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It’s not coincidence — it’s divine design, teaches BYU President Reese

It’s no accident that BYU students of today are attending at a time when following the updated Honor Code means an elevated, principle-based approach, President C. Shane Reese teaches

If one were to map the connection of relationships that intertwine society, he or she would create something intricate, complex and seemingly random. Each life is connected to every other one, and some have theorized that the degrees of separation between one person and any other is only six.

These connections are not random — “and, as a statistics professor, I know a thing or two about randomness,” said BYU President C. Shane Reese.

“Our lives become richer when we understand that our mortal relationships flow from God’s keen interest in our lives and reflect His divine plan for each of us.”

In the first devotional of the semester, President Reese offered his first warm welcome to new and returning BYU students as president of the university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Tuesday, Sept. 12. He will be inaugurated as university president on Sept. 19.

Speaking in the Marriott Center on the Provo, Utah, campus, he explained that the various paths that brought each student to BYU was not by accident or coincidence, but by divine design.

“My message today is that God loves you and that He will direct your paths to places where you can serve, to people whom you can love, and to situations in which you can bless others and they can bless you. It is about these divinely designed interactions that I speak today.”

President C. Shane Reese speaks during a BYU devotional.
President C. Shane Reese speaks during a BYU campus devotional in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 12, 2023. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU

When unusual events inexplicably occur at the same time, people often chalk those moments up to coincidence and nothing but chance to be the cause. But God is not limited to mortal understanding of time, President Reese said. “Often God’s hand in our lives is manifest through His timing of the events in our lives.”

He further taught that submitting one’s will to God is to allow for His timing. “Understanding God’s divine design for our lives demands deeper discipleship and fuller acknowledgment of His overarching will,” he said.

As an example of divine design playing a role at BYU, President Reese explained that the university is run by gospel methodology. At appropriate times and ways, problems are solved and issues are addressed in ways that other colleges and universities would not, he said.

Students can see this methodology play out in real time. Right now, college students around the world are experiencing what some experts have called an “epidemic of loneliness.”

President C. Shane Reese greets students following a BYU devotional.
President C. Shane Reese greets students following a BYU campus devotional held in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 12, 2023. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU

But BYU already has a program in place to address this challenge, and it is rooted in gospel methodology, President Reese said. Students are organized into groups of one or two hundred. In each of those groups, students are given assignments to check in on one another on a regular basis.

“This would be a world-class program, and it would be fully sustainable. It would, at any other university, cost millions of dollars to implement. The wonderful part of this program is that it is already established at BYU. We call it ministering.”

President Reese invited the students to help alleviate the isolation and loneliness those around them may be feeling by ministering “both in formal assignments and any other time you feel you should do something kind for someone else.”

Standing in holy places is another way to invite the Lord’s influence into one’s life, he said. The holiest place one can stand is the temple. But the BYU campus can also be a holy place.

President C. Shane Reese speaks during a BYU devotional.
President C. Shane Reese speaks during a BYU campus devotional in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 12, 2023. | Nate Edwards, BYU

BYU’s mission and Honor Code

BYU is a university with a mission, President Reese explained, “and like the Church’s full-time missionaries, we at BYU have chosen to be distinct from the world. Our dress and appearance are an outward reflection of our inner commitment to live by certain principles — they reflect our unique mission.”

A Church-sponsored education’s primary mission is to develop disciples of Jesus Christ, President Reese said. He explained that the Honor Code is named such because “we believe that its principles and standards foster an environment marked by ‘honor, integrity, morality and consideration of others.’ The Honor Code thus helps us accomplish our spiritual mission by engendering an atmosphere that is conducive to that mission.”

Addressing the updated dress and grooming principles and standards, President Reese explained that they are grounded in core principles where students have agreed to four things:

  1. “Represent the Savior Jesus Christ, the Church and the Church Educational System.
  2. “Preserve an inspiring environment, without distraction or disruption, where covenants are kept in a spirit of unity so that the Holy Ghost can teach truth.
  3. “Promote modesty, cleanliness, neatness and restraint in dress and grooming.
  4. “Maintain an elevated standard distinctive to educational institutions of the Church of Jesus Christ.”
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President Reese said, “We are confident that understanding and commitment to those principles will certainly follow — even if it takes some time for that understanding and commitment to take hold.”

He then offered an invitation to the students to join him in committing to upholding these principles. “Will you embrace these principles in your own lives? It is clear to me that the changes to the dress and grooming on campus represents an elevated approach, not a reduced standard.”

Commitment to these principles also means being open to conversations about them. “We will need to speak with civility and listen with soft hearts. I invite everyone on campus, employees and students alike, to be part of those conversations and to make adjustments, as needed.”

3 way to invite God’s direction in life

In closing, President Reese offered three suggestions students can implement to invite God’s direction more fully into their lives.

BYU President Shane Reese speaks during a devotional.
President Shane Reese shares three ways to invite God’s direction into one’s life, during a BYU campus devotional in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 12, 2023. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU

First, recognize the Lord’s timing. “We will be patient with the Lord’s timing and gain a greater sense of His design in our lives as we understand His timing.”

Second, look up to God — and from one’s phone. Many on campus are feeling lonely. “Some merely need a smile from you [or] from me,” President Reese said. “We can only see that need and see those smiles as we look up.”

Third, exercise gratitude. “We are better at acknowledging His hand when we’re looking for things to be grateful for — and when we readily express gratitude to others.”

Finding comfort in the Savior

Standing in the Marriott Center in front of 20,000 students to give a devotional address is not what Sister Wendy Reese, wife of President Reese, would say is within her comfort zone. But despite this discomfort she’d felt in the days leading up to this address, she relied on the most sure and long-lasting source of comfort one can turn to — the Savior.

Sister Wendy Reese speaks during a BYU devotional
Sister Wendy Reese speaks during a BYU campus devotional in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 12, 2023. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU

One day while driving to Provo and thinking about this upcoming devotional, she thought to herself, “I can’t do this.”

“Almost immediately,” she testified to the students, “I had the distinct impression of the Lord saying He loved me, trusted me and would be a source of comfort to me.”

Life is filled with times of feeling uncomfortable, she explained. “It often helps us grow and tests our capacity to do hard things.”

Sister Reese shared three ways to find comfort in Christ.

First, “love the Lord and speak with Him daily through prayer. ... Personal prayer strengthens our relationship with the Lord, and in turn, He provides us comfort and support.”

Second, serve and minister to others. “As you go throughout this semester, think of someone you could serve,” she counseled. When serving others, “we not only feel the comfort in Christ, but help others feel it as well.”

Third, attend the temple. “I hope you will take time to visit the temple regularly during the semester,” Sister Reese said. “It will help you find answers to your prayers, learn more about the Savior and strengthen your testimony of Him.”

By striving to do these three things, “I promise that you will find comfort in Christ.”

Sister Wendy Reese speaks during a BYU devotional.
Sister Wendy Reese speaks during a BYU campus devotional in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 12, 2023. | Nate Edwards, BYU
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