When I was a college student years ago in Tucson, Arizona, my student ward was assigned to clean out irrigation ditches each spring at the stake farm. The concrete ditches were filled with mud that had dried out and baked for months under the hot Arizona sun. After being assigned a portion of a ditch to clean out, I would take my shovel and thrust it into the dirt with all my might. If I was lucky, the shovel would go in a quarter of an inch deep. Then I would start jumping on the head of the shovel to force it slightly deeper into the dirt, and I would again use all my strength to turn the shovel over so that the dirt would be loosened and I could remove it.
The process had to be repeated over and over before I could get to the bottom of the ditch, and by then my hands would be sore and blistered. Needless to say, this was not my favorite assignment.
One summer between semesters I lived with my sister’s family in Pennsylvania, and I accepted an assignment to weed the tomatoes at the ward farm. I approached my assigned row with a hoe in hand, swung it high over my head like a golf club, and attacked the first weed I saw. The weed went flying through the air, followed by a clump of dirt and an airborne tomato plant.
I was more than a little embarrassed. I quickly replanted the tomato plant and approached the next weed, which, as luck would have it, was perilously close to another tomato plant. I swung my hoe only about half as high as before, but still the weed went sailing, again followed by a clump of dirt and a hapless tomato plant.
By then I started to notice the concerned looks of some of the ward members. One of them said in a gentle but pleading tone, “You don’t have to swing so hard!”
As I approached the third weed, I was determined to hold back my strength. It seemed that I just barely moved my wrists to swing the hoe, but you would never know it from the results. Once again, the weed went flying, but this time the tomato plant didn’t follow it—although it was uprooted.
I’m sure the ward members were fearful that their entire tomato crop would be ruined if someone didn’t step in and show me how to use a hoe properly. Once instructed, I began working at a rapid pace, going much faster than the other workers, who were huffing and puffing as they went along. Some cautioned me not to work so fast, saying that I would wear myself out, but I didn’t feel any fatigue and kept up my quick pace.
Finally, someone asked me how I was able to work so fast and for so long. “That’s easy,” I replied. “I’m used to hard Arizona dirt. This soft Pennsylvania soil is nothing!”
As the years have gone by, I have spent much of my life in situations akin to Pennsylvania soil. But without Arizona dirt experiences to compare them with, I wouldn’t realize how easy they are. And without Arizona dirt to strengthen me, the Pennsylvania soil would wear me out.
I have been inspired by the Book of Mormon account of Lachoneus, a righteous governor of the Nephites. He received a letter from Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadianton robbers, demanding the surrender of all the Nephites’ lands and possessions. Giddianhi warned that the Nephites would be slaughtered if his demands were not met, a threat that left Lachoneus “exceedingly astonished, because of the boldness of Giddianhi” (3 Ne. 3:11).
In response, Lachoneus instructed his people to “cry unto the Lord for strength” (3 Ne. 3:12) and to gather to one place with all their possessions. Once gathered, the people built strong fortifications around themselves and placed armies as guards around them to provide round-the-clock protection.
Lachoneus next told the people to repent of all their sins and again pray diligently for deliverance from the robbers. Then Lachoneus appointed righteous men to serve as chief captains in the army. The “chiefest among all the chief captains” (3 Ne. 3:18) was Gidgiddoni, who caused that his army “should make weapons of war of every kind, and they should be strong with armor, and with shields, and with bucklers, after the manner of his instruction” (3 Ne. 3:26).
The people prayed. They built fortifications and made weapons. They formed armies. They repented. Nowhere do we read that they prayed for the battle not to happen. Lachoneus apparently understood a lesson most of us must learn many times over during our lifetimes: Sometimes it is better for us to be strengthened to overcome an obstacle rather than to have the obstacle removed. Sometimes we must tackle the Arizona dirt when we would prefer Pennsylvania soil.
In the fourth chapter of 3 Nephi, we read that the Nephites were victorious against the Gadianton robbers, although one of the battles that led to victory was described as so “great and terrible … there never was known so great a slaughter among all the people of Lehi since he left Jerusalem” (3 Ne. 4:11). When the war was over, the Nephites were a much spiritually stronger people who “did forsake all their sins, and their abominations, and their whoredoms, and did serve God with all diligence day and night” (3 Ne. 5:3).
I have never had to fight a battle as did the Nephites under Lachoneus, but I have enough challenges behind me now to see that I am stronger spiritually because of them.
President Spencer W. Kimball once said: “There are great challenges ahead of us, giant opportunities to be met. I welcome that exciting prospect and feel to say to the Lord, humbly, ‘Give me this mountain,’ give me these challenges” (“‘Give Me This Mountain,’” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 79). I can now understand a little of the excitement he felt. I know that I would not be the same person without having had my challenges, and so I too feel to say humbly to the Lord, “I love Pennsylvania soil, but please bless me with enough Arizona dirt in my life to strengthen my faith so I can make it back to Thee.”