Currents of Commotion
David Sturt, EVP of O.C. Tanner Institute and Marketing, spoke at Devotional on March 27, 2018.
Currents of Commotion
Thank you for that wonderful testimony. I think it blends perfectly with what I’m going to speak about today. Also, what a wonderful choir. It sounded fantastic. I love hearing music, and such well-sung music.
It’s also a privilege to be here. I’m appreciative to President Kusch for inviting me and my wife to be here today, and to share some thoughts with you. Being with you and being sort of back amongst college students just brings back some great memories, and a whole bunch of thoughts. As I look out at you and see you in your chairs, thinking, “Okay, what’s ahead of me in my life?” and “What’s going on?” and “Where am I going to be working?” and “How is this all going to work out?”
I promise you it all works out. Even though you may be nervous or wondering “What am I going to choose?” or “Where am I going to work?”, just go with it. Heavenly Father will help you, and someday you will be old and gray like me, and sharing some thoughts with other students who are coming along the way.
I am reminded of an experience I had years ago, when I was in college. I was in a religion class, and it was on the New Testament. We had finally reached the end of the New Testament, into the book of Revelation. I remember our professor, a teacher, said something to me that I have never forgotten. He said that in the coming years—and this is a hundred years ago, right? I’ve got gray hair now; it’s many years ago—he said in the coming years, our news would become R-rated. And I remember thinking, what?
He said, “Yeah, your news, your regular nightly news, is going to become R-rated. It’s going to be filled with graphic violence, sexually disturbing content, and massive disasters.” And I remember thinking to myself at the time, “I think he’s a little over the top on this. Where is he going with this?” Sometimes, do you ever think maybe your teachers are a little dramatic? And I remember thinking, “This guy is kind of dramatic, kind of talking a big thing.”
Well, sure enough, it wasn’t but a few years ago when I finally just completely stopped watching the news on television—for all of the same reasons. It was incredibly depressing, and often shocking. If you look around in the world today, it’s exactly those kinds of things that he talked about. And these conditions, it can be easy to become fearful and helpless. You can spend, literally, hours a day listening to the negative and upsetting reports of terrorism, of crime, of world problems, or the unraveling of the moral fabric of society.
In time, lengthy exposure to this barrage of net negativity becomes oddly addictive, and we find ourselves being drawn into these turbulent currents of commotion. The currents are swift, and its waters are deep and foreboding. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14).
In our own church, there are challenges and problems. Some are struggling with concerns about Joseph Smith, about events in Church history, and some of the teachings of modern prophets and apostles. Just as the prophets foretold, we are now clearly living in times of uncertainty and moral upheaval. There is much more open questioning about the existence and nature of God, and the divinity and even historical authenticity of Jesus Christ.
In the cover story of a recent National Geographic magazine that I was reading in December, the question was culled out in one of the boxes, “Might it be possible that Jesus Christ never even existed, and that the whole stained-glass story is pure invention?” These are topics and discussions that I don’t remember seeing when I was a student.
So how do we navigate all of these turbulent times, these challenges, these waves of things that keep coming at us? How can we keep our own sense of spiritual balance and stability, when it feels like everything is in constant commotion around us? I wonder if sometimes you wonder, “What is the world like ahead for me? Where are things going? Do I have the hope that previous generations did of having a successful life, and meeting my dreams and hopes and aspirations?”
All of these currents of commotion remind me of an experience I had while river running on a section of the Colorado River years ago, when I was 18. It was on West Water Canyon, near the Colorado border. Some of you may have been on that stretch of the river. I was with a group of older friends who loved to run rivers. We had a couple of rafts with us, and about a half-dozen kayaks. I was in one of the kayaks, and it was only my second kayaking river trips, so I was still a bit of a rookie, and still kind of wondering about how this was all going to pan out.
Our group leader gathered us together at the beginning of the trip, and he told us that the water was running a lot higher than he had seen before. It was spring run-off, and it was big. That got everybody else really excited, because they were thinking, “Man, we are going to have some awesome rapids! This is going to be great! We’re going to have this great experience.”
I didn’t quite know what to think about that, being still a bit of a rookie in a kayak. When we put into the river, the water was calm and smooth. The canyon was wide open. It was a sunny day. It was beautiful. It was just easy to maneuver around. I felt very comfortable and confident in my little kayak. Pretty soon, water fights started to break out, and I’m thinking to myself, “This seems more like a float trip than the white-water trip that everybody was raging about. This could be kind of a boring afternoon.”
Things started to change pretty quickly. The canyon walls started to narrow in, and the water started picking up speed. Pretty soon, we were in some pretty good-size rapids. If you haven’t been in a kayak before, it’s a really snug fit. The kayak is usually pretty small and skinny, and you smash your feet and your knees deep down into the kayak, and they kind of get pinned in there so that you can feel tight and you’re not going to flop around inside the kayak. It’s also really top-heavy, so anything you do wrong, you’re going to find yourself upside-down and under water. That happens pretty easily. Then you have a spray skirt, which is tied around your waist and sort of snaps around the edge over the kayak, so it keeps the water out and you can keep dry inside.
Again, if you are flipped over, you end up upside-down really fast, and you have to use a paddle to be able to do this roll where you pull the paddle back and you can bring yourself back up out of the water.
I was still a bit of a rookie about that. I had it most of the time, but once in a while I would have to pull out. If you had to pull out, after you couldn’t breathe anymore trying to get up, you would reach forward to the front of the kayak and pull the spray skirt off and you kind of wriggle out of the kayak and up to some fresh air.
It was interesting entering this section of rapids, still wondering if I knew how I was going to roll back up. Once we got into the main section of rapids, I got pretty nervous. These were big rapids that would just move you around like a cork in a washing machine. It was heavy, and I could tell just looking at the eyes of my buddies that they were looking a little spooked too, like it was a little bit big.
After getting through a number of the rapids, we came to a section of the river that everyone had talked about all along. We were able to pull over to a small ledge and get out of our kayaks and walk down to the edge and look down over this section of river that had these rapids. That’s when I knew I was in way over my head. The first big rapid below us was called Skull.
I don’t know who names these rapids, but you will kind of get a feel for this as I go through and talk about each of these. This was formed by a huge rock that had kind of come right out into the middle of the river, and so the water poured right over this rock and into this sort of massive hole. And then there was about a 7-foot wave that was this big reversal on the other side of that hole. And that reversal would just basically push you right back into this huge hole. Just looking at the size of that wave and how small you are in a kayak, I thought, “Man, if you get pulled into that wave, it will just flip you over, chew you up, and spit you out.” And I thought, “Note to self: stay out of that one.” Right?
That wasn’t the worst part. Just below and to the right of Skull was this huge whirlpool created by this big eddy. The whirlpool was called “The Room of Doom.” Doesn’t that sound like a cool whirlpool? The Room of Doom. It sounds ominous, right? Like it could have been out of the Raiders of the Lost Ark or something.
The guys I was with pointed out these logs that were stuck in the Room of Doom. It was about a 50-foot wide huge whirlpool that was just kind of spinning, and there was all kinds of debris and stuff that was just floating in there because it couldn’t get out. It would just float around that thing. That was pretty scary to me.
Then one of the guys leaned over and said, “Yeah, the last time I came through here, I saw a bunch of dead sheep just kind of circling in the Room of Doom.” I was like, “Thank you for telling me that.” Now I’m scared to death about how to get through this thing, because if you got caught in Skull and spit out in the Room of Doom, you would be there for a long time. In fact, they told me that they had had to rescue boats before. It was literally such a powerful whirlpool that you could not paddle a raft out of it. They would have to get ropes and winches and actually winch the thing out—they’d have to cut the bottom of the boat out, and then you would have to haul it up over the mountain to get back to safety.
I was thinking, “Yeah, and I’m in this little tiny kayak. I’m a dead man if I get into that.”
Then they pointed out the third and final danger. If you were able to avoid Skull and not get sucked into the Room of Doom, the main current ran right into this huge wall, which they also named Shock Rock. That is where the whole current of the river just slams into this big wall, and it creates this big wave up the side of this wall, and it really flips boats easily because the boat gets stuck along the side of the wall, the water comes in, and it just flips you over. The problem is, you can get sucked down along the side of the wall and dragged along the side of the wall under water. Again, not a happy thought, thinking about what happens to me if I go under in all of that.
As I stood there, I was genuinely scared. I thought, “What did I get myself into?” And I realized there was really no other way out of this canyon from where I was sitting, besides going right through it. You just had to go through the rest of these rapids. And I wondered, what would happen if I flipped? What happens if, just above the rapids, I went over, and going through that rapid either under water or scrambling? I wondered, how long would I sit circling in the Room of Doom before somebody could rescue me. It was scary.
That’s when I learned the value of an experienced guide. The leader of our group had run a lot of rivers, and he had run this particular river many times. After carefully scouting out the rapids, we gathered around him as he began to lay out the routes that we needed to take, specifically, through these rapids, so that we could have the best chance of getting through safely. He pointed out exactly where we had to enter the rapid, where we had to cut across the river, and exactly what to do, step by step, all the way through the section.
As in other areas of our lives, it is one thing to hear those instructions, and it’s totally another to actually remember what he said, and actually follow those instructions. I must have been sitting there with eyes about this big as he is describing exactly what we needed to do, and I think he noticed the fear in my face, and he said, “Hey, for you we are going to do something a little different.” He said, “Here is what we are going to do.” He pulled out one of the most experienced kayakers, and he said [to him], “You are going to go first, and Dave, you are going to follow him. I want you to follow his every move.”
So as we pushed off—he pushed off first, and I watched him go out. I said a really fervent prayer that I would not die. I’m not joking. It was very real. And I started to paddle out. As I got out in front of the rapids, it was scarier than I thought. It was thunderous. You could hear Skull. It was scarier than I expected, and the currents were powerful and I was nervous. I worried that any wrong move would be disastrous. However, I kept a laser focus on the kayak that was about 50 feet in front of me. Once he paddled around the rock formation and out in front of Skull, I watched as he cut perfectly right back across the river, and I followed every single thing he did. I paddled like my life depended on it.
I am happy to say, as you can tell because I am here today, that I made it through in one piece. For a late teenager at the time, that was one really intense experience. But I learned a bunch of lessons from that, some big life lessons.
The first lesson is that life is like a river. There are some calm sections. There are some really exciting sections, and then there are some flat-out dangerous sections of the river of life. And from what I can see—if you think the rapids of life are getting big now, they are only going to get bigger up ahead.
Can you imagine for a minute what it would have been like for me had I run that river with no guide? With no sense of where it was going? With no sense of where the rapids really were or how to get through them?
In life, like on dangerous rivers, we need a trusted and experienced guide. That guide is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose life, Atonement, and Resurrection we celebrate this coming Easter Sunday. The Lord, our Guide, literally knows every inch of this river. He knows where the rapids are. He knows the routes through them. He also knows what we can handle and what we can’t. He also knows exactly how to rescue us when we flip over. And best of all, His entire mission is to help us get through this river of life safely and securely to the other side.
However, in order for Him to guide us, it requires something essential on our part. It requires us to listen to Him, to follow Him, to come unto Christ, to not reject Him, not ignore Him, not second-guess His directions or His counsel. His promise has been there since the beginning of time: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Virtually every prophet and every apostle has also pleaded with us to receive Him as our guide.
“And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift” (Moroni 10:30).
How do we come unto Christ? How do we have Him as our guide as we navigate through these currents of commotion in our lives? What do we do? Here are a few simple thoughts for you to consider, as you think about how you are using Him as your guide.
First: Come and learn of Him
Get to know your guide. The Lord said, “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23).
He also counseled: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29).
When I read His words, I begin to understand them. His words bring light and wisdom to my mind. My confidence and trust in Him grows. Learning of Him draws me closer to Him. I want to know what He knows. I want to see the things that He did and hear the things that He said.
As I get to know Him more, I find that I love Him more. When I read His words often, they linger in my mind and make their way into my heart. I love our Guide. I am so grateful that He has descended below all things. He knows every inch of this river of life that we are going through. We can trust Him. And again, the more we come to learn of Him, the more trust we can have in Him, and the more we can pay attention to His counsel.
Second: Come and follow Him
Follow Him. He knows the way. He knows where the dangers are. He has given us routes through the rapids. He has taught us how to avoid drowning in the ever-changing currents of commotion around us. His directions are called commandments. They are filled with eons of wisdom and experience. They are not just guidelines that we can casually ignore. They are powerful. They save lives.
The Lord counseled us: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him” (John 14:21).
It was so much easier for me when I was following that kayak in front of me, than if I had to just remember the instructions and directions. There is something wonderful about having a guide and simply trusting in that guide and following him carefully. The Lord, our Guide, clearly explained, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). If we follow him with the same focus that I followed that guide past Skull Rapid, He will bring us safely through.
Third: Come and find forgiveness
Sin separates us from our Guide. When we ignore or break His commandments, we begin to lose our direction and become disoriented. When we disconnect ourselves from our Guide, we make even more mistakes and put ourselves in even greater danger. When we sin in even bigger ways, it is like being sucked into the Room of Doom. There we get stuck, circling around and around, until we come to realize that we can no longer get out on our own. The only way out is with the help of a rescuer.
Fortunately, each of us is blessed with a bishop. He can work closely with the Lord to help pull you out of the whirlpool and save your life.
I have found, on a personal level, some of the most tender moments in my own life have come when I have sought the Lord’s forgiveness and found it. It is an extraordinary experience. The Lord’s forgiveness melts away the pains of regret, brings a deep and thorough soul cleansing, and fills us with His love and His joy. If there is one big lesson I have learned, it is how merciful the Lord is to all those who choose to repent and to come unto Him, as was just spoken by Joao earlier.
“I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for my arm is lengthened out all the day long” (see 2 Nephi 28:32). Don’t you love that metaphor, that image? His arm is lengthened out all the day long. He is just reaching out to grab you and to hold you, pull you back in. That image of the Lord’s arm being lengthened out is just like I would imagine a rescuer, sitting on the rock right next to the Room of Doom, reaching out his arm to grab my arm. Let me help pull you in and get you out of that danger. I am so grateful for the Lord, because that’s what He wants to do. He has already atoned for our sins. He wants us to reach out and grab His hand and let Him help us to safety.
Four: Come and find fellowship
The river of life can be painful. We can and do get hurt. There are those here in the congregation today who may be feeling hurt or damaged or filled with pain. You may have experienced heartache or the loss of a loved one, either physically or spiritually. The Lord has restored His Church so that we can gather together to help each other.
Each of us can help ease one another’s burdens by being loving, by not judging, and by giving the gift of kindness to one another, just the same as on the river. By working together, we can encourage each other, support each other, learn from each other, and even rescue one another when we go over. We are grateful that we have wards, that we have groups, that we have families, that we have friends that can be wonderful supports of fellowship to help us on this journey and this river of life.
Number five: Come and find strength
In the river of life, we cannot float passively along. We have to act or we will be acted upon by the currents of commotion. That takes strength both mentally and spiritually. That takes real paddling. That takes listening to the voice of the Guide, even when it gets hard, and even when we get tired.
I’m asking each of you to really paddle—not just sit back and talk about who is not doing this or that, or whether your boat captain knows what he is doing. The rapids are getting bigger. Focus your attention on following the Lord, our Guide and our Redeemer.
The Lord has promised: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” Then He says this, and I think this is something for our day, for us to remember and be reminded of: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Brothers and sisters, resist the temptation of fear. Do not give into it. Do not feed it with your thoughts. Fear undermines your faith. Fear steals your power to act and to exercise faith. Do not yield to it. Note it for what it is, and do not give your thoughts to it. Do not surrender to that which you don’t know. Build on the sacred experiences that you have had. Do not forsake the Lord our Guide because you cannot explain everything. I urge you not to criticize those who have been called by the Lord as prophets and apostles. They are human, and yet they have keys. The revelation of God is with them. Stay out of the currents of commotion that would steal away your faith and your power.
In conclusion, let me testify that this is the work of God, that this is a plan of salvation that our Heavenly Father laid out—a plan with agency, with challenges, with rapids, with all the experiences that you are facing and that you will face in the years ahead. However, He has not left us without a Guide. I am so grateful for that Guide. I am so grateful for the Savior Jesus Christ, for the restoration of His Church, and the principles of the gospel that have been restored, that give us understanding, that help us orient ourselves so that we know exactly how to get through the difficulties that we have in our lives and the difficulties that lay ahead.
I am so thankful for His love, for His mercy. I am grateful for each of you. I am grateful for the fact that you were born for this. You were born to come in a day such as this. I’m optimistic about what lies ahead. Whenever we see the difficulties of life rise up, we see the power of God extended and expanded through you and with you. He is with us. He will continue with us. There are great days ahead.
I hope that you will have faith and hope and confidence, and not get stuck swirling in the currents of commotion. Stay above them. Listen to the Guide. Pull hard, and you will discover all of the joys and hopes and dreams that you have ahead of you.
In conclusion, I add my words to those which have been said many, many times throughout history: “I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of His salvation, and the power of his redemption” (see Omni 1:26). In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
David Sturt is an Executive Vice President of the O.C. Tanner Company, a $500 million global recognition and workplace culture company. He is also a New York Times bestselling author of "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love," and newly released "Appreciate: Celebrate People, Inspire Results." He was recently named one of the top three most influential visionaries in the incentives industry by Incentives Magazine.
His work and interviews have been published in Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and NPR, and he co-authors a weekly leadership column on Forbes.com. David has spoken at TEDx, and to thousands of business leaders at conferences and companies all over the world.
David has a degree in training and development, an MBA from BYU, and has two decades of experience in research, innovation and leadership. He was born in England, raised in South Africa (where his family joined the LDS Church), and educated in the U.S. and Asia.
David has been married for 31 years and loves being with his wife, Stacie, and their four children and spouses. He enjoys golf and tennis and all kinds of watersports including windsurfing and surfing.
He is currently serving as stake president of the Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake.