I chaperoned a dance several years ago at the Institute where I was a teacher. About 3000 of our students came. We had huge fans going to fight the heat but it was like taking on dragons with a fly swatter. Kids filled the halls and foyer and scrambled to the exits to find a breath of cool air. In addition the lights were, as always, dim, and the music was, as always, loud. I told the policeman we hired to come to the dance that I could think of one hundred and thirty-nine things I would rather be doing and seven of them involved dentists.
Nevertheless, I came as I was asked and did as I was asked and it could have been worse.
Perhaps my problem is that I am older than dirt. I am less flexible physically and spiritually than I used to be. Brigham Young said:
Our bodies are all important to us, though they may be old and withered, emaciated with toil, pain, and sickness, and our limbs bent with rheumatism, all uniting to hasten dissolution, for death is sown in our mortal bodies. The food and drink we partake of are contaminated with the seeds of death, yet we partake of them to extend our lives until our allotted work is finished, when our tabernacles, in a state of ripeness, are sown in the earth to produce immortal fruit. Yet, if we live our holy religion and let the spirit reign, it will not become dull and stupid, but as the body approaches dissolution the spirit takes a firmer hold on that enduring substance behind the veil, drawing from the depths of that eternal Fountain of Light sparkling gems of intelligence which surround the frail and sinking tabernacle with a halo of immortal wisdom (JD, vol. 9, p. 288).
The condition of my mind makes me wonder how well I have lived my ‘holy religion.’ Words like ‘dull’ and ‘stupid’ seem to be authentic descriptions of what is happening to me. And nobody is saying anything to me about my ‘sparkling gems of intelligence’ or my ‘halo of immortal wisdom.’ At least my ‘frail and sinking tabernacle’ seems to be following the prophetic path President Young described.
Of course the encroachments of age and the dissolution of the body are not sufficient excuses to quit trying. Even those with only a little time left must continue to “improve the shining moments” (hymn 226), even if most of the time they do not appear to be shining.
I had thoughts related to this several years ago as I pondered the frustrations of staffing a ward of young adults. Sometimes they seemed not to be trying. Their major problem, aside from obedience and worthiness, was that they were in a constant state of transition. They were between their family home and their own home. They were between high school and a career. They were between celibacy and marriage. They were between childhood and adulthood.
In that condition they came to the 9th ward. But so many came irregularly. And they had dozens of friends returning from or leaving for missions, speaking in nearby stakes. They had families inviting them home for a Sabbath reunion and Mom’s Famous Pot Roast. The presence of many of them on any given Sunday was less certain than icicles in August. They accepted callings, but a single phone call could move them in days to a new apartment in a new ward, or stake, or city . . .
My ward mission leader spoke to me one day: “I am moving in a month. In two weeks I leave for China for a little while. I thought you ought to know.” A two-week notice was very nice.
I had one young man who visited with me when he arrived and begged for a calling. We gave him one and never saw him for six months. When he returned he came to visit again. He apologized profusely, explaining at great length the unforeseen circumstances that took him away from the ward for half a year. But now he was here to stay and he had come to serve. Would we give him a calling now that he was putting down his roots? Of course. We extended a call. I never saw him again. Two callings . . . not a single day of service.
I shouldn’t begrudge them their freedoms, of course. I remember that I was pretty mobile when I returned from my mission.
But I believe there is a principle that can be applied here that is worth a careful look.
Saints arriving in Kirtland in the spring of 1831 were aware that they had another place to go. The revelations had already mentioned Zion and the New Jerusalem about twenty times. In fact, church members arriving in Kirtland even knew the general direction of their final destination:
And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites (Doctrine and Covenants 28:9).
The result of that revelation was that arriving members anticipated only a brief stopover in Kirtland before continuing their journey to the land of Zion in the West.
But the Lord gave specific instructions about their time in Ohio:
- “It is necessary that ye should remain for the present time in your places of abode” (Doctrine and Covenants 48:1).
- “Let them buy for the present time in those regions round about” (Doctrine and Covenants 48:3).
- “It must needs be necessary that they have places to live for the present time” (Doctrine and Covenants 48:3).
This is the clearest of language: remain for the present time; buy for the present time; live for the present time . . . But since they were only there “for the present time,” how much effort ought to go into improving their property, their stewardships, their neighborhoods . . . their wards? The answer (a great answer!) comes a few sections later:
And thus I grant unto this people a privilege of organizing themselves according to my laws. And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence; And the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good. Behold, this shall be an example . . . in other places, in all churches (Doctrine and Covenants 51:15-18, emphasis added).
This revelation was given in May of 1831. The next month these saints were directed to go to the land of Zion (see D&C 54:7,8).
Even though the saints would only be in the area for “a little season . . . let them act upon this land as for years . . .” What? Paint barns for others to utilize? Sew curtains to provide shade and privacy for other families? Plant crops we might never harvest? Of course! And this is “an example . . . in other places, in all churches.” Those other places and churches would include young adults and every other saint on the planet.
The message is that where we serve does not matter and how long we serve does not matter. How we serve matters. I remember reading a comment by Roger Williams, the famous pianist of the late sixties and early seventies. Someone at Utah State University interviewed him for the student paper and asked this question: “Doesn’t all this traveling and playing interfere with your life?” His answer: “This is my life.”
Songwriter and singer Deanna Edwards wrote a song about this: “Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.”
The truth is that the Lord is not concerned so much with building farms as with building character. He is not so concerned with beautifying things as he is with beautifying people. He is not so concerned with where we devote our best as he is that we become our best. Elder Ashton said:
“In Doctrine and Covenants 51:16-17, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation after solicitation by Bishop Edward Partridge. It appears that the Saints, after moving from place to place, wondered if they should build homes rather than simply make dugouts or live in tents during this transient portion of their migration westward. To this question the Lord answered very clearly:
“And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence;
“And the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good.”
“In any position we accept, we offer our honesty, our integrity, and our good name. We should always work, as the Lord has suggested, as if for years. It is the works that we perform that finally build what we become” (Marvin J. Ashton, “We Believe in Being Honest,” New Era, Sept. 1983, 7).
Even if we might be older than the pyramids or moving the week after next.