In responding to a myriad of questions posed by a group of young single Latter-day Saints, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland noted a familiar theme threaded through many of his and his ecclesiastical associates’ responses.
“You are supposed to leave this devotional believing in God’s love for you. That is my message and my witness,” Elder Holland said during the question-and-answer format devotional on Sunday, Feb. 14. “In this life and the next, you will enjoy the love and protection of a divine Father.”
Speaking to young adults, including 16- to 18-year-old young men and young women, from six stakes and one district in Lubbock, Texas, Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and three other general Church leaders offered words of warning and invitation as well as loving counsel.
Elder Holland was joined at the devotional broadcast by Elder Ruben V. Alliaud, second counselor in the North America Southwest Area; Sister Michelle Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency; and Bishop L. Todd Budge, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.
In answering inquiries on a variety of topics — ranging from dating and finding a spouse to preparing for the Second Coming to LGBT issues and feeling comfortable at church — the Church leaders offered responses as candid as the questions.
Marriage and dating
Because the devotional was held on Valentine’s Day — a time recognized in the United States as a celebration of love and affection — it was little wonder that many questions had to do with dating and marriage.
The first question read by Elder Holland noted the turmoil running rampant in the world and whether young Latter-day Saints are “too hasty” in rushing into marriage.
Elder Holland agreed that Latter-day Saints should not be at the mercy of haste or frenzy about this eternally significant decision. “Don’t be unwise. For example, don’t feel like you have to get married 30 seconds after you’re back from your mission. Make marriage the high priority it is supposed to be, but let your Father in Heaven lead you to the right partner at the right time in your life,” he said.
He explained one of the reasons the Church focuses on marriage is because the doctrinal significance of marriage and family throughout the world has been demeaned over the last few decades. “The Lord expects us to revere marriage and family and the bearing of children,” the Apostle said.
However, everyone is going to be on a different timetable. Don’t be afraid to get married, he counseled, even during tumultuous times.
“Don’t take counsel from your fears about courtship and marriage. Take counsel from your faith, and from the spiritual impulses you have, the good feelings you enjoy when you’re dating and associating with each other. Those are the things to trust.”
Prior to being called as a General Authority, Bishop Budge served as a young single adult stake president. He would often ask, “Have you ever known a married person that wasn’t happy?” Inevitably they would say yes. Then he would ask “Have you ever known a single person that wasn’t happy?” The answer was also inevitably yes.
Marital status is not what determines happiness, Bishop Budge told listeners. Then sharing Mosiah 2:41, he added, “Moreover I have a desire that you should consider on the blessed and happy state of those who keep the commandments of God.”
“When our focus is on Christ and His gospel, we can find joy in any circumstance, and so whether we’re married or single, we can be happy and we can have a full life and feel joy and peace,” Bishop Budge said.
When asked “how do I recognize the person I’m supposed to marry?” Sister Craig responded it’s a decision that is made along the way and the peace that is felt as individuals continue to date.
She also suggested asking two questions. First, “does this person make you want to be better?” And second, “is this someone who will help you make and keep sacred covenants?”
In response to what Elder Holland termed a “terrific question” about what ideal trait a person should try to develop before marriage, Elder Alliaud turned to Moses 5.
In verse 10, Adam says, “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened.” In the next verse, Eve says much the same thing but uses inclusive language — “Were it not for our transgression.”
The process of learning to think as “we” and “our” instead of “me” and “mine” is an important part of becoming “one flesh,” Elder Alliaud said.
One question posed to the Church leaders asked what advice they had for someone who doesn’t feel like he or she belongs at church because he or she is attracted to both men and women.
Bishop Budge said if Latter-day Saints were truly living in a Zion society, all wards would be open and tolerant and loving and warm, but he realizes that is not always the case. His advice would be to echo the words of the Savior to forgive those who don’t treat you well.
Bishop Budge once heard Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles respond to a similar question about Latter-day Saints who are part of the LGBT community by relating the experience of Nephi in the Book of Mormon. When Lehi tells his sons that they need to go out into the wilderness, the scriptures say that Nephi prayed and the Lord softened his heart. His brothers, on the other hand, murmured that it is a hard thing being required of them. “But behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord” (1 Nephi 3:5).
“It is a hard thing that the Lord has required, especially if you have that attraction and those feelings,” Bishop Budge said. “But trust the Lord and keep His commandments, and you’ll experience the joy and happiness that He promised.”
Elder Holland explained that the Church does not make judgment about feelings or attraction but rather on behavior and what one actually does. “We don’t make an ecclesiastical judgment or a disciplinary decision on the basis of what someone feels or attractions that they have. What we ask is, please do not act contrary to the commandments or contrary to covenants or contrary to the teachings of the Lord and the prophets. Please don’t act on attractions that would alienate you from the Spirit and from the body of the Church.”
Those who are willing to behave consistent with the commandments of the Lord will be able to hold a temple recommend, receive temple covenants, hold a calling and enjoy all the blessings of the gospel. “But it does take effort on the behavior side,” Elder Holland said. “Through that effort we will wait with you, cry with you and be patient together as we bless each other with true brotherhood and sisterhood.”
The answer is love
In response to an individual who asked how to deal with friends who have lost their testimonies, Elder Alliaud replied that the answer is not to judge them but to love them.
He then quoted Hymns No. 220, “Lord, I Would Follow Thee.” “Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly?”
Quoting President Boyd K. Packer, the late president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Alliaud said it is important to identify areas of concern for those who struggle and then help them understand Church doctrine.
“Then you can start praying on those things and ask for help from heaven to help them to come back,” said Elder Alliaud, who promised that in time, individuals would see their prayers answered.
Several questions were submitted surrounding being true to the gospel despite opposition and tumultuous times.
Sister Craig bore witness that even though there is evil in the world, there is also good. “God is asking us to be salt and yeast and light in an ever-darkening world and to spread His love and His influence,” she said. “Love God and love others in the world, remembering that God loves the world so much that He gave His Son Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Budge shared John 15:12-14. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”
Jesus is sending a “friend request,” Bishop Budge explained. “How will we accept the request? By keeping His commandments.”
Praying, hearkening to the word of God and seeking the Lord’s will provide protection against temptations, Bishop Budge said.
“I just testify that God is a God of love, that He loves each of you and He has a plan for each of you.” The work of life is to, through prayer and reading the scriptures, figure out what the Lord wants and then do what He asks. “And if we do that, we will develop this relationship with God and with His Son Jesus Christ that gives us the strength to do whatever it is that we need to do and overcome whatever we need to overcome,” Bishop Budge said.
One question, which Elder Holland said “crushed him,” asked how to feel God’s love despite not feeling loved by an earthly father.
The scriptures teach Christ is like His Father, Sister Craig said, promising listeners that as they do all they can to learn about the nature and character of Jesus Christ in the scriptures, they will come to know the nature and character of God.
Elder Holland said some people read the Old Testament and think they see God’s justice. Others look up at the heavens and are impressed by His power. “One thing they did not know and could not yet fully comprehend was His love,” Elder Holland said. “So He sent His Son to say, ‘show them who I really am. Show them how I love.’”
Elder Holland closed the meeting with his testimony of Heavenly Father’s love for His children.
Elder Holland categorized himself as a mortal, limited, inadequate father, “Yet there is nothing I would not do for my children in righteousness,” he said. “There is no river I wouldn’t swim, no mountain I wouldn’t climb, no terror I wouldn’t confront or beast I wouldn’t wrestle to the ground for my children.”
If “average, old Jeff Holland” can do and feel that, Elder Holland said, “what on earth does it mean about our Father in Heaven and His love, what He would do and what He has already done, especially through His Beloved Son, His Agent whom He sent to say ‘tell them how much I love them. Show them how to live together in love.’
“I bear witness of that kind of God. And I bear witness of that kind of Savior.”