” initiative on June 8, 2020. Credit: Screenshot The Elijah Interfaith Institute YouTube

“That’s most of what we discuss in our meetings,” he said of meeting with other senior leaders of the Church.

But his Brethren don’t act out of fear, he added. “You don’t see any frenzy in the room. You don’t see anyone wringing their hands or fleeing in desperation. 

“We’re just sitting in counsel trying to do the best we can for people who need to be blessed, who need to be safe, and for whom we want to do that the best we can.”

After restrictions end and Elder Holland sits again next to his fellow members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in their more traditional pattern, “I anticipate a rich, powerful, symbiotic sharing of these kinds of lessons,” he said. 

To conclude the interview, the Rabbi and Elder Holland prayed together. Elder Holland asked the Lord for “optimism of a divine origin” and hope for those in distress. He pleaded for “brotherhood and sisterhood and peace in the world.”

Watch Elder Holland’s interview on the Elijah Interfaith Institute’s YouTube channel.