Sarah Jane Weaver: Messages of Church leaders help us look back on COVID-19 — and move forward

In his first official communication of 2022, President Russell M. Nelson shared important advice: “Be more resolute in being kind to others and strengthening your own spiritual foundation.”

The message came as the world has been grappling with the pandemic for two years; the first case of COVID-19 was identified in December 2019.  

Posting messages on TwitterFacebook and Instagram on Jan. 1, 2022, President Nelson made a few suggestions for those setting aside time to write resolutions for the coming year.

“First,” he wrote on Facebook and Instagram, “resolve to strengthen your spiritual foundation. This may involve setting a specific time and place to study the scriptures, praying more often, making temple worship a bigger priority, and letting God prevail in all aspects of your life.

“Second, resolve to be kind to others. When the Savior Jesus Christ visited the Americas, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, one of the first things He taught was the need to eliminate contention in our lives. So, please be compassionate, be understanding, be slow to judge and be quick to forgive.

“Third, resolve to be resolute. The Lord loves effort. The Lord loves consistency. The Lord loves steadfastness. While we surely will come up short from time to time, our persistent efforts to hear Him and follow the inspiration He gives us will help us to ‘wax strong in the Spirit’ (Mosiah 18:26).”

The message offers direction and hope at a time when many are feeling burdened and tired. Characteristic of President Nelson’s optimism, the message is the blueprint for looking forward. It also allows us to build on all we have learned during the pandemic.

This week the Church News looked back on the pandemic and how it impacted the Church. In the process, I have asked myself the question of how it has impacted me. Have I learned the lessons the Lord wanted me to learn during this unique time in history?

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, exit after the Saturday evening session of the 191st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, exit after the Saturday evening session of the 191st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Credit: Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

As the pandemic was intensifying in March and April of 2020, as many of us transitioned to home school, work and Church meetings, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminded us that this was a rare time of enforced solitude when “we don’t have a lot of trivia or superficial busyness distracting us from considering the truly important things in life. Such times invite us to look into our soul and see if we like what we see there. … [COVID-19 has brought 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.”

Elder David A. Bednar echoed Elder Holland’s resolve. “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. 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.”

All the world is in the hands of the Lord, added Elder Neil L. 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.”

Perhaps Elder Gerrit W. Gong summarized our situation as Latter-day Saints best. “We are not going to go back to something old,” he said. “We are going forward to something new. We are learning things that will help us keep the best of what we do person to person while learning to use technology and other means in effective and appropriate ways.”

Like President Nelson, Elder D. Todd Christofferson focused on being kind, asking us to consider belonging and what it feels like. “There is a lot we can do for one another if we have a sense of belonging and brotherhood and sisterhood,” he said.

Also foreshadowing President Nelson’s New Year’s Day message, Elder Gary E. Stevenson asked Latter-day Saints to build their lives on the sure foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When they do, he promised, “we will be able to view disappointment and discouragement through a lens of faith and optimism.”

That can be accomplished as we share the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, said Elder Ronald A. Rasband, adding that a most important focus “is the power of the word and how we communicate it.”

The Lord has promised to “hasten His work” for the blessing of all of God’s children, said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf. “I feel that we are right in the middle of this process while living through this challenging time.”

Using his hands to outline the shape of a heart, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf displays his love for the missionaries following a Nov. 5, 2019, devotional at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
Using his hands to outline the shape of a heart, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf displays his love for the missionaries following a Nov. 5, 2019, devotional at the Provo Missionary Training Center. Credit: Cheryl Taylor

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

For Elder Dale G. Renlund the lessons of the pandemic remind all of us that God lives and answers prayers. “I am hoping we have all learned that home-centered church can be spiritually rich,” he said. “I am hoping we have all learned about being self-reliant and taking responsibility for our own faith and our own spiritual progress. And I am hoping we have learned that messages from the Holy Ghost are quiet, plain and simple — and that this contrasts widely to the worldly messages that are loud, confusing and brash.”

Elder Ulisses Soares said an important lesson of the pandemic is that joy has little to do with the circumstances we face and everything to do with our focus on Jesus Christ. “We know that redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah, who is the source of all joy,” he said. “Having a clear understanding of that in our hearts, we can rejoice while having a bad day, a bad week or even a bad year.”

It is the optimism displayed by President M. Russell Ballard, who said we all have peace because the Lord guides His children and His Church.

“Do we see light at the end of the tunnel?” He declared, “absolutely!”