I met John near the front porch as he was leaving the wedding reception. He was 17, full of fire and activity, president of the student body at high school, deeply involved in a senior class fund-raising activity he had thought up for the school, active in priesthood—a real achiever. He was also a Life Scout, only a couple of merit badges away from Eagle. I was age 62, Scout commissioner, Eagle Scout, and former everything from “den mother” and Scoutmaster to member of the bishopric and vice-president of the Scout council.
I asked John about those merit badges and suggested that his school fund-raising project, if approved in advance by Scout authorities, might qualify as his Eagle service project. We referred to his approaching 18th birthday; from that day on he would be an adult and no longer eligible for the Eagle Award, which is designed to challenge boys, not men.
John wanted the award, but he also had some other priorities. He hoped that he could work it in. His mother sure wanted him to. (Indeed she did; she had phoned me several times, and the family routines had been shifted sharply to accommodate merit badge counselors.)
We were about to part. His parents were waiting for him at their car. “You know,” I heard myself say, “the best thing that could ever happen to you might be to not get your Eagle. You will always know that you could have, but muffed it by putting it off too long. Then you might have sharper priorities in other more important decisions you will make as you mature and govern the rest of your life.” He seemed very surprised at my words. He knew that I wanted him to become an Eagle. What he did not fully realize was that I regarded the Eagle trail as preparation for life, not an end in itself, and that I would much rather see him develop into an active elder, a good husband and father, and a disciple of Jesus Christ than to just become an Eagle Scout and stop at that. Maybe I talk too much about “getting your Eagle.” It is like urging young people to “marry in the temple” as if that would solve all problems. Both are good advice as far as they go, but they are only parts of the great plan of life.
John earned his remaining merit badges at the last minute, but fair and square. Most people think that is it, that he is then an Eagle except for the formalities. Not so. Boy Scouts of America reaches for evidence of deeper values. A Life Scout who has earned the required badges and would become an Eagle must also be active in his troop and patrol for at least six months, “show Scout spirit,” and complete the approved service project. There is one further requirement. All of the above must be completed prior to the 18th birthday, although the processing of the paperwork and the awarding of the badge may take place thereafter.
I am sure that John believed he had beat the deadline. He led in his school activities and graduated with academic honors and praise for his extracurricular and athletic achievements. He served as bishop’s assistant in the priests quorum. Finally he got around to the application for Eagle Scout. All went fine until he and the troop advancement chairman tried to document compliance with requirement number 4:
“While a Life Scout, serve actively for a period of six months in one or more of the following positions: patrol leader, senior patrol leader, assistant senior patrol leader, den chief, scribe, librarian, quartermaster, member of the leadership corps, junior assistant Scoutmaster, chaplain aide, instructor.”
You know how it is whenever you try to put it all together at the last minute—writing your term paper on the last weekend; making notes for your youth talk in the back seat of the car on the way to sacrament meeting. Well, it is worse when the deadline is past and essential actions were not double-checked and completed in time.
How to comply with requirement number 4? Maybe being the bishop’s assistant to the priests would count as “chaplain aide” because the bishop is the spiritual adviser to the Scouts—but that was just the last two months before the 18th birthday. Troop instructor maybe? No, not honestly. Member of leadership corps? That would be forcing it. No hope in the others; they are all too specific. There was no question that John had engaged in great and useful activities during that period. Among other things, he had set up and coordinated a great athletic program in the ward. But how could he show that he had met any of the specifics of requirement 4 for six months?
“For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
“And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed” (Alma 34:32–33).
How easy it would have been to have served for six months as a den chief, or as a junior assistant Scoutmaster helping a grateful Blazer leader, or as a troop instructor teaching young Scouts how to qualify for merit badges or perhaps the whole troop how to cook dehydrated foods for the 50-miler. Easy except for one thing: John’s priorities at age 17 had been on other things. Yes, they were good worthy things, but not the Eagle Award. It would have been easier at age 15 or 16.
So now John is back to me, and I ponder his question. I can’t really answer it. Everyone wants him to receive the award. The adult troop leaders and the bishop are doing their best to convert priesthood activities into the format of requirement 4 as they rewrite that part of the application. The people on the local Scout council want to forward an application that will be approved by the National Council. But it’s like the way we want a lot of blessings—blessings that are predicated upon our complying with certain laws and principles.
This telestial world is much like a class in laboratory chemistry; it is the place to make choices, including mistakes, and to learn from them. But as important as repentance is, it does not grant all that might have been had a different choice been made.
The Eagle Scout Award is a telestial honor. The eternal aspect will be in the attitudes and acts that flow from the granting or denial of the badge under the circumstances.
I want you to be an Eagle Scout, John. I don’t want you to go through life knowing how close you came and muttering excuses to yourself. I want to help word that application in a way that will be accepted. But I do not know if this will be possible, and if it is not, I still think it might be one of the best things that ever happened to you. I hope to see you a leader in the celestial kingdom throughout all eternity, elder!