My brethren, this is an awesome occasion for me, and I need your support and the Spirit of my Heavenly Father. As Brother Fyans was describing the length of the materials going around the world, I thought back to an English literature text I had in high school that was about that long and deep.
I am so honored to be here on this wonderful occasion, to sit at the feet of a prophet of the Lord, to hear his counsel and direction, and to feel his spirit. I was particularly impressed with a number of the younger priesthood bearers in the audience who were taking notes, listening to a prophet. I would hope that you young priesthood bearers tonight have the sensitivity to go home and record what has happened in your life on this wonderful occasion. Think how many people in the world would be so honored, to sit in a special meeting with prophets, seers, and revelators.
I salute you fathers who have brought your sons to this meeting, and to others in buildings throughout the country. You young priesthood bearers might as well learn early that your dads and moms will never let you go. This was brought very vividly to my attention several conferences ago when one of the sessions in which I was a speaker was televised to California. My mother resides there.
When I got back to the office after the session was over, there was a note to “call your mother.” And so I did, and I thought, “Well, she is calling to congratulate her son.” When I reached her on the phone I asked, “Mom, how are you?”
She said, “Paul, I just saw you on TV. Young man, you are not getting enough sleep. You look terrible.” Thank God for parents who care and who never let go!
I am grateful for you priesthood leaders, you wonderful bishops and counselors, stake presidencies, others who have precious priesthood assignments. I think of many bishops and other leaders in my life as I look out over this great audience.
Not long ago I had an opportunity to speak in Portland, Oregon. Lo and behold, in the audience was my former bishop, Raymond Kirkham. He was my bishop when I was an Aaronic Priesthood boy. I had the courage to call on him—and you know that can be risky, to call on a bishop who remembers you when you were a boy. I reminded him as he took the pulpit, “Remember, I am the last speaker.”
He got bold and told those young people of some interesting experiences involving my youth. He said, “I knew this young man was destined for a position of leadership. He is the only deacon I ever had who, after passing the sacrament, could crawl under a bench and get out the back door before I recognized he was gone.” He said, “I knew he was going all the way, because he took the whole quorum with him.”
Now you young priesthood bearers, I have repented; and I am grateful for bishops who stood at the back door and redirected my paths.
I have been impressed here tonight with a number of things. I have reflected upon the great talks of this conference, wonderful sermons, good counsel and advice. Tonight I would like to summarize my feelings, directed to you, the Aaronic Priesthood, for what value it might have in your lives.
I think if I could give a whole sermon in just six words it would be these: Socrates said many years ago, “Know thyself,” Cicero said, “Control thyself,” and the Savior said, “Give thyself.” Now will you write that down, young brethren; contemplate the meaning while I just share a thought concerning each one.
To know thyself is to come to know that you and I as priesthood bearers are literally the offspring of Deity; and that means, young men, that you and I were born to succeed; that in the preexistence you and I earned a right by our faithfulness and by our commitment to worthy principles to come into mortality in order that we might learn through the priesthood how to become like our Father.
That means, if I understand the gospel correctly, that there isn’t one single failure among us. The word can’t is false doctrine in the Mormon Church. When a young man says to me, “I can’t do it,” I become concerned because in a sense he is saying, “I don’t understand the gospel.” He may not be motivated; he may have discouragements; there may be barriers in his life; but you can succeed.
I promise you young priesthood bearers that if you really come to know who you are through the scriptures and through the revealed doctrine of this church, you can accomplish anything you want in this life.
I don’t mean to suggest by this that you won’t stumble a time or two. That is a part of the growing process. The lives of many great men will testify to you that ofttimes they have many failures, and there is no disgrace in falling down; the disgrace is lying there. To get up one more time than you fall is to be a winner. To stay down is to be a loser.
I think of that great immortal athlete, Babe Ruth, when I talk about the principle of success and particularly failure. Let me just share a little experience from his life.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1927, and 35,000 wildly excited baseball fans packed Shibe Park. They were giving Babe Ruth the “razzberry”—and good! Lefty (Bob) Grove, one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all time, had just struck out Babe Ruth on three consecutive pitched balls for the second successive time. Two runners were stranded on the bases.
As the great slugger returned to the bench, amidst wild and abusive jeering, he looked up into the stands with an unruffled smile, just as he did the first time, gave his cap a polite little tip from his perspiring brow, stepped down into the dugout, and calmly took a drink of water.
In the eighth inning, when he came up for his third time at bat, the situation was critical. The Athletics were leading the Yankees, 3–1. The bases were full and two were out. As Babe selected his favorite bat and started toward the plate, the crowd rose in a body, as if by signal. The excitement was tremendous!
“Strike ‘im out again!” pleaded the fans to Grove. Strutting around the pitcher’s box, it was easy to see that the big southpaw believed he was just going to do that.
As the mighty batter took his position, the crowd became hysterical. There was a pause. Mickey Cochrane, the A’s great catcher, crouched to give the signal. Grove threw one with lightning speed. Ruth swung; it was a foul tip. “Str—ike one!” roared the umpire. Again the signal, and the pitch was too fast to follow. Again, Babe took that magnificent swing—and missed. “Stri—i-i-ke two!” was the call.
Ruth staggered and went down. He had literally swung himself off his feet. There was a cloud of dust as the big fellow sprawled on the ground. The crowd was going mad. Finally, regaining his feet, the “Bambino” brushed the dust off his trousers, dried his hands, and got set for the next pitch. Grove delivered the ball so fast not a single fan could see it. Babe swung—but this time he connected! It was only a split second before everybody seemed to realize what had happened. That ball was never coming back.
It disappeared over the scoreboard and cleared the houses across the street —one of the longest hits ever recorded.
As Babe Ruth trotted around the bases and across the plate behind the other runners—with what proved to be the winning run—he received a wild ovation from the crowd.
Ruth doffed his cap with that little smile, and the expression on his face was exactly like the one he wore on his first two trips, when he had gone down swinging.
Later in the season, after the Yanks clinched the American League pennant, Grantland Rice, interviewing the Babe, asked, “What do you do when you get in a batting slump?”
Babe replied: “I just keep goin’ up there and keep swingin’. I know the old law of averages will hold good for me the same as it does for anybody else, if I keep havin’ my healthy swings. If I strike out two or three times in a game, or fail to get a hit for a week, why should I worry? Let the pitchers worry; they’re the guys who’re gonna have to pay for it later on.”
This unshakable faith in making the law of averages work for him enabled Babe Ruth to accept his bad breaks and failures with a smile. This simple philosophy had much to do with making him baseball’s greatest slugger. His attitude of taking both good and bad in stride made him one of the game’s greatest heroes.
Why is it, when we read about great athletes or men in other professions, we are seldom told about their failures? For example, we now read of the amazing record of the immortal Babe Ruth, with his total of 714 home runs; but another unapproached world’s record of his is carefully buried, and that is that he struck out more times than any other player in history—1,330 times!
One thousand three hundred and thirty times he suffered the humiliation of walking back to the bench amidst jeers and ridicule. But he never allowed fear or discouragement or failure to keep him down.
Someone has said that success consists not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall. Get up one more time than you go down, young people, and you will win. Stay down, and you lose.
My father used to say, “Paul, there are dozens of rules for success, but none of them work unless you do.”
Cicero said, “Control thyself.” I had the opportunity in World War II to bat against the immortal Bob Feller in a servicemen’s game. If you ever want a lesson in humility, bat against Feller. Bob Feller had a unique distinction as a sixteen-year-old boy. He could take a 9 1/2-inch, 5-ounce baseball and throw it from 60 feet 6 inches, 105 miles an hour.
Now that may not impress you, but you go to bat and you’re very impressed. To those of you who may not understand that velocity, a 9-inch baseball is the size of an aspirin tablet at 60 feet 6 inches, at 100 miles per hour. I submit to you, it makes a difference which side of the plate he throws it.
Bob Feller at age sixteen had a problem. He lacked control. He was a great athlete. He had tremendous capacity. He was born to succeed. He knew himself, but he hadn’t disciplined his great talent of speed, so that it was questionable as to whether he would stick in the majors.
But Bob Feller became the great athlete he was because he listened to wise counsel. He had great coaches, and one of them took him aside one day and said, “Bob, it really doesn’t matter whether you throw 105 miles an hour or 95. If you will take a little speed off your pitch and put the ball where it belongs, you will succeed!”
We call that control in baseball, and you little leaguers know how important control is to a pitcher. Bob listened and became the strike-out artist of his era.
You don’t know Jim Rusick, I think, unless you are related to him. I played ball with Jim. Jim Rusick was a sixteen-year-old boy on the Hollywood High School baseball team. He could throw a 9 1/2-inch baseball 105 miles an hour, but he wouldn’t listen to counsel. He didn’t learn to control the talent that he had, and Jim has never been heard of since.
It’s one thing to be born with ability to succeed; it’s another thing to harness it and to control it.
My young brethren, this is the purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to control that which we have been born with. That is the purpose of the Church and its programs. We need to learn how to control that which God has given us.
Finally, the Savior said, Take all that I have given you, harness it, discipline it, and then give it to the world. Give thyself.
Let me just conclude with a little experience I had recently in New England.
I think one of the greatest thrills that a mission president experiences is to receive a new missionary. I received notice from the First Presidency that eight young men were to be assigned to New England. Shortly they arrived. This was a great treat for Jeanne and me, as we greeted these new missionaries in the mission home. One by one, as they came in, we tried to set them at ease.
The first one was a brilliant-looking boy. I won’t describe him, but I thought, “Thank heaven he is here.” The second was just like him, and the third and the fourth. Now this, I thought, will put our mission on top.
Then I got down to number seven, and I don’t mind telling you some of the concerns of my heart. I thought, This will be a challenge. I couldn’t believe it; and unlike the counsel that President Tanner gave us not to judge our neighbors, here I was judging him. I thought, This kid just doesn’t have the image.
My wife gave me a glance, and her look said, “Good luck for the next two years.”
Let me just describe him to you. He was wearing a shirt that was size 17; his neck was an 11. I could have pulled out his collar and put another elder in it. He had on a coat that he inherited from his dad, and you couldn’t see his hands. He had a trench coat that he got from an uncle from World War I, and he had a haircut that was an Idaho original.
The New England Mission contains six of the United States and four provinces of Canada, including Labrador. As my wife and I lay in bed that night, she said, “What are you going to do with him?”
I said, “It’s time to open up Labrador.” I thought I had to protect the Church’s image from this interesting-looking elder.
Well, that morning before I made my assignments, I knelt in prayer—thank the Lord for prayer—and I asked the Lord what I should do now; and the Spirit whispered, “Keep him in Cambridge.”
And I said, “Spirit, I won’t.” I said, “I am the president of this mission.”
And the Spirit seemed to respond with the counsel, “Yes, but you will keep him in Cambridge.”
Cambridge is a very sophisticated area, with all of those universities and art centers. Well, I kept him. When I went down to breakfast, my two assistants were sitting there; and they said, “What are you going to do with him?”
I said, “We are going to keep him in Cambridge.”
And they said, “President, you are kidding.”
I said, “I have been seeking guidance all night, and we will keep him in Cambridge.”
Two days later I got a call from a distinguished professor. I haven’t time to give you the details. He said, “Paul, Friday night may I be baptized?”
I questioned him a bit. He had been through several score of missionaries the past nine years. I said, “What happened?”
He said, “This little fellow you sent me.” (He was referring to my new elder.) And then he described the experience.
He said, “No sooner had he and his companion entered the office and shook my hand when he asked, ‘Would you mind if we had a word of prayer?’” (This was a meeting over in his school office.) The professor said, “Not if it will do you any good.” Then he remarked, “Before I could get back to my desk, this little fellow fell on his knees and started to talk to the Lord.” And he said, “Paul, I looked up three times to see if the Lord was standing there.” He said, “I don’t know what happened to me; you describe it, but I had the most wonderful feeling come over me, and I now know what the Spirit is. I want to be baptized.”
We baptized him, and he is doing a fine work for the Church and is a great asset on campus. It was all accomplished because this young elder from Idaho, whom I had misjudged, guided by the Spirit, gave himself to the Lord.
And I learned as President Tanner has taught us. Don’t judge! “Within the oyster shell uncouth, the purest pearl may hide, but oft you’ll find a heart of truth within a rough outside.”
The Lord bless us, young brethren, to remember who we are, to control ourselves, and to give it to the Lord, to which I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.