Bishop H. David Burton, “The Road of Life”
CES Fireside for Young Adults • May 2, 2010 • Brigham Young University–Hawaii
Aloha, brothers and sisters! Sister Burton and I are delighted to spend a few minutes with you this beautiful Sabbath day here on the campus of Brigham Young University–Hawaii along with young adults from many nations. It is exciting to see and experience the many cultures represented on this campus and in this very audience. We wish we could personally look in on the many other audiences in stake centers and institutes of religion around the world who have gathered together to take part in this CES fireside broadcast.
I love the sound and the meaning of the word aloha! You may know that aloha in the Hawaiian language means a variety of things, things like affection, love, peace, compassion, sympathy, pity, mercy, kindness, or grace. Over the past 150 years it has also been used in the same context as the English words hello and good-bye. These sentiments make it a lovely common greeting and a deep expression of farewell.
We Live in a Time of Conflicting Values
The concept of aloha is so important in Hawaii that the “Aloha Spirit” is defined and contained in the Hawaii state statutes. Aloha means displaying warmth and affection without obligation in return. It means acknowledging the importance of each person for the collective existence of the community. It also means “to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.”1 The Aloha Spirit encompasses beautiful gospel principles—principles of faith, principles surrounding “judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). It stresses the importance of the individual and compassion. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all were to fully embrace the spirit of aloha?
Recently General David H. Petraeus spoke at Brigham Young University–Provo. He displayed his wonderful sense of humor when he started his message by listing 10 reasons why Brigham Young University graduates make good soldiers. A few of the reasons he included were: “It’s not a problem if they don’t know what rank someone is, they just refer to them as Brother or Sister so-and-so.” “They never go AWOL [absent without leave]. They just call it being less active.” “They will seize any objective swiftly if you tell them refreshments will be served.” “They have innovative ideas for handling insurgents—like assigning them home teachers.” And finally, and perhaps the most important: “They are the world’s most reliable designated drivers.”2 There’s something therapeutic about smiling about one’s foibles.
It is a singular privilege to be sons and daughters of a living Heavenly Father and have the opportunity given to us to communicate with Him and thereby invoke His Spirit in our meetings and our personal lives. I am sure we all recognize there is a vast difference between giving a prayer and praying. St. Augustine is said to have counseled: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”3 An old saying I really like is “A lot of kneeling will keep you in good standing.” I find it incredulous that a few days ago a federal judge in the United States ruled that calling for a voluntary observance of a National Day of Prayer is in fact unconstitutional.
In many parts of the world, including the United States, praying in public gatherings and displaying any kind of religious symbols in a public place are deemed to be unconstitutional or against the law. Considering this, I find a little-known fact very interesting: In Washington, D.C., there can never be a building of any kind of greater height than the Washington Monument. The aluminum tip of the monument is 555 feet 5.125 inches above the ground. Etched on the top of that monument, in the aluminum skin where few can see, are the Latin words Laus Deo. Laus Deo! Two seemingly insignificant, unnoticed words placed at the highest point overlooking the capital city of an important nation. What do these two Latin words, composed of four syllables and only seven letters, mean? Simply, they mean “praise be to God.” Several other references to deity and to our Father in Heaven adorn this magnificent structure.
Praise be to God. Laus Deo! As we offer our individual and collective praises to a loving Father in Heaven, may we remember the true spirit of aloha as we petition Him for wisdom and judgment and as we express to Him our appreciation for His goodness and His mercy that He displays as a wise and loving Father in Heaven. President Thomas S. Monson often reminds us that “when we remember that each of us is literally a spirit son or daughter of God, we will not find it difficult to approach Him in prayer. He knows us; He loves us; He wants what is best for us.”4
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, is quoted as saying, “When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.”5 Using the Lincoln preparation method, I have prayed and anguished over what you may want and what you may need to hear and what I should endeavor to impart to you. I have tried to place myself in your shoes and imagine what it is like to walk the paths you are walking in 2010. I suppose many of you can rightfully ask, “What does this man, 50 years our senior, know about the issues facing the youth of today?” That is a great and very appropriate question! Truthfully, the answer is probably “Not a great deal concerning the day-to-day activities and the temptations and all that you go through.” There are, however, important aspects of our lives that are constant, have always been constant, and will never change. Perhaps my experience may give credence to a few observations gleaned from the school of hard knocks. When I consulted my college-age grandchildren about what they thought I should talk about, their responses were: “Grandpa, keep it simple.” “Grandpa, tell it like it is.” And perhaps most important, “Grandpa, please keep it short.” I’ll do my best to meet their very, very high expectations.
May I share some perceptions that may be obvious to virtually all of us? We are living in a time when there is turmoil flourishing between nations and cultures of the world; they are in conflict. The future course of mankind is unclear. Too often, fear permeates the souls of young people. Many are losing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and for many others hope is only a fleeting dream. Satan’s never-ending pursuit for the hearts and souls of men continues unabated. The so-called “X” generation seems a little uncertain and perhaps a bit confused because of the mixed signals extended to it by society in general.
We Know the Road We Must Take
After I contemplated what I could say and inquired of the Spirit, the Spirit whispered, even shouted, that Latter-day Saint young people need to be reassured that they are literally sons and daughters of a loving, caring, and benevolent Father in Heaven. They need to be reassured that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is important. They need to know that there is absolutely no reason for fear or despair if we follow the word of the Lord. They need to know that hope is and can be a reality, opportunities abound, and obedience is a prerequisite for happiness—that there is a great and eternal purpose in this life and Satan and his followers will be silenced. The gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Prophets abound in the land.
I’m a subscriber that the glass is indeed half full rather than half empty. My young friends, it’s a tremendous time to be alive. We have a great mission to perform and a divine destiny. All this and much more we know because we have been blessed to understand our Father in Heaven’s plan, the plan that He designed specifically for our happiness as we fully vest ourselves in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Charles Dodgson, a 19th-century English author, mathematician, and logician, who wrote under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass. He was also known for his many crisp quotes, one of which is “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”6 Much the same idea is expressed in the thought-provoking Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken”:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.7
Because we have been blessed with a knowledge of God’s plan for His children’s eternal happiness, we Latter-day Saints know our ultimate destination, or which route to take in order to safely arrive. We know where we are going because we know from whence we came and where we are going.
God’s Plan Is a Plan of Happiness
A brief review of Heavenly Father’s plan may be helpful. We are all God’s children, and we existed before we came to this earth. The plan is designed to bring immortality and eternal life. There was only one eternal plan, and when Father expressed that plan we all shouted for joy. It was the plan presented by God Himself. There were not multiple plans, as we sometimes are led to believe. Elements of the plan included gender. Indeed, gender is an essential part of the plan. The plan was ordained before this world was created and provided a way for all to, potentially, be exalted. Families are ordained of God and are paramount to the plan. Our Father in Heaven speaks to His children through living prophets. Temples, along with their saving ordinances, connect us to the eternities. The plan called for one to show us the way and be our advocate with the Father. The Savior, Jesus Christ, responded with exactness and offered Himself so we could have agency to act for ourselves. Lucifer (or Satan) rebelled and sought compulsion rather than agency for God’s children. In our shouting for joy, we rejoiced when Jesus Christ was chosen and we were given the opportunity to come to earth, to gain a body, to acquire experience, and to prove ourselves.
As we walk the road of life, we expect to follow the rules and road signs that are there. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma explained: “Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God” (Alma 12:32).
If we are obedient and faithful in holding to the iron rod and traveling the prescribed road, we can expect the grand and glorious opportunity to once again return and live eternally with our Father in Heaven, enjoying all the blessings He has identified for those who graduate this mortal existence with excellence. By holding fast to Church standards, you will have greater happiness in your life and be a positive example to those around you. I quote from the family proclamation: “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”8 Interestingly, these simple truths, founded on our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness, are largely misunderstood by many not of our faith.
We need time to contemplate, time to study, time to meditate, and time to ponder that marvelous plan. We need to think about the happiness that our Father in Heaven has in store for us as outlined in His plan for His children. Remember, the Lord’s plan is a plan of happiness. I love the way President Gordon B. Hinckley put it: “The way will be lighter, the worries will be fewer, the confrontations will be less difficult if we cultivate a spirit of happiness.”9
“In 2007 two large U.S. media organizations surveyed young people ages 12 to 24 to find what makes them happy.
“The study presented these findings, among others:
“• Youth ‘depend on parents as a vital source of security and happiness.’
“• ‘Youth will increasingly seek happiness via spirituality and faith.’
“• ‘A resurgence of interest among youth in traditional family structures will gain momentum.’
“One of the summary statements from the study said, ‘While our initial research did find that today’s youth are more traditional than previous generations, we were surprised to find the extent to which youth anticipate their own marriages and families with great joy.’”10
We Can Successfully Travel the Road of Life
I love to travel, particularly when there’s enough time to travel by automobile across the country on the ground. Perhaps a travel example will help us better understand the road of life we are all traveling.
If, as an example, you determined that you would like to travel from Vermont on the east or Atlantic Ocean coast of the United States to San Francisco on the west or Pacific Ocean coast and exclusively travel the interstate freeway system, MapQuest tells me that the most direct route would be 3,073 miles and require nearly 48 driving hours in an automobile. Along the way there are hundreds of opportunities to change routes, each time adding a few more miles to the trip. To aid you in arriving safely at your destination, there are road signs, warnings, speed limits, markers, and perhaps even a global positioning system in the automobile. Each mile of travel is noted on the automobile’s odometer, and progress is measured mile by mile and hour by hour. Periodically, as we travel, it is necessary to rest, refill the gas tank, and seek nourishment to body and mind.
In life’s journey from birth to death, we also have many choices to make. Our progress is measured in part by age and accomplishment. We have the scriptures to give us direction, warnings, and encouragement and a map to pattern our lives after. President James E. Faust often referred to the Book of Mormon as the “text for [our] dispensation.”11 I think he was suggesting that the Book of Mormon constituted the instruction manual for putting together a successful journey in life. Just as we need to have confidence in the validity of the information we gain from the road signs along the interstate highway, we need to have a personal testimony of the scriptures.
Nephi reminded us of why the scriptures are important for life’s journey when he wrote for readers of our day:
“And I know that the Lord God will consecrate my prayers for the gain of my people. And the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong unto them; for it persuadeth them to do good; it maketh known unto them of their fathers; and it speaketh of Jesus, and persuadeth them to believe in him, and to endure to the end, which is life eternal.
“And it speaketh harshly against sin, according to the plainness of the truth; wherefore, no man will be angry at the words which I have written save he shall be of the spirit of the devil” (2 Nephi 33:4–5).
These are among the last words that Nephi penned in this portion of the Book of Mormon. In these two verses Nephi outlined at least five reasons for us to study the scriptures, just as we would study a road map in preparation for a long cross-country journey.
Similarly, the last prophet to contribute to the Book of Mormon explained how we can acquire that much-needed testimony concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon when he reminded us, “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4).
The process Moroni outlined includes first, study; second, ask the correct question. In this case the question is not if it is true but rather if it is not true. Third, manifest a genuine desire to know the truth. Fourth, have enough faith to know your inquiry will be answered. And fifth, prepare to receive an answer from the Holy Ghost.
Because our highway journey takes us through large cities, with a maze of roadways going in every direction and heavy traffic zooming by, it is easy to take a wrong turn and become lost or even stopped at a dead end. Fear, even despair, can set in as we search for the safe haven or the desired safe road. So it is, my young friends, with life: we can become lost souls, succumb to temptation, and over time lose sight of our original destination.
Along the road of life, a benevolent Father in Heaven in His wonderful plan made provisions for these detours. He sent His Only Begotten Son to be our Redeemer and our Savior. Make no mistake about it, sin requires penitence. The prophet Alma reminded us that “the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Alma 45:16). Like the insurance we purchase to protect our automobile in case of damage or liability that may occur as we travel along the highway, we can receive, with sincere and complete repentance, the blessings associated with the Atonement of Jesus the Christ. He also provided divinely appointed “rescuers,” whom we call bishops, to assist us to once again find the correct course. Remember, the Lord has promised that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). In this dispensation the Lord pronounced:
“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.
“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:42–43).
If you have taken a shortcut or deviated from the prescribed course of life, your wonderful bishop can help. Seek him out; he loves you!
As we cross the country, various government agencies offer incentives and privileges if our vehicles meet certain standards. These standards can be of performance, including safety requirements. Sometimes there are weight restrictions. Obviously we have to have license plates. And in some places preference is given if we achieve certain levels of miles per gallon in our vehicle. As we agree to comply and demonstrate responsibility, we may be able to use special lanes to avoid congestion, to fly through toll booths, or to receive some other special consideration.
In life, our Father in Heaven expects us to enter into agreements we call covenants. Throughout history our Father in Heaven has dealt with His children by making covenants. You’ll recall that covenants were made with Adam, Abraham, and Moses. Today, as part of the covenant-making expectation, we make baptismal covenants, we make priesthood covenants, and we make temple covenants. We refer to these covenants collectively as the “new and everlasting covenant.” Each covenant mentioned is associated with a sacred ordinance necessary for our exaltation. As we honor sacred covenants, our Father in Heaven extends blessings as He has promised. We should not take our ordinances and covenants lightly.
Elder Russell M. Nelson reminded us of our Father in Heaven’s promise: “His hope for us is eternal life. We qualify for it by obedience to covenants and ordinances of the temple—for ourselves, our families, and our ancestors. We cannot be made perfect without them. We cannot wish our way into the presence of God. We are to obey the laws upon which those blessings are predicated.”12
My young friends, we know not the duration or length of the road of life, but it is only by enduring to the end with lives that have been firmly planted on gospel soil, staying in the mainstream of the Church, humbly serving our fellowmen, living Christlike lives, and keeping those sacred covenants that we will succeed to find happiness within the framework of our Father in Heaven’s plan.
In order to receive the maximum enjoyment from a long automobile ride, we must have a few stops to enjoy local culture and points of interest. They all add awareness and zest and enhancement to the trip. The marvels of nature have been created for us to appreciate and enjoy, and as we are observant, much may be learned.
To successfully navigate the road of life, take time to serve and reach out to others. Former First Lady Barbara Bush said: “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.”13
Just as you need a license to drive an automobile, you need a recommend in order to enjoy the blessings available in serving in the house of the Lord.
God’s Guidelines Enable Us to Succeed
Albert Schweitzer, the noted theologian, medical missionary, and philosopher noted: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”14 Happiness comes as a result of following the precepts found in our Father in Heaven’s eternal plan for His children. As we daily live out our lives, keep in mind the divine purpose of our creation.
A short while ago a very wise mother in our ward helped the congregation understand why the Lord gives us bounds to manage our lives. In a sacrament meeting she asked us to close our eyes and imagine a tranquil scene. I am going to ask each of you to do the same. Close your eyes. Now picture a beautiful scene: It’s a sunny day on a beach with the waves gently rolling onto the white sand. It is springtime, and the sand is not too hot. You can run barefoot and squish the sand between your toes. There is a nice breeze blowing, perfect for flying kites. The kite is homemade, made out of tissue paper, sticks, and string. Attached is a brightly colored tail to give it stability. You have chosen your kite string very carefully. This is a great kite, and you don’t want to lose it. You also want to fly it as high as possible.
Now hold up your kite and run down the beach, letting the wind catch the fabric of the kite and draw it up into the sky. It’s a little unstable at first, so it dips and dives a little until you can get it high enough to catch a good breeze. Then it begins to rise easily as you let out your string. Pretty soon it is so high that it is just a speck in the beautiful blue sky.
Can you see it? Can you feel the tug on the string as the wind catches it again and again? You can make it dip. You can make it twirl. You can make it dive and soar by manipulating the string. That thin, strong string controls and anchors your kite to the ground. Just enjoy the feel of the control and the beauty of the day.
Now I have a question for you. Just what is holding up the kite? Is it the wind? It sure looks like it. Now I’m going to ask you to do something that may be hard for you to do. Quickly cut the string. Let the kite go. Give it freedom to fly farther and higher. The wind is surely in control and will keep it safe.
But what happens now that the string is cut? The kite begins to dip and dive, wiggle and waggle, and eventually falls back to earth. The wind carries it over the land, and as it loses altitude you lose sight of it, but you know that the ultimate outcome is that it is falling to the earth. That beautiful kite you spent so much time assembling is no longer heaven bound but has fallen to the earth, and no wind is going to lift it up again. Do you feel a sense of disappointment and loss?
You can open your eyes now. The reality is that although it looks like the string is controlling the kite, it is really giving the kite the ability to soar and be what it was meant to be.
I have endeavored to paint a word picture in your mind of a gospel truth that is the key to our salvation. The kite represents each of us. God created us in His image, and we are beautiful in His sight. He did a great job, but He does not force us to do anything. What He did give us was a strong tie to Him, as the string is to the kite. The string represents the guidelines for happiness and eternal life as contained in His marvelous plan.
Stay Focused on the Ultimate Goal of Eternal Life
Every journey has a beginning, an ending, and usually a few stopovers along the way. Hopefully, breakdowns and mechanical failures will be few and far between. Wherever you presently find yourself on life’s highway, it may be helpful and wise to objectively assess the health and vitality of your spiritual life, just as you would check the air pressure in your tires and the level of fuel in your tank before you commenced your journey. If your spiritual well-being is hampered by sin, procrastination, indifference, lust, drugs, immodesty, or any other malady, now is the time for resolution. I like the advice of Mother Teresa. She said: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”15
Let us all begin. Let us all begin right now! Let’s not defer the opportunity to participate fully in the happiness that comes from living a righteous and contributing life.
Over the years I have had the great privilege of playing a few holes of golf, at different times, with Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Mike Weir, and Arnold Palmer. Each of these individuals is a very impressive man and a superb golfer. A seemingly unimportant event occurred while playing with Arnold Palmer that has had a lasting and profound effect on me. Some of you may recall this story I have shared before from my mission to Australia.
After hitting our drives, I was standing near Mr. Palmer as his young caddy was describing some of the hazards of the hole we were playing. The conversation went something like this:
Young caddy to Mr. Palmer: “Sir, near the green and just to the left there is a small creek, which is just out of view, and they have let the rough on the right grow an additional two inches.”
Mr. Palmer to caddy—firmly, succinctly, but nicely: “Please, young man, do not plant in my mind what is on the left and what hazard I may face on the right. The only piece of information that is important is the distance from this ball to the flag stick.”
Too often in life we focus on what is on the left and what is on the right rather than what is straight down the middle. Former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare John W. Gardner pointed out, “What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.”16 Solving our spiritual challenges is an opportunity we can all be successful in accomplishing.
It has been said that “what we do in life echoes in eternity.”17 My young friends, may we be successful in traveling the highway of life and be the recipients of the happiness that comes from fully vesting ourselves in our Father in Heaven’s plan for us. It is a marvelous time to be alive!
I express my love and respect for each of you and invoke the blessings of heaven that you may be blessed with happiness in your personal lives as you faithfully follow God’s plan, that you may be blessed with discernment to identify that which is good and shun that which is bad, and that you may have the ability and receive abiding joy from serving in His kingdom, as well as finding success in your educational or vocational pursuits.
I know that Jesus lives. I know that He is our Savior. I know that He atoned for our sins. I’m grateful that He is our advocate with our Father in Heaven. I know the words contained in the scriptures, and particularly in the Book of Mormon, give us direction in our lives that we might negotiate life’s journey and return to our Father in Heaven with a full measure of happiness. I’m grateful and express gratitude for living prophets. I know that we’re blessed this day with a living prophet, Thomas S. Monson. These things I know and testify to you in the holy name of Jesus the Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, amen.
© 2010 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 10/09. PD50021016
1. See “Aloha Spirit,” Hawaii Revised Statutes 5-7.5, http://capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/vol01_ch0001-0042f/hrs0005/hrs_0005-0007_0005.htm.
2. David H. Petraeus, in Sara Israelsen-Hartley, “General Petraeus: Top 10 Reasons BYU Grads Make Great Soldiers,” Deseret News, Mar. 26, 2010, http://deseretnews.com/article/print/700019691/General-Petraeus-Top-10-reasons-BYU-grads-make-great-soldiers.html.
7. Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken” (1915), in The Poetry of Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery Lathem (1970), 105.
10. “18 Ways to Stand Strong: Family,” New Era, Oct. 2008, 20; see Associated Press/MTV Research and Strategic Insights, Happiness, Aug. 20, 2007.
13. Barbara Bush, “Remarks of Mrs. Bush at Wellesley College Commencement,” http://www.wellesley.edu/PublicAffairs/Commencement/1990/bush.html.
15. Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories, and Prayers, ed. Becky Benenate (1997), 17.
16. John W. Gardner, in Lee S. Shulman, “A Response to the Final Report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education,” http://carnegiefoundation.org/print/6068.