On a clear winter day I was driving with a friend along the freeway that connects downtown Manhattan, New York, with suburban Westchester County. He pointed out to me several of the historical sights that abound in this area where man has indiscriminately constructed his ribbon of highway through the pathway of history.
Suddenly, like an old friend, there came into view Yankee Stadium. Here it was—the stadium of champions, the home of my boyhood heroes. Indeed, many boys have idolized those who before cheering thousands play superbly well the game of baseball.
Since it was winter, the parking lot surrounding the stadium was deserted. Gone were the crowds, the peanut vendors, the ticket clerks. Still present were the memories of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio. The record of their prowess and skills is forever safe—they have been elected to the prestigious Baseball Hall of Fame.
As with baseball, so with life. In the interior of our consciousness, each of us has a private Hall of Fame reserved exclusively for the real leaders who have influenced the direction of our lives. Relatively few of the many men and women who exercise authority over us from childhood through adult life meet our test for entry to this roll of honor. That test has very little to do with the outward trappings of power or an abundance of this world’s goods. The leaders whom we admit into this private sanctuary of our reflective meditation are usually those who set our hearts afire with devotion to the truth, who make obedience to duty seem the essence of our being, who transform some ordinary, routine occurrence so that it becomes a vista whence we see the person we aspire to be.
For a moment, perhaps each of us could be the qualifying judge before whom each Hall of Fame entry must pass. Whom would you nominate for prominent positions? Whom would I? Candidates are many—competition severe.
I nominate to the Hall of Fame the name of Adam, the first man to live upon the earth. His citation is from Moses: “And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord” (Moses 5:5). Adam qualifies.
For patient endurance, there must be nominated a perfect and upright man whose name was Job. Though afflicted as no other, he declared: “My witness is in heaven, and my record is on high. My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God” (Job 16:19–20). “I know that my redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25). Job qualifies.
Every Christian would nominate the man Saul, better known as Paul the Apostle. His sermons are like manna to the spirit, his life of service an example to all. This fearless missionary declared to the world: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Paul qualifies.
Then there is the man called Simon Peter. His testimony of the Christ stirs the heart. “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:13–16). Peter qualifies.
From another time and place comes the testimony of Nephi: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Ne. 3:7). Surely Nephi is worthy of place in the Hall of Fame.
There is yet another I choose to nominate—even the Prophet Joseph Smith. His faith, his trust, his testimony are reflected by his own words spoken as he went to Carthage Jail and martyrdom: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men” (D&C 135:4). He sealed his testimony with his blood. Joseph Smith qualifies.
In our selection of heroes, let us nominate also heroines. First, that noble example of fidelity—even Ruth. Sensing the grief-stricken heart of her mother-in-law, who had suffered the loss of each of her two fine sons, feeling perhaps the pangs of despair and loneliness that plagued the very soul of Naomi, Ruth uttered what has become that classic statement of loyalty: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth’s actions demonstrated the sincerity of her words. There is place for her name in the Hall of Fame.
Shall we not name yet another, a descendant of honored Ruth? I speak of Mary of Nazareth, espoused to Joseph, destined to become the mother of the only truly perfect man to walk the earth. Her acceptance of this sacred and historic role is a hallmark of humility. “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Surely Mary qualifies.
Could we ask, What makes of these men heroes and these women heroines? I answer: Unwavering trust in an all-wise Heavenly Father and an abiding testimony concerning the mission of a divine Savior. This knowledge is like a golden thread woven through the tapestry of their lives.
His birth was foretold by prophets; angels heralded the announcement of His earthly ministry. To shepherds abiding in their fields came the glorious proclamation: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11).
This same Jesus “grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Baptized of John in the river known as Jordan, He commenced His official ministry to men. To the sophistry of Satan, Jesus turned His back. To the duty designated by His Father, He turned His face, pledged His heart, and gave His life. And what a sinless, selfless, noble, and divine life it was! Jesus labored. Jesus loved. Jesus served. Jesus wept. Jesus healed. Jesus taught. Jesus testified. On a cruel cross, Jesus died. From a borrowed sepulchre, Jesus came forth to eternal life.
The name of Jesus of Nazareth, the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (see Acts 4:12), has singular place and honored distinction in our Hall of Fame.
Some may question, But what is the value of such an illustrious list of heroes and heroines, even a private Hall of Fame? I answer: When we obey as did Adam, endure as did Job, teach as did Paul, testify as did Peter, serve as did Nephi, give of ourselves as did the Prophet Joseph, respond as did Ruth, honor as did Mary, and live as did Christ, we are born anew. All power becomes ours. Cast off forever is the old self, and with it defeat, despair, doubt, and disbelief. To a newness of life we come—a life of faith, hope, courage, and joy. No task looms too large. No responsibility weighs too heavily. No duty is a burden. All things become possible.
In our quest for an example, we need not necessarily look to years gone by or to lives lived long ago. Let me illustrate. Today Craig Sudbury occupies a position of prominence in Salt Lake City, but let me turn back the clock just a few years to the day he and his mother came to my office prior to Craig’s departure for the Australia Melbourne Mission. Fred Sudbury, Craig’s father, was noticeably absent. Twenty-five years earlier, Craig’s mother had married Fred, who did not share her love for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and indeed did not belong to the Church.
Craig confided to me his deep and abiding love for his parents. He shared his innermost hope that somehow, in some way, his father would be touched by the Spirit and open his heart to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He pleaded earnestly with me for a suggestion. I prayed for inspiration concerning how such a desire might be rewarded. Such inspiration came, and I said to Craig, “Serve the Lord with all your heart. Be obedient to your sacred calling. Each week write a letter to your parents, and, on occasion, write to Dad personally and let him know that you love him, and tell him why you’re grateful to be his son.”
He thanked me and, with his mother, departed the office. I was not to see Craig’s mother for eighteen months. She came to the office and, in sentences punctuated by tears, said to me, “It has been almost two years since Craig departed for his mission. His faithful service has qualified him for positions of responsibility in the mission field, and he has never failed in writing a letter to us each week. Recently, my husband, Fred, stood for the first time in a testimony meeting and said, ‘All of you know that I am not a member of the Church, but something has happened to me since Craig left for his mission. His letters have touched my soul. May I share one with you? “Dear Dad, Today we taught a choice family about the plan of salvation and the blessings of exaltation in the celestial kingdom. I thought of our family. More than anything in the world, I want to be with you and Mother in that kingdom. For me it just wouldn’t be a celestial kingdom if you were not there. I’m grateful to be your son, Dad, and want you to know that I love you. Your missionary son, Craig.”’ Fred then announced, ‘My wife doesn’t know what I plan to say. I love her and I love our son, Craig. After twenty-six years of marriage I have made my decision to become a member of the Church, for I know the gospel message is the word of God. I suppose I have known this truth for a long time, but my son’s mission has moved me to action. I have made arrangements for my wife and me to meet Craig when he completes his mission. I will be his final baptism as a full-time missionary of the Lord.’”
A young missionary with unwavering faith had participated with God in a modern-day miracle. His challenge to communicate with one whom he loved had been made more difficult by the barrier of the thousands of kilometers that lay between him and his father. But the spirit of love spanned the vast expanse of the blue Pacific, and heart spoke to heart in divine dialogue.
No hero stood so tall as did Craig when, in Australia, he stood with his father in water waist deep and, raising his right arm to the square, repeated those sacred words: “Fred Sudbury, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
The prayer of a mother, the faith of a father, the service of a son brought forth the miracle of God. Mother, father, son—each qualifies in a Hall of Fame.
Ringing true is the heavenly pronouncement: “I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory” (D&C 76:5–6).
As we so live, our own entry in a true and everlasting Hall of Fame will be assured.
People who influence the direction we take in life are—
those who set our hearts afire with devotion to truth;
those who make obedience to duty the essence of our being;
those who transform a routine occurrence into something in which we see our aspirations.
The scriptures contain accounts of many people who can be our heroes and heroines, including Adam, Job, Paul, Peter, Nephi, Joseph Smith, Ruth, Mary, and many more.
Yet these people faithfully served one who is an even greater hero—Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer.
Unwavering trust in an all-wise Heavenly Father and an abiding testimony of Jesus Christ can greatly influence our lives.