12 lessons from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve for facing COVID-19, other trials and turmoil

Just two weeks after leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suspended meetings worldwide in March amid the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, President M. Russell Ballard reflected on past times of turmoil and explained why he looked to the future with calm resolve.

“From the beginning of history there have been circumstances similar to this one. Somehow they got through them, and we are going to get through this one,” said the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who, at age 91, has served as a general authority longer than any other living Church leader. The world will win this “war on the coronavirus.”

In the six months that followed, other leaders — including President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — would also speak about the worldwide pandemic.

The result is a Church News series documenting the counsel and direction of senior Church leaders as the faith’s 16 million members began participating in weekly worship services in their homes, watched missionary work shift with the aid of technology and embraced limited opportunities for temple worship.

From those interviews emerged 12 instructive themes for those looking for guidance in a world increasingly defined by confusion and conflict:

The remedy to fear is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Looking to the future, President Nelson said Latter-day Saints should view conflict with an eternal perspective. “The road ahead will always be bumpy; the destination will be serene and secure,” he said.

The “crucial thing,” added President Henry B. Eyring, is to “connect with God” — to have the feeling that “God is walking with you. It is a feeling of trusting in the Lord, that he is watching over you. … The only way to deal with fear is faith.”

First Presidency: Amid fear, isolation and sorrow of COVID-19 — the answer to conflict is faith

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland called times of trial “precious opportunity to demonstrate faith. … In our modern age we don’t have to worry about parting the Red Sea because we have engineers that can build a bridge over it. We need some reminders from time to time that those beautifully engineered bridges can collapse, so to speak.”

Elder Holland said “the opportunity to respond to trouble and turmoil with ever-greater faith is documented over and over again in scripture — where the love of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and their many manifestations of mercy are the great constants when we face adversity of one kind or another.”

The Lord blesses His people in times of trial and discouragement.

President Nelson said an important learning of his life is that “even through clouds of sorrow, there can be silver linings found.”

“We are coming to realize how precious our families are, how precious our neighbors are, how precious our fellow Church members are,” said President Ballard. “There are lessons we are learning now that will make us better people.”

President Russell M. Nelson the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits with his counselors President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor, right, at a press conference in Salt Lake City Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.
President Russell M. Nelson the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits with his counselors President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor, right, at a press conference in Salt Lake City Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

President Dallin H. Oaks said the challenges that have defined 2020 are not without precedent; in the lifetime of many living today, the world has faced war, pestilence, drought and depression.

History articulates this resiliency, said President Ballard. “From the beginning of history there have been circumstances similar to (the COVID-19 pandemic). Somehow they got through them, and we are going to get through this one. …

“We don’t wring our hands,” said President Ballard. “We figure out how to find a new way.”

The Lord prepares His Church and His people to weather the storms of life.

Prophetic revelations in recent years have prepared Latter-day Saints for today, said Elder Ulisses Soares.

Revelations, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, guided the creation and implementation of new initiatives and directives that now form “an interlocking pattern of strength” that sustains and supports members facing the pandemic and other crises. These include: improving Sabbath day observance, introducing gospel teachings that emulate the Savior, making changes to Melchizedek Priesthood quorums, shifting from home and visiting teaching to ministering, expanding responsibilities of elders quorums and Relief Societies, instituting an integrated curriculum, and developing the Children and Youth program.

Because of revelation, said Elder Dale G. Renlund, senior leaders of the Church have never expressed fear as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected world populations. “There is not a hint of fear. Instead, we are asking: ‘How can we do things better? How can we improve? How can we bless our people?’ There is no fear.”

Elder Soares said the revelations Church leaders are receiving today “are part of the preparation for tomorrow or next year or the years ahead of us.”

Challenges are an opportunity for personal reflection.

Elder Holland called COVID-19 a “kind of mandatory Sabbath — a time when we step away from our normal routine, from life as usual, and consider our dependence on God and the blessings from Him we so often take for granted.”

It is “rare time of enforced solitude” to be “immersed in things of the soul that we always want to address, and know very well that we should, but sometimes in the hubbub of daily life don’t seize the opportunity to do. …

“Such times invite us to look into our soul and see if we like what we see there.”

Elder Ulisses Soares, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and Elder Dale G. Renlund, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speak to media after the dedication of the Rome Italy Temple in Rome, Italy on Sunday, March 10, 2019.
Elder Ulisses Soares, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and Elder Dale G. Renlund, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speak to media after the dedication of the Rome Italy Temple in Rome, Italy on Sunday, March 10, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder Cook said on occasion, senior leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ discuss what “impedes our awakening unto God.”

Many times, it is “a failure to appreciate that the (Savior’s) Atonement overcomes the unfairness of life and poor decisions of those who exercise their agency and inflict harm on others,” Elder Cook said. “Now most of us are spending considerable time at home and have a chance to think about awakening unto God. Perhaps recent events can be a spiritual alarm clock focusing us on those things that matter most. If so, it will be a great blessing in this period to concentrate on things that we can perfect in our lives and how we can bless the lives of others as we awaken to God and move along the covenant path.”

Times of trial and turmoil are opportunities for change and improvement.

Elder Neil L. Andersen called COVID-19 a pause that can be a time of great learning, a time to shift one’s focus from a temporal perspective to an eternal perspective. “Once we settle ourselves with our concerns about the health of our family, employment and the disruptions right before us, we know we need to pray: ‘What am I to do? What am I to learn? How am I to grow in this unusual time?’” said Elder Andersen.

“You can never find yourself in a time that the Lord won’t teach you if you are righteous. This life is a time for becoming, not just for experiencing. It is a time of being taught from on high.”

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ — as do all in the human race — will continue to face challenging times, said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf. They will be different for every person, in every location and in every circumstance. All are an opportunity for learning.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, members can lift and strengthen one another. It is one way the Lord takes care of his children, said Elder Soares. “These lessons will help us establish a framework for the future,” he said. “We cannot see this pandemic as a barrier but as something that has the potential to help us to become better in every aspect of our lives.”

Even amid challenges, the Lord’s work goes forward.

Elder David A. Bednar taught that “no unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing, and no pandemic will stop this work from progressing either. In the midst of all of the challenges we face now dealing with this virus, the work goes forward.”

Elder Andersen said each who seeks with sincerity will be blessed with the same sure resolve: “All the world is in the hands of the Lord. All things are in His control.”

For example, Church leaders have been examining missionary practices — where traditional “finding” has been limited by gated communities, inaccessible apartment buildings and change of social communication practices — for many years, said Elder Uchtdorf.

Addie Rutter uses a laptop at the Provo Missionary Training Center to teach French to training missionaries at home on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.
Addie Rutter uses a laptop at the Provo Missionary Training Center to teach French to training missionaries at home on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“COVID-19 accelerated our thinking about this tremendously and opened our eyes for new ways,” including the use of technology, he said. “The Spirit can work wonderfully as we use new and unfamiliar ways of communicating with each other.”

In addition, at a time when the pandemic has halted travel, Church leaders “are still getting assignments to speak all over the world,” said Elder Ronald A. Rasband. “We can’t go there and it wouldn’t be wise for us to go because of the worldwide pandemic.” However, through technology, “We can assemble our members anywhere in the world. And by video, and at least audio, we can communicate with them. … We are marching forward every weekend.”

Difficult times provide an opportunity to ponder belonging.

Now is a time that requires “a constant consciousness of the well-being of those around you,” said Elder D. Todd Christofferson. “There is a lot we can do for each other.”

That “constant consciousness of another’s welfare” represents a “coming to Zion or establishing Zion.” This is countercultural in today’s world, where there is a natural tendency to look inward and question: “What about me? What do I need? How am I going to be happy?” said Elder Christofferson. He called for Latter-day Saints to “reorient ourselves a little more toward one another and the well-being of one another.”

Elder Soares said he has stayed physically distant from family and friends — but is still spending time with them. “We use technology. We share scriptures. We share feelings, and we talk with each other.”

Elder Gerrit W. Gong said the Lord is close to his children in times of trial and that people should connect with one another. “There might be some physical distancing,” said Elder Gong, “but it doesn’t mean we are spiritually distant.”

The Lord allows His children to be highly favored of Him.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson said during the COVID-19 pandemic he has contemplated the first sentence on the first page of the Book of Mormon, written by the ancient prophet Nephi.

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents … and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days” (1 Nephi 1:1).

Nephi begins his own sacred record with the clear understanding that hardship has always been part of the human experience. He also confirms that being highly favored of the Lord in the journey through mortality does not make one exempt from life’s struggles and challenges.

Adding to Nephi’s words, Elder Stevenson said: “In the midst of affliction and disappointment, the Lord also allows us to be highly favored by him.”

Personal revelation will help God’s children navigate turmoil.

During times of uncertainty — including the current COVID-19 pandemic — Latter-day Saints can receive guidance from the Holy Ghost “that comes with certainty,” said Elder Renlund. “God knows that all of us need personal revelation for our own circumstances.”

The virus that causes COVID-19 is indiscriminate, he explained. “It is protein and ribonucleic acid. It has no soul, it has no temperament, it has no personality.”

It affects people differently, though, often exploiting individual weaknesses such as compromised health conditions and even unknown underlying illnesses.

Because of this, “it is an incomparable blessing that God has blessed us with the opportunity to receive personal revelation so that we, in our different circumstances, can be inspired.”

Elder Soares said Sunday worship has and will continue to help Latter-day Saints living in an age of doubt and fear to increase faith in their Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, bring them strength and protection, and help them receive revelation.

COVID-19 “is changing my way of thinking,” said Elder Soares. “I’m learning new ways to be better prepared for other challenges that may come in the future in my life. I’m seeing things that I was not seeing before. I am feeling more inclined to think more about other people and reach out to them instead of focusing on my own needs.”

Church leaders are also depending on revelation to direct the Church and its members, said Elder Gong. Leaders have pondered questions impacting the Church and its members, neighbors and friends, across the world. “As President Nelson said, we all want two things,” Elder Gong noted. “We want to know the will of the Lord, and we want to know how to bless his children.”

There is power in the teachings of Jesus Christ and the way the Church communicates them.

A most important focus “is the power of the word and how we communicate it,” said Elder Rasband.

“Our role as the Twelve Apostles is to communicate the word of the Lord — both by the words we use and the spirit that we are able to do that with,” he said.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband, left, and Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, along with Elder Massimo De Feo of the Quorum of the Seventy, participate in a press conference in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors' Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband, left, and Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, along with Elder Massimo De Feo of the Quorum of the Seventy, participate in a press conference in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News

COVID-19 brought “new patterns, new ways to think about what it means to be connected,” said Elder Gong. “I think we’re all going to be grateful to be back in church again. But we don’t want to lose the feelings and the thoughts and the patterns we have had while we have been at home.”

This time, Elder Cook said, “is foundational and will allow the Church to grow in the future and touch more lives and do more of the work of salvation than ever before. We will look back on this as a foundational time of preparation, and not just something we had to endure.”

God’s children can look forward with confidence.

With this confidence, Latter-day Saints have taken advantage of opportunities over the past six months to increase their focus on service, embrace home-centered worship and complete family history work. “I’ve learned how marvelous our members are,” said President Nelson. “Individual heroes have emerged. For example, countless health care professionals and providers have risked their own lives to care for others.”

In addition, the home is now “reenthroned as the primary sanctuary of their faith,” missionaries “are teaching more than ever,” and Latter-day Saint voluntary fast offering and humanitarian aid contributions have increased, President Nelson said.

Church members, said President Eyring, “surprise you by how well they adapt and move through difficult times. I’ve been tremendously impressed with the response of the members to stay steady.”

President Ballard encouraged those who feel discouraged to pick up the scriptures and study them; use technology to watch a Church video or to contact their family, friends or ward members; and keep smiling. “Let’s be happy and keep going forward and do the best we can, and these circumstances will change,” he said.

Members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, walk between photograph locations in the Rome Italy Temple visitors center in Rome, Italy on Monday, March 11, 2019.
Members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, walk between photograph locations in the Rome Italy Temple visitors center in Rome, Italy on Monday, March 11, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Times of trial are a preparation for eternity.

Without the perspective of the gospel, many challenges, many of the hardships of life, “would be unbearable,” said Elder Bednar. “But because we can recognize the scope of eternity and see beyond the grave, then we can fresh courage take and continue to press forward.”

“With the eternal perspective that the restored gospel provides and the grace that comes from the Savior’s Atonement, we can learn lessons from the adversity of mortality that prepare us for the blessings of eternity,” Elder Bednar said. “We have to pray. We have to seek. We have to ask. We have to have eyes to see and ears to hear. But we can be blessed in remarkable ways to learn lessons that will bless us now and forever.”