David O. McKay was the prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ during my childhood, youth, and into my young adult years. He looked the part of a prophet with his tall stature, pure white house, and pleasant face. I loved and respected him for the office that he bore.
President McKay was a missionary in Scotland as a young man, and he often shared a story of his time there. After a short time of being in the mission field, then-Elder McKay became homesick and spent a few hours at the nearby tourist attraction Stirling Castle. As he and his companion were on their way back to their apartment, they passed a building with an inscription carved in stone above the door. The quotation is usually attributed to Shakespeare: “What e’er thou art, act well thy part.” President McKay shared the following thoughts about his experience in a talk in 1957, explaining that he – or the Holy Ghost – said the following.
You are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than that, you are here as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. You accepted the responsibility as a representative of the Church. Then I thought [about] what we had done that forenoon. We had been sightseeing, we had gained historical instruction and information, it is true, and I was thrilled with it…. However, that was not missionary work…. I accepted the message given to me on that stone, and from that moment we tried to do our part as missionaries in Scotland.
This message had such an impact on Elder McKay that he drew inspiration from it for the rest of his life. He was determined that he would do his best in whatever position or responsibility that came to him.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at a CES Young Adult Devotional that was broadcast from BYU-Idaho on March 4, 2012. He shared the above story about David O. McKay and reminded the young adults present that they were of the generation born in the 1980s and early to mid-1990s and known as the “Millennial Generation.” He said, “Commentators are skeptical about what your generation will accomplish.” He then proceeded to share his faith in that generation.
I believe you have the background and the foundation to be the best generation ever, particularly in advancing our Father in Heaven’s plan.
Why do I say this? Your generation has had more exposure to Seminary and Institute teaching than previous generations, and you have had the best training of any generation from Primary, Priesthood and Young Women. In addition, approximately 375,000 of you have served or are serving as missionaries. You represent over one-third of all of the missionaries who have served in this dispensation. Samuel Smith, the first missionary in this dispensation was ordained an Elder and set apart as a missionary on April 6, 1830, the day the Church was organized. When you contemplate all of the missionaries who have served since then, it is amazing that one-third would be in your age group. By comparison only 76,000 missionaries or less than 8% served in the 12 years when I was 18 to 30 years of age. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to serve a mission, your contribution nevertheless can be significant. Almost half of the First Presidency and the Twelve did not have the opportunity to serve a mission.
Elder Cook continued by saying, “In view of the enormous potential for good that you possess, what are my concerns for your future? What counsel can I give you?” He then proceeded to give the counsel that he considered to be important.
First, “Avoid acting out of character by wearing a mask…. One of your greatest protections against making bad choices is to not put on any mask of anonymity. If you ever find yourself wanting to do so, please know it is a serious sign of danger and one of the adversary’s tools to get you to do something you should not do.”
Second, “Act in accordance with your true beliefs by spending your time on those things which will build and develop your character and help you become more Christ-like. I hope none of you see life as primarily “fun and games” but rather, as a time to prepare to meet God.”
Third, set appropriate goals.
Fourth, “In addition to personal attributes, qualities, and decisions, if you are to be the generation you need to be, you will build your country and the community where you live. Your generation, like the greatest generation, will need to protect righteousness and religious freedom. The Judeo/Christian heritage we have inherited is not only precious, but also essential to our Father in Heaven’s plan. We need to preserve it for future generation….”
Elder Cook closed his remarks by telling the young adults that the leadership of the Church has “great confidence in you” and “honestly believes that you can build the Kingdom like no previous generation. You have not only our love and confidence, but also our prayers and blessings. We know that the success of your generation is essential to the continued establishment of the Church and the growth of the Kingdom. We pray that you will act well our part….”
This talk was given to the young adults of the Church, but its counsel is good for all of us. We should avoid wearing a mask and acting in anonymity. We should act in accordance with our true identity. We should set and work toward appropriate goals. We should all be engaged in building the country and community in which we live. We all have a part to play in preparing the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. “What e’re thou art, act well thy part.”