Hey, MTTB readers! We are thrilled to have motivational speaker, author, and professor Brad Wilcox here to share some thoughts and advice with us today. Brad is currently a professor at Brigham Young University and enjoys working with Especially for Youth, Women’s Conference, and Campus Education Week. He is the author of the book, The Continuous Atonement, and the BYU devotional, “His Grace is Sufficient.”
Tell us about your childhood. Did you have any specific experiences that led you to where you are today?
My earliest memories are of Ethiopia, Africa where my father was helping to set up a teacher training program and improve the poor quality of education in that country. We moved back to the US just before I was baptized at age eight. It was quite a culture shock to go from Africa to Provo where my Dad was a professor of education at BYU.
How did you become a teacher, speaker, and author?
I think the example of my parents (Dad a professor and Mom a second-grade teacher) played a key role. I also think growing up in Africa also played a part. Most kids complain about school, but I realized at a very young age that an education was a privilege for which I was VERY grateful. I loved school and learning and knew that everyone on the planet did not get that opportunity. When I was in high school, I took an aptitude test that said I should be a priest or a rabbi. That is not good news for a Mormon kid. I went on a mission to Chile and upon returning went to BYU. There I took a career exploration class and they gave me another aptitude test. I said, “It’s just going to say that I should be a priest or a rabbi.” The teacher said, “This is BYU. We took that one off.” I wondered what would be next on the list. It said, “elementary school teacher.” I dove in and have never looked back. As I was preparing to start my first job teaching 6th grade in Provo, a friend from my mission suggested that I become involved with EFY and other youth programs at BYU. I figured that would be something I could do in the summers. I have spent most of my summers at EFY and youth conferences ever since—thirty years now.
What would you say is the most fulfilling part of your profession?
I love kids and youth. I love variety. I love feeling like I can make a difference. I have friends who get depressed because they wish they had more meaning and significance in their lives. I have plenty of meaning and significance. I don’t have much money, but I have lots and lots of meaning! I love the students (hate the faculty meetings). I love teaching—whether it is at BYU, in the elementary education classes, in my mission prep and Book of Mormon classes, at Time Out for Women, or at Campus Education Week. Booker T. Washington (one of my heroes) once said that he loved teaching anyone anything that he could teach. He was supremely happy when he was teaching others. I feel the same way. It is when I am teaching or writing that I feel most alive.
How important is education to you? What do you do to keep learning daily?
I am a reader. I am a writer. I am a life-long learner. I love to travel. I love to meet new people. I love the temple. All of these are opportunities to learn and grow and I try to take full advantage of them. Sometimes I drive others crazy because I am not one to “relax” a lot. Even when I go to a movie with my kids they laugh at me cause I have to explain to them how the movie is like some aspect of the gospel.
You have authored multiple books, one of them being The Continuous Atonement. What was is like to write a book about the Savior’s Atonement?
I wrote the book because I saw a need. I was a bishop in a YSA ward in Provo, and I noticed a pattern that saddened me. Some kid would come in, confess, feel better, and then go mess up again, come in, confess, feel better, and then go mess up again. About the third or fourth time through that cycle he would just give up. “I can’t do this Mormon thing. The expectations are too high.” Some would look down in shame. Others would look sideways for excuses (“Well, he did it too” or “I saw this website that says the Church isn’t true, so I don’t have to break my bad habits.”). Only a few were willing to look up for help—the divine help, the enabling power that we call grace. I realized that we needed to find a better way of teaching an additional aspect of the Atonement that doesn’t always get our full attention: transformation. The Atonement is not just about getting us back to heaven, but making us heavenly, and that transformation takes time. Time is the medium through which the power of the Atonement is made manifest in our lives. That is what I set out to teach, and if the book has been useful to some, I am humbled and honored.
If someone asked you how to gain a personal relationship with the Savior, what would you tell them?
You already have one! We speak often of our coming to Christ and not often enough about how He comes to us! We sometimes think we need to be better or get worthy or jump a lot of hoops in order to have that relationship with Him. In reality, He comes to us in our brokenness and our weakness. He reaches out in love NOT because we are good, but because He is good. Don’t give up. Don’t turn Him away. He has to be as close to us as He is to any. He can be as close to us as we will let Him be.
Is there a specific moment in your career that stands out to you?
I believe God has a plan for our lives—not just a plan for all mankind, but a plan for each man and woman. I believe that He governs the crossroads and intersections of our lives. I can see this so clearly as I look back. I see how God has brought influential people into my life and opened doors for me when I thought they were shut tight. My problem is to have the same faith about how God will continue to guide me in the future. I can see it when I look back, but looking forward is scary. It tests my faith to believe that God can put me where He needs me, and that will be okay. I want to be that angel spoken of in Alma and cry repentance unto every people. Sometimes I have to trust that He just needs me to read books to kids in the nursery in my ward. I have seen His hand in my life in the past. I will trust that He will not let go of me now!
Interview by Alexis Arias, Blossom’s Expert Learner and Journalist