Skip to main content

Spoiler Alert

Aloha Brothers and Sisters.

I am grateful for my wife Jennifer – She is the beginning of all of the good things in my life. I am thankful for her goodness and kindness and example. I love her with all of my heart. She is simply the best person I know.

Now to the task at hand. In three days, I will be 60 years old. When I was your age, it did not occur to me that I would ever be this old. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think I would be hit by a bus or anything like that, it just never really seemed like an option.

That means that I will have lived the equivalent of nearly three of your lifetimes. I realize that simply getting old is no major achievement, but it does mean that I have been farther down the trail than you have, which gives me a different perspective. Because of that, I have a pretty good idea about how some of your journey will turn out. I know that our backgrounds are different, but because of the nature of mortality, our lives are still very much the same. It is that perspective from which I derive the theme of this talk. A “Spoiler Alert” is “a warning that an important detail of plot development is about to be revealed.” [1] That’s what this talk is – it is a head’s up about what is coming in your life, and if we’re lucky, it will help you with some of the challenges that are just ahead on the trail.

Let me start with my youthful perspective. When I was your age, my view of the world and the gospel was pretty black and white. I had a testimony of the gospel, participated in church, attended institute, fulfilled my callings, and basically was doing the stuff I was supposed to do. It was my feeling that if I did so that the Lord would clear the way before me and I would avoid significant challenges and trials. After all, I thought, those problems were the providence of the disobedient. And when I did occasionally stray off of the path, I expected a reasonable flogging by the Spirit as I made my way back. What I did not expect was that maintaining a covenant relationship meant that I would actually need to pass through many of those trials on my way to becoming who my father intended me to be. So, as I was just living my life, I found that challenges with health, employment, finances and the loss of loved ones became my reality.

This is Spoiler Alert #1: Trials are required and essential

This was a startling revelation to me. I had been told (just like many of you) that my peers and I were a part of a special generation. We had been reserved for the last days. However, unlike many of you, I had been blessed with the gospel in my youth and the Church had been a part of my family for generations. I lived in a free country where I could practice my religion without interference. Surely the Lord would spare me the same difficulties that had been borne by my forefathers. It seemed logical to me that if I were obedient that the Lord would protect me from trials, pain, suffering and loss. A covenant relationship meant to me that if I was obedient to the Lord, he would smooth the path before me. However, I learned that a loving Heavenly Father allows us to have experiences that assist us in learning the lessons we need to refine our individual souls. He also provides us with a variety of these opportunities since we learn different things from each one. As we all come partially developed from our pre-earth life, each of us require a different group of experiences to progress. Therefore, the trials each of us experience in our life do not represent the displeasure or frustration of an angry God, but the love of heavenly parents that know that we can progress in no other way.

This leads us to Spoiler Alert #2: Not all trials come from God

It is important to know that trials come for several reasons. The first is as a consequence of our own decisions and actions. We create these challenges for ourselves all the time. They happen not just when we are disobedient, but when we are confused, unwise or just plain lazy. These trials and their associated consequences are easy to understand since they are essentially our own fault.

The second reason is due to the decisions or actions of someone else. Each of you has friends and families and I am sure that each of you has had to deal with the joys and challenges of those relationships. Sometimes our most painful tests come from the fallout of decisions of those closest to us. These trials are often more challenging since it seems completely unfair that we suffer for the actions of another. If you are struggling with these challenges now, please know that your Father in Heaven is aware of you and will heal both you and your relationships through His Son.

The third reason is because the Lord actually has a lesson, He wants us to learn. These can take many different forms but include experiences that we need to abandon behaviors that are in conflict with His will and reinforce those that are. These challenges can be hard to understand since the source is often not clear at the onset.

The final reason is simply due to the ways of the world. These trials come as a natural consequence of life on earth. This is like falling off of your bike, the Lord is not punishing you for popping wheelies – gravity is. Regardless of the source, trials are a challenge. That is their job.

Spoiler Alert #3 speaks specifically about a type of trial that you are likely to experience at some point in your life that can have significant eternal consequences. This is a “crisis of faith.” For our purposes, let’s define a “crisis of faith” as a person who moves from a place of belief and faith to a place of doubt. The word “crisis” is defined as:

  • A time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. 
  • A time when a difficult or important decision must be made. 
  • An unstable or crucial time in which a decisive change is coming. 
  • The decisive moment [2]

All of these definitions speak to the intensity and significance of the feelings that one has during such an episode. However, they also imply a resolution of this temporary state. One in which, depending upon our response, allows us to be changed, taught, and focused in a new, better direction.

A “crisis of faith” can occur when we encounter doctrine or practices that are at variance with the way we understand or live the Gospel. It can also occur when we disagree with a practice or pronouncement that the Church or one of its leaders takes on an issue. These experiences can start with a simple question or experience but if unresolved can lead to doubt, frustration, pain and the extinguishing of our testimony.

Let me start with a premise – questions in the Church are healthy and good, in fact Paul wrote to the saints in Greece, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” [3] Some synonyms of “prove” include demonstrate, confirm, substantiate and verify. These words are interesting because they all imply positive action. These are all words that include the very actions of faith and would tend to indicate that when faith is called into question, that another act of faith is what is required to re-establish it. The challenge is that in a world so full of wrong voices, it can be difficult to know which voices we should listen to. We will talk about that in a moment. First, a story.

Several years ago, I was serving as an institute instructor here in Hawaii. At that time, I was teaching a class about Church history and focused much of my preparation on that topic. This was also a time when the Joseph Smith papers were starting publication and there was a great deal of excitement about all of the new discoveries that were coming to light. During that time, I came across a story about a “seer stone.” The thing that first attracted my attention was the picture at the top of the article. The picture was of a small chocolate brown rock about three by five inches with lighter brown veining through it. It was smooth and rounded and was for all intents and purposes – unremarkable. I then read the article. It identified the rock as one of the items that Joseph had used to translate the Book of Mormon. Per the article, Joseph placed the stone in a hat to exclude exterior light and then placed his face into the hat. He could then make out words that were dictated to the scribe. I stopped reading and I must admit to being more than a little surprised. A river rock dropped into a hat? No stinking way. How could this be? This information did conform in any way with what I knew about the translation. After all, didn’t he use the Urim and Thummim? While I was not entirely clear what that looked like to my mind the Urim and Thummim was some sort of elegant instrument consisting of “two stones in silver bows.” The Book of Mormon itself referred to them as “interpreters” that were kept with the plates. Joseph himself referred to them as “spectacles,” and I had always imagined a highly elegant piece of equipment worthy of the translation of the word of God. The article went on to say that after a time Joseph did not use any aid at all in the translation. My mind raced. I was shocked. I was incredulous. Joseph was running around staring at a rock in a hat instead of looking through the super cool glasses designed specifically for the task? It didn’t fit with anything that I knew about the story and did not make any sense to me at all. I couldn’t believe it—and I didn’t.

The whole thing bugged me. If this were so, why had no one ever revealed this detail? My mind reeled and I began to look for a way to fit this into the box I had constructed in my mind to hold this information. I reasoned that they did not share this detail because it made a difficult story even more difficult. I mean, “magic spectacles” was stretching reason a bit, but “rock in the hat” was a bridge too far. I was also surprised by the general tone of the article. The whole thing was so matter of fact. I became suspicious of the trustworthiness of the story. I felt like a person who had stepped into mental quicksand, and I began reaching out feverishly for something to cling to. I was hoping for an article, a talk, a scripture, anything that could fill the gap between what I believed to be true and the new information that I had uncovered.

Now this whole process did not happen immediately. I still had a life to live, and this question occupied the space between my other commitments. Slowly, however, my thoughts began to become less frantic and more focused. I then came to the crossroads that each person having a crisis of faith must negotiate. This new information was either true or it was not. If it was true, I would need to rebuild my understanding of the events associated with a foundational piece of my testimony. If it was false, I could go back to my old paradigm, except I would have to deal with the idea that the Church had been tricked or simply mistaken.

I have learned that this sort of spinning, over-reaching thought pattern is not unusual during such an episode. However, we need to be careful not to expand the issue. After all, this new knowledge didn’t change everything that I believed, it only affected one thing. A thing that other things leaned on, to be sure, but each question ultimately needs to be dealt with on its own terms. Simply stated, we do not need to destroy the entire tapestry for one offending thread.

As I pondered about this issue, I had a thought that started the ball spinning in a different direction. I began to focus on what I already knew. I have been blessed with a knowledge reinforced by many experiences that Joseph is a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true and that this is the true Church. The challenge was that I could not stuff the old information into the new box. So, staring squarely at this inconsistency I was forced to decide. I told myself – my former experiences have shown me what is true, and so somehow this information fits into that pattern. And even though I don’t know what that is right now, I am going to move forward with what I do know until I do.

Elder Holland reinforced this concept when he taught:

“When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.” [4]

I did not think about it at the time, but I had another option. I could have said to myself – this doesn’t make sense to me, so I am going to overlook all of those other spiritual experiences and reject them because this piece does not seem to fit. I could have chosen to doubt all of those other witnesses that this new information seemed to disrupt as a means to bypass my inner conflict. That is a choice that does not make sense to me and I am saddened when others make that choice. The key to focus on if you arrive at this crossroads is to “remember.”

Helaman 5:12

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. [5]

I wish that I could tell you that making the decision to remember brought me immediate peace, but it did not. I was frustrated with what felt like the side door of my testimony being left ajar. I continued to look for answers and to ponder and pray. Then, many days later, I had a thought – what is the point of the rock anyway? What role did it serve? I thought about the various ways that Christ healed people. He had them bathe, he smeared them with clay, they touched the hem of his garment, he laid hands on them, he simply told them to rise. Why all of the differences and drama? Was there a process in play? As these ideas swirled around in my head together, I began to see something. Jesus selected a specific manner to perform each miracle not because it was something that He needed but because it produced in each receiver something that they needed. Jesus created the environment so that each person could focus their faith in a way that allowed them to be healed. The next thought was the one that I did not see coming – why was it any different for Joseph? The Lord selected elements in Joseph’s world to allow him a means to focus his faith so that the Lord could accomplish his work. And if that required fancy eyeglasses, or a rock, or eventually nothing at all, what was the problem? It also started to make sense that as Joseph’s trust and confidence grew the need for the specific item to focus his faith diminished. With that thought the Spirit witnessed to me the truth of that concept, and the opening on the side door of my testimony closed. I was at peace about the idea and while I did not know everything about the story, I knew enough to know that it did fit within the framework of the gospel, and it taught me something new about how the Savior succors his people.

There are several things I learned having gone through this experience. The first is Spoiler Alert #4 – A crisis of faith can happen to anyone. If you have ever suffered through a challenge like this, you are not alone and there is nothing wrong with you. Having a crisis of faith doesn’t mean that you are bad or broken. It simply means that you have been confronted with new and unfamiliar information. That is what happens when we learn and grow. It also means that the Lord loves you. If he didn’t, he would not have trusted you with this trial. In Hebrews, Paul teaches us that “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” [6] This may be at odds with your understanding of your relationship with Christ. It was for me.

Spoiler Alert #5 is that there are a lot of competing voices and they do not all have the same value. President Monson taught us:

“… ‘There are … so many kinds of voices in the world.’ We are surrounded by persuasive voices, beguiling voices, belittling voices, sophisticated voices, and confusing voices. I might add that these are loud voices. I admonish you to turn the volume down and to be influenced instead by that still, small voice which will guide you to safety. Remember that one with authority placed his hands on your head after you were baptized, confirming you a member of the Church and saying, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost.’ Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that special voice which testifies of truth. As the prophet Isaiah promised, ‘Thine ears shall hear a word …, saying, this is the way, walk ye in it.’ May we ever be in tune, that we might hear this comforting, guiding voice which will keep us safe.’” [7]

When you do have a question, you won’t have too far to go to find information - the world will nearly throw it at you. You already know the blessing and curse of the internet. It has some valuable content but includes thousands of voices laden with partial truths, conflicting agendas and outright lies. Be careful and wise where you search. Use the advice given in Doctrine and Covenants 88:118 “… seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” I would advise you that you should use two primary sources in this quest – the scriptures and the Spirit. Other sources can have supplemental value, but the Spirit should be your ultimate resource, and the scriptures will open the door to that revelation. You will also need to improve your pondering skills. Learn to reflect on things that you have read and the impressions that you receive during prayer. Pondering will allow you to compare and contrast the information that you have received and will allow you to see patterns and connections that are not readily apparent on the first pass.

A good example of pondering is putting together a puzzle. We first lay out all of the pieces. Most of us start by assembling the outside edges because their shapes have straight edges that we can easily recognize. We then study the remaining pieces and start to notice similarities. We can see patches of color on two pieces that seem to match. Perhaps we find similar shapes that seem to align. We then try a test fit to see if they work together. We soon see that pieces need to fit together smoothly as pieces that are forced together create problems within the puzzle. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the image becomes clear, and we begin to place pieces together based on the image that has already been assembled. The Spirit normally works in the same way. Nephi helps us understand this when he said:

“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” [8]

I need to prepare you for the possibility that even if you can see enough of the image to understand what it is, there will almost always be missing pieces that will have to be filled in later. Please do not focus on the missing pieces – focus on the image that you can see until you find them.

Spoiler Alert #6 is that there is a subtle yet significant difference between questions and doubts. The purpose of a question is to inquire. An inquiry is a search for an answer. To question is to act in pursuit of the truth. That process is essentially – faith.

Elder Neil L. Andersen clarifies this when he said:

“Addressing honest questions is an important part of building faith, and we use both our intellect and our feelings. The Lord said, ‘I will tell you in your mind and in your heart.’ Not all answers will come immediately, but most questions can be resolved through sincere study and seeking answers from God. Using our mind without our heart will not bring spiritual answers. ‘The things of God knoweth no man, but [through] the Spirit of God.’ And to help us, Jesus promised us “another Comforter” and called Him “even the Spirit of truth.” [9]

A doubt represents a lack of confidence and distrust. A doubt looks for information to prove a negative. Doubts cause us to look for flaws, not truth. Please remember that you will never find the light by looking in the dark.

Elder Andersen continued:

“Immersing oneself in persistent doubt, fueled by answers from the faithless and the unfaithful, weakens one’s faith in Jesus Christ and the Restoration. ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.’” (9)

Spoiler Alert #7 is that change takes time. It is not an easy thing to change your mind, your actions or your heart. Patience is hard. Nobody wants to press forward without a clear understanding of the full lay of the land. The problem is that with our limited mortal insight we can’t always see the way clearly, and often don’t understand the meaning of what we do see. We often have to press forward with only enough light to take the next step and sometimes, we have to stride forward without knowing if our feet will land on sure footing at all. In these times of uncertainty, it is important to trust that, regardless of the terrain, the Lord will catch, support and in some instances carry us on. Isaiah taught us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” [10] This thought may not always be comforting, but at least it gives us the knowledge that while we may not know the way, the Lord does.

Spoiler Alert #8 is more encouraging: You are not in this alone

I have also learned that the Lord does not abandon us on these trials but will assist and even carry us through them. President Nelson has helped us understand this when he shared with us:

“The reward for keeping covenants with God is heavenly power—power that strengthens us to withstand our trials, temptations, and heartaches better. This power eases our way. Those who live the higher laws of Jesus Christ have access to His higher power. Thus, covenant keepers are entitled to a special kind of rest that comes to them through their covenantal relationship with God.” [11]

He continued:

“... entering into a covenant relationship with God binds us to Him in a way that makes everything about life easier. Please do not misunderstand me: I did not say that making covenants makes life easy. In fact, expect opposition, because the adversary does not want you to discover the power of Jesus Christ. But yoking yourself with the Savior means you have access to His strength and redeeming power.” [11]

Spoiler Alert #9 is that God really is your Father

Some of you present are already parents. Most of the rest of you will someday be similarly blessed. Until that happens to you it will be difficult to understand the significance of parenthood. You will love your children in a sort of miraculous way that will transform your life. You will feel a sense of responsibility and concern like you have never felt before. You will want the best for them. You will sacrifice for them, and you will worry and plan and worry some more. They will become the focus of your life and you will become wrapped up in each triumph and stumble. It is not strange then to think that given all options for a title that God of the Universe asks that we address him simply as Father.

In his role as our father, he wants the best for you. The challenge for each of us is that his definition of “best” does not include the easiest or simplest path. He wants us to be perfect as He is perfect and to someday take up the family business of bringing to pass the eternal life of man. Our challenge is that we seem to have way lower expectations than he does because we can scarcely imagine what he has in store for us.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hope that Spoiler Alert #10 is the most encouraging – Life gets way better. Many of you have had wonderful experiences so far including growing up in exotic places, serving missions, receiving temple blessings, attending BYU–Hawaii. Some of you have already found your eternal companion. Each experience from here will not simply add to your joy and satisfaction – it will add an exponent. You have greatly prepared for your future life, and it is about to start in earnest. It is going to be amazing, especially if you follow the guidelines outlined by the Lord and heed the counsel of his apostles and prophets. You will occupy important positions in the growth of the Church in your homelands and you will be how the gathering of Israel will take place. It is your hands that will help prepare the way for the Second Coming of the Lord. I have already clarified that this process is not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. As you continue down the path your experiences will deepen and expand. You will receive more revelation, more power, more opportunity and “…then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” [12] You will experience things you could never have imagined at this point in your life. Your life will be amazing.

I would like to bear a simple testimony – It is true. Joseph was a prophet. Jesus is the Christ. He lives. We are embarked on a journey towards eternity where all the promised blessings await those who endure to the end. At my age I will probably beat you there, but don’t worry – I’ll save you a spot. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Oxford Languages 
[2] Merriam Webster #2 
[3] 1 Thessalonians 5:21 
[4] “Lord, I believe” - Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, April 2013 General Conference
[5] Helaman 5:12 
[6] Hebrews 12:6 
[7] “Keep the Commandments,” President Thomas S. Monson Oct 2015 General Conference
[8] 2 Nephi 28:30 
[9] “Faith Is Not by Chance, but by Choice,” Elder Neil L. Andersen Oct 2015 General Conference
[10] Isaiah 55:8 
[11] “Overcome the World and Find Rest,” President Russell M. Nelson, October 2022 General Conference
[12] Doctrine and Covenants 121:45