What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from the youth of the Church?
They are up to the challenge! As I watch Come Follow Me being implemented throughout the Church, I am amazed. In wards that are struggling, it is usually the adults who are having a hard time shifting gears and not the youth. I see the same thing in mission prep classes. Many young men and women are well ahead of where I was at their ages.
What inspires you to write for youth and children?
Young people are up to the challenge. It’s just that the challenges they face are greater than ever. In the past, the majority of society agreed with the standards taught by the Church even if they didn’t live them. Today’s youth are growing up in a time when relative truth and situational ethics rule the day. In many cases, living standards means going against the main stream of society. It’s not easy being on the wrong side of every “politically correct” conversation. I want to be a voice of reason and truth. These young people need as many “big brothers” and “big sisters” as they can get to validate their testimonies and guide them through the maze we call the world.
What do you think is the most important lesson for the youth of the Church to learn in our day?
Too many are giving up. “If I can’t be perfect, I might as well not even try,” is what I hear over and over. Young people need to quit looking down in shame or sideways for excuses, rationalizations, and justifications. They need to look up for help—up to God, up to Christ. Heavenly Father and Jesus are not waiting until we get our acts together and are perfect to be willing to work with us. They offer their love and grace right here and now. They can help us learn from our mistakes and sins instead of being blocked and destroyed by them.
You have given so many talks and presentations over the years. What has been your favorite speaking experience and why?
In his autobiography, Booker T. Washington said he was supremely happy teaching anyone anything that he could teach. I feel the same way. I love teaching eager and willing learners—adults, YSA, youth, children. It doesn’t matter the age. I have found them in prisons and in 5th grade maturation clinics. I have found them at EFY and Education Week and at Time Out for Women and Girls. There are many times when I feel like I was there at just the right moment for one particular person. Anytime I witness those turning-point moments is a “favorite speaking experience.”
Where did the spark come from to start writing the Continuous Atonement?
I was serving as the bishop of a YSA ward and noticed that some members would confess and feel a huge relief. Then they would go out and commit the same sins over again. Then they would confess and feel better. Then they would mess up again. About three or four times through that cycle they would finally give up. They would stop coming to church and distance themselves from God and from me as their bishop. I realized that these young people knew about how the Atonement could cleanse them, but they didn’t understand how the Atonement could transform them. They didn’t understand grace—the enabling power, the divine help—of God and Christ that can change us over time if we don’t give up. I wanted them to see the power of the Atonement can be continuous.
Where is your favorite place to write and why?
For Latter-day Saints, busy is not the exception to the rule. It is the rule. I have to write on the run. I write in planes and during boring faculty meetings at work (Don’t let my department chair read this!). I write a lot in the car on long trips. I don’t actually write things down while driving. That would not be too bright. However, I pray as I drive. I ponder. I think things through. I put a lot of puzzle pieces together mentally so that when I do get to a computer or notebook, I’m not just staring at a blank page.
Who’s your favorite author?
That would be authors—plural. I have so many. I love the writings of the Brethren. I also love anything by Robert L. Millet, Bruce C. Hafen, Robert E. Wells, Ardeth G. Kapp, Sheri Dew, and S. Michael Wilcox (no relation, but a great friend and hero). The list could go on and on. I rarely get out of Deseret Book without giving my visa card heat rash! Outside of LDS circles, I love Mary Downing Hahn, Jeffrey Archer, Robert Newton Peck, Gary D. Schmidt, Sheila Turnage, and Katherine Paterson. Can you tell you just touched on a favorite subject?
If you could meet any prophet throughout time, who would it be and why?
I have had the chance to briefly meet every president of the Church since Spencer W. Kimball. I would sure love a little more time with each of them! I would also love to go back in time (or forward in time) and meet Joseph Smith. Praise to that man!
What has been the best advice you’ve ever received?
Barbara Barrington Jones and her husband Hal were new converts when I first met them. Their friendship and advice has been very meaningful through the years. Hal—a successful businessman—always told me, “You gotta do what you don’t want to do to get what you want to get.” That is a phrase I have gone back to many times in my life. My kids get tired of hearing me repeat that little nugget.
You wrote 52 Life-Changing Questions from the Book of Mormon with John Hilton. Which question from the Book of Mormon changed your life?
That book was so fun to write with John. It was a fresh and exciting way to study the Book of Mormon. There are 543 questions in the book so just settling on 52 was quite the tug-of-war between us. One I wanted in the book for sure was “Have ye received his image in your countenances?” (Alma 5:14). Another one I love from that same chapter is “Can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).
How do you keep your marriage strong when you’re so busy?
My Debi is the best! She is the glue that holds our family together. Anne Morrow Lindbergh once wrote that love is not a husband and wife looking endlessly at each other, but a husband and wife looking outward in the same direction. Debi and I enjoy having time together, but even when we don’t, we are looking outward in the same direction. We are focused on family and God and building the Kingdom. That common vision unites us in powerful ways.
What do you do in your spare time?
People who love books never have spare time!
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Steven Kapp Perry and I once got to sing the national anthem at a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field when President Ronald Regan was there. That was a memorable day!
To see his interview in print, grab your copy of the May/June LDS Living magazine at Deseret Book or at deseretbook.com.
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Brad Wilcox has lived in Ethiopia, Chile, and New Zealand; he and his family now make their home amid the Rocky Mountains. Brad taught sixth grade before obtaining his PhD in education from the University of Wyoming. His contributions as an author and teacher have been honored by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and his work has appeared in Guideposts magazine and Reader’s Digest. He once served as a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America and has addressed thousands of youth and adults across the United State, Europe, Australia, and Japan. He and his wife, Debi, are the parents of four children.