Monday, September 28, 2015

Richard G. Scott

This week Elder Richard G. Scott, a member of the quorum of the 12 apostles in the LDS church, passed away.  While I don't think that I would go so far as to say that any of the leaders of the church are my favorites, Elder Scott gave an address at BYU a little over 7 years ago that was very influential to me and was a big part of setting me on the path to where I am today.

The man himself.
In the spring of 2008 I was struggling to figure out my life. In January I had declared myself to be an English major, but I was struggling to figure out what that meant. At the time I was leaning towards going to law school (because that's pretty much the only practical thing to do with an English major, right?), and I had even gone to a couple of pre-law functions that the law school at BYU had put on. (And no, it wasn't only because of the free Cafe Rio provided at said events.) That said, I wasn't super comfortable with the idea. (I'd probably read a few too many Grisham novels...Three parenthetical remarks in one paragraph is probably too many. I'll try to cut back moving forward.) Anyway, I had felt good about studying English, but the decision frankly didn't make much sense to me. Luckily, I was in an "Introduction to the English Major" class that was supposed to help me figure it out. (Funny side note, I ended up failing that class. But's that's another story for another time. Okay, now I'm really done making asides.)

As a part of the class we all had to set up a time to meet with our respective faculty advisers, determined by last name, to discuss what exactly we were going to do with ourselves and our English degrees. So on March 18, 2008 at around 10:30, I walked up the four flights of stairs to Professor Keith Lawrence's office to have a chat. To be honest I was worried because I thought that I was supposed to already know what I wanted to do with my life and that he would think ill of me for not having it all figured out. So as I knocked on his door I determined that I would just own the law school thing. He invited me in, and we started chatting, and I told him that I was going to law school. I said it firmly. Confidently. I knew what was up. I wasn't one of those wishy-washy English majors that only studied English because they were too unoriginal to think of something else. No, I had a plan.

After making my declaration, he paused and seemed to sit there considering me for a time. An uncomfortable moment passed, and I wondered if I'd said something wrong. Did English professors hate law school and lawyers? Did I just offend my faculty advisor? After this pause that probably wasn't as long as I felt like it was, he asked, "Do you want to go to law school because you love law?" His question surprised me. I mean, does anyone love law? When I didn't respond immediately, he explained that if I did that was great. His son (or son-in-law, or nephew or some relation) was in law school/was a lawyer and that said family member loved it. It was a great profession. But he cautioned me that if I didn't love it, and I only saw it as a means of getting a financially viable job, then maybe I'd better look elsewhere.

As he was saying all this I felt like he was looking directly into my soul. When he finished I admitted to him that I didn't love law, and that I really had no idea what I wanted to do, but that I knew I wanted to study English. I began to feel very uneasy. I was back as square one and had no idea what to do. So he asked me what kinds of careers I had considered over the past few years. Immediately my mind raced to wanting to be a garbage man when I was a little kid, but instead I told him how it had been my plan ever since 2nd grade to be an astronomer, and up until right before my mission I had thought that I would go to graduate school and eventually be a professor of astronomy. (again, that's another story for another time.) So Professor Lawrence asked why not do the same thing, but with English.

It was an option that had never before entered my mind, but as he said it I felt the Spirit confirm in my heart that what he was saying was right for me and that I should do just that. The conversation continued from there, and I don't remember the specifics of much else that what was said, but I remember very clearly feeling the Spirit as we talked and I knew that grad school/professor-dom would be my goal. As I left Professor Lawrence's office I felt full of light and that I had solid direction for the first time in months. It was a wonderful feeling. At least it was for the minute or two that it lasted.

Unfortunately, as I walked back down the stairs and started thinking about that solid plan for the future, my worries began to grow. I mean, it had made sense to be a science professor because they had actual research to do. At the time I wasn't all that interested in the teaching side of things, but what else was there for an English fella. As an astronomer I would have looked through telescopes and done math problems solving things, and there was physics, but what did an English professor do? Read things? And then what? It just didn't make sense to me. I mean, while I was in Professor Lawrence's office I knew that had felt that still, small voice that Elijah had heard letting me know that God was on board with the idea of me pursuing this course of study, but as I do all too often, I was casting away my confidence, so to speak.

At this point you're probably asking, "This is all very fascinating, Sam, but you said you were gonna talk about Elder Scott and so far you haven't mentioned him at all. What's going on?" Well, just hold your horses; I'm getting there. On this particular day, again, March 18, 2008, Elder Scott was speaking at the weekly devotional on campus. I had planned my morning so that I could meet with Professor Lawrence and then go directly from his office to the Marriott Center to listen to Elder Scott. During that walk to the Marriott Center it seemed that with every step I took I was getting more and more worried about my future, about what I would do with a degree in English. So I started to pray. I prayed to know whether or not I should go to grad school and hopefully someday be an English professor. I prayed to know what God wanted me to do. I should note that I firmly believe that God allows and actively wants us to make decisions for ourselves and not wait to be told what to do, so perhaps most of all I prayed that I could feel that assurance again that I had felt in Professor Lawrence's office.

I walked into the Marriott Center and after a hymn and a prayer I listened as Elder Scott began to speak. As he spoke, my mind wasn't totally focused on what he was saying because I continued praying, as I'd been doing during the walk over, that I could know whether what I'd thought I was feeling earlier was real. However, at one point in his remarks he began to read from the Book of Mormon in Alma chapter 7. This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole book, so I began to press more especial attention. He specifically read Alma 7:23, which reads:

And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.

As Elder Scott read those words and began to explicate them, inviting the audience to view them as guide posts for establishing a secure foundation for life, the fears and worries and all of the doubt that I had been feeling were utterly washed away. In their stead there came a confidence, an assurance and peace which passed all understanding, one even stronger than that felt in Professor Lawrence's office. I knew that I didn't have all the answers to all of my questions, but I also knew that they would come in time, little by little, as I had patience with the Lord, tried to be humble, and did my best to keep His commandments.

As I look back now, my worries and doubts seem a silly and trivial thing to be worried about, but in that moment it couldn't have been more serious and vexing. And that's what is so comforting to me about the whole experience. No, it wasn't a big deal, especially when compared to the whole range of human suffering in the world, but it was a big deal to me. And in that moment I knew very clearly that God was aware of me. He knew me. He understood my fears and anxieties. Perhaps most of all I knew that He loved me. I knew that He had a plan for me. I didn't and don't necessarily know where the plan is headed, but I do know that as I try to do what Elder Scott was teaching in that address, I don't need to be concerned. Everything will work out.

Many times in the intervening years, I have reflected back to that day, to that moment, and remember that in the face of my fears, God spoke peace to my mind. From that I'm able to draw strength and comfort in the face of the unknown and the difficult.

And so, with the passing of Elder Scott, I think about how I'll miss his soul-piercing gaze and his kind and inspiring messages every conference, but I'll also retain close to my heart this experience wherein he was the conduit through which God spoke to me all those years ago.