Whether we find ourselves adjusting to a new school year, a new job, a new roommate, a new month, or a new friendship, this time of year is often one of changes marked by new struggles and opportunities. Facing the final year of my undergraduate studies, I’ve spent the past several months at once fantasizing about and fretting over the opportunities and struggles of deciding what I’ll do once I have a diploma in hand. During these months, I’ve thought about things I would enjoy doing and things I would hate doing, I’ve thought about ways that I can not just stay busy but also be able someday to support a family, and I’ve thought about how I might make a meaningfully positive contribution to the world. In addition to thinking, I’ve studied, prayed, consulted with family, friends, professors, and others, and I’ve sought inspiration from the words of prophets past and present. While my efforts have yielded few distinct answers, the Lord has blessed me to understand truths and principles gradually that have guided me as I work out my plans and aspirations. Rather than rob me of my ability to act and choose, He has taught me and qualified me in order to make reasonable choices and to act accordingly. That is to say, He hasn’t solved my immediate concerns by saying something like, “Be an anesthesiologist.” He has instead taught me about His purposes, my talents, and the importance of exercising my talents for the benefit of others, according to His purposes—principles that will remain true long after I have retired from my career and, eventually, from this life.
In times of adjustment, it can sometimes be easier to be persuaded by discouragement than by hope. When we find ourselves in circumstances that are different from what we had expected, when the people around us offer less support than we had counted on, when our goals end up being a little further away than we had previously estimated, we might think that we were misguided to have imagined that things could have worked out. We might think that the opposition is so great that we must have been setting ourselves up for failure. In such times, it is important to remember, as the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, that “by divine appointment, ‘these are [our] days,’ since ‘all things must come to pass in their time.’ Moreover, though we live in a failing world, we have not been sent here to fail.” Our Father in Heaven loves us and hopes that we will qualify to live with Him in the eternities. In many ways, He must be even more invested in our success than we sometimes are. Surely, we have not been sent here—wherever we are—to fail.
With that in mind, I realize that the world sometimes tells us that some of us are destined for failure in this life—that some of us are equipped with less useful skill sets than others. When people ask me what I study or what my future study plans are, it can occasionally be difficult not understand the question “What are you going to do with that?” as meaning “What can you even do with that?” I imagine people who plan to go to medical school or who study accounting very rarely face the same question. Surely, the value of doctors, accountants, and lawyers is almost immediately apparent—and the world is willing to pay a high premium for their services. However, though the world isn’t willing to pay as much for people whose talents lie in cooking, dancing, parenting, or teaching, those talents and gifts are just as valuable and legitimate. Our Father in Heaven loves us too much to waste our time—and our lives—by giving us talents that are worthless. Speaking of this truth, the Apostle Paul taught, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit…. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (I Corinthians 12:4,6). All of our gifts come from God in order to accomplish His eternal purposes—to help others and ourselves progress in faith and happiness. That—that eternal objective—is not just in the domain of doctors and dentists. All of us can contribute meaningfully regardless of the talents we have.
When Jesus Christ visited the peoples of the Americas after His resurrection, He taught the gathered multitude about their responsibility to use their talents and gifts for good. He said, “Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up” (3 Nephi 18:24). In everything He did, Jesus went about doing good. He had immense talent, but He used it to bless those around Him—not to show everyone how talented He was. The example of His love and service is a great light, a light that can shine brightly in each of us. As I’ve thought about holding up my light and holding up Christ as my light, my thoughts have been drawn repeatedly to prisms. When light enters, for example, the little prisms that are raindrops, the light interacts differently with each one, and the light that goes in looks different from the light that comes out. Nevertheless, it is all the same light. Though we see red and violet and green, we still see light that came from the same sun. Similarly, I’ve come to believe that the light of Christ interacts differently with each of us. While some of us may give service by sharing baked goods, others might encourage others with uplifting music or kind messages. In any and all of these instances, the varying acts of service are manifestations of the same light—the love and goodness of Jesus Christ. We all might find that we give service most effectively in different ways, but the service we give will all come from the same love and desire to do good to those around us. Thus, I believe, the injunction to let our light shine is an injunction to let the light of Christ shine in our live as it best shines through us. As long as that light’s shining, it probably makes little difference in the eternal scheme of things how it shines.
In the end, I think our Father in Heaven is much less concerned about what specifically we do as long we use the talents and gifts He has given us for good. If we have the talent for being a doctor, we should be one. If we have the talents to be a poet, we shouldn’t try to apologize for our lack of marketable skill—we should be a poet. As long as we use our unique abilities to bless and lift people around us, we are doing the right thing. Elder Maxwell once explained, “Recall the new star that announced the birth at Bethlehem? It was in its precise orbit long before it so shone. We are likewise placed in human orbits to illuminate.” God knows us, He knows our abilities, and He knows the end from the beginning. He knows who we can bless, and He has given us the ability to touch the lives of those around us in positive ways. He wants us to serve others and to find success and satisfaction in using our talents for good. It is not a mistake that we have the talents that we have; none of us is placed in a position to fail because of any lack of ability. Therefore, let us, like drops in a rainbow, let the light of Christ shine in us—however that light might shine—in order to illuminate our lives and the lives of those in our human orbits.