PROVO, Utah — Besides being the Church’s longest-tenured General Authority at 44 years, President M. Russell Ballard is also a grandfather to 43 and a great-grandfather to 95.
Not surprisingly, he hears “a lot of interesting things” from his grandchildren and other young people who are a lot like the thousands he addressed at Tuesday’s Brigham Young University devotional at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
And after listening to their insights, concerns and worries, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said he has identified three important things “I want you to always remember.”
First and most important: “You are a child of your Heavenly Father, who loves you.”
Second: “Your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, loves you.”
And third: “Like my grandchildren, I love and admire you — every one of you.”
Whenever President Ballard visits with young adults, he enjoys learning about their experiences, including the latest technology they are using.
“I try to be connected as much as my 91 years can handle,” he said. “However, I admit that I am barely able to figure out my smartphone — which, by the way, is really smart.”
Drawing up his characteristic humor, the Apostle said he recently learned that TikTok “isn’t just the sound of a clock.” And he’s discovered a new expression sometimes directed at older folks: “OK, Boomer.”
President Ballard said he wonders why different generations are identified as if everyone born within a certain time span thinks and acts alike. Such identifications defy reality.
“However, I really do want to understand and learn more about you Millennials and Gen Zs,” he said. “I have spent many hours listening, pondering, learning and praying about your generations, because I love my grandchildren and you. Yes, over the years I have spent hours asking Heavenly Father to help me know how best to minister to you.”
Younger generations sometimes seem easy targets for criticism.
“However, I do not believe what some say. I am here this morning to tell you, just like I believe in my own grandchildren, I believe in you. I love and admire you.”
Appreciations of the younger generations
President Ballard then noted a few things he appreciates about younger generations — including some things “that older generations could learn from you.”
First, he said, “I have noticed your desire to understand your true identity and your purpose.”
That desire sometimes prompts difficult questions and impulses to help those who may be marginalized or forgotten.
But there remains one key identity that is shared by all generations.
“You are and have always been a son or daughter of God, with spiritual roots in eternity. You are, first and foremost, and always will be a spiritual child of God.”
The foundational fact of heavenly parentage, taught President Ballard, is not just “my truth” or “your truth.”
“It is eternal truth, written in big, bold, capital letters. Understanding this truth — really understanding and embracing it — is life-changing. It gives you an extraordinary identity that no one can ever take away from you. But more than that, it should give you an enormous feeling of value and a sense of your infinite worth. Finally, it provides you a divine, noble, and worthy purpose in life.”
The second thing President Ballard said he recognizes in younger generations is a commitment to a more sustainable future for all of God’s children, creatures and the earth.
“Whether it is environmental, economic or social sustainability, I hope you will continue to find creative solutions to help protect the future for all of God’s children in our world,” he said, “We should do whatever we can to protect and preserve the earth and to make life better for those who live here.”
The third thing President Ballard recognizes in young people is a desire for authenticity and transparency.
“You have helped many of God’s children find greater peace and hope,” he said. “For example, although we have a long way to go, the openness I hear in discussions about mental and emotional health has made it easier for many to get the professional help and support they need without feeling any embarrassment or guilt.
“Thank you for this important, Christlike service.”
‘Keep your divine identity’
Like a caring grandfather, President Ballard acknowledged the many important things young people are doing for others around the globe. “However, I plead with each of you to please keep your divine identity at the center of everything you do.”
Sharing a “group identity” with others can provide purpose in life. But the Apostle cautioned that such identities can be a distraction and hinder progress if based on false and incorrect ideologies.
In the United States and in many other countries, a great divide has grown between political parties.
“Belonging to a political party can be a very good thing when it helps us to align ourselves with candidates and others who share our personal values and beliefs,” he said. “But we must never forget that although we may be a member of a political party, we are first and foremost citizens or residents of our country.
“That larger and more important shared identity should bind us to one another and help us to overcome the petty squabbling and demonization that has sadly become standard operating procedure in contemporary partisan politics throughout most of the world.
“That is why we need to constantly pray for our countries and our leaders.”
The same, he added, is true in relationships between nations and their peoples.
“We are inhabitants of the same planet, and we are dependent upon each other for our mutual survival, happiness and peace.”
The group always most important to identify with is being, collectively, the children of God.
“This knowledge also provides a divine, noble and worthy purpose. That purpose is found in the two great commandments — we are to love the Lord with all our hearts, might and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all people can ultimately realize their divine destiny and become like their Heavenly Parents, he added.
Following the Two Great Commandments
Keeping God’s commandments is integral to truly loving God — which is the first great commandment, said President Ballard. It is tied to priesthood ordinances, covenants and a commitment to faithfully live the gospel.
The second great commandment — to love one’s neighbor — is also essential. “To love your neighbor is to have compassion on those we meet, even if they belong to a different group and at times are identified as our enemies,” he said.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, which signaled the beginning of the Restoration of the gospel in preparation for Christ’s Second Coming.
What has followed that First Vision is a miracle, said President Ballard.
“Priesthood authority, temple ordinances and covenants, additional scripture — including the Book of Mormon — and knowledge from heaven have been restored on earth. In particular, the God of Heaven has revealed to His servants, the prophets, who He is and who His Beloved Son is and our true relationships with Them.”
President Ballard has read new stories and social media posts in recent weeks about what’s happening on the Church-owned campus. He said it was the Lord’s will that he speak to those attending Tuesday’s BYU devotional on “the truth about being daughters and sons of God.”
The Apostle taught what it means to love God by sharing the words of the Savior: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37).
“These actions encompass a purposeful life that is committed to loving the Lord intellectually, emotionally and spiritually,” President Ballard said.
The Savior also taught: “If ye love me, keep my commandments…. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:15-18, 21).
“Keeping the commandments is essential if we are to truly love the Lord fully and completely,” said President Ballard. “Keeping the commandments is eternally tied to priesthood ordinances, covenants, and a commitment to faithfully live the gospel.”
He also assured all in his audience that the Lord loves every individual, is concerned for each one and “is anxious to heal any wounded souls on this campus and to bring together each and every one of you in love and peace. We can help in the process as we love, seek forgiveness, offer forgiveness and seek to build bridges of understanding.”
Open and honest discussions are needed on campus to resolve issues and deal with challenges, he added. But of all the world’s universities, BYU should be where Christ’s teachings and commandments are proclaimed, discussed and lived.
Always remembering one’s divine identity is “the antidote to anger, ill feelings, distrust, hate and demonizing one another.”
President Ballard concluded his devotional message Tuesday by inviting all in his broad audience to find “a truth the Lord intended for you personally.”
Follow the Savior’s example, he said, and seek opportunities to ponder and pray.
“I invite you to spend some time in the next few days to be alone in a quiet place to commune with your Heavenly Father and learn how to better understand and serve each other by helping and lifting each other.”
Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ’s love “will provide you a compass for how you should act and how you should treat others” while simultaneously offering “the strength to overcome temptation and stay on the Church covenant path.”
The younger generations are the best at sharing things on social media.
“Share what you have come to feel and know for yourself about your true identity as a daughter and a son of our Heavenly Father,” he said. “We need your help to spread these great truths.”
Doug Webb, a BYU sophomore from Washington D.C., said he won’t forget the love President Ballard expressed for each member of Tuesday’s devotional audience.
“I felt precious and important today, and I am determined to follow God’s commandments because I love Him too.”
A sophomore and returned missionary from Miami, Florida, Oscar Muñoz, said President Ballard’s message reminded him of his divine identity as a son of God.
“We are all part of a greater society, as President Ballard mentioned. Our Heavenly Father love us all equally and desires the best for us. We all have a goal at the end, which is to gain eternal life.”