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Living Up to Your Privileges

"Living Up to Your Privileges" by President and Sister Tanner

President and Sister Tanner: Aloha!

JST: Thank you Lawrence and Jennifer. We are grateful for the spirit that music brings to Devotionals. Brother and Sisters, it is a privilege to be with you today. Today Sister Tanner and I will talk about living up to our privileges.

SWT: One of my favorite chapters in Daughters in My Kingdom is the last chapter, entitled “Live Up to Your Privilege.” The title comes from an inspiring challenge and glorious promise that Joseph Smith gave to the sisters gathered in the Red Brick Store for the first Relief Society meeting. What he said to them also applies to us gathered in this first Devotional assembly:

If you live up to your privilege, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates. . . . If you will be pure, nothing can hinder. (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 169)

What does it mean to “live up to your privileges”? And what are your privileges here at BYUH? This is what we will talk about today.


JST: Before we talk about this prophetic charge to “live up to your privilege,” we need to remember that prophets have also often chastised the Church for living below our privileges?

Brigham Young said that as Latter-day Saints “we live far beneath our privileges” because we fail to seek and receive the guidance he Lord wants to give us in our spiritual and temporal affairs. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 32). Elder Neal A. Maxwell made similar comments about the gift of the Holy Ghost. He said that, “The gift of the Holy Ghost truly is one of the greatest blessings available to members of the Church. . . .Yet, for different reasons, many of us live far below, or are unaware of, our privileges! [The Promise of Discipleship, pp. 92-93].

SWT: The Holy Ghost is rightly called a gift. At our baptism we are invited to “receive” this gift. Yet for many, the gift is never unwrapped and enjoyed. We live beneath our privilege. The Lord describes our situation in D&C 88:33:

“For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”

JST: President Uchtdorf illustrated the predicament of those who live below their privileges by the story of an unfortunate man who went on a cruise. Unaware that his ticket included all the meals and ship activities, he sat in his room and ate beans and crackers. Here is a Church video that accompanied President Uchtdorf’s talk:

There once was a man whose lifelong dream was to board a cruise ship and sail the Mediterranean Sea. He dreamed of walking the streets of Rome, Athens, and Istanbul. He saved every penny until he had enough for his passage. Since money was tight, he brought an extra suitcase filled with cans of beans, boxes of crackers, and bags of powdered lemonade, and that is what he lived on every day.

He would have loved to take part in the many activities offered on the ship—working out in the gym, playing miniature golf, and swimming in the pool. He envied those who went to movies, shows, and cultural presentations. And, oh, how he yearned for only a taste of the amazing food he saw on the ship—every meal appeared to be a feast! But the man wanted to spend so very little money that he didn’t participate in any of these. He was able to see the cities he had longed to visit, but for the most part of the journey, he stayed in his cabin and ate only his humble food.

On the last day of the cruise, a crew member asked him which of the farewell parties he would be attending. It was then that the man learned that not only the farewell party but almost everything on board the cruise ship—the food, the entertainment, all the activities—had been included in the price of his ticket. Too late the man realized that he had been living far beneath his privileges.

We live beneath our privileges when we fail to partake of the feast of happiness, peace, and joy that God grants so bountifully. We can be satisfied with a diminished experience and settle for experiences far below our privileges. Or we can partake of an abundant feast of spiritual opportunity and universal blessings. (“Your Potential, Your Privilege” Deiter F. Uchtdorf, April 2011)

JST: Our message to you today is to live up to your privileges. Unwrap the gift of your education here. Feast on the meals provided on the good ship BYUH. Relish the journey as you learn from your classes, wards, teachers, classmates, work experiences, activities, and, above all, the Spirit. Don’t sit by yourself in your room eating dry crackers and canned beans!


SWT: Now President Tanner and I will talk about some of your privileges. I will go first and then President Tanner will talk about some of our privileges as members of this special community.

One of the great privileges we have at BYU–Hawaii is participating in a university where we feel the Spirit in abundance. It is the Spirit or the gift of the Holy Ghost that we have already mentioned that helps us in our relationships with one another, that guides us to learn and progress intellectually, and that promotes real communication with our Father in Heaven.

Why is it such an important privilege to communicate well? And how can we be better at it?

Let me begin with a difficult personal example that has caused me to contemplate the great blessing and privilege of communication.

Our 2 ½-year-old grandson, Jack, was just diagnosed with a rare genetic deletion. It is called Phelan/McDermid syndrome. Although his case is shown to be on the mild end of the spectrum, he nevertheless, is missing the speech gene on the 22nd chromosome. He is the sweetest, most social little guy, but it is becoming increasingly frustrating to both him and his parents that he cannot talk. He tries so hard to show what he wants or needs, and his parents (and I when I am with him) try to read his eyes, watch all of his body language, and listen to guidance from the Holy Ghost to understand what he is trying to tell us.

From Jack I am learning anew what a privilege it is simply to be able to communicate! When one either cannot or does not communicate, anger, resentment, misunderstanding, and frustration abound. We are looking for miracle workers and angels like Helen Keller’s teacher Ann Sullivan, who will help unlock this door of silence for our little Jack. We are learning how crucial talking is to understanding, guiding, and loving one another. May you and I who enjoy the privilege of communication use and develop our communication skills to understand and to bless others.

To truly communicate, we know that we must rely on the Spirit to open the ears of our understanding. Recently as I studied 3 Nephi 11:3-7, I pondered about hearing a voice, but then finally coming to understand that voice. It says:

“. . .they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center. . .

“And . . . again they heard the voice, and they understood it not.

“And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.

“And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them:

“Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased . . . hear ye him.” (3 Nephi 11:3-7)

These verses motivate me to open my ears to not just hear, but to understand God’s words to me. It is a great privilege to really communicate with God. I want that conduit to Heaven to be opened for me. He promises us that when we come to this earth we will never be alone. But that really depends on us, learning how to listen, to communicate, to open the door where Heavenly Father is waiting to speak to us. It depends on us being worthy of and accessing this great gift of the Holy Ghost, the great communicator, to help us understand.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught that the Holy Ghost is the member of the Godhead who is the agent of personal revelation. He said,

“As a personage of spirit, He can dwell in us and perform the essential role of communicator between the Father and the Son and the children of God on earth.” (Ensign, May 2017, p.102)

If we open this gift of the Spirit, it will bless us in our communication with God and also in our relationships with others. Roommates can avoid conflict by talking things through with the Spirit. Colleagues are more likely to help one another if they understand each others’ needs and motives through effective communication. As we open the ears of our understanding by listening with the spirit, we will be able to love, inspire, unite, and help one another. It is our privilege to do so.

I have several daughters who are an example to me in taking full advantage of the privilege of sweet, spiritual communication with their children, with God as their partner. They tuck their children in bed at night and have one-on-one talking time with each child. These children are not just babies or toddlers. They range in age from 2 to 18 years old. Sometimes they sing or laugh; often they cry and pray together. Then when they are all settled down, my child, their mother, drops to her knees and talks to Heavenly Father about each child very specifically. The answers that come are sometimes very direct and individual, and sometimes they are more general, such as a feeling of overarching peace. Because they have been doing this since each child was an infant, they have open and real communication with the child. There is no such thing as a generation gap between mother and child. There is also very real communication with our Father in Heaven who loves and guides them specifically through the tumultuous child-rearing process. The Spirit is ever present in these communications.

President Gordon B. Hinckley has taught about the privilege of communicating with Our Heavenly Father in prayer. He said,

“Never assume that you can make it alone. You need the help of the Lord. Never hesitate to get on your knees in some private place and speak with Him. What a marvelous and wonderful thing is prayer. Think of it. We can actually speak with our Father in Heaven. He will hear and respond, but we need to listen to that response.

“Pray to the Lord with the expectation of answers. . . . The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for and then speak to the Lord as one man speaketh to another.

“Be prayerful, my friends, and listen. You may never hear a voice. You likely will not. But in a manner that you cannot explain, you will be prompted and blessed. For the Lord has promised, “I will tell you in your. . . heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you. . . .” (D&C 8:2.)

It is our privilege to partner with our Father in humble, meditative, listening prayer. As we open the ears of our understanding, He will warn, teach, chastise, inspire, comfort, praise, and love us. He will help us in our relationships with others and in our teaching and learning experiences.

Our learning model at BYU–Hawaii is to “prepare-engage-improve.” It is important to take advantage of the privilege of engaging with each other in class. “Engaging” requires participation from everyone. A student in one of my classes acted dumbfounded when I told the group that I expected everyone to contribute, and that part of their grade would be based upon their participation in class. “Do you mean,” she said, “that we have to say something every time we meet?” “Yes,” I said. “It is a good way for us to get to know you and to learn from you. But most importantly is that you will remember best what you contributed. When you walk out of the classroom, you will think something like ‘that was a great class today. I said ... such and such.” One reason that you remember your own comments so well is because they represent your personal preparation, but even more importantly because the spirit witnessed to you as you spoke that you were saying something of truth and significance.

As it so aptly describes in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.” (D&C 88:122)

As we “engage” in our classrooms, let us live up to the privilege of “all. . . being edified of all.”

Our opportunity at this Zion university must be punctuated with Spirit-filled communication that comes from inviting the Spirit to be with us always, in our relationships, in our learning, and in our praying. It is a privilege to have the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is a privilege to be working, studying, living, and learning here at BYU–Hawaii. We must live up to these, our privileges.


JST: We have so many privileges here at BYU–Hawaii. So many gifts to unwrap. So many opportunities to seize.

Let me begin with an obvious one: You are privileged to get an education. Relatively few people in this world enjoy the blessing of a college education. Take full advantage of this privilege. Ironically, many people seem determined not to get their money’s worth from the price of tuition. It has been said that an

“Education is one of the few things a person is willing to pay for and not get.” William Lowe Bryan (1860–1955) 10th president of Indiana University (1902 to 1937).

“Education seems to be . . . the only commodity of which the customer tries to get as little he can for his money.” Max Leon Forman (1909-1990) Jewish-American writer.

As a teacher, I used to tell my students that I wanted to give them their money’s worth. So get your money’s worth from college. Be diligent. Take courses and teachers that will stretch you and help you grow. Drink deeply from the wells of wisdom and knowledge available here.

You are doubly blessed to learn in a Church university, which encourages you to integrate the sacred and secular. Only a small fraction of Church members are privileged to attend one of the four LDS colleges and universities. You are among that chosen few. Please, please live up to this privilege!

Did you know that each student who attends a Church school is on scholarship? You all receive what I call a “tithing scholarship.” What you pay in tuition covers only a small fraction of the cost of your education. The rest is funded by the sacred tithes and offerings of the Church. The Church is making a tremendous investment in your education. I don’t say this to make you feel guilty but grateful. And to feel committed to live up to your privilege by becoming the learners, leaders, and builders prophets have envisioned. Learn all you can here. Especially learn to be a life-long learner. Develop yourself as leaders possessing wisdom, testimony and integrity. And commit yourself to becoming someone who will build your families, your Church, and your countries. Live up to the privilege of your tithing scholarship.

Some of you also receive additional support worth thousands of dollars a year through IWORK and other scholarships. And many students are also blessed by international internships, special programs like Enactus, and centers such as the Willes Center, which enrich your education. All these blessings are made possible through donors. Some of our donors will be on campus in November. We will invite the campus to mingle with them to express our gratitude for their support. We will also invite the campus community to give back, even if it is only a dollar, to show our desire to help others enjoy what we enjoy. We all drink from wells we did not dig and warm ourselves by fires we did not build. Let us live up to the privileges we enjoy from the generosity of others.

May we also live up to the privilege of being on a campus that cares about who you are and not just what you know. That cares about character. Live up to the privilege of attending a school with an Honor Code. Our Honor Code sets our campus apart from most other universities. It is a privilege to work and study in such a wholesome environment. Be a person who sustains this environment by how you look, how you act, and how you treat others whether on campus or off. Live up to your privilege.

Live up to the privilege of studying in a campus whose environment is not only wholesome but beautiful. Take good care of your dorms, the campus grounds and facilities, and this community of lovely Laie. Keep them clean. Develop a sense of kuleana (or stewardship) for where you live. I commend the example of Vice President John Bell and his wife Rhonda. On their daily morning walks they always carry plastic sacks to pick up trash. By this simple act, they express their love for our beautiful home. So can you!

Live up to your privilege to choose your unique educational journey. This year we have inaugurated a new curriculum, which we call Holokai—the Hawaiian word for voyage. I like the change both in substance and in name. The name Hokolai invites you to think of your education as a journey and the change in substance allows you greater freedom than before to chart your own course here.

By contrast, the word curriculum comes from Latin for a race track. Anciently, a curriculum was what you ran around; later the term was applied to education. And ever since many students have seen the curriculum as an obstacle course they had to run around four times, as a freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior. As they lapped the track they saw themselves as jumping over hurdles or through hoops prescribed by the university. They often described this educational run-around as “getting my GEs (or my major requirements) out of the way.” This ultimately qualified students to get their degree out of the way, so I suppose they could find work they could get out of the way, so they could have children they could get out of the way, so they could get their life out of the way and settle down to a comfortable grave. Not a happy way to live!

Your “holokai” invites you to see your education not as a racetrack strewn with obstacles which others have thrown in your way but as a purposeful journey of your choosing—a journey that leads to graduation and beyond. Your holokai enables you to chart a course to learn things that are important and practical to you. It also allows you to indulge your curiosity and passions. And it invites you to develop wayfaring skills that will take you far after you leave.

So live up to the privilege of the greater freedom you now have to choose your educational Holokai.

Live up to the privilege of belonging to such a diverse, international community. A prophet of God called this school a “living laboratory” in gospel-based intercultural education, where “individuals who share the teachings of the Master Teacher have an opportunity to develop appreciation, tolerance, and esteem for one another.” Seize this opportunity! You likely will never belong to such a community again. So get to know people from other countries and backgrounds. Break out of your language and culture enclaves. Be inclusive. Sit with new people in the cafeteria. Include others in your activities and study groups. Make friends from around the world. And, as Sister Tanner reminded us, communicate with the Spirit. This can help us transcend cultural and linguistic divides. Live up to the privilege of learning in one of the most internationally diverse universities in the world.

Live up to the privilege of participating in our campus-centered wards and stakes. These provide many opportunities to serve others and to recharge your spiritual batteries. Keep the Sabbath Day holy. Make it different from other days of the week. And enjoy the privilege of attending weekly devotionals.

Especially live up to your privilege of attending a university located next door to a temple of God. I am persuaded that President David O. McKay insisted that the Church College be established here because he wanted it near a temple. So go to the temple as often as you can. And whether or not you attend the temple, keep yourself always worthy to enter the House of the Lord.

Brothers and Sister, we are so privileged to work and study here in this special place. Let us live up to our privileges.

Now in conclusion, I want to share a tender but little known story from the life of Emma Smith. It is instructive as we consider this topic of living up to our privileges.

As he was being hauled off to Carthage, Joseph and Emma exchanged heart-wrenching, hurried farewells. An anxious Emma asked Joseph for a blessing, but there was no time. So he told her to “write out the best blessing [she] could think of and he would sign the same on his return.” Likely, that same evening, on June 24th, she wrote down what she called the “desires of my heart.” Here are some things she wrote. They express her desire to live up to her privileges as wife of the prophet, mother of her children, and Elect Lady of the Church:

  • I crave as the richest of heaven’s blessings . . . wisdom from my Heavenly Father.
  • I desire the Spirit of God to know and understand myself.
  • I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting.
  • I desire a spirit of discernment.
  • I particularly desire wisdom to bring up all the children . . . committed to my charge in such a manner that they will . . arise up and call me blessed.
  • I desire . . . to wear a cheerful countenance, live to perform all the work that I covenanted to perform in the spirit-world.
  • I desire that whatever may be my lot through life I may be enabled to acknowledge the hand of God in all things.

Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery (New York: Doubleday, 1984), 190-91.

Joseph did not live long enough to sign this blessing. But no matter, for these are blessings that Emma could secure by living up to her privileges.

Brothers and Sisters, I testify that we, too, can secure the blessings of Heaven by living up to our privileges. In this sense we are like Emma. We can largely write our own blessings. If they correspond to the righteous desires of our hearts they will likely correspond to God’s desires for us. The reason we sometimes don’t receive all the blessings that are rightfully ours to claim is that we do not live up to our privileges. Our Father in Heaven wants to welcome us home, to put a royal robe on us, and crown us with innumerable blessings. He wants to give us divine gifts, including ultimately the gift of eternal life, but we must open His gifts.

May we live up to our privileges. Let us unwrap God’s gifts, which lie in such abundance before us, so that it may never be said of us that we have lived below our privileges.