Boyd Matheson: What happened when Elder Bednar asked 15,000 BYU-Idaho students to listen to the Spirit instead of him

Typical note-taking for university students can be a stress-inducing, exhaustive experience filled with frenetic attempts to copiously capture everything the teacher is saying. At a BYU-Idaho devotional on Sept. 21 in a massive hall with over 15,000 students, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stepped to the podium. Pens were poised, digital tablets were set to document and personal note-taking systems were ready to record his message in binders and journals. Elder Bednar humbly invited his listeners to do something different — and everything changed.

There was an initial rush to write and capture what Elder Bednar was saying, and I admit I found myself racing to keep up. I then watched in amazement as an apostle of Jesus Christ taught those listening to listen differently, learn through the Spirit and follow a pattern so they could individually say, as President Russell M. Nelson has challenged, “I know for myself.” 

The longer Elder Bednar taught, the fewer dictation-style notes were being taken — personal impressions, spiritually customized messages, personal testimony along with answers to questions known and unknown were carefully, thoughtfully and thankfully written.  As I looked around the auditorium I observed the most intense listening and learning I had ever witnessed in such a setting. It was a still and silent edification combined with a reverent rejoicing together.

Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks during a fireside at BYU Idaho in Rexburg on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019.
Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks during a fireside at BYU Idaho in Rexburg on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

We all were learning that it is the space between the notes that makes the music grand, the space between the text on a printed page that tells the story and the space between the spoken word where the Spirit stirs our souls.

My mind was swept away to another time and place with a “teacher come from God” who showed me this spiritual pattern of listening, learning and knowing.

Why Elder Bednar didn’t want anyone to remember his words at this BYU-Idaho devotional

From a very early age, and probably from some genetic defect, I have always equated the word “camping” to literally mean anything below the standard of a Marriott Hotel.  I remember very little about my years of Scouting, I know no knots, can do nothing with power tools and my lone venture into pinewood derby as a boy resulted in disaster.  Yet I will never forget the lessons taught from a Scoutmaster who somehow convinced me that spending a week in the high mountains of Utah could be a good thing. 

I will ever remember miserably standing in the Uintas, in a little grove of trees, in the middle of a pounding rainstorm. The boys in our troop had donned their ponchos and were huddled around a makeshift fire. I was invited to walk a bit with my Scoutmaster Vaughn Hansen. He stopped at the edge of the grove and just looked around at the scene for several minutes in complete silence — majestic mountains, a serene lake, beautiful trees and the falling rain. 

He spoke in a soft voice about where we were, about who could create such beauty and about how such beauty could lead us closer to our Divine Creator. Then, he simply whispered, “Boyd, stay here and just listen for a little while. Listen to the rain, listen to the trees and then listen a little harder.” With that he walked off. 

The storm rolled on for quite some time. I sat alone and listened. I was inspired by what I saw, humbled by what I heard and amazed at what entered into my heart. I found myself on sacred ground and knew without a doubt that I was not alone. 

It would be years later and miles away that I would need the specific lesson and learning of that day. But oh how grateful I am for that Scoutmaster who taught me a pattern of being still long enough to listen, to learn through the Spirit and know for myself. No one told him to do it. No one told him how to do it. No one provided a textbook, lesson manual or checklist of what to do — just an inspired teacher come from God, the sounds of nature and the voice of the Spirit. I learned to be still and listen to the silence. 

“I found myself on sacred ground and knew without a doubt that I was not alone.” 

As my attention returned to the great auditorium on the BYU-Idaho campus, I heard Sister Bednar quoting Doctrine and Covenants 18:36, “Wherefore you can testify that you have heard my voice and know my word.” The pattern Elder Bednar had taught — worked! I had received answers to questions I had, insight into questions I didn’t know I had and had received a witness through the Spirit that I can know for myself what the Lord needs me to do, be and become.

In the coming days prophets and apostles will declare doctrine, we will read eternal principles in sacred texts and we will listen to inspired adjustments and wise counsel. Whether in a grand hall, listening to general conference, reading scriptures, or hearing words from trusted leaders and humble teachers — all can be edified and rejoice together when we follow the pattern and appoint the Spirit to do the teaching. Whatever the setting, we will be blessed by following this spiritual pattern of listening, learning and knowing for ourselves.