What President Henry J. Eyring taught BYU–Idaho students about tests of honor during the COVID-19 pandemic

When BYU–Idaho President Henry J. Eyring was 7 years old, he and his family moved from Stanford University to Ricks College, where his father, President Henry B. Eyring, now second counselor in the First Presidency, was called to serve as president.

“​​During recess at Lincoln Elementary School, the older boys liked to pull off the bright-green knitted stocking cap that Mom bought for me when we moved to Rexburg,” President Henry J. Eyring recalled during a BYU–Idaho devotional on Jan. 11. “The older boys only got more mischievous when I tried to take the cap back.”

“You may have had similar experiences of standing up for your honor, or for that of others,” he told students. “Recently many of us have given deep thought to issues of honor, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The vast majority of the university’s students and employees have voluntarily gotten two or more shots. “Their personal choices have, collectively, allowed us to gather face to face again.”

President Eyring expressed his gratitude for collective precautions, recent medical advances and the charge from the First Presidency to “use face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible” to limit exposure to the viruses.

“Along with masking in classrooms, it may become necessary to also don masks in university hallways and other enclosed spaces. We must be ready to respond when conditions change — for better or worse,” President Eyring said. “As in the past, we will seek guidance from our friends at Eastern Idaho Public Health, who have advised us so generously and effectively. How blessed we are to have leaders who are trustworthy stewards of public welfare.”

In addition to government officials and medical professionals, people can look to the leaders of the Church at this time, as always, he said, and repeated the words of members of the First Presidency: “We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders.”

In the process of working together to “thread the needle of public safety and private preferences,” it is important to resist the impulse to contend in public or private settings. “Each of us is biased and under-informed in ways that can be easy to overlook,” President Eyring said.  

Modern tests of honor

President Henry J. Eyring spoke to the students at BYU-Idaho for the first devotional of the new year on Jan. 11, 2022.
President Henry J. Eyring spoke to the students at BYU-Idaho for the first devotional of the new year on Jan. 11, 2022. Credit: James Turcott

Disciples of the Savior are expected to respect everyone, even people “whose honor we may question.”  

President Eyring also testified of the blessing of honoring dress and grooming commitments, which can come with attendant spiritual and temporal blessings.

“Almost all blessings are predicated on doing the right things when the costs seem too high or even unfair,” he taught, as demonstrated by Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, David, and Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

“The greatest sacrifice for honor was our Savior’s bravery in confronting the Jewish scribes and Pharisees,” President Eyring said. “He surely knew that His charges against them, whom He justifiably called hypocrites, would lead to their seeking His death. But His honor and the mission given by His Father in Heaven required Him to stand firm, knowing the consequences.”

New tests of honor exist today, the modern-day equivalent of Old Testament burnt offerings and other sacrifices. COVID-19 appears to be “testing our resolve to follow the guidance of governmental and Church authorities.”

Rather than seeing an unfair intrusion on freedom, President Eyring instead encouraged listeners to “embrace the trials, tests and potential victories to be had.”

Lasting honor

Tough times can lead to humility, gratitude and love and bring about lasting change with “a sense of honor in all of our thoughts and interactions with others. But the process is lifelong.”

President Eyring observed this in the life of Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who passed away a little more than four years ago.

“Young Bob Hales” first became acquainted with “a tall teenage boy named Hal Eyring” during gatherings with Latter-day Saints from New York and New Jersey. They later reconnected at Harvard Business School, President Henry J. Erying said of his father and Elder Hales.

Early in his first semester of the Harvard MBA program, Elder Hales was called as an elders quorum president. At the time, he was also the father of two young sons. After prayer and discussion, his wife, Mary, said, “I’d rather have an active priesthood holder than a man who holds a master’s degree from Harvard, but we’ll do them both.”

“Bob distinguished himself as a Harvard graduate,” President Henry J. Eyring said. “At graduation he had his pick of business opportunities. In the succeeding decades he held senior-leadership positions in four large companies.” 

Throughout that period, Elder Hales served in Church leadership positions, and later as an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and presiding bishop of the Church.

“The work of the bishopric was strenuous, as it included supervising Church operations around the world. Yet, Bishop and Sister Hales were kind to Sister Eyring and me,” President Eyring recalled. “At a time when we were living in Boston, they visited us. We felt that they were ministering on behalf of our parents.”

A few years later, though, Elder Hales suffered the first of multiple heart attacks, in addition to encountering problems with his lungs.

“As he began what would be 23 years as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Hales’ physical challenges came with him,” President Eyring said. He later served as the Haleses’ bishop. He would often stop at their home on a Sunday afternoon. “More than once, he recounted an experience of perceiving the veil between this life and the next.”

His father, President Henry B. Eyring, made this statement at Elder Hales’ funeral: “I have no way to know if he was deceased for a brief time that afternoon or if it was a dream. But this I do know: He felt in a moment of intense testing that he was supposed to do something difficult, and he was loyal to the command he had received. For me, it was another moment, just one of the many I had with him, when — whatever the cost and however difficult the command — he was loyal to his family and friends, to the Lord, and to the Lord’s prophet.”

Life doesn’t get easier as it goes, President Henry J. Eyring told students. “That is true as we battle age. But this is also a unique social age for all of us. We are experiencing unusual temporal challenges. In addition to the COVID pandemic with its offshoots, we face public strife and individual rebellion.”

Unfailing honor and fealty to Heavenly Father and the Savior Jesus Christ, as well as the promptings of the Holy Ghost, assures eternal life with them and family members in the celestial kingdom. 

Lasting honor, President Eyring testified, “is a matter of daily embracing the guidance of the Holy Ghost and the self-sacrificing example of our Lord.”

Honor with gratitude

Sister Kelly Eyring taught students that joy follows overcoming “something that might have seemed difficult or maybe even felt impossible.”

“In this semester, amid the pandemic and other difficult circumstances, I am planning on seeking for that promised joy. It will be ours if we honor our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ,” she said.

The Eyrings’ son Spencer came to the pulpit to speak about Mark Orchard, a BYU–Idaho professor who has exemplified honor for him.

“Mark was never concerned with what anyone thought of him and was always striving to make our Father in Heaven proud,” he said.

Spencer Eyring, son of President Henry J. Eyring and Sister Kelly Eyring, shared about a man who has taught him honor, during the BYU–Idaho campus devotional on Jan. 11, 2022. He spoke during Sister Kelly Eyring’s address to students.
Spencer Eyring, son of President Henry J. Eyring and Sister Kelly Eyring, shared about a man who has taught him honor, during the BYU–Idaho campus devotional on Jan. 11, 2022. He spoke during Sister Kelly Eyring’s address to students. Credit: Katelyn Brown

Keeping the two great commandments is a way to show honor to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, Sister Eyring said.

She tries to begin each day with a prayer of gratitude, but encounters difficulty when her thoughts about herself are unkind.

“We need to be kind to ourselves. I talk to myself a lot. It is much better when I say nice things and give myself grace,” she said.

She showed a graphic of their family motto: “We are bound and we are bound.”

“To us the motto signifies that we are bound, or sealed, by eternal covenants and we are bound, or trying, to return together to our Heavenly Father,” she explained. “We chose this as our motto because it acknowledges that we need each other to get there. That is true not just for my little family but for all of Heavenly Father’s children.”

She invited students to honor Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ with gratitude for the privilege of being at BYU–Idaho, and by honoring one another with love and respect.

“I am going to seek this joy. Let’s do it together,” she said. “I have a testimony of honor and the way it can unify us in a cause.”

Sister Kelly Eyring addressed BYU-Idaho students during the first devotional of the year on Jan. 11, 2022.
Sister Kelly Eyring addressed BYU-Idaho students during the first devotional of the year on Jan. 11, 2022. Credit: James Turcott