I had big expectations for EFY as a teenager. Back then, EFY stood for “Especially For Youth” and was a five-day conference of classes, devotionals, and activities for youth who were either Latter-day Saints or who just wanted to join in the fun. I wish I could say my expectations for the week revolved around finding answers to gospel questions or deepening my faith, but I was focused on one thing: finding a COW. No, not a large, mooing animal, but my “Crush Of the Week.” Asking someone in your EFY company to be your COW was akin to asking someone to be your Valentine as a teenager—it meant everything and nothing all at once.
I meticulously planned outfits for each of the five days, from shoes to belts to hair accessories. And my friends did too, one even going so far as convincing her mom to overnight ship her an outfit she had accidentally left at home. EFY was a big deal.
Did I ever find my COW? (I’m sure you’re dying to know.) Unfortunately, I did not. My teenage visions of finding love at a church camp only went as far as my best friend and I giggling over a boy in our group who we thought looked like Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid.
But I didn’t walk away from EFY totally empty-handed. I still remember an impression I had that would go on to change me significantly. During the week, personal time in the scriptures had been scheduled for each day. At the end of the week, I remember clearly hearing in my mind, “The personal scripture study you’ve been doing this week is really important—you need to keep doing it.” That may sound simple, but I hadn’t realized until that moment at EFY how important personal scripture study was. I’d grown up reading the scriptures with my family and at church, but now I knew deep in my heart that reading the scriptures for myself was something I needed to do. And that testimony of scripture study has had a much more joyful impact on my life than any COW ever could.
So when my two younger sisters went to the Church’s updated version of EFY this summer (it’s now called now FSY: “For the Strength of Youth”), I was curious if they were as obsessed with finding a COW as I had been—but more importantly, I wanted to know whether their experience had been as special to them as it had been for me.
I sat down with my sister Christina, who is 17, to ask her my questions. (My other sister was too busy with her next summer camp. Do teenagers ever sleep these days?)
The answer to my first question was a no. At least in Christina’s case, finding a crush at FSY was not a priority. (But I do wonder if we’d get more varying results if we asked more FSY attendees. I have to believe someone this summer was as excited about finding a COW as I'd once been.)
In answer to my second and more significant question, Christina shared an experience she had at FSY that reminded me that God is very aware of her. And it’s not just Christina—I was reminded that heaven is very invested in all of today’s youth. I found comfort in remembering that we are not on our own when it comes to loving and helping them. God is very aware of who we are and what we need in our journey to come to Him.
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Learning to Love Jesus
First, you need to know a few things about Christina. The word I’ve always used to describe her is sincere. She is helpful, sweet, and considerate because she loves people so much. Christina has always played the role of peacemaker in our family, keeping sibling arguments at bay, and reminding everyone when it is time for family prayer. More than once I have found her in her room doing scripture study. She has always seemed to love going to church and youth activities and was likewise excited for FSY. She did say she was a little nervous about being away from home for that many days, but overall she was excited for the experience. She also had some high hopes for the week.
“When I went to FSY, I really wanted to have this amazing experience where I [would] know from the tips of my fingers to the bottom of my toes that I know I love Jesus. And I know He loves me,” Christina told me. And then she said something that surprised me: “But I didn’t have that.”
Curious, I asked her to go on. And as she explained what she did experience at FSY, my big-sister heart almost burst with love.
Her FSY experience sounded similar to mine in many ways: she stayed in dorms on a college campus and attended gospel classes and devotionals. She was part of a group of about 10 other youth who attended class together, played games outside, went to a dance, and watched a variety show put on by FSY attendees. And of course, she enjoyed delicious meals every day (Christina most highly recommends the taco salad and the mint brownies.)
One of her favorite classes she went to was titled “Learning to Love Jesus.” (Christina put great emphasis on the word learning.) In the class, the teacher asked them to imagine a friend sharing some spiritual concerns with them: “Everyone seems to just feel this love for the gospel. And I just don’t; I’m not sure I have the desire to even learn.” The teacher gave the class scripture references to look up, and then they role-played what they might say to try and help that friend.
“That [lesson] was really comforting because I don’t always feel [the Spirit] like I want to,” Christina told me. “I don’t feel exactly like the role play person … but the discussion was really nice to validate my feelings and say, ‘Hey, it’s OK. Lots of people feel like this.’ … I don’t have to be overwhelmed with the Spirit every time I go to sacrament meeting to know that I’m feeling the Spirit. … I wrote down all the scriptures and took pictures of the slides so I can learn more.”
I felt compassion for Christina knowing she had wondered if something was wrong since she didn’t feel the Spirit in an overpowering way each Sunday. I also felt so much gratitude for that FSY teacher who helped her understand that just because revelation doesn’t come in a great whoosh doesn’t mean something is wrong or that God has forgotten you. In my experience, the Holy Ghost often communicates in very gentle ways that teach me truth “in process of time,” as Elder Maxwell once put it. After listening to Christina, I can see how important it is for youth, as well as ourselves, to understand that spiritual learning is a journey, not an event. If we don’t recognize that, we may grow frustrated or overly concerned and not enjoy discipleship as much as we otherwise could.
Christina described that later in the week, they had their “spiritual day,” meaning the participants wore church clothes all day and focused even more on spiritual things rather than playing games or socializing. And on that evening, Christina had another special impression, much like I did over 10 years ago at EFY.
My sister told me, “At the end of that day, I was writing in my journal, just a little bit because it was late, [and I had] this deep-seated feeling of, like, ‘I think I do want to do what Jesus wants me to do.’ And it wasn’t overwhelming, which was kind of nice. Instead, it just sat perfectly inside of me.
“Now I think that’s kind of the whole purpose of life: to get that little seed of ‘I love Jesus and want to do what He wants me to do,’ and then to make that a permanent part of you. It was nice to have just a calm [feeling]. I didn’t feel too different than normal, I guess, but I recognized something was different.”
I actually cheered out loud when she said that!
We talked more about how often the Spirit speaks in quiet ways over time. The impression she’d had may not have been what she expected, but it was what she needed. She came away feeling comforted, validated, and encouraged to keep learning. When I look at her, these words from Alma ring in my ears: “Even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you.”
I hope that Christina and every youth who attends FSY will let any desires they felt to follow Jesus work in them. I hope the seeds they planted at FSY will “enlarge [their] soul; … enlighten [their] understanding … and be delicious to [them]” (Alma 32:28). I strongly believe that through FSY, God is offering youth that precious gift of planting seeds of faith. The seeds I planted at EFY have grown to become one of the sweetest gifts in my life.
Whether it’s EFY, FSY, or whatever acronym may come in the future, I am grateful to belong to a Church that recognizes how precious and important teenagers are. And I am even more grateful to belong to a God who so perfectly knows how to invite each individual to “come unto Christ” and “lay hold upon every good gift.” (Moroni 10:32, 30.)
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