Years ago when they were living in California, LDS Business College President Bruce C. Kusch and his then-teenage son stopped at an outdoor shopping mall to visit a favorite store.
Something distracted President Kusch, and as he was looking to the side and walking forward, he slammed into a steel and concrete beam, sending his glasses flying and leaving him in intense pain and even worse embarrassment.
More recently, he has begun swimming regularly to train for triathlons. One morning, he was leaving the pool area when he saw an acquaintance in deep conversation with a friend, looking down and approaching him.
“I wondered if she would look up and say hello — because I knew that she would if she knew I was walking right by her,” President Kusch said. “I decided not to say anything — as a bit of a social experiment.” The woman passed him without noticing his presence, and they missed the opportunity to greet each other.
Reflecting on these experiences, he asked the students of LDSBC in a devotional broadcast on Tuesday, April 21: “Are there lessons for us to learn as we think about looking outward, looking inward and looking upward?”
Sister Alynda Kusch, President Kusch’s wife, spoke about opportunities to look outward while staying inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the first day of the stay-at-home order issued by Utah’s governor, she read Jacob 5:23, in which the allegorical lord of the vineyard says, “Look hither; behold I have planted another branch of the tree also; and thou knowest that this spot of ground was poorer than the first. But, behold the tree. I have nourished it this long time, and it hath brought forth much fruit.”
The quality of the soil did not determine the quality of the tree’s fruit, Sister Kusch explained. “Righteousness is not determined by circumstances, but rather, it is a choice that we make to live as steadfast disciples of Jesus Christ. We can choose to live as Saints, walking in faith even when the soil in which we are planted is not of our choosing and is less than ideal.”
Jesus Christ can help and strengthen individuals regardless of their circumstances, she added.
Sister Kusch shared several ways she and her loved ones have turned outward from their isolation during the pandemic. Her family has started a group text thread where they can share words of encouragement. They have video-conference calls with their children and grandchildren, and her daughter has created watercolor paintings to send to friends.
“How can we connect with others going forward?” Sister Kusch asked. “Certainly, there must be something that we can think of to do to lift, strengthen and bring joy to another person.”
President Kusch invited his audience to consider this question: “During these recent weeks, what have you been praying for and praying about?”
He continued, “We have seen temples close, missionaries brought home, church meetings suspended, the global economy disrupted, well over a million people infected with the coronavirus and thousands who have tragically lost their lives. We have been asked to shelter in place for our own safety and the safety of others. If during this time we fail to look outward and miss the opportunity to look inward and upward, we might lose the opportunity to build and strengthen our faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ — at a time when it is needed more than ever.”
Quoting a Church News interview with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from April 1, President Kusch said, “This is 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.”
The harrowing experience of the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail during the winter of 1838-39 demonstrates that heaven can be close even in the most miserable circumstances, President Kusch said.
“Could it be that he learned that by not blaming God for his circumstances, but through faith and humility, every experience — especially the miserable ones — in life can be redemptive and filled with divine companionship and peace?”
Although most individuals will not face that type of persecution, President Kusch continued, the world currently faces challenges that are new to everyone living to see them.
Drawing on the example of Joseph’s faithfulness in adversity, today’s Latter-day Saints who are required to stay at home can look outward by striving to bless others. They can look inward to cultivate humility, forgiveness and gratitude for God’s abundant blessings. They can look upward in prayer and contemplate more deeply the Savior’s atoning sacrifice.
“We remember that the true test of a Christian life is how we live the gospel not only when it is convenient, but especially when it is not,” President Kusch said.