Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
Boyd Matheson: The world is filled with challenges, insecurity and uncertainty. Many individuals struggle to find purpose, passion and joy in life. A lack of confidence in self and faith in a divine purpose leaves many straggling in the foothills and off the mountaintops of success, fulfillment and meaningful service. Could the answers be found in covenant living? Sister Julie B. Beck, author of the new book "Joy in the Covenant," shares personal insight on this week's episode of Therefore, What?
We're very pleased today to be joined by Julie Beck, the 15th Relief Society general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She's a graduate of Dixie College, now Dixie State University, and Brigham Young University. Before her service as Relief Society general president, she served on the Young Women general board, as first counselor in the Young Women general presidency and is currently vice chair of the Board of Trustees at Dixie State University. She also serves on the executive committee of the BYU Alumni Association.
Sister Beck, thanks for joining us today. Well, I'm very excited to talk to you about your new book, "Joy in the Covenant," because I think we have so many people today who really are living without joy. There's so many things that go on in the world. We have people who are kind of part of the lonely crowd. Tell us a little bit of the back story. What motivated you to write this book? What's the purpose?
Julie Beck: This book is a collection of some reflections I've had over time, and it encapsulates different periods of thought, different experiences that I had. So I captured the experience I was having. As you read the book, you'll see a little biography before each chapter that says, here's what I was doing. And here's what I was thinking at the time. And these are the thoughts that came out of that experience I was having.
BM: Yes, absolutely. Wonderful. So I'm going to dive right into the book portion. It's broken into three segments, which I just love: identity, purpose, and joyful living. And starting with identity, because I do think that's something that a lot of people struggle with today, really getting that connection, and you start this section, you share a lot of your experiences from down in Brazil. So tell us a little bit about that
JB: Our identity really is an eternal identity, but we live in a world that proliferates identities. All you have to do is look at teenagers. Go to your local junior high, you'll find the segmentation of identity and that's an age group that's trying to find out who they are. And often it's by pairing with someone else who they think they are alike. But for us as people, as we grow older, we should come to know that we are an eternal person, that we are part of Heavenly Father's family, we have that coverage in our life. It's the umbrella under which we live. To me, that gives me great confidence. It doesn't mean I can't be an individual, that I don't have my own character traits and personality, I can't change my hair color or things like that. But to know at my core, who I am, what my purpose is, what my work is, is very, very important. It provides the context for dealing with the life experience I have.
BM: And I think that's so interesting there. I always think back to a Disney movie, just because my kids watched this 20,000 times when they were growing up, in the "The Lion King," and there's that moment where the young Simba, you know interacts with the monkey, Rafiki, the monkey who, you know, served under his father says, you know, you don't even know who you are. And I think a lot of people in the world today are struggling with that very identity. Who am I really, and what is that divine connection?
JB: Yes. And I started to learn that as a child, but it doesn't really firm up until we start having our own grown-up life experience. I begin by talking about Brazil, because that's when I began being aware that I had a specific identity. I wasn't Brazilian, I wasn't really American, people knew who I was, with regard to my parents. I was a middle child in a large family, which also challenges identity. So learning about identity became part of my life's work, I think,
BM: Yeah, yeah. Also growing up in a family of 11 children. You were one of 10, right? That identity does become something interesting to grapple with, in terms of what is your unique space in the world?
JB: Yes, I am part of this big group. And we are a big group, but I can't be special unless I figure out myself. That I think is a challenge. And maybe it's not unique to a large family.
BM: So I wanted to drill down a little bit on Brazil and South America. I had the opportunity to travel with the Prophet (Russell M. Nelson) over the last few weeks going through South America. And the theme that you mentioned in the book, from Elder (M. Russell) Ballard, of growing, you know, slow at first, but as an acorn to an oak and you talk about that in one of the chapters in terms of identity. How did you see that playing out in South America? And then how did it impact your own identity?
JB: As I was a little girl in Brazil, I didn't see or notice, it was just a daily experience of senses, sights and sounds. We were very much involved in the missionary life. The missionaries ate dinner with us in the olden days. I grew up on their stories of faith, their experiences and challenges. I also grew up with Brazilian children, we were very much assimilated into the life of the church there. My parents said, we don't know when we'll go back to the Estados Unidos. Brazil is our home. I remember being grabbed by the arm once, running through the church, and someone saying, "Who were your parents?" They thought I was one of the local children in the branch. What an honor. But that's where it began to be noticeable to me. When we came back from Brazil to the United States, it was another big shift for me. That whole identity of being nurtured in the church environment, being part of a mission and being a missionary was gone. I had to find a new place in the world with people who didn't understand the other language I spoke. We didn't dress the same anymore, we didn't sound the same. That was a real shift for me, going back into late elementary school years and on into junior high. Who am I?
BM: Yeah, tell us a little more about that. Because I think many people struggle with identity as they go through life's transitions, whether that's transitioning, you know, pre-mission life, during the mission, after the mission, married, as you enter those different phases. Often, I do think that raises questions in terms of our identity.
JB: People think life is static, and that we are one person forever. But life is a series of transitions from birth. As you watch newborns transition and become somebody else. It happens over and over and over again. I don't know why we're not better at it. I've transitioned many, many times in my life. And I think, now why am I having to learn this again? Because life is nothing but a series of transitions. That's why it's so important to know and anchor ourselves in more of an eternal identity and purpose and work. When we know our center, our circumstances can change. You can go from being single to married, that changes identity, right? Some people go from married to being single, again, for a number of reasons. That changes identity. Becoming a parent changes your identity, having children leave changes your identity. The transitions of young people. If you don't know who you are, at your core, and what that eternal identity is, then the fluctuations of life really can throw you off. So a lot of these identities, so-called, are really just life changing seasons. Seasons in our life. There was a time in college when all the boys wore the plaid trousers.
BM: We hope that doesn't come around very often. But it seems to keep coming back.
JB: And the girls did too. I have pictures to prove it. But we don't wear those anymore. I was still essentially the same person. But I was meeting with and associating with different people. And we stretch ourselves in that regard.
BM: Yeah, fascinating. So you talk about those anchors being critical. What are some of the other things that you've learned that are helpful in those transitions, in terms of keeping your identity. As you've gone through some of those transitions, what are some of the things that have been helpful to you, in keeping locked into that divine identity?
JB: What's helpful to me is to make this about myself and the Lord. Sometimes we get dependent on another person, it could be a spouse or a friend, and we say, "I identify with that," and we lean against each other, but I am more secure when my identity is focused on who I am with regards to the Lord, Who does he think I am? And am I fulfilling that desire he has for me. Am I doing my best with regard to him? If I am, I know that I'm square with him, and I can be square with anybody else and with myself. Otherwise, I can be deceiving myself. I know I can't deceive the Lord.
BM: That's, that's important.
JB: I know he knows who I am. I know, he knows who I can be. And I have to work to discover that sometimes.
BM: Yeah, tell me. How do you think, especially with our young people with social media? It seems like we're constantly viewing our lives through comparison to someone else. What does that do to our divine identity?
JB: Comparisons happen everywhere, it doesn't just happen to teens.
BM: Well, that's true.
JB: My husband said yesterday, in his priesthood quorum, they were talking about ministering and they were comparing their different ministries and he came and said, "Am I doing it right?" I said, "What do you think? It's between you and the Lord how you're doing. Can you honestly say you're doing what the Lord wants you to do in this regard?" And then you're less likely to be thrown off. Sometimes a little healthy competition doesn't hurt. But that does not tell us who we are. We are unique. One of the reasons in this book is that I focus the three sections on quotes from Jacob chapter 5 is that you read in that allegory, this long process of becoming something. And becoming the right thing, becoming the precious fruit that the Lord had in mind from the beginning. That was a very involved process as you read that description. And a lot of people fall asleep in that chapter. But I like it. I like the process of becoming that is described in there and the effort that is involved and the constant focus on the desired outcome. And what the identity of that fruit is and should and can be. I think that describes our life experience.
It's talking about the House of Israel but individually we make up that house. So if you think of a fruit, an olive on a tree, that's one individual olive. You don't get the oil in a whole vial from one olive. It takes all of us to become the byproduct. Each one of us individually will eventually become that.
BM: I love that. That's great. Let's shift to that second section of the book on purpose. You share some wonderful examples in there of some of your experience during your college years. And I love this phrase you had in there of that life is always a battle against inertia. Tell us about that.
JB: Well, I don't know a lot about physics. It wasn't one of my favorite subjects, but I do remember inertia — that it's easier to sit still and not move, easier to find a comfortable spot and not be challenged. But that's the battle, and once you get going, it's like getting a car moving. The first few feet the engine works hardest, right? Then it can coast along for a while. Because you're not battling inertia in the same way. So we battle inertia. We live in a world that is governed by gravity. It's a pulling down force. As we get older, we're squashed. Quiet. I have a 94-year-old mother I can see that 94 years of gravity working on her frame is having its effect. That same law of gravity weighs us down in a lot of other ways. So to battle that, then we have to keep moving. We have to keep moving in positive directions. We can't just stop.
BM: That's right. And I think, too, as we go through that process, you know, I think one of the great challenges in the world today is mediocrity, is that being content with just kind of the status quo and that inertia of just, I'm OK where I am, so I'm just gonna plant it here and be done. How do we combat that?
JB: And not do something different, not be challenged. It's scary to be challenged, especially in a world that compares, and in a world that allows for us to stop and be comfortable. But we're hearing from our prophet, don't stop, keep moving. There's lots to do. We learn from that allegory. There is a lot of work to do. We can't get too comfortable. And it's also more fun if we're moving, trying harder, trying new things. Some things we fail at and they're disappointing.
BM: It's all part of the process.
JB: It's part of the process. But you don't learn if you don't try?
BM: When the Prophet was in Montevideo, last week, he was asked about leaving behind his profession as a world-renowned heart surgeon when he was called to be an apostle. And he didn't pause for a second. He said, I walked through the door into a new room, and I closed the door behind me. So he was already moving forward. He, you know, he put his profession and his medical career behind him as he stepped into that new room, and he's always bounding forward. He has endless energy. I don't know gravity is applicable to the Prophet these days.
JB: Well, he's he has learned how to battle it by moving. And he keeps that — he's a life force now that wants to keep moving. I love that example. We have to be that way. Sometimes people retire, for instance, and they say, well, I've stopped, I've done that. But I don't think we're finished growing until we're finished. So that's the battle against inertia. It's more comfortable. It's easier just to sit, we get tired, we get battered. We get bruised, but stopping is not the best option.
BM: Yeah. And so often, don't you find that often we we run out of energy before we run out of opportunity, especially when it comes to fulfilling our potential?
JB: Yes, we do. It's because we're mortal. We, unless you're President Nelson, you don't have limitless energy. We do get tired. But I love the concept of getting up every day. I love what Joseph Smith taught in the "Lectures on Faith." That faith is a principle of action, and just getting up every day is a demonstration of faith. I love what my mother taught me when I was young, that your morning is all about 1-2-3-4, that one is roll out of bed onto your knees, two his reach up and pull your covers to make your bed. That is symbolic. That means you aren't getting back in. You've closed that part of your day. And now you have a different part. Three, grab your scriptures and open them up. Read something quick in the scriptures. Four, get dressed. She felt like you should do that in the first few minutes of your day. 1-2-3-4. And I found it to be very symbolic and faith-promoting that, OK, I'm started. I don't have to make that decision again, and whether to get up, whether to get dressed, whether to get going.
BM: Yeah, often it's the I think it was was Elder (Neal A.) Maxwell, who said, the more hesitation the less inspiration, and the less inspiration we have, the less likely we are to actually act and move forward.
JB: We have some friends once that had made the decision every day, whether or not to send their children to school. They did that for years and years and years. I don't know, they might not feel well today. And they're tired. And their teacher was mean yesterday. Every day, they made the decision of whether or not to send their children to school. And as the years went by, I thought that is the hardest work of all. They never stopped making that first decision.
BM: That's fascinating.
JB: So inertia governed their lives, they just could not move forward. Whereas if you just pick something, 1-2-3-4, and start moving, it's easier to keep going.
BM: Yeah. The mental gymnastics of deciding and redeciding or committing — I'm describing my exercise program — I'm exhausted before I start, because I keep deciding, am I going to do it today? Am I not going to do it today? What are some of the things that you've learned in terms I love that pattern of just 1-2-3-4? And I think we all can come up with a 1-2-3-4 of some sort that gets us into the day.
JB: Jump starts the day. And we have to do that everyday. Life is daily. That's what's kind of hard about it.
BM: It is the challenge isn't it? Mornings keep coming around.
JB: People always have to eat and you have to figure that out. We're still at heart hunters and gatherers.
BM: Yeah, very true. Well, good. Well, I want to pivot now into the last section of the book, which is really where everything starts to come together in terms of joyful living. So first describe that, what does joyful living mean to you?
JB: Joyful living means that you try to be happy and try to enjoy the experience. It means working on a sense of humor, if that's not your gift.
BM: Good. I'm pro that.
JB: Some people have a natural gift for it. And some people have to work to acquire it. But it helps to have a little bit of a lens of humor. I think the Lord has a lens of humor, you look at an aardvark and you think somebody was laughing when they made that one. But there is this principle of we have to try and enjoy it. Enjoy the experience. My parents were great at this. They're very optimistic naturally, but I think they had to develop that, it wasn't just because they didn't ever have challenges. They had huge challenges in their lives. But they determined to approach those challenges with an element of joy and enthusiasm.
BM: Yeah, tell us a little bit more. Your father, Elder (William Grant) Bangerter, you know, a real legend of the church in South America. So involved in the early days there, especially in Brazil, you talk in the book about kind of your family mission and motto. Tell us about that, and how that has helped you over the years.
JB: My parents went to Brazil five years after they were married. My mother, it was a first marriage for her. My father had lost his first wife. So she married into this family and began having more children right away. So by the time she was married five years, she had six children. Number seven on the way. She was very stretched, I think of my fifth wedding anniversary. And it wasn't anything close. I admire her so much for just taking on this challenge, and really did enjoy it because she was an optimistic, can-do kind of person. But when they got to Brazil, it was not so fun. It was a big wrench away from her family. It wasn't the day of emails and cell phones, Vonage phones, you didn't call, mail took sometimes months to reach where it was going. She was really cut off from her support system. She didn't know the language. She had a baby 10 days after she got there. She was a registered nurse. So she was confronted all of a sudden with all this illness, with the missionaries, illness with the children, trying to find food. My father was off and running. He's going right back on his mission, thrilled to death with life. So exciting, back speaking the language, picking up the threads of friendship, and very, very enthused. So one day, he found mother weeping on her bed. She went to her room purposefully to be alone and not be discovered. She did not show her sadness in public. But he found her there, and said, look out the window and see this beautiful land. Why are you crying? She said, I looked and all I could see was the Rocky Mountains. She was so homesick. And he had to point out the beautiful green foliage and the red earth that we all grew to love so much, the flowering trees. He said, someday we'll go back to United States, this experience won't last forever. And when we do, we're going to tell everybody about it. We're going to talk about it the rest of our lives. When we recount these experiences we're going to laugh, we're going to enjoy it. We're going to think it was the greatest time of our lives. He says, if we're going to enjoy it in 20 years, why aren't we enjoying it now?
For her, she said that was a parting of a curtain. It was as if she closed the act, the first act of a play, opened the curtain on the next act and said, OK, I'm in Brazil, let's see how much fun we can have. She really did approach our life there in that regard. She was a fun, fun mother. In Brazil, we'd go with her to the feta, the outdoor market, she'd take multiple big shopping bags, because she was shopping for lots of people, lots of food, and drop one bag off for the orange man and one bag for the banana man, one bag for the bread man up the street. And then she'd come back and collect her full bags and go home. She learned where to shop, learned how to solve her problems, and really did assimilate with full force of her great spirit into that country, and made lifelong friends. Consequently, we all thought we were Brazilians because of my parents' experience, and that carried over for the rest of our lives. That lesson, as we became discouraged growing up, with our own personal experiences, they'd say, Well, you know, you're going to enjoy this in a few years. Why aren't you enjoying it now?
BM: Yeah, what a great lesson. And what a great lesson in just being present to the moment. So often it's, well, if I survive this, then I'll be happy.
JB: I'll get over this hill. I know my father taught this in a speech once. But he said that as he grew up, he had this idea that when he got older, he'd have an adventure. Life would become something really amazing for him. Then he'd have this adventure. And he'd lived on a small farm out in the West Valley area. It wasn't very adventurous for him. But then he was called on a mission. And he thought, yes, I'll do my mission. And after my mission, then I'll have a great adventure. And after the mission, then the war came, and he went into the Air Force. And he thought, well, when the Air Force is finished, and the war is over, then I can begin to have my life. Right now my life is on hold, because it's the war and then I will have this adventure. Then he got married during the war, and he began his family. And after a few years, then his wife passed away and he thought, wait a minute,
BM: Where's my adventure?
JB: Where's my adventure? He says, I lived through the depression. That was an adventure. I went to South America on a mission. That was an adventure. I had this great experience during the war. I had an amazing experience with my wife, we had an adventure. He says, why am I waiting to have my adventure? The Lord's been giving this experience to me, I've been having it all along. And he determined at that point not to miss it. He felt that he had missed some of the adventure by thinking life would happen later after this next big hurdle.
BM: That's great. I love that. Well, I want to wrap up today in our remaining moments on what was my favorite chapter, and that is, "Somebody has a name." And I want to read a quote from the book and then I'll have you respond to tell us a little more about what that somebody is all about. But it says "God is aware of all his children and he knows those who need help. He is also aware when somebody will help, when somebody will go." And then I love this. "And as those somebodies respond, they learned that he knows them also, because he sends them." Tell us about where that came from.
JB: My mother used to tell us, somebody has a name, because we'd come home, complain about something, this or that, somebody should do something about this, or I hope somebody fixes that. And she would listen for a while and then say, "Well, you know, somebody has a name. Is that your name? Is this something you should fix or do something about?" But my own personal experience of this happened years later, as I was a young mother and one of my friends lost a child in an accident. She was a close friend, I worried about her and prayed for her and mourned with her over this horrible experience. One day, I was at home fixing lunch for my own children. And I had a very strong impression to go see her. And I thought, certainly I will, after I fix lunch. And after I've fed the children and cleaned things up, and I have a little break, I'll go see her. But I had that foot in my back again, go now. So I left lunch unmade and I got in the car and I drove out to her house and nobody was home. I thought, Oh, see, it was just my worry, it wasn't really an impression. I was just worried, and so I overreacted in my concern. As I was driving away from her house. She pulled up and she actually pulled in front of my car and stopped me. She said, Where have you been? I said, I've been at your house. She says, Why we there? I said, I just felt I should be there. How did you know I needed you? I don't know what I said, if it helped, or anything. But I had been there and we had an exchange and I went home and I got on my knees. And I thanked Heavenly Father for knowing her. It comforted me to realize that she'd been praying for something and her prayer was answered. And I was reassured that she would be OK.
And as I offered that prayer of gratitude that the Lord was helping her I had a very powerful impression. Yes, and I know you too, because I sent you. And I never forgot that lesson, that the Lord knew her. But he also knew me and he sent me. That made me much more aware of his involvement in my life, and how he could direct me and help me to be a blessing, to be a somebody.
BM: In our last segment of the show we always get to the Therefore, What? So as people who have listened to this podcast, as people read the book, what do you hope they take away? What do you hope they think different? What do you hope they do different as a result of this great book?
JB: I hope that they will do as I did, and ponder more deeply on their identity of who they are. What does it mean to be a member of the House of Israel? What is that identity, how can I fulfill and enhance that in my life? I hope that they will feel that there is a purpose behind that identity, that there is a great work to be done, that they're needed. The Lord knows them, He knows their capacity, He knows their weakness and He will bless and help them in that process. This is all part of the Atonement of Christ and knowing him and getting that help that is promised us. So I hope that is what they'll take away, that through their real life experiences they can know who they are and why they're here and what they're supposed to be doing. And take away strengthened purpose in working with the Lord to become who he wants them to become, and helping him in his great harvest of souls in this magnificent time.
BM: Wonderful. Sister Julie Beck. the book is "Joy in the Covenant." Thanks so much for being with us today.2 comments on this story
Remember, after the story is told, after the principle is presented, after the discussion and debate have been had, the question for all of us is Therefore, What? Don't miss an episode, and be sure to rate this episode and leave us a review. Follow us on Deseretnews.com/podcast and subscribe to our newsletter. This is Boyd Matheson, opinion editor for the Deseret News, thanks for engaging with us on Therefore, What?