What is the hardest thing you have ever done in your life? I have thought about this question a lot the last two weeks, both on my trip to the Philmont Training Camp and on a pioneer trek experience I returned from yesterday. I was recently reminded by David Beck that we need to help our youth do hard things. When we do hard things, we gain confidence and strength. Thinking about how I will help my kids to do hard things has made me consider my own mountains.
Years ago when I was making up my mind about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had a dream of being a teacher like my father and my grandfather. At the time I proposed to my wife, I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have any immediate prospects. I think she had a lot of faith accepting my proposal without a definite plan in sight of how I would provide for her. Maybe she trusted me because there are a number of teachers in her family, too.
One definite advantage of my career choice was the benefit of having a lot of time with my family. The opportunity to take a few months off each summer and spend time with them really appealed to me. I also had fond memories of when my Mom and Dad were both home in the afternoon when I was. We had a modest income that you might expect for school teachers, but my growing up years were rich with the time I was able to spend with my parents. I wanted that for my kids.
Shortly after my wife and I were married, I experienced a disappointment regarding my career plans. I went through some training, had a student teaching experience, and realized that my choice wasn’t going to work out the way I thought. I was discouraged. Feeling the weight of providing for a family, I began to look at other alternatives. The hardest thing for me to give up was the ability to give my family the lifestyle that I had had. As I chose another career, I recognized that I had still gotten much of what I wanted, it just required a different path.
Another desire I had at that time in my life was to serve the Lord. After completing a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I wanted more – I wanted to do more for the Lord because I was so grateful for what He had done for me. Unfortunately, I had little to offer. While I may have had the interest and motivation, I did not have much else I could bring to the table. It was then that I began to be taught by Father about sacrifice.
You have to have something before you can give it away. I realized at that point in my life that I had very little experience to offer. It was then that I decided on two things that would shape my career, my life, and my family. I needed gain some skills that would support my family and be something that I could offer Father when needed so that I could help with His work. Secondly, I felt as though I needed to do something that I could be passionate enough about that one day it would be meaningful enough to sacrifice.
Since then, I have a hard time thinking of sacrifice in terms of merely giving something up. Whenever I have sacrificed something that I have needed, or wanted very badly, I have been blessed with more than I ever gave up. Each time Father requires something of me, it has been difficult. But I have learned that the sacrifice is never without reward. “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” (Hymn 27, "Praise to the Man”) Recognizing this repeating pattern in my life has allowed me greater strength to do hard things, to give up things that I really want. When I feel that Father in Heaven wants me to give up something, and I feel the confirmation of the Holy Ghost, I just remind myself that something better must be around the corner. I have seen my temporal circumstances improve. I have also seen relationships improve. Father really knows what is best when He asks us to do something. Everything He does is for our benefit and progression. I now see sacrifice as a test with promise rather than an exercise in restraint.
I believe there is a big difference in giving up and giving in. The first expression may suggest quitting, stopping, or holding back any effort because the goal is no longer worthy of pursuit. “Giving in” may imply submission and a continued effort in a different direction. I occasionally remind myself to “submit rather than forfeit.” If I am not willing to submit to the will of Father I may forfeit the blessings He is waiting to give me.
King Mosiah taught his people an important truth about our natures. We are not inclined to give up things that we need or want. This makes it easier to trust in ourselves, our appetites, and our interests than it is to trust in the Lord. In Mosiah 3:19 he taught, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” The word yield is so critical here. It does not mean stop, it merely implies giving the right of way to something more important, particularly the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It is at that moment that we become something greater than we currently are.
I know that God cannot lie. Further I know that he can and does speak to us and that he will not lead us astray. Because I know this to be true, I can know with surety that when the Holy Spirit speaks to my heart and asks me to put aside something of value to me, it is the best thing I can possibly do. If I do, I know I will be happier. I don’t usually see the clarity of the decision when I am making it, but I have learned to trust Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and I know He truly loves His children.
Another ancient prophet, Mormon, taught that we should lay hold upon every good thing. In Moroni 7:19 he said, “Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.” It stands to reason that our hands can only hold so much at any given time. How can we possibly lay hold on every good thing unless we are willing to let go of that which we currently have, be it our sins, our pride, our vanity, or even our worthy interests and desires. God rewards the faithful who let their faith guide their actions.
We each have hard things to do. This week I made one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. I am sure there will be harder and harder choices for me as there are for each of us. I am just grateful to know that Father is always right. He has never been wrong. My faith in that principle makes it much easier to give in.