When an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ passes away, it feels like the loss of a friend. These are men who have uplifted us and brought light into our lives through testimony and example. President Boyd K. Packer passed away on July 3, 2015 after serving as an an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more than 45 years. I have studied his life and a large body of his teachings and I want to share some of my favorite things about him; this is his legacy that will live on in me as I continue on my own journey of discipleship.
President Packer came into his testimony of the gospel while he served as a fighter pilot in World War II. He studied the Book of Mormon purposefully for the first time and began to truly believe its divine message. I appreciate what he taught about answers and testimony sometimes coming slowly. He has taught me to trust in good feelings and be patient for clarity and answers to come.
I also love his testimony of the scriptures. Elder Nelson once commented on how much Elder Packer’s knowledge of the scriptures has influenced the direction of the church. When the Quorum of the Twelve has weighed out problems and issues in their councils, he has searched his mind for relevant teachings from the Book of Mormon and shared them with the Brethren. “Without the Book of Mormon,” Elder Nelson said, “Elder Packer couldn’t be the prophet he is. He is a gifted seer.” As a career educator, Elder Packer taught us that we, too, can each have a strengthening testimony of the scriptures. He has testified that is important and necessary to study and draw upon the teachings of the scriptures.
One thing I love about President Packer is his bold adherence to doctrine. He does not shy away from truth, even when it is unpopular or unwelcome. He and the late J. Reuben Clark have been my most profound mentors about teaching the gospel; they both advocated teaching pure doctrine and having faith that people (especially youth) are eager and hungry to hear it and understand it. This quote by Elder Packer has been a mantra to me in my role as a mother, a teacher, while serving in church callings, and in my relationships. It holds the key to any kind of meaningful change:
I admire his devotion to marriage and family. He saw his wife Donna for the first time when he was on a date with someone else. She was crowned as Brigham City’s Peach Queen and got to ride in a plane as part of her award. Boyd commented how pretty she looked. They later dated and married, and had an ongoing tradition of writing love notes to one another that they would leave throughout the house. In one note just before they were married, Boyd declared to Donna Smith, “When I think of you, and all that we can accomplish together, when I see the dreams of eternity unfolding before us, … it is as though my heart were crying tears of thankfulness.” He has taught the members of the church on many occasions, even in his most recent conference talk, how important it is to nurture our marriage and family relationships, and he has been an example in his own family. One time during a worldwide teacher training video, he testified that no teaching in the church equals the power of a mother. I’ve re-watched that several times to remember how important it is to fulfill that divine role, and this quote is another that has given me confidence:
When sin, as it often does, becomes trendy and accepted in society, President Packer has always bravely testified of the importance of putting moral law above the natural man. He has advocated for self-discipline, obedience to commandments, and striving to be worthy of the Holy Spirit in all we do. As a youth, I remember his profound teaching that we can strive to keep our minds clean.
When I was in the MTC getting ready to serve my mission in Argentina, I struggled a bit with confidence in my own testimony. I studied a talk by Elder Packer called “The Candle of the Lord,” and this quote had a great impact on me:
I put this to a test, both as a missionary, and throughout the rest of my life, and I know that it is true. When we testify of true principles, the Spirit enters into our hearts and witnesses to us that what we are speaking and teaching is true. This process of testifying and teaching (especially after studying the scriptures and teachings of living prophets) has been a key ingredient in the growth and maintenance of my testimony. He has given a lot of talks about the importance of recognizing the influence of the Holy Ghost and the light of Christ within us, and he has helped me to see that knowing what’s right can be so simple.
President Packer believed in the good of people, and he was an optimist. He acknowledged his own weaknesses often, but asserted that his testimony of the Savior was unwavering. I use this Elder Packer quote sometimes when I teach the youth because I think it’s a beautiful, clear reminder of individual worth.
Another of the most memorable lessons I have learned from President Packer is the power of forgiveness and repentance. Once when commenting on some of his life lessons, he said, “I decided years ago that I was going to trust everybody. I had become suspicious of everybody because I had been misused and abused. I got so I didn’t like myself very much and decided that I would trust everybody. If they weren’t worthy of that trust they would have to prove it to me. I have been a lot happier since then.” (Church News, July 26, 1975, 8) He also taught about the happiness that comes from letting pain go.
If you look through President Packer’s general conference talks, he almost always testifies of the atonement and its power to make us clean and start afresh through the merits of Jesus Christ. He begs us to repent. He promises us that scars can be healed and we can be made clean and whole.
He used that word “erased” a lot when talking about how Jesus Christ can heal us. He taught boldly against sin, but always with the reassurance that mistakes can be corrected through the atonement. So how can we honor President Boyd K. Packer? I think that we can simply repent more and turn to our Savior. Once an interviewer asked him what he hoped the response to one of his talks would be. He responded, “Well, I guess it wouldn’t have accomplished anything if I didn’t disturb a few people. I’ve never given a major address that hasn’t received a number of very critical responses. But it is one of the duties of my calling to exhort the Saints, to set the Church in order, and I can’t ignore that duty.” And he didn’t.
In this fairly recent video, President Packer speculated about his approaching death and what he thought would happen next. I love his faithful confidence and willingness to continue his work, and his simple powerful testimony.
This is what he said about his own calling as an apostle, after acknowledging that all of them are just “ordinary men”: ”
“There are many qualifications that I lack. There is so much in my effort to serve that is wanting. There is only one single thing, one qualification that can explain it. Like Peter and all of those that have since been ordained, I have that witness.
“I know that God is our Father. He introduced His Son, Jesus Christ, to Joseph Smith. I declare to you that I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that He lives. … He made His Atonement. Of Him I bear witness.”
Thank you, President Packer, for your example, your life, your testimony, your all. Thank you for carrying the responsibility of a high and holy office and doing your duty with a love of God and His children. Thank you for helping me to better understand the mercy and power of Jesus Christ and know better how to follow Him. Thank you for wanting to continue to build God’s kingdom even beyond death.