Viewpoint: Watch the Switches

Contributed By the Church News

  • 11 January 2015

Just as a train can veer off its course with the movement of a small switch, so too can our lives change drastically with a seemingly small decision.

Article Highlights

  • The smallest of decisions we make can have large impacts on our lives.
  • Daily decisions will determine our destiny. Now is the time to establish priorities to stay on track.

“The movement away from our original destination may be ever so small, but, if continued, that very small movement becomes a great gap and we find ourselves far from where we intended to go.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley

At one point in his life, President Gordon B. Hinckley worked for a railroad company in the central offices in Denver, Colorado. He was in charge of what is called head-end traffic during a time when nearly everyone rode passenger trains.

“One morning I received a call from my counterpart in Newark, New Jersey. He said, ‘Train number such-and-such has arrived, but it has no baggage car. Somewhere, 300 passengers have lost their baggage, and they are mad.’

“I went immediately to work to find out where it may have gone. I found it had been properly loaded and properly trained in Oakland, California. It had been moved to our railroad in Salt Lake City, been carried to Denver, down to Pueblo, put on another line, and moved to St. Louis. There it was to be handled by another railroad which would take it to Newark, New Jersey.

“But some thoughtless switchman in the St. Louis yards moved a small piece of steel just three inches, a switch point, then pulled the lever to uncouple the car. We discovered that a baggage car that belonged in Newark, New Jersey, was in fact in New Orleans, Louisiana—1,500 miles from its destination” (“A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Ensign, Jan. 2001).

This train’s unfortunate journey can, in many ways, be compared to our lives—where seemingly small decisions could take us to a place we never intended to go.

President Thomas S. Monson said during a November 6, 2005, BYU devotional that “decisions determine destiny.”

“This is your world,” he said. “The future is in your hands. The outcome is up to you. The way to exaltation is not a freeway featuring unlimited vision, unrestricted speeds, and untested skills. Rather, it is known by many forks and turnings, sharp curves, and controlled speeds. Your driving skill will be put to the test. Are you ready? You are driving. You haven’t passed this way before. Fortunately, the Master Highway Builder, even our Heavenly Father, has provided a road map showing the route to follow. He has placed markers along the way to guide you to your destination.”

One of the greatest decisions of the latter days was made by a 14-year-old boy who had a question and—instead of listening to the many voices around him—chose to ask God.

That simple act defined Joseph Smith’s destiny.

He recounts: “When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:17).

This vision was the beginning of his calling as a prophet of God. Joseph Smith was chosen to formally organize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and restore the priesthood to the earth. He was given the ability to translate the Book of Mormon, and he received revelations for the Church.

During his October 2005 general conference address, President Monson asked Latter-day Saints to “incorporate into our own lives the divine principles which [Joseph Smith] so beautifully taught by example.”

In addition, our Heavenly Father has told us to seek after “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (Articles of Faith 1:13).

We are taught in For the Strength of Youth that we are responsible for the choices we make. “You have the ability to choose righteousness and happiness, no matter what your circumstances. You are also responsible for developing the abilities and talents Heavenly Father has given you. You are accountable to Him for what you do with your abilities and how you spend your time” (For the Strength of Youth, 5).

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during his October 2013 general conference address that our decisions are crucial to our spiritual growth, now and for eternity.

“Each day is a day of decision, and our decisions determine our destiny,” he said. “One day each of us will stand before the Lord in judgment. We will each have a personal interview with Jesus Christ. We will account for decisions that we made about our bodies, our spiritual attributes, and how we honored God’s pattern for marriage and family. That we may choose wisely each day’s decisions for eternity is my earnest prayer.”

Now is the time to set our course, to establish fundamental priorities, said Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during his April 1991 general conference address. “You will learn to select from many good and bad things those that are righteous and most important,” he said.

It’s another way to remind all of us, as President Hinckley learned while working for the railroad, to watch the switches in our lives—to remember the small but important day-to-day decisions.

Just the three-inch movement of the switch in the St. Louis yard by a careless employee started a train on the wrong track, and the distance from its true destination increased dramatically, wrote President Hinckley in his January 2001 First Presidency message. “That is the way it is with our lives. Instead of following a steady course, we are pulled by some mistaken idea in another direction. The movement away from our original destination may be ever so small, but, if continued, that very small movement becomes a great gap and we find ourselves far from where we intended to go.

“Have you ever looked at one of those 16-foot farm gates? When it is opened, it swings very wide. The end at the hinges moves ever so slightly, while out at the perimeter the movement is great. It is the little things upon which life turns that make the big difference in our lives.”