As I have read the Old Testament, I have been impressed with the teaching that blessings come as we follow the Lord by obeying His prophets. One of the most striking examples of this principle is found in 1 Samuel, where the prophet Samuel declares to King Saul: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
This lesson was impressed upon me forcefully in the spring of 1998 when, together with my wife, I was called to preside over the Japan Nagoya Mission. While most mission presidents are called during the late fall and early winter and then depart around the first of July, we found ourselves in President Thomas S. Monson’s office on April 28. We were to leave in just seven weeks. During the interview President Monson asked about the health of my father and mother. Mother was well, but my father was suffering from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. His health had been declining for many years, and he now had to receive constant care in an Alzheimer’s facility.
As we discussed my father’s condition, I indicated to President Monson that I did not think Dad would be able to comprehend the call or understand that our family would be leaving for three years. We discussed the fact that when I said good-bye to my father, it would probably be the last time I would see him in this life. It was a tender discussion with one of the Lord’s prophets.
President Monson formally extended the call and then gave me instruction for which I will be forever grateful. He told me to go to the care facility and explain the call to Dad as fully and normally as I would to anyone else. I was puzzled, because I did not think Dad would be able to understand. However, the next day I went and did as President Monson had told me.
My mother was also in the room as I told Dad about the call and our visit with President Monson. Dad just sat in his chair with his head slumped to the side, as he did so often. Near the conclusion of my visit, I said to him, “Dad, do you feel good about this?” At that question, he lifted up his head, looked directly at me, and said, “Yes, I do.” It is my testimony that he was blessed, at least for that moment, with the ability to clearly understand and clearly respond. Then he slipped back to his former condition.
What a wonderful experience. For a moment, and for the last time in this life, we had truly communicated. I knew how Dad felt about the call. I was comforted to know that we left on our mission with his blessing.
If I had relied on my own understanding before meeting with my father, I would have assumed that a conversation about my mission call would be fruitless. But the Lord was aware of my wife and me, and because He knew the longing of our hearts, He directed us through one of His prophets. Perhaps this direction also came because the Lord knew of my father’s desire to express, one last time in mortality, his love, faith, and support before his son left for several years on the Lord’s errand.
Less than four months after we left for Japan, my father passed away. His passing left a void in my life that has been eased by my knowledge that he has safely returned to Heavenly Father and that he is well, restored, and engaged in the Lord’s work on the other side. How I look forward to visiting with him again and telling him all that happened during our mission and afterward.
How grateful I am that we have living prophets to lead and guide us today. I have reflected again and again on the blessing of knowing the word of the Lord and then having the power to choose to follow His word. Whether He gives direction on a seemingly small matter, such as the counsel to speak with my father, or whether it is a matter upon which our very salvation may hinge, it is my testimony that the Lord seeks our obedience coupled with our faith. I pray that each of us will choose to be obedient to His word. I testify that He knows our hearts and He knows our needs, and if we will choose to be obedient, He will provide blessings in ways we can hardly imagine.