These past few months I have had one of the most glorious opportunities for service in the Church, that of being a mission president. This experience has led me to my subject matter—“Self-Denial.”
The Savior said, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that losesth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 10:39. Italics added.) During his visit to the inhabitants of this continent, he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (3 Ne. 12:3. Italics added.) Also, in the last days he has declared, “I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing. Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above.” (D&C 58:32–33.)
Self-denial is one of the grand and great character traits visible in the best men I know. It is a trait that many young men have acquired. Some years back the swimming team at Yale University was breaking many world records. Someone asked the coach how they were doing it. He said, “I have taught them to break the pain barrier.”
An elder in our mission has had some pretty serious health problems. He has a skin allergy, bronchial problems, and sinus problems. When I arrived in the mission, he was sleeping in for fear of coming to a weakened condition and catching the flu. Then when he came in for lunch, he was sleeping for a couple of hours to keep from catching a cold or the flu. His companion was frustrated and called me.
I called the elder’s doctor. He said, “Well, his condition is bad, but it’s better than it was when he came into the mission field. It’s not going to change much no matter how many hours he works.” I called the elder into the office and suggested that I would rather see him sick with the flu legitimately than always worrying about it. I discussed with him the principle of suffering in silence, of simply going to work and doing what the Lord had called him to do. I said, “The doctor says your condition isn’t going to change no matter how much or how little you do. We’ve done and are doing all we can do. Why don’t you learn to bear your health problems without mentioning them to anyone else or showing any signs of being ill.”
Bless his great heart, he took the counsel and put it into practice. He has become one of the top missionaries in the mission. He was made a training senior companion and then a district leader, all within about six weeks. What a great missionary he is now. He discovered how to suffer in silence and do the work. He is a great example of self-denial.
Another missionary had a bad back. He was in pain constantly. He did not know that I knew of his condition. He loved missionary work so much he had kept it a secret for fear that he might be released from his mission. Another great elder had ruined both knees in sports competition. He asked for a blessing from the previous mission president and was unable to endure another full year. Every step he took he was in pain. When I interviewed him to be released, he pleaded with me to let him stay two more years in the mission.
The mission life is not easy. It requires self-denial, mental and physical exertion, maturity, self-mastery, spirituality, and a very strong, positive mental attitude. It requires an elder to be a man, not a boy. A mission should be a Spartan life. It will require resiliency and total commitment.
To you my young friends who are preparing for missions, remember, it is not one of the most glorious experiences of life because it is easy. The rewards do not come from the glamour of the call nor from the personal attention and accolades that members extend to you after you receive the call. Missions are not rewarding because of assignments to exotic places. It is not a time when growth automatically takes place. A young elder whose girl friend or parents have persuaded him to go on a mission against his will or have offered some reward to him when he finishes his mission have done the elder a great disservice.
We do not need to hold our rewards or promises to an elder. Such things are hollow.
Fulfillment will come to the missionary who is willing to practice self-denial. The reward will come from Him in whose service we have been enlisted. No other reward or compensation can compare to the wage received from the Lord of the vineyard.
Self-denial may take it’s form in many different ways. It may be delaying an education or marriage. It usually requires a commitment to study the scriptures and discussions rather than enjoying TV and the movies. It requires saving your money for a mission instead of spending it on personal gratification.
Self-indulgence is as addictive in all its forms as are drugs, nicotine, or alcohol. Reading pornography is addictive. To cease reading such material requires great self-control and the suffering of withdrawal symptoms as great as those caused by giving up smoking or drinking. Gambling, watching television to excess, overeating, over-sleeping, uncontrolled thinking, lusting, swearing, telling dirty or lewd stories, dressing immodestly, lying, cheating, playing cards—all are addictive. If you don’t agree, try to change. You will have strong withdrawal pains. Conversely, the life of self-denial builds strength of character, integrity, health, self-control, confidence, and self-respect.
This generation of youth in the Church is exposed to the two great extremes. The world polarized people into two groups. The poles are oceans apart. Our youth are not seeking the easy life. It isn’t the glamour or exotic places that convinces our young men to go on missions. It is the life of service to fellowmen, the desire to become increasingly spiritual, the quest for purity of heart. It is engaging in the cause of the Master—the desire to be involved in a cause that demands total soul and mind commitment.
We have a sweet young woman who is a convert to the Church. Her father is a Baptist minister. I spoke to a group of young adults and counseled them regarding temple marriage as President Kimball has asked that we do. Later in a testimony meeting, she said, “I am a convert to the Church. My father is a Baptist minister. It just about broke his heart when I joined the Mormon Church. The only hope to which he could cling to salvage his ‘wayward’ daughter was to perform the wedding ceremony when I get married. Not only will he not be able to perform the ceremony, but he will not even be able to see me married. I love him and mother dearly, but I must follow the prophet’s counsel to be married in the temple.”
Many thousands of people listen to the missionaries and believe the Church is true. Some confess they have a testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. However, when they consider the many supposed pleasures of life that they will have to deny themselves, they ask the missionaries not to return.
Many cannot deny themselves the physical gratification of a cigarette, a glass of liquor, or the other vices. And so in one moment, which they will never forget in eternity, they dash to pieces an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and become joint heirs with him in the kingdom of our Father.
A short time ago, early on a Saturday morning, I went to the airport to bid farewell to Elders Gibson and Cornet. Brother Jackson also came to the airport that day to see Elder Gibson. Just before Elder Gibson was ready to board the plane, Brother Jackson shook hands with him, his eyes moist, and said, “Remember the day you were rowdy and I told you to leave my Sunday School class and never come back?” Elder Gibson quietly said, “Yes.” Brother Jackson said, “Thank God you came back.”
I received a letter from Elder Mortenson who served in Buenos Aires, Argentina:
“Six months before I left my mission you spoke at our mission conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I felt the Spirit resting upon me so strongly that afterwards I was urged by the Spirit to seek a promise from you. I struggled forward and said to you, Can you look me in the eye and promise me that I can baptize those 10 people?’ I don’t even know if those were my exact words, but those words express the desire I had then. You see, I had not baptized a single soul, and my mission was soon to be over. You looked me in the eye and promised with a voice of certainty that should I be faithful to the utmost and work with all my heart, might, mind, and strength, ‘you will baptize 10 people.’ In my heart I knew you could not be lying, and I knew that I had received the promise that I sought.
“I worked with all my heart and with all my might and mind and strength, and my mission ended two years of faithful endeavor. The Lord did bless me, and the promise was fulfilled. For nearly two years I had baptized no one. The last Saturday of my mission, my companion and I entered the waters and opened the doors of God’s kingdom for 15 beautiful and repentant children of our Father in heaven.”
The promise by me was an easy thing and could have been made by any priesthood leader. Elder Mortenson caught the vision of total selfless service and self-denial, and he achieved his goal.
“Leaders need to submit themselves to a stricter discipline than is expected of others. Those who are first in place must be first in merit.” (Author Unknown.)
Clarence Sharer said, “The real qualities of leadership are found in those who are willing to sacrifice for the sake of objectives great enough to demand their whole-hearted allegiance. Simply holding a position of leadership does not make a man a leader … If you would be a real leader you must endure loneliness … If you would be a real leader you must endure weariness. Leadership requires vision.”
There is a legend at Harvard University that the late LeBaron Russell Briggs, long the beloved dean of the college, once asked a student why he had failed to complete an assignment.
“I wasn’t feeling very well, sir,” said the student.
“Mr. Smith,” said the dean, “I think in time you may perhaps find that most of the work in the world is done by people who aren’t feeling very well.”
One who has truly involved the principles of self-denial in his or her life finds that it brings greater joy and satisfaction than the accumulation of a fortune.
Through my life I have had all kinds of experiences, but always when I practice self-denial, I feel a strength surge through my being and feel a closeness to Heavenly Father. I have a warm feeling. I know self-denial is a true principle.