Knowing Who You Are | Kevin J Worthen

It is wonderful to be here with you today,
to know that you have arrived safely from your travels, and to see in you the bright
hope of anticipation that accompanies a new year and a new semester. Let me begin with a story that may sound all
too familiar to some of you. The airport had been packed for hours. The usually crowded
holiday travel conditions were exacerbated by weather-related delays and cancellations
at other airports. Hundreds of frustrated travelers were scrambling from one gate to
another as they sought alternate ways to reach their destinations. At one gate, the line to talk to the agent
stretched for more than fifty yards. One of the passengers in the line was a well-dressed
and obviously impatient man. As he glanced at his watch with ever-increasing frequency
and tapped his foot at an ever-increasing rate, it was obvious to all around him that
he was not a person who was accustomed to waiting. Finally the man could stand it no longer.
He bolted from his place in line and stomped up to the gate. Pounding his hand on the desk,
he bellowed, “Do you know who I am?” An awkward silence instantly gripped the area.
The agent at the desk calmly picked up her telephone and, in a steady voice, said, “We
may need a little additional help at Gate 19. There is a man down here who doesn’t
know who he is.” My question to you today is, Do you know who
you are? This question may be more complicated than it at first appears. If someone were
to ask you right now who you are, some of you might answer by identifying yourself as
a BYU student—a worthwhile identity. Others might be more specific and identify themselves
by their major or their year in school. Some would answer based on their home or place
of origin. Those of you from Texas know what I mean. Some might identify themselves by
an extracurricular activity in which they engage, a sport they play, or a talent they
possess. Some might choose to identify themselves by their church calling, by an office they
hold, or by their relationships with others, such as wife, husband, father, or mother. Each of these answers would be truthful in
the sense that they accurately describe a portion of who you are. And to some extent
they may be the most appropriate response because of the context in which the question
is asked. Our response to the question Who are you? will likely vary from time to time
and place to place. And sometimes those answers, in the abstract, will contradict one another.
Thus, knowing who we really are can get a bit complicated. But what if you had to fully identify yourself
in a single sentence? Could you in one sentence describe yourself in a way that would be accurate
in whatever circumstance or whatever stage of life you might find yourself? It wouldn’t
be that you are a freshman, for that will change. Or that you are a BYU student, for
that will also change—even though there are times when graduation seems an eternity
away. Such a statement of who you really are would need to describe your fully defined
being in a way that is not dependent on time or temporary circumstances. That kind of answer
to the question of who you are is a bit more challenging to provide. Fortunately, prophets, seers, and revelators
have provided one example of such an answer in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” The family proclamation clearly declares that
“each [of us] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such,
each has a divine nature and destiny.” Most of us are familiar with that statement, as
we have recited and sung portions of it since our Primary days. Yet I wonder if familiarity
has caused us to overlook the depth, breadth, and power of the truths this identity statement
contains. Note, for example, that the description is
universal. It applies to everyone in this audience, everyone on this campus, every person
who lives on this earth, and all who have lived or will ever live on this earth and
on worlds without number. “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents
. . . [with] a divine nature and destiny.” Note also that the description transcends
time, referring to our past, our present, and our future. It describes our beginning.
As President Marion G. Romney once observed: In origin, [men and women are] son[s and daughters]
of God. The spirits of men [and women] “are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” Through
that birth process, self-existing intelligence was organized into individual spirit beings. The family proclamation then goes on to describe
a key feature of our present state: our divine nature. Within each one of us, regardless
of our own unique circumstances, challenges, and even mistakes we have made, there is currently
an essence of the divine. It is part of our nature—a part of who we are that does not
change. Our grade point average may dip below 3.0 or 2.0 or even 1.0, we may not have been
on a date for months or years, we may consider ourselves unlovable, we may have just lost
our temper with someone we love, we may have been hurt by someone else, but we still have
a divine nature. It is part of who we are now. The statement also describes what can be our
future, our divine destiny—our ability through the exercise of our agency made possible by
Christ through His atoning sacrifice—to become like our Heavenly Parents. Finally, note that in each of these three
time periods—past, present, and future—the common reference point is God. Because He
begat our spirits in the past, we currently partake of His divine nature, and we can ultimately
become like Him. If we want to fully know who we are, we must first gain some understanding
of who God is. As Joseph Smith explained, “If men do not comprehend the character
of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” Understanding that we are children of Heavenly
Parents—sharing Their divine nature and possessing the potential to be like Them—can
bring great power into our lives. The prophet Moses learned this important point early in
his ministry. In the revelation recorded in Moses 1, “Moses
was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain” to visit with God. God first introduced Himself
to Moses by informing Moses of some of His attributes. Once having established who He
is, God then informed Moses about Moses in verse 4: “Behold, thou art my son.” In verse 6 God emphasized that relationship
again, telling Moses, “I have a work for thee . . . , my son.” In verse 7 God referred
to their kinship one more time: “This one thing I show unto thee . . . , my son.” Clearly God wanted Moses to understand at
the outset not only who He—God—was but also Moses’s relationship to Him. And the
reason God wanted Moses to have this critical information quickly becomes apparent as the
story unfolds. As soon as God left Moses to himself, Satan appeared to tempt Moses—as
he often does when important things are about to happen in our lives. Moses’s response
to the temptation is revealing. “Who art thou?” Moses inquired of Satan. “For behold,
I am a son of God.” Moses’s understanding of his direct relationship
to God gave him the power to resist Satan’s temptation and eventually the power to banish
Satan from his life. It can similarly give us the power to deal with the inevitable ups
and downs of college life and the other vicissitudes that are part of our mortal existence. When asked, “How can we help those struggling
with [a personal challenge]?” [President Russell
M. Nelson] instructed, “Teach them their identity and their purpose.” There is great power in understanding who
we truly are. There are two particular words in the family
proclamation’s statement of identity that can easily be overlooked but which contain
profound truths that sooner or later all of us need to understand more fully. The first word is beloved. We are not just
sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents; we are beloved sons and daughters. Because we
are literally His offspring, His crowning creation, God loves us more deeply than we
can comprehend. His sole purpose, His supreme joy, His work, and His glory come from seeing
us succeed. As C. S. Lewis put it: We were made not primarily that we may love
God . . . but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love
may rest “well pleased.” It is easy to underestimate God’s love for
us. Indeed, with our finite minds and imperfect bodies, it is impossible for us to fully comprehend
it in this stage of our existence. Yet there is no aspect of God’s character that is
more central to His divine nature and none more critical to the development of our faith
in Him. God’s love for us is so much a part of what makes Him God that the ancient apostle
John taught that “God is love.” God loves each one of us with a love that is greater,
more powerful, and more constant than we fully appreciate. We should feel His love more often
than we do. And as we feel that love more fully, it should—and will—change us. Indeed,
God requires that we be changed by His love. Christ taught, “A new commandment I give
unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.” In order to more fully understand God’s
love for us, we should take care that we do not unintentionally reverse the commandment
that we love others as God loves us—that we not focus so much on our own imperfections
that we believe that God’s love is like ours, instead of believing that our love can
become like God’s. As strange as that statement may sound, I believe there are many who underestimate
the reach and constancy of God’s perfect love for us because they analogize it to the
less-than-perfect love we can muster for our fellow beings, thereby figuratively dragging
God’s celestial love down to the telestial level at which our love currently operates. In its most common form, this reversal of
the commandment manifests itself in the mistaken belief that if God really loved us, our lives
would be free from much of the toil we experience in life—or in the related erroneous belief
that the fact that we struggle in life is a sign that either God’s love for us is
diminished or that we have failed to merit it and are therefore beyond its reach. This
misunderstanding is so common that for some it is a stumbling block to believing that
God exists. If God loves His children and if He is all powerful, some ask, why do so
many of His children suffer? To these skeptics, the existence of pain, sorrow, and injustice
in the world conclusively establishes that not only does God not love us, He does not
exist at all. But as C. S. Lewis explained: The problem of reconciling human suffering
with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial
meaning to the word “love.” In that regard, Lewis asserted, we often confuse
God’s love with human kindness. To quote Lewis: There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness
are not coterminous. . . . Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes
good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. Many of us want a God who is kind—by which
kindness we mean the desire to see others . . . happy; not
happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God
who said of anything we happened to like doing, “What does it matter so long as they are
contented?” We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a
senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves,”
and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of
each day, “a good time was had by all.” But that is not God’s plan for us. He loves
us more than that. He wants us to become like Him. He wants us to experience the fulness
of joy He enjoys. And He loves us enough that He will do whatever it takes for us to reach
that goal—­including allowing His Son to suffer indescribable pain for us and including
allowing us to experience challenges in our lives. God loves us so much that He is willing
to let us experience things that are hard, difficult, and soul-stretching—and He does
it not because He does not love us but ­precisely because He does. This does not mean that every struggle we
experience and every hurt we bear is inflicted on us by God. Many of our challenges are the
result of our own bad choices or those of others. Agency is an inevitable part of the
plan. God does not promise that every choice we or others make will be consistent with
His will. But He does promise that He can make everything we experience work together
for our good. He can make all our soul-stretching experiences—regardless of their source—part
of the process by which we can become like Him. And that is His goal because He loves
us so much. That leads to the second key word in the identity
statement in the family proclamation: destiny. We not only have a divine nature, we have
a divine, or godly, destiny. Because we are literally Their offspring, we possess the
power to become like our Heavenly Parents. That knowledge can also transform and empower
us. President Henry B. Eyring recently shared
a personal example of this truth with the students at the LDS Business College. He related
how he felt overwhelmed when taking some physics and math classes as an undergraduate. He said: As time wore on, my discouragement led me
to feel that it was useless to study. . . . I began to think of quitting and doing something
easier. It was on a night during that time of discouragement
when I received the help that made all the difference for me. . . . Help came as a voice,
an actual voice in my mind. . . . The words voiced were these: “When you realize who
you really are, you will be sorry that you didn’t try harder.” I didn’t know then all that those words
meant. . . . But I knew then what to do. I went to work. I felt that I must have more
ability to learn than I could see in myself. I began to try to understand that message
of encouragement. By pondering and working during the years that followed, I came to
realize who I really was. I was a spirit child of God. I had inherent in me the potential
to learn what He knows. Because of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and my faith in Him,
my sins could be washed away. . . . I could receive the gift of the Holy Ghost as a companion.
And I came to know that by the power of the Holy Ghost, we may know the truth of all things. President Eyring stated that this experience,
and others like it, “gave [him] the confidence to keep trying harder, even when the learning
was difficult.” That can be true with you as well. But there will still be times when the gap
between the godlike state that is our destiny and our current imperfect state appears so
immense that it seems overwhelming. At times we may find ourselves surrounded by constant
reminders that we are falling short. When that happens, let me suggest three things
we can do to retain, or regain, the eternal perspective that changes the knowledge of
our potential from a burden into a blessing. First, we need to recognize and remember that
we are not alone in our struggles. God has placed others in our lives to help sustain
us. They may include parents, siblings, roommates, or friends who may be praying and rooting
for your success. But they will also include others whom you can serve. There are few more
powerful antidotes to feeling inadequate than serving others in need. When you are struggling,
if you will spend more time thinking about what you can do for someone else and less
time thinking about your own limitations, you will find that your confidence in yourself
and in God’s ability to work through you will increase. Doing godlike acts of service
enables us to both become more like God and to feel in greater measure His love for us. More important, even if you feel completely
bereft of human companionship, remember that you are never truly alone. Because of His
great atoning sacrifice, Christ knows how we feel and He knows how to succor and strengthen
us. Because of His great love for us, which mirrors exactly that of the Father, He will
not—He ­cannot—abandon us, as long as we let Him in our lives. Second, we need to be more patient with the
process. We need to worry less about the speed at which we are moving and more about the
direction we are going. We will not fully realize our divine potential in this life.
And while we need to make wise use of our time in our mortal existence, we should remember
that God does not deal with time in the same way we do. In fact, time as we understand
it may not bind Him at all. As Alma noted, “Time only is measured unto men.” Because
speed is a measure of distance over time, if time becomes less relevant, so does speed.
Thus, in eternal things, such as our ongoing progress in becoming like God, direction is
more important than speed. In the long run, the direction we are headed matters much more
than the rate at which we are moving. If we become frustrated because we are not
progressing as fast as we feel we should, we need to remember that we progress “line
upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” The key is to make
sure we are headed in the right direction. From time to time this will require a course
correction. That is what we call repentance, which is really just a turning back toward
God to go in the right direction. If we will continue to head in the right direction, God
will make up the difference in His own time. Finally, and most important, when we are feeling
overwhelmed in our quest for perfection, we need to return to the first truth in the identity
statement of the family proclamation. We are beloved sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents.
God loves us. That is a fundamental truth on which our accurate understanding of who
we really are is based. As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf testified in the most recent general
conference: God knows you. You are His child. He loves
you. Even when you think that you are not lovable,
He reaches out to you. Indeed, as Elder Bruce C. Hafen once observed,
“We never have more value in the Lord’s sight than when we are feeling completely
worthless.” In those moments when you wonder if you can
make it, when the challenges seem too much, I urge you to turn to God. More specifically,
I plead with you to find a time and a place when you can in all honesty ask God what He
really thinks of you. Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume you are worthless, that He
is displeased with you, or that He has given up on you. Ask instead, with real intent,
the simple questions “Father, what do you think of me? Who am I to you?” I am confident
that if you are open, you will be pleasantly surprised by the answers. You will find the
truth shared by the ancient apostle Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of
Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril,
or sword?” And I would add, “Or a bad test grade, an angry ­comment, or a failed
relationship?” The answer is an emphatic no. Like Paul, I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. You are a child of God. You are a beloved
spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents. Because of that, each of you has a divine
nature and destiny. These statements are true. May they be ever in your mind and heart is
my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


  1. L T

    January 10, 2019 at 7:26 pm

    I needed this today! Thank you for posting these videos!!

  2. Reina Bolanos

    January 10, 2019 at 8:39 pm


  3. Holly odii

    January 11, 2019 at 6:35 am

    Being a Son or Daughter of God is everything, and the reason to try every day.

  4. Enkhmaa Dorjsuren

    January 12, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    I love this speech. Thank you very much.

  5. Hunter Gruwell

    January 22, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    I am so grateful for this talk and this channel

  6. Bernard Martinez

    January 23, 2019 at 3:55 am


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