Student Activities Advisor
Morris Christensen was raised in Ashton, Idaho. He studied Recreation Education at Ricks College, received a bachelor’s degree in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism from the University of Utah, and a master’s degree in Adventure Education from Prescott College.
Prior to coming to work at BYU-Idaho as an Outdoor Activity Advisor 15 years ago, Brother Christensen worked in travel and tourism in Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Alaska.
Morris married Heidi Wilkinson from Monroe, Utah in 1995. They are the parents of two children.
Please respond to the questions below on the devotional discussion board:
Think of a time when you had a crisis of faith. During this period of your life, how did you “hold fast” to the word of God, your covenants, or the Savior?
One of the great gathering activities of a good outdoor adventure is a campfire. In my world, a discussion like this one today would happen around the fire. After dinner is served and all things are organized for the following day, camp chairs are circled around the fire for an evening of relaxation. Occasionally someone with musical talents will break out a guitar and will entertain the group. Meanwhile, the sun will set and paint the evening sky with brilliant colors of orange, red, and blue just prior to the stars appearing overhead. In the background there is sometimes the sound of the river running through a canyon or the gentle breeze blowing through the trees. It is one of the most relaxing and peaceful places to be. It is here, for just a few moments, that all who are present are connected. If you don’t know someone in the circle, it is a good time to create a new friendship. Most of the time, those few moments are a great time to catch up with those you do know and to discuss what matters most and to talk about new and old experiences. In the circle it is not uncommon to hear tales of great adventures to distant and sometimes not-so-distant lands. Maybe a mountain bike, rafting, skiing, or climbing trip. The interesting thing about a good adventure is that it rarely turns out the way anyone plans, which makes for a great story. Invariably, something will happen that everyone present will never forget. It is in the middle of these adventures where deep, meaningful, and lasting friendships are made and great learning can be had. I would like to share an adventure where I learned a spiritual lesson.
I was blessed with a wife who loves a good adventure. When Heidi and I were first married, we decided to buy a tandem mountain bike.
We hoped to go on a few trips and have many new experiences. One memorable trip was while living in Alaska.
We had connections to Denali National Park through our employment and decided we would ride our bike out of the park. Inside of the national park there is only one road in and one road out. Denali National Park is one of the crown jewels of Alaska. You are not allowed to travel the road by car as you are in other national parks. You must ride a shuttle bus if you would like to enter. We loaded our bike on the bus early one morning and away we went. By the time we arrived at the end of the road it was early evening and we unloaded our gear.
We had 85 miles of dirt road ahead of us.
85 miles in a day is substantial but not impossible. From past experience I was sure we could make the trip in four to five hours. We would be sure to make it out in time to check in to our hotel. It was approximately 4 p.m., but it doesn’t get dark in Alaska in the summer, so darkness was not a concern.
In the planning process for this trip, my wife asked if I would like to take the camp stove and some ingredients for dinner. I refused and said all we needed were a few granola bars. In my mind there was no reason to take all this extra weight, and besides, we would be out of the park in plenty of time to frequent a favorite local restaurant. All of you ladies can probably see where this is going. However, my wife insisted we take the food and stove. So, I relented and decided it wasn’t that much weight.
We pedaled away from Wonder Lake that evening under clear skies.
The views were absolutely amazing and Denali, The Great One, was fully visible. In addition to being able to see the mountain, we also spotted several Grizzly Bears. One of the bears startled me when I looked up and noticed it was only a few feet away. I was sure that we were about to be attacked. I tried to turn the bike around and go the other way. Heidi yelled at me from behind to just keep going. As we kept pedaling forward, I was surprised that the bear acted as though we were not even there.
We could not have asked for a more perfect day. Everything was going great until we hit about mile 40.
I was starting to hit the wall physically. Challenging rides were nothing new and I knew there would be times of discomfort; however, when we hit mile 60, I was exhausted. There was a set of outhouses in a pullout to the side of the road. We stopped there for a break and I headed to the outhouses. Now if you have ever been in an outhouse, you probably remember the smell is not extremely pleasant. But when I walked in that outhouse that day, I wanted to lay down on the floor. If you knew me well, you would know this is very out of character, but I just wanted to lay down someplace warm. I knew that bathroom floor was not an option, so I turned around and headed back outside. When I arrived at the bike, I was pleasantly greeted by Heidi who was cooking the soup she brought along.
I was so grateful she had not listened to me earlier that week about only bringing a couple of granola bars. After a cup full of hot soup, and few Ibuprofen later, I felt better but not 100 percent. We still had 25 miles to finish the ride, and I was having a crisis of confidence in my ability to do so. Those last 25 miles were slow and tough.
I constantly had to fight through the physical pain I felt and the negative voices I was hearing in my head—the voices we all hear when things get tough, when we don’t want to go on—the voices that say, “Lay down; just lay down.” Despite the feelings I had and the voices I was hearing in my head, I knew this was not an option. I knew we had to grind on, and we did. Eventually we made it. We pulled into the parking lot where we left our car the day before. It was now 4 a.m. the following day, and we were very tired to say the least. The trip had not taken the 4 to 5 hours I had planned on but 12 hours—a slight miscalculation on my part. I had assumed we would be able to travel at much faster speeds and there wouldn’t be many hills. Additionally, I thought my physical condition was enough to make this a quick trip. I was very wrong.
The physical lessons I learned were listen to your wife about dinner, do a little better job planning the trip next time, and ride a few more miles in preparation. But the spiritual lesson that was emphasized once again to both of us was hold fast. It was during this trip and other experiences like it that Heidi and I adopted this motto. When things get tough, when things aren’t going your way, stand tall, stay the course, and hold fast! Don’t give up.
Many of you commented on the discussion board this week about enduring spiritual and physical struggles. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences. It is amazing to me some of the trials you have endured. My testimony has been strengthened as I read through your experiences and learned how you hold fast.
“Holding fast” is a nautical term that meant to hold on to the lines of a ship when weather became rough. This was done so the sailor or boatman was not thrown off into the storm. These words signify to hold on during tough and unsure times, to fight, and to endure.
To the sailor, this was a physical thing; however, I would like to visit with you about holding fast to spiritual things.
These are: the word of God, our covenants, and the Savior.
The first of these is the word of God.
It is essential that we hold fast to the word of God. The word of God comes from the scriptures and from the apostles and prophets.
We know from Lehi’s vision of the tree of life how important it is to hold to the rod. The rod represented the word of God. I have always found it interesting how Lehi explained those holding fast to the rod. He said, “and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.” Lehi didn’t say they were holding; they were clinging.
Let us remember, however, that even though some of these individuals, who were clinging to the rod, made it to the tree of life and tasted of the fruit, they did not stay there. Lehi explained,
And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed. And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.
Bonnie L. Oscarson mentioned this verse of scripture in a conference address. She said,
These verses describe those of us who already have the gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives. Whether we were born into it or had to fight our way through mists of darkness to find it, we have tasted of this fruit, which “is most precious and most desirable” and has the potential to bring us eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God.” We need only to keep feasting and not heed those who would make fun of our beliefs or those who delight to create doubts or those who find fault with Church leaders and doctrine. It is a choice we make daily—to choose faith over doubt. Elder M. Russell Ballard has urged us to “stay in the boat, use your life jackets, and hold on with both hands.”
Hold fast to the word of God.
Our covenants are another thing which we should hold fast to. There is power in holding fast to the covenants we make at baptism and in the temple.
He has promised us all that He has if we will do His will and keep His commandments.
When we are baptized we covenant that we will take Jesus Christ’s name upon us, we will always remember Him, and we will keep His commandments. In the temple we covenant to live a higher law and to serve the Lord. In short, we covenant to act like Him, do as He did, and build His kingdom. We are His hands to help the living and the dead. The Duncans instructed us very clearly about helping the dead last week during their devotional address.
We live in a world that teaches the opposite of this, which is to serve self and ask openly, What’s in it for me? I am inspired by those who choose to reject the world’s message and choose to serve the Lord and others. One such example is Gino Bartali, an Italian two-time Tour De France winner and World War II survivor. Even though he did not have any knowledge of our faith or the Lord’s covenants, he felt motivated by his conscience to serve God’s children during World War II. He knew God, he was an extremely religious man, and he held fast to his beliefs. When many of his friends and neighbors were being sent to concentration camps, he could have idly stood by and not concerned himself. He and his family were safe. However, when a priest approached him about helping those that were being impacted, he accepted knowing full well he and his family could be killed if he was discovered. He used his fame and notoriety to slip past guard posts as he rode thousands of miles on his bike to deliver fake ID’s which were hidden in the seat tube of his bicycle frame. It is estimated that he saved close to 800 people through his actions. He never spoke of this to anyone, including his family. Late in life when his son asked him why he never spoke of this he simply said, “If you’re good at a sport, they attach the medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum. That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to the soul and shines elsewhere.”
Elder D. Todd Christofferson has stated,
We need strong Christians who can persevere against hardship, who can sustain hope through tragedy, who can lift others by their example and their compassion, and who can consistently overcome temptations. . . . can make important things happen by their faith and who can defend the truth of Jesus Christ against moral relativism and militant atheism.
What is the source of such moral and spiritual power, and how do we obtain it? The source is God. Our access to that power is through our covenants with Him. A covenant is an agreement between God and man, an accord whose terms are set by God. . . .
Divine covenants make strong Christians. I urge each one to qualify for and receive all the priesthood ordinances you can and then faithfully keep the promises you have made by covenant. In times of distress, let your covenants be paramount and let your obedience be exact. Then you can ask in faith, nothing wavering, according to your need, and God will answer. He will sustain you as you work and watch. In His own time and way He will stretch forth his hand to you, saying, “Here am I.”
Hold fast to covenants.
One final thing we need to hold fast to is the Savior.
In the adventure world, when there are elevated levels of risk, we do everything with a partner. When we climb, we are attached or belayed by another climber so that in case we fall our partner can catch us. When we paddle, we do so with another boater so that in case we run into problems, there is someone there to help rescue us. When we ski, a partner with an avalanche beacon is essential to watch us in case of avalanches and be able to come to our aid. And finally, when we cycle and are completely worn out from trying to pedal into the wind, our partner can block the wind for us.
In our spiritual lives, the Savior should be our companion. He will belay us, He will rescue us, He will come for us when we call out to Him, and He will go before us; however, He will not do these things for us if we choose not to turn to Him, if we choose not to attach ourselves to Him, and if we choose not to follow Him. He can only help us if we turn to Him, focus on Him, and hold fast to Him.
One of my favorite pieces of art by Liz Lemon Swindle is called “Against The Wind.” It depicts the story of Peter told in Matthew when Jesus’s disciples were in the middle of a storm in their small boat. Jesus came to them, walking on the water, and called out to them and told them to “be not afraid.” Peter then questioned Jesus and asked if it really was Him. Upon knowing it was Jesus, Peter asked to walk to Him on the water.
When part way to Jesus, he became afraid, lost faith, and started to sink. Peter called out to Jesus “and immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him.” What I love about this art is the great strength in Jesus’s hand. As a person who has needed to be spiritually and physically rescued before, there is nothing more calming and reassuring than the strength of an outstretched hand to pull you up—especially the Savior’s. While the Savior’s hand is there to rescue us, we must actively rescue ourselves by reaching out to Him and holding fast to Him and all that He is and has done for us.
President Howard W. Hunter stated,
“It is my firm belief that if as individual people, as families, communities, and nations, we could, like Peter, fix our eyes on Jesus, we too might walk triumphantly over “the swelling waves of disbelief” and remain “unterrified amid the rising winds of doubt.” But if we turn away our eyes from him in whom we must believe, as it is so easy to do and the world is so much tempted to do, if we look to the power and fury of those terrible and destructive elements around us rather than to him who can help and save us, then we shall inevitably sink in a sea of conflict and sorrow and despair.
At such times when we feel the floods are threatening to drown us and the deep is going to swallow up the tossed vessel of our faith, I pray we may always hear amid the storm and the darkness that sweet utterance of the Savior of the world: “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”
Hold fast to the Savior.
It is my testimony that this is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. He lives. He will come again. He will rescue us if we will stand tall, be faithful, and hold fast to His word, our covenants, and to Him. Don’t let go—ever. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 1 Nephi 8:24, emphasis added.
 1 Nephi 8:25-28.
 Bonnie L. Oscarson, “Do I Believe?,” Ensign, May 2016.
 Aili and Andres McConnon, Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation, (Broadway Books, Jun. 11, 2013), 245.
 D. Todd Christofferson, “The Power of Covenants,” Ensign, May 2009.
 Matthew 14:31.
 Howard W. Hunter, “The Beacon in the Harbor of Peace,” Ensign, Nov. 1992.
Audio of Morris Christensen's BYU-Idaho devotional address, Spring 2019