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The Worst Generation

I recently saw a video in which a fictional news anchor called the Millennial generation the “worst period generation period ever period.”[1] And while this was a fictional character in a fictionalized setting, the sentiment is by no means one expressed only in fiction. The world around us tends to point the finger at Millennials and with great heaving sighs bemoan the uselessness of “kids these days.” Millennials are labeled as the “Peter Pan Generation” because statistically, they tend to delay age-based rites of passage like marriage and family longer than previous generations.[2] They spend less time in religious pursuits, but more time with media and digital technology. Many are unemployed or underemployed. They are labeled as lazy, immoral, selfish, uncultured, and stupid.

In 1948, American sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy,” a phenomenon by which “a positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion—declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy.”[3] In other words, promote a belief or idea long enough, and it’s liable to become truth even if it didn’t start out that way.

The danger of repeatedly telling Millennials that they’re useless is that they’re likely to start believing it. Remember, the devil’s favorite game is the one where he makes you doubt yourself and your value as a child of God.

Thankfully, God is promoting a different message:

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

I do not believe that you are here upon the earth at this time by accident. I believe you qualified in the premortal life to come into mortality at a time when great things would be required of you. I believe you demonstrated before you came here that you were capable of being trusted under unusually difficult circumstances---that you could measure up to the most difficult challenges… [God] relies upon you to keep yourselves eligible to accomplish the monumental tasks that he expects you to achieve.

You, as the youth of Zion, have a great work to do and have been given all the talents and opportunities, regardless of where you live, to do just exactly what your Father in Heaven expects of you.

There’s a power coming in this ‘Millennial’ generation that is, in fact, remarkable—and greater faith than I can remember. It’s the best of time for Millennials, and I know there’s a lot of folks who like to talk the other way. ‘How are we going to hold on to them?’ I think the thing is, how can we hold on to them and not get left behind?

I have great confidence in our young people as a whole.

For those who are not part of this much-maligned generation,[4] I urge you to take a moment and think about the message you are sending to your young friends and family members. Which self-fulfilling prophecy would you rather be part of? The one the world promotes, or the one God and His chosen servants believe in?

I have worked with youth and young adults in a variety of settings, and I have seen how the messages they hear have a major impact on their motivation and potential. We have the responsibility to help them become the best versions of themselves, and dragging them down is not the way to do it. Instead of tearing them down, let’s build them up and teach them how to be the best generation this world has yet seen.

In the April 2015 General Conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave an inspiring talk about raising the bar not just for missionaries, but for the rising generation. He said, “What we need now is the greatest generation of young adults in the history of the Church. We need your whole heart and soul. We need vibrant, thinking, passionate young adults.” Let’s break that down.

Girls eating watermelon at a picnic
Photo by Picjumbo

We Need Millennials to Be Vibrant

I have a friend who is the embodiment of the word vibrant. Before I met her, I overheard some other friends discussing her colorful and eccentric personality. When I admitted that I had not yet met this person, one friend said, “You’ll know her when you see her.” And it was true. I met her later, and I knew her immediately by both her colorful outfit and her infectious smile. As I got to know her, I learned that she is enthusiastic, creative, genuine, and full of hope. She loves to laugh and have fun, but her greatest happiness comes from bringing others joy. She magnifies her talents and her callings, goes above and beyond to help those in need, and is very, very good at recognizing little things that will make a person’s day better. Even though she has faced some pretty challenging health issues, I have never once seen that girl with anything but a smile on her face. Like Nephi of old, my friend goes about doing good with “unwearyingness,” far beyond the point when everyone else has decided they are too tired, to grumpy, or too busy to keep going.

The Lord has commanded us to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:27). This life is a time for man to prepare to meet God, but it is also an opportunity to develop the talents He has given us. God entrusted us with those talents not so that we could build ourselves up and receive worldly praise and admiration, but so that we could bless, edify, and serve one another. We must be careful not to get so caught up in the “do many things of our own free will” part of that scripture that we fail to remember the “bring to pass much righteousness” part.

Let us teach our young friends that whatever our talents, skills, and spiritual gifts are, they can be used to bless the lives of our brothers and sisters. If you aren’t sure how you can use your skills to serve, I encourage you to pray for opportunities. I promise that as you do so, you will be blessed with the ability to recognize service opportunities all around you, and that there is no better way to develop talents than in the service of our fellowmen.

Girl reading a book
Photo by Picjumbo

We Need Millennials to Be Thoughtful

D&C 88:78-80 states, “Teach ye diligently… of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.”

In other words, in addition to magnifying our talents, we are also commanded to magnify our intellect. We are counseled to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) so that we are prepared to magnify the callings God extends to us. All things denote there is a God, so it stands to reason that one of the best ways to be good witnesses of Him and to do His work is to strive to learn and understand all things.

There is a trio of scriptures that have always inspired me in this regard.

First, Moses 1:39 teaches us that the work and glory of God is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.

Second, D&C 93:36 states that “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.”

And finally, D&C 130:18: “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life…will rise with us in the resurrection.”

Education isn’t just a handy thing to have. It’s not just a stepping stone to a better job or a higher salary. Secular and spiritual learning alike can strengthen our testimony and enhance our ability to serve. It’s an essential and integral part of our eternal progression, and the means by which we become more like our Heavenly Father. No wonder we have been counseled by Prophets and Apostles to get as much education as possible.

In this modern dispensation, we have been blessed with more learning opportunities than ever before. Thanks to the internet and smart phones, the wisdom of the ages is literally at our fingertips. As a reader, I have always been a huge fan of the scriptures that teach us to “seek out of the best books words of wisdom.” I personally don’t believe this applies solely to non-fiction, as I have learned many a valuable lesson from wholesome novels.

However, we must be careful not to let these myriad opportunities distract us from the truths that are most important. Pres. Randall L. Ridd of the Young Men’s General Presidency recently said, “The abundance of choice carries with it an equal portion of accountability. It facilitates your access to both the very best and the very worst the world has to offer. With it you can accomplish great things in a short period of time, or you can get caught up in endless loops of triviality that waste your time and degrade your potential. With the click of a button, you can access whatever your heart desires. That’s the key—what does your heart desire? What do you gravitate toward? Where will your desires lead?”

Woman's hand reaching toward a sunset over an urban landscape
Photo by Picjumbo

We Need Millennials to Be Passionate

We often hear phrases like “follow your passion” or “so-and-so is passionate about (fill in the blank)”, usually in reference to temporal endeavors like hobbies or careers. I am passionate about sustainable agriculture. I love learning about how we can be better stewards of the earth, I actively campaign for causes I believe in, and I am eagerly pursuing a career in the agriculture industry. There are many challenges that stand between me and my goals, but because I am passionate about them, I am neither afraid nor intimidated.

Imagine if we had that kind of passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Elder Ballard spoke of passionate young single adults, I believe he was promoting that very idea. We should love learning spiritual truths. We should eagerly study the scriptures and words of the living prophets. We should actively campaign for righteous causes and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places, even and especially when the world hates us for it. There are many challenges that face us as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but if we are passionate about His restored gospel, we need neither be afraid nor intimidated. The world will try to tell us that we are wrong, that we are closed-minded, outdated, and irrational. But as Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Be true to your own convictions. You know what is right, and you know what is wrong. You know when you are doing the proper thing. You know when you are giving strength to the right cause. Be loyal. Be faithful. Be true…. Walk in faith before Him with your heads high, proud of your membership in this great cause and kingdom which He has restored to the earth in this, the last dispensation of the fulness of times. Why? To bring you happiness.”

I love that. “Why? To bring you happiness.” It’s called the “plan of happiness” for a reason, and I know that as we develop our talents, magnify our intellect, and learn to be passionate about the gospel—and help others do the same—we will find true and everlasting happiness as we all become the generation God knows we can be.


This post was originally written as a talk at the 2015 Convention of the North in Sunderland, England. It has been edited and updated for this format.

[1] I’m not going to link to the video because it has some strong language. If you are desperate to see it, though, it’s from the show Newsroom and you can easily find it on YouTube.

[2] Wikipedia: Millennials

[3] Wikipedia: Self-fulfilling prophecy

[4] And in the spirit of full disclosure, I am technically part of the Millennial generation.

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Jess Friedman
Jess is a Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about helping families make and preserve treasured memories that strengthen bonds across generations. You can read more posts by Jess here.

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