Hold to the Rod

By Elder F. Burton Howard

Of the First Quorum of the Seventy

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    One hot summer day our family decided that the best way to enjoy the afternoon would be to go to the mountains. For a long time our list of things to do together had included a trip to a nearby cave. After we had gotten our hiking gear together, we packed a lunch.

    We set out on our journey with anticipation and soon found ourselves in the refreshing coolness of the mountains. At the cave we were greeted by a park ranger, who became our guide. He told us that originally there were three caves, discovered separately, but that now the caves were joined together by man-made passageways. We noticed that there were many levels of interesting rock formations, some of which remained unexplored. Pointing to a slight opening at the side of the trail, the ranger commented that there were two unpenetrated caverns below the path on which we stood. He said, “We hope to explore both of these some day, but as yet we haven’t found a satisfactory way to get in and out of those lower caves.”

    Ducking our heads to avoid contact with sharp-edged roks, we walked along a narrow, slippery path with the unknown leading off in every direction. In order to keep our balance, it was often necessary for us to grip an iron pipe attached to the cave wall alongside the trail.

    I had stayed behind the group to take some pictures with my camera, when suddenly the electric lights in the cave went out. Whether this was part of a demonstration to a group ahead of us or an unexpected power failure, I don’t know. Far ahead of me our guide raised his voice and it echoed back along the narrow passage. “Be calm, everyone; I’m sure the lights will come on momentarily. Everybody please stay on the trail and hold onto the railing.” His flashlight made only a tiny spark of yellow in the distance.

    I had a strong mental image of the many jagged holes and side passages breaking off and down from the place where we stood. A person could get lost in one of these and never be seen again, I worried. To relax, I leaned against the slanted wall of rock. Feeling along the wall with my fingers, I found the iron railing. With the park ranger ahead and by holding onto the railing, we should be able to get out of here, I decided even if the power isn’t restored.

    An excited murmur of voices rose from the group ahead of me, but it soon subsided. We all seemed to sense that as long as we stayed on the trail and followed the advice of the guide, who had been over the path before, there would be no danger. There was no fear because we could hear his voice and feel the railing firmly fixed to the rocky wall of the cave.

    After a few minutes the lights came on and we were able to continue our tour and view the wondrous beauty of the cave. But what would have happened if someone had abandoned the trail or let go of the railing? What if anyone had tried to get out by himself by feeling his way along the cave floor in the dark? What chance would any of us have had of getting out without the railing or without the ranger?

    Sometimes in our lives the way becomes dark. Perhaps our friends want us to do something we don’t think we should. Maybe a loved one dies or something else happens to make us feel discouraged or sad or lonely. But we don’t ever have to feel confused or afraid of the dark, because our guide, the Savior, has been through the darkness too. He knows how we feel and knows the path we must take to find our way out. He has given us the gospel, an iron rod or railing, to help us keep on the proper road. And His pathway will do far more than lead us out of the cave—it will lead us back to our Heavenly Father.

    There have been many other exciting and memorable family outings, and each one has taught lessons of love, understanding, and cooperation. But on that long-ago day when I held tightly to a damp iron railing in a dark cave, I learned a lesson in faith that I have never forgotten.