BYU professor of religious education W. Justin Dyer speaks on making burdens light through Christ

W. Justin Dyer talks about making burdens light in his devotional address. Dyer is a professor of religious education. (Emma Butler)

W. Justin Dyer, a professor of religious education at BYU, spoke about the burdens that disciples of Jesus Christ may feel to BYU students and faculty in his devotional address on Tuesday, May 23. 

Dyer began by talking about his experience as a religion professor at BYU teaching one of his favorite classes — the Eternal Family course. According to Dyer, it is a personal class that allows him to hear the concerns of his students. 

“I’ve … come to know some of the burdens students bear, particularly as they strive to live a religious life that reflects the teachings of Jesus Christ,” he said. 

He explained that religious burdens are seen by some as harmful and there are those who would encourage society to abandon religion for a freer life. However, Dyer said religious burdens are made light through Jesus Christ and improve the lives of those who bear them. 

“Jesus taught that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. But clearly, the Savior experienced many difficulties … What is it that makes bearing Christ’s burden worth everything?”

Dyer went on to describe his seven years of experience researching the correlation between mental health and religion. 

In his studies, he found that attending religious services and engaging in religious and spiritual practices are typically related to improved mental health, as well as community involvement and better physical health. Dyer found it is also related to more happiness within a family and better parenting. Additionally, he mentioned that men who are more religious do more housework, on average. 

Dyer went on to include members of the LGBT community specifically, stating that studies showed the same trend within that community. In accordance with the general population, religious or spiritual LGBT individuals have, on average, fewer mental health difficulties. 

Dyer clarified that the purpose of this research is to help people see the connection between mental health and religion, not to prove whether or not the gospel is true. According to Dyer, confirmation of the truthfulness of the gospel can only come from a witness of the Holy Spirit.

“The truthfulness of the gospel is not at stake in this research. What is at stake is better understanding what is helpful to people and how we can best serve them,” he said. 

Dyer continued his address by affirming that all people experience trials. He then went on to describe three ways in which religion can help bear people up amidst their struggles — a community of covenant caring, an eternal perspective and divine patterns of living. 

According to Dyer, religion provides a covenant-caring community that has the ability to help all people, regardless of the specific trials they are experiencing. 

“To a large extent God’s fold, his church, is about taking on the burden of making our brothers’ and sisters’ burdens light,” Dyer said.

According to Dyer, there are, unfortunately, members who treat others poorly, However, “true religion calls us to lighten burdens.”

Dyer then said that the second way religion helps people bear their burdens is by giving them an eternal lens through which to view their current hardships. 

“Suffering is a burden, but when we can’t see past the immediate suffering, it is doubly heavy,” he said. 

The third way religion eases burdens, according to Dyer, is through divine patterns of living. As an example, he described the Honor Code at BYU. He said that while choosing to follow such guidelines and other commandments can present themselves as a burden, they make light of other burdens by helping people avoid other hardships. 

“The burdens, freely chosen, are light because they help me become who I truly want to be and who the Lord would have me be,” Dyer said. 

Dyer spoke about how not understanding the true nature of God can make religion feel heavy rather than light.

“Religion can also feel heavy when we see God as cruel rather than compassionate; impersonal rather than personal; apathetic rather than sympathetic or when we feel He is out of reach rather than near at hand,” he said. 

He went on to explain the importance of living the Gospel patiently, rather than perfectly. He affirmed that God has an infinitely loving nature and desires our success. He said that once people understand that, their burdens become light. 

“Please don’t hear me saying that if you were only more religious you wouldn’t have mental health challenges. But do hear me saying that we must recognize the wonderful blessings within religion, even with all the imperfections of the people in it. Do hear me saying that we should rejoice, for Christ’s Church has come, and we should not let our hearts be troubled or be afraid,” he said. 

Dyer brought his address to a close with his testimony. 

“Taking on Christ’s burden is worth more than all the riches and kingdoms of the world. To bear the name of Christ is a choice to have faith in Him and to yoke ourselves with He who bears our burdens, our sins, our sorrows, our griefs. It is a choice to allow Him to do for us what He offered to ancient Israel, He will bear us on eagles’ wings, and bring us home,” Dyer said.

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