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As you study Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley in priesthood and Relief Society this year, you will learn from a prophet of unbounded optimism, love, and foresight.
Gordon B. Hinckley was born on June 23, 1910, to Bryant Stringham Hinckley and Ada Bitner Hinckley. He married Marjorie Pay in the Salt Lake Temple on April 29, 1937, and they became the parents of five children. He served as the 15th President of the Church from March 12, 1995, to January 27, 2008.
“I have to plant some trees each spring,” President Gordon B. Hinckley recorded in his journal at age 82. “I think I have done so for at least the last 50 years. … There is something wonderful about a tree. It starts ever so small and grows through the seasons. It affords shade from the hot summer sun. It bears delicious fruit. It carries on the remarkable process of photosynthesis. … A tree is one of the remarkable creations of the Almighty.”1
President Hinckley continued planting trees into his 90s. In many ways, his love for planting was reflected in his ministry as an Apostle and as President of the Church. When he planted, it was an expression of optimism, a characteristic that also infused his teachings and his interactions with others. He nurtured each tree, just as he did each person. And he looked far into the future, seeing what the trees would become—just as he saw the eternal potential of each person and the grand future of God’s work.
“We Have Every Reason to Be Optimistic”
“I am an optimist!” President Hinckley often declared. “My plea is that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight.”2 His optimism went much deeper than having a positive outlook, although he cultivated that. The ultimate source of his optimism—the source that made it a power—was his faith in God and his testimony of God’s plan for the happiness and salvation of His children.
One manifestation of President Hinckley’s optimism was his firm belief that “things will work out.”3 That phrase, said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “may well be President Hinckley’s most repeated assurance to family, friends, and associates. ‘Keep trying,’ he will say. ‘Be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out.’”4
This message wasn’t only for others, however. “I say that to myself every morning,” President Hinckley told a congregation. “If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us.”5
President Hinckley’s optimism sustained him through trials, feelings of inadequacy, and overwhelming pressures. And he stood by his conviction that “things will work out” even when he experienced setbacks and disappointments, heartache and loneliness.
In his optimism, President Hinckley did not minimize problems. He explained: “I have seen a good deal of this earth. … I have been in areas where war rages and hate smolders in the hearts of people. I have seen the appalling poverty that hovers over many lands. … I have watched with alarm the crumbling morals of our society.
“And yet I am an optimist. I have a simple and solemn faith that right will triumph and that truth will prevail.”6
During an interview with a New York Times reporter in Nauvoo, Illinois, USA, President Hinckley acknowledged the prevalence of tragedies and problems, and then he drew on his love of Church history to teach about optimism:
“We have every reason to be optimistic. … Look at Nauvoo. Look at what they built here in seven years and then left. But what did they do? Did they lie down and die? No! They went to work! They moved halfway across this continent and turned the soil of a desert and made it blossom as the rose. On that foundation this church has grown into a great worldwide organization affecting for good the lives of people in more than 140 nations. You can’t, you don’t, build out of pessimism or cynicism. You look with optimism, work with faith, and things happen.”7
President Hinckley’s optimism also influenced his sense of humor—an upbeat, congenial wit that built affinity with others. One time he stayed with a stake president whose family lived in an old schoolhouse that they had converted into a home. That night, a classroom served as President Hinckley’s bedroom. During stake conference the next day, he quipped, “I [have] slept on a great many occasions in classrooms before—but never in a bed.”8
To read more about Gordon B. Hinckley’s wonderful life and continue this sampling of what’s to come in our Relief Society and Priesthood lessons this year, click here.