This is excerpted/paraphrased. My original remarks were about 50 minutes long. The theme was from D & C 121:45 "Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts Unceasingly," which is the YM/YW theme for 2007.
I began by showing them pictures of myself in junior high and high school and spoke about trying to reinvent myself every year because I kept thinking that I'd have more confidence if I could just alter aspects of myself that I hated. These were mostly superficial things. Clothes, hair make-up, peer groups, etc. The kids, obviously got a real kick out of my late-eighties, early nineties attire and hair disasters. I'll pick up here:
"And while I was figuring out a lot about myself, there were still things that just didn't seem quite right. There was this boy that I really was crazy about who never saw me as anything more than a friend. I never quite got the grades I really craved. I never was the lead in the play. I never made student office. Even during my senior year, as I learned what I was good at and had lots of friends, I could never quite get rid of my inner turmoil.
"All this time I had attended seminary and church regularly. I knew a lot about the Church. I had felt the spirit many times and even borne my testimony, but I frequently doubted the truth of the gospel and often mistrusted my feelings.
"This is my state of mind when I got to college. And although I was thrilled to move out and be on my own, I was overwhelmed with the number of freshmen girls at my university. They all seemed just like me! I felt kind of adrift and without identity. And for the first time, I was very closely exposed to students who did not keep the commandments, or even pretend to. I
"Then during my freshman year of college, a series of a terrible and unrelated events happened, all of them within just a couple of months of each other." My freshman year was pretty bad--friends having terrible accidents or cancer, a brother with an emergency surgery, an aunt who died of cancer at age 34, leaving behind four young children. . . you get the picture.
"Up to that point, I’d had very few trials and I felt like my life was crashing down around my ears. And for the first time in my life I had to know if the gospel was true. I had to know if families were eternal, or if the whole temple marriage thing was just a nice fairy tale we told ourselves to feel better about death. I had to know that there was a purpose to trial and suffering and difficulty. I had to know there was a reason to keep the commandments and be righteous, when I was surrounded by those who seemed to have a lot more fun by not doing these things.
"So I did the things I’d been taught. I prayed and studied the scriptures. I read stories from the life of the Savior and tried to learn who He was so I could begin to understand what He had done for me, and what He meant to me. I worked hard on being a good daughter and good friend. And then one day, I knew. I still remember the chair I was sitting in and the passage of the book I was reading when it hit me. I knew that Jesus had died for me, a poor, struggling college student who had no idea what terrible thing would happen next to someone I loved. Once this knowledge flooded me, the other pieces of the gospel fell into place and I knew that our trials had purpose and that families were eternal. I didn’t doubt any more, and I began keeping the commandments because I wanted to.
"And I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: confidence does not come from changing your outward appearance or your friends or from always saying the right thing, though the world will tell us this is the exact formula. But this prideful sense of self-esteem is just Satan’s counterfeit for true confidence.
"True confidence is something else entirely. True confidence is trusting the Lord so completely that our testimonies do not falter even when the storms of life beset us. True confidence is having our thoughts so in tune with the Lord that the Spirit is our constant companion in the face of every difficulty, temptation and trial. "
We then discussed the scriptural theme for the year and talked about the terrible circumstances under which Joseph was given this revelation. I told them that I loved this scripture for its built in promise about having confidence. My whole life I'd fought so hard to have confidence, but the formula was there in the scriptures all along. This, incidentally, is the only time in the scriptures that the word "confidence is used."
"True confidence . . . has nothing to do with how we dress or look or act, it has everything to do with how much faith we exercise.
"So though I’ve spent most of our time here tonight focusing on this remarkable promise of confidence in the presence of the Lord, I’d like to take some more time now on the virtue part."
We then discussed the 13th Article of Faith and how it uses the term virtue in two different contexts. "The first time it comes in a list of other good attributes. So our first working definition is that virtue is a particular attribute, a Christlike attribute, that is desirous to have. The second time it is used, it gives the impression that all of these things can be considered virtuous, so that virtue can also be a general category of good things.
"Some years back President Hinckley wrote a book that spent a couple of weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. This book may look familiar to some of you. Now you are probably all too young to have been aware when this came out, but if your parents have a copy of this book, you should read it. The book is called Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes."
The kids came up with as many virtues as they could. I mentioned that although they were all good, we wanted to emphasize, "chapter three of his book called, 'Making a Case for Morality, in which he uses the words morality, chastity and virtue interchangeably. So while virtue is being generally a good person, virtue is, specifically, keeping the Lord’s law of chastity. Just so there is no question about what this law is, I’m going to quote directly from For the Strength of Youth 'Physical Intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife. God has commanded that sexual intimacy be reserved for marriage.'
"I think it is important to point out here that the term “sexual intimacy” is used, which is more encompassing than if just the word “sex” is used. If you have any questions about behaviors and whether or not they are appropriate, you should read the rest of this section as well as the section on chastity in 'True to the Faith." Or talk to your parents and leaders and bishop. And if you are behaving in any way in reference to the opposite sex that even raises a question in your mind of whether or not it is appropriate, then stop what you are doing immediately.
"I want to quote somewhat at length from President Hinckley’s book here. I am also going to have several of you read quotes from his book as well as a talk that was given in October Conference 1998 by Jeffrey R. Holland, which I first heard when my husband and I were dating. I quote liberally from the prophets here because their words, while being plain and unapologetic about our standards, are also filled with love and authority."
The kids read several excerpts which I will not quote here--you really should read both the chapter and the talk in their complete form. EXCELLENT stuff.
"I know it is hard. I know it. About a year before going on my mission, I committed myself to the Lord one night in my prayers, promising that by my 21st birthday I would be ready and worthy to go to the temple—whether to be married or to go on a mission would be up to Him, but I would be ready.
"I was so grateful for my commitment. Just weeks after making this promise, I was tested in this very principle. I came to the moment of decision, and if I had not decided before-hand and made that firm commitment of worthiness to the Lord, I would never have had the strength to make up my mind in that instant. And if I had not made the right decision, I would have regretted it for months, and maybe years after.
"Because it wasn’t marriage that happened for me first; it was a mission. The confidence I took with me on my mission, true confidence based on the Lord’s requirements, was one of my most valuable possessions. Only perfect trust in the Lord could have compelled me to knock on doors, day after day, week after week and share the gospel message. And even after thousands and thousands of rejections, my testimony, my faith and my confidence only grew. I saw an elder on the last day of his mission knock on a door and say with absolute steadiness, 'Sir, I am here on your doorstep because the Lord wants to call you to repentance. Will you listen to our message?' The man did listen. Only perfect purity of heart can give you enough faith to say such a thing to a perfect stranger.
"Now, I know that you are exposed to things so much worse and more shocking than what I was exposed to as a teenager, but I also know--I know--that you were saved to come to earth for this time because you are the very best the Lord has. Many of you sitting in this very room no doubt sat at the knee of our Father in Heaven before you ever came to this earth and solemnly promised to do all in your power to overcome temptation and return to Him. There is nothing the world has to offer that is greater than the Kingdom of Heaven. Nothing.
"Satan knows this. And I hate to even bring up his name. I hate to even give him mention in a place that should uplift and edify. But he is so real. He knows you are the best of the best. It is nothing for him to claim a soul that is already on its way down to hell, but if he can claim one of YOU for his own—one of God’s own elite—then he laughs and laughs as he watches you surrender your agency to your passions, as he watches you surrender your body to one who will break your heart and surrender your soul to himself, so he can enslave you.
"I’d like to take a moment to address the boys.
"I’ve never had a teenage son, nor have I been a teenage boy. But I have taught hundreds of middle and high schoolers over the last several years and I have three sons of my own. I think I know a little bit about how boys tick. You hear talks time and time again about the evils of pornography. But even with the repetition, I don’t think the warning can be repeated often enough. There is nothing in our society that will give you a more perverse idea of relationships between men and women. There is nothing that will lead you to objectify and distort the truth about love and intimacy as much as pornography. It will poison your mind and heart and spirit. And if doesn’t even have to be hard pornography found in certain places on the internet. Any television program, song or commercial that treats women as objects to satisfy desire is unworthy of a priesthood holder’s time and attention; even a moment is too much if it seeks to cheapen things that are sacred. If you do date, date in groups. If you date alone, specify a start and ending time to the date. Bring her home early. Whatever you do, PLAN activities for your dates. There is nothing more flattering to a young woman than to know her date has cared enough about her to plan something to do. If you are in a place where your guy and girl friends are doing nothing more than hanging out or, worst case scenario, watching a movie in the dark, then have the courage to be like Joseph of Egypt and FLEE. Have the courage to date girls who are keeping gospel standards, even if it means you may not get a goodnight kiss. Have the courage to tell a young woman who is dressed modestly how pretty she looks and how proud you are to be seen with her.
"Now the boys can tune out while I address the girls.
"You young sisters have more power over the young men than even they will dare admit. If you would one day have strong marriages and worthy priesthood holders leading your families, you must not do anything that would jeopardize the young men you associate with—either the young men you date, or the young men you are friends with—from going on missions. On their missions they will learn the true nature of love and sacrifice; they will return home ready to settle and commit and lead. The way you speak, the way you dress, the way you walk, has a huge influence on any young man in your vicinity. Using your words and your body to tease, tempt and control is the cruelest use of the powerful gifts God has given to you. Do not wear clothes that are so tight your straps underneath can be seen; do not sit on a guy’s lap, even if he is just a friend; do not give back rubs; do not wear dresses that creep up your legs and shirts that creep up your bellies. Try clothes on until you find the ones that fit you properly so they are not too tight or too sloppy. But most of all, do not explain away such behavior. Rationalization is no substitute for quiet dignity and modesty. Nobody should ever have to look at you and wonder if you are LDS.
"And while many of these things, on their own, are not direct violations of the Law of Chastity, I have seen every single one of them lead to things that are.
"In the Book of Mormon, Alma gives some advice to each of his sons before he dies. He says to one of them, 'Bridle all of your passions that you may be filled with love.' The world would have us believe that expressing your passion is the equivalence of expressing your love. But the Lord’s way is the higher way, and he says that expressing our passion is absolutely NOT love: it is keeping our passion under control so that we might have time to learn and develop true Christlike love instead of just giving in to our selfish desires.
"When I knelt across the altar from my husband eight and a half years ago, surrounded by family and friends in that beautiful sealing room in the Logan temple, I knew that we were worthy to be there. I knew that any price I had paid in self control was worth it for that moment and for the eternity we would have together, and the children that would be born to us. On that day, I began to understand what it means to really be 'in love.' I testify to you this day, that keeping your thoughts clean and pure and virtuous is WORTH IT. Whatever sacrifice you think you are making to get your life in order is NOTHING compared to the blessings the Lord is waiting to give to you when you approach him with clean hands and a pure heart.
I concluded by sharing two stories: the first of a girl I had grown up with who allowed herself be led away, and the second of a remarkable young man I taught on my mission.
After sharing the story of the young woman, who, after a series of terrible choices, ended up pregnant by age 16, I said, "Not long ago I heard about her, though my parents have since moved from that neighborhood. She is renting the home she grew up in from her parents who have moved away. She has several children now from at least two different fathers and has been divorced a couple of times. Her unwillingness to keep her thoughts and actions pure has caused her to have a life that is difficult and no doubt, filled with a large measure of sorrow. At what point could she have turned things around?"
There was some discussion about the right time to make good choices, and then one especially perceptive Priest said, "Now!"
"That is right. At any point she wanted to. The Savior’s atonement is real and powerful. At any moment, even now, that she decides her life is not what she wants it to be and she desires to repent, she can begin the long process back toward the light. Any one of you sitting her tonight has the same promise extended. If there is anything in your life that needs changing, do it now! The Lord is waiting to help you overcome your sin and to bless you anew with the power of His Spirit. You just have to take a single step in the right direction. I shared her story because I don't think any dicussion of chastity can be made without reference to repentance."
I then shared a story of one of the most remarkable young men I've ever met, Peter, and shared his conversion story I was pleased to witness during my mission. The central pont was that, "Peter did not have a single thing in his life when we met him that would give him anything the world termed confidence.
"Still, even before joining the church, the strength of Peter’s spirit shone through and he was a young man of integrity. A year or two previous he had made a commitment to himself not to drink or smoke as well as a decision to live the law of chastity. While this may not seem too remarkable to you, growing up in the church and being trained to make these commitments from your early childhood, but to a young man growing up in Australia! Such a commitment outside the church is hardly ever heard of.
"After his baptism, Peter glowed with such a light that he found himself a white shirt and tie at the thrift shop and was out door knocking with our district leader before he had even been a member for a month. Our district leader said that Peter was more bold at the doors than even he and his companion and his strength of spirit and pure testimony had given them teaching opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
"Peter’s journey hasn’t always gone as smoothly as those first several weeks, but he has endured. Just over a year ago, he and his wife were sealed together in the Sydney Temple. Now, if Peter will stay true to the covenants he made both at baptism and in the temple, keeping his thoughts and actions clean before the Lord, then he will be able to be the husband and father that his own dad was not. He will be walk with confidence when confronting any situation because his life is right with the Lord."
I closed with my testimony of the divinity of the soul and the Lord's love for each of us, urging the kids to find out for themselves who they really are and to gain a testimony so that resisting temptation will not be as hard.
I think it went over pretty well. The leaders liked it and the kids are all still speaking to me.