Robert Eaton on Henry B. Eyring

Truman G. Madsen once said that:

When people ask me: ‘Why are you so preoccupied with reading the life and teachings of Joseph Smith?’ One answer, and it is the most powerful one, in my heart, is because he is like a window, through which I can see the living Christ. (https://www.fromthedesk.org/truman-madsen-biography/)

Occasionally, other Church leaders are the type of person that also provide a window to Christ through both words and actions. One of those for me is Henry B. Eyring. In a recent From the Desk interview with Robert Eaton (one of the co-authors of I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring), Kurt Manwaring discussed some about the recently-published biography of Henry B. Eyring.  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

In the interview, Robert Eaton discussed how studying President Eyring has made him a better disciple of the Christ:

First, I have strived to seek to know in my own life not just what God permits, but what he would prefer.

Second, I’ve sensed that I need to make the same course correction Craig Moore helped President Eyring make. I’ve been busy since third grade, and that busyness, that sense of busyness, often gets in the way of offering the most important kind of service we can render—spontaneous service to those in need.

I’ve tried to pray for and become attuned to unplanned opportunities each day, despite the length of my to-do list. I’m still working on it, but thanks to President Eyring’s example, I’m making some progress.

The stories he is referring to are mentioned in the interview.

The first one that Eaton brought up had to do with seeking what the Lord would prefer.  Eaton and Eyring focused a lot on presenting President Eyring’s words (both from his journal and from public addresses).  In this case, Eaton explained that:

he sought to do what the Lord preferred, not just what he permitted. Of all the things President Eyring has written or taught, one that has influenced me most deeply was a short article he wrote in the “I Have a Question” section of the Ensign in 1977. He wrote:

“First, I have no hope of acting wisely if my first and overriding objective is to make money [or, we might add, obtaining the honors of the world]. But if my main motive is to please God, I will be sensitive to the Spirit as it warns me away from what would displease him.

Once I have decided I want eternal life more than business success, I will have crossed the great gulf between wanting to know what God would permit and trying to do what he would prefer.”

Early in life, Hal Eyring decided that he wanted eternal life more than anything else. As he made important career decisions—like heeding his wife’s suggestion that he reach out to Commissioner Neal Maxwell—he always sought to know not just what God would permit, but what He would prefer.

It’s a very daunting, but important approach to serving God in this world–seeking His will and preferences as we make decisions.

The second story that Eaton referenced was one where Craig Moore helped Henry B. Eyring make a course correction.  As shared during the interview:

I love President Eyring’s journal entries about his exchanges with his home teacher in Rexburg, Idaho, a farmer named Craig Moore. I just love the faith of the home teacher and the fact that God used him as instrument to deliver a message President Eyring genuinely needed.

He was so task-oriented and had so much to do that Brother Moore needed to tell President Eyring not once but twice that the Spirit had prompted him to tell the young college president to get up more from behind his desk and walk the campus.

Even as President Eyring eventually hearkens to that counsel, you can see from his journal entries that this was a difficult change for him to make. He did as directed and sensed it was right, but the purpose of it was still unclear to him. And I’m sure he didn’t get as many items crossed of his to-do list that day as he roamed campus and talked to all kinds of employees.

But I believe that was one of the most important leadership lessons President Eyring received in life. I might just add that I was able to personally witness just how much President Eyring changed in this regard. … In my mind, that’s an apostolic transformation from the young college president who had to be told twice to get up from behind his desk to go meet people.

This was a change that shifted President Eyring’s focus from tasks alone to seeking unplanned opportunities to interact with people as he followed what God preferred for him to do.

Now, part of what made this book even possible was that Henry B. Eyring has kept a journal.  We don’t hear about that being a priority as much as we did a couple decades ago in the Church, but President Eyring has spoken about why he keeps a journal.  Robert Eaton discussed why that is something that is important to President Eyring:

It was the prompting President Eyring described in his 2007 General Conference talk: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.” That came during his golden years living in Menlo Park, California, while he was teaching at Stanford. The fact that he faithfully heeded that prompting fundamentally shaped his biography, as did President Eyring’s generosity in granting access to the journals and permission to share from them freely.

Henry (and whenever I refer to “Henry,” I mean Henry J. Eyring) always had a vision of sharing freely from his father’s journals. In fact, I pushed back and argued that we should streamline those excerpts a bit, focusing more on highlights. But Henry explained that he wanted the readers to come with us into the vault, as it were, and be able to read as much of the original source as possible for themselves.

For what it’s worth, reading those journals was an extraordinary experience.

Every night or morning as I read from them and identified passages we might use in the biography, I could hardly believe that I had been given such access. President Eyring was able to be so generous because he had nothing to hide. His transparency was possible because of the integrity with which he approaches life.

In a way, giving such open access to his journals allows this biography to share those experiences that the Lord gave President Eyring a broader audience.

There’s a lot more interesting information in the full interview at From the Desk, so head on over there for more about President Eyring, including his relationship with Gordon B. Hinckley, his career before becoming a general authority, and thoughts about President Eyring’s life from some of the other apostles.

1 comment for “Robert Eaton on Henry B. Eyring

  1. President Eyring seems like the silent member of the FP3. For example, his GC talks are mostly generic with little meat. You could argue that this is a good thing. With Presidents Nelson and Oaks continually stirring the pot, a little calmness can be a good thing.

    Eyring’s father was a brilliant scientist. The son must have learned a lot from his father. The son must have learned a lot from his advanced education and from being an educator. I wish Eyring would be a bridge to assisting members who struggle with science versus religion issues. I wish he would educate the rest of the Q15 on science issues. Apostle Widtsoe served the function while he was alive. But no one has come forward to take his place.

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