Worthens begin BYU fall semester encouraging students to serve, prioritize their divine identities
Brigham Young University President Kevin Worthen and Sister Peggy Worthen addressed the first devotional assembly of the new school year with President Russell M. Nelson as their subject.
Brigham Young University students can make the start of a new fall semester a key decision-making point in their lives to choose to live by celestial law, BYU President Kevin Worthen said during the opening devotional of the new school year.
He and Sister Peggy Worthen, who also spoke, were introduced at the Marriott Center on campus as long-time Cougar sports fans as the 21st-ranked BYU football team prepares to host No. 9 Baylor on Saturday.
Worthen asked students to make decisions to serve and to embrace their identity as God’s children. The former college basketball player compared his desire for the campus sports teams to succeed to his desire to serve.
“I believe that one measure of our willingness to abide by celestial law is how much joy we derive from service,” he said. “As I have mentioned before, when I get as much joy out of serving as I do from watching BYU win an athletic contest, I know that I am beginning to develop a true desire to abide by a celestial law.”
The Worthens drew their subjects from the May worldwide devotional for young adults of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by President Russell M. Nelson. Worthen called it an extraordinary event, describing it as a prophet of the Lord inviting church members 18-30 to attend a special meeting for a message directly from him.
President Nelson told them to prioritize their divine identities as children of a Heavenly Father, children of covenant and disciples of Christ. He also focused on their ability to choose.
Worthen described it as an overarching sermon — “some would call it a meta-narrative,” he said — on choices and decisions.
He said President Nelson taught that all people get to choose or decide their ultimate destiny by abiding by celestial law or not.
“Our destiny is ultimately determined by our deepest desires,” he said.
Walking around a round plexiglass stage fashioned with the university logo set on the floor of the arena, Worthen told 7,785 students, faculty, staff and visitors on Tuesday that his experience of President Nelson’s talk concluded with an observation, an admonition, an invitation and a promise.
The observation was that the first of the three primary identities mentioned by President Nelson — child of God — is not dependent on one’s choice.
“It is a fact,” Worthen said. “We are his children, even if we choose not to recognize that fact. And because we are his children, he will love us, even if we choose not to love him. As the apostle Paul indicated, God’s love is always available to us.”
He said God’s children have a choice whether to feel and return that love.
“Literature is full of stories of unrequited love — love that is deep and sincere, but not reciprocated,” he said. “My heartfelt admonition to you is don’t be part of what would surely be the most tragic of all stories of unrequited love by refusing to feel the transformative, soul-changing love that God and Christ offer you if you will just choose to accept it.”
Worthen said nothing but one’s own will can separate one from God’s love for her or him.
“No sin, no harm inflicted by others, no failure, no mistake can alter God’s love for you. Please let him love you,” he said.
He invited the students to read or re-read President Nelson’s talk, calling it “inspired revelation given by a prophet for your benefit in your current situation.” Then he promised the students they would receive personal revelation so they can proceed with confidence in the decisions they are making.
“As you make decisions in the coming year,” Worthen said, “ask yourself, is this choice helping me make and keep sacred covenants? Is it consistent with my identity as a child of the covenant – as an heir to the promises made to Abraham? To repeat President Nelson: ‘When we realize that we are children of the covenant, we know … what God expects of us.’”
Sister Worthen echoed President Nelson’s emphasis on each person needing to own their own conversion and quoted a story about Elijah and a rabbi from “The Once and Future King” to illustrate that it is difficult to see from an eternal perspective and always understand God’s actions.
“It is a natural tendency to question, as the rabbi did, the unfairness of the difficulties and opposition we see in our lives and the lives of others who are doing everything they can to follow and serve the Lord,” she said. “...And without gaining an eternal perspective, we, like the rabbi, may assume that in some situations, the Lord acts unjustly.”
She said an eternal perspective would allow students to see that “opposition, challenge and trials are essential and inevitable elements of this life.”
“Knowing this,” she added, “the question becomes how should we respond when we are faced with these inevitabilities? To me, it’s comforting to know that we have a choice. We can choose to be agents unto ourselves (D&C 29:39) or we can choose to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:16). And as comforting as it is to know we can choose how to respond, it’s even more comforting to know that we need not face the opposition and challenges alone. Our loving Father in Heaven has provided us with a Savior to help us, if we choose to let him into our lives.”
She encouraged students to do the hard work to gain and maintain testimonies.
“One of the miracles that will occur is that you will gain an eternal perspective, which will lead to greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the opposition and challenges you face in this life. This eternal perspective can be transforming, as we gain greater understanding of God’s purposes.”
For example, she said, some students, despite diligent studying, may not obtain the grades they wanted. The subsequent journey still may be spiritually guided.
“Although you may feel devastated in the moment, your faith in our Savior can, and will, carry you through,” she said, “until the day when you realize how that seemingly merciless outcome helped you transform into the best, divinely appointed, version of yourself.”