All of us desire to be happy. The Prophet Joseph Smith captured our true feelings when he declared: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”1 Perhaps it would be profitable for us to review these enumerated paths to make certain our footsteps are faithfully and firmly planted upon them, that the promised goal may be our reward.
First, the path of virtue. The dictionary proffers the definition of virtue as “conformity to a standard of right: … a particular moral excellence,” the beneficial qualities of “strength or courage”—even “valor.”
Years ago the Church brought help to young men and young women with a program featuring posters and wallet-size cards which contained specific messages of truth and encouragement. The series carried the heading “Be Honest with Yourself!” One message featured was the provocative and penetrating truth “Virtue is its own reward.”
“Learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.”2
Temptation is a part of life and will be experienced in one way or another by every traveler through mortality. However, the Apostle Paul, acknowledging this truth, gave us this assurance: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”3
It has been said that conscience warns us as a friend before it punishes us as a judge. The expression of one young man is a sermon in itself. When asked when he was happiest, he replied, “I’m happiest when I don’t have a guilty conscience.”
Second, the path of uprightness. For my definition of this path, I turn to the first verse of the first chapter of the book of Job, which reads: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” [Job 1:1]
Job’s life was not serene. Beset by problems, bereft of his possessions, grief-filled by the loss of his family, and tortured with pain, he rejected the invitation to “curse God.” Rather, from the depths of his noble soul came the magnificent declaration of testimony: “I know that my redeemer liveth.”4
Dr. Karl Menninger, the brilliant scientist who founded and developed the world-renowned psychiatric center in Topeka, Kansas, stated that the only way our suffering, struggling, anxious society can hope to prevent its moral ills is by recognizing the reality of sin. That’s the theme of his famed publication, Whatever Became of Sin? It is a plea to mankind to stop and look at what we are doing to ourselves, to each other, and to our universe. Dr. Menninger referred to Socrates, who wondered, “How is it that men know what is good, but do what is bad?” Said Dr. Menninger:
“I have come to the conclusion that the ‘Everyone is doing it’ morality which characterizes our public-business world is crippling people. We must believe in our personal responsibility to correct our individual transgressions—the white lies, the petty cheating, the apathy, which characterize our passive existence.” He further stressed, “If the concept of personal responsibility and answerability for ourselves and for others were to return to common acceptance and man once again would feel guilt for sins and repent and establish a conscience that would act as a deterrent for further sin, then hope would return to the world.”5
Let me share with you a lesson learned in childhood. Our family has owned a summer cabin at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon for five generations. The months of July and August for me meant hiking; fishing; and swimming daily at the swimming hole, featuring a big rock from which we dived, and maneuvering through the swift current which roared by it and formed dangerous whirlpools. Most swimmers would plunge into the icy waters and swim with the current, rapidly passing the big rock, and be eventually carried to the slower waters and the welcome bank of river sand. That is, all but one swimmer. His name was “Beef” Peterson. His swimsuit carried the emblem of “Life Saver,” and his physical body reflected great strength. Beef would, like others, swim rapidly down the current through the whirlpools, then suddenly turn and swim back upstream. For a few feet, his mighty strokes carried him forward, but then the swiftness of the current held him steady as he pitted his strength against that of the river. Gradually Beef would tire, drop back, and then swim effortlessly to the bank, exhausted. Swimming against the current became Beef Peterson’s trademark.
My brothers and sisters, I’m certain our duty and responsibility is frequently to swim upstream and against the tide of temptation and sin. As we do so, our spiritual strength will increase, and we shall be equal to our God-given responsibilities.
A paradigm of truth is found on the wall of a favorite ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. One reads it just as he boards the boat to undertake a breathtaking, hair-raising plunge. Uncle Remus is speaking: “You can’t run away from trouble. There ain’t no place that far.”
Third, the path of faithfulness. This path connotes allegiance, loyalty, and adherence to promises. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sacred covenants are to be revered by us, and faithfulness to them is a requirement for happiness. Yes, I speak of the covenant of baptism, the covenant of the priesthood, and the covenant of marriage as examples.
There is no resting place along the path called faithfulness. The trek is constant, and no lingering is allowed. It must not be expected that the road of life spreads itself in an unobstructed view before the person starting his journey. He must anticipate coming upon forks and turnings in the road. But he cannot hope to reach his desired journey’s end if he thinks aimlessly about whether to go east or west. He must make decisions purposefully.
As Lewis Carroll tells us, Alice was following a path through a forest in Wonderland when it divided in two directions. Standing irresolute, she inquired of the Cheshire Cat, which had suddenly appeared in a nearby tree, which path she should take.
“Where do you want to go?” asked the cat.
“I don’t know,” said Alice.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”6 We know where we want to go! Do we have the resolution, even the faithfulness, to get there? President N. Eldon Tanner answered this question in his own mind when he declared: “I would rather walk barefoot from here to the celestial kingdom … than to let the things of this world keep me out.”7
A favorite poem of mine gives to each of us the challenge:
Stick to your task ’til it sticks to you;
Beginners are many, but enders are few.
Honor, power, place and praise
Will come, in time, to the one who stays.
Stick to your task ’til it sticks to you;
Bend at it sweat at it, smile at it too;
For out of the bend and the sweat and the smile
Will come life’s victories after awhile.8
Let us remember the advice from Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,”9 but to those who “endure unto the end.”10 The Apostle Paul further counseled: “They which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize. … So run, that ye may obtain.”11
In the private sanctuary of one’s own conscience lies that spirit, that determination, to cast off the old person and to measure up to the stature of true potential. But the way is rugged and the course is strenuous. So discovered John Helander from Göteborg, Sweden. John is 26 years of age and is handicapped, in that it is difficult for him to coordinate his motions.
At a youth conference in Kungsbacka, Sweden, John took part in an 800-meter running race. He had no chance to win. Rather, his was the opportunity to be humiliated, mocked, derided, scorned. Perhaps John remembered another who lived long ago and far away. Wasn’t He mocked? Wasn’t He derided? Wasn’t He scorned? But He prevailed. He won His race. Maybe John could win his.
What a race it was! Struggling, surging, pressing, the runners bolted far beyond John. There was wonderment among the spectators. Who is this runner who lags so far behind? The participants on their second lap of this two-lap race passed John while he was but halfway through the first lap. Tension mounted as the runners pressed toward the tape. Who would win? Who would place second? Then came the final burst of speed; the tape was broken. The crowd cheered; the winner was proclaimed.
The race was over—or was it? Who is this contestant who continues to run when the race is ended? He crosses the finish line on but his first lap. Doesn’t the foolish lad know he has lost? Ever onward he struggles, the only participant now on the track. This is his race. This must be his victory. No one among the vast throng of spectators leaves. Every eye is on this valiant runner. He makes the final turn and moves toward the finish line. There is awe; there is admiration. Every spectator sees himself running his own race of life.
As John approaches the finish line, the audience, as one, rises to its feet. There is a loud applause of acclaim. Stumbling, falling, exhausted but victorious, John Helander breaks the newly tightened tape. Officials are human beings, too. The cheering echoes for miles. And just maybe, if the ear is carefully attuned, that Great Scorekeeper—even the Lord—can be heard to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Each of us is a runner in the race of life. Comforting is the fact that there are many runners. Reassuring is the knowledge that our Eternal Scorekeeper is understanding. Challenging is the truth that each must run. But you and I do not run alone. That vast audience of family, friends, and leaders will cheer our courage, will applaud our determination as we rise from our stumblings and pursue our goal. The race of life is not for sprinters running on a level track. The course is marked by pitfalls and checkered with obstacles. We take confidence from the hymn:
Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, …
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand. …
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, …
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!12
Let us shed any thought of failure. Let us discard any habit that may hinder. Let us seek; let us obtain the prize prepared for all, even exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God.
Fourth, the path of holiness. Norman Cousins wrote, “No man need fear death; he need fear only that he may die without having known his greatest power—the power of his free will to give of his life to others. If something comes to life in others because of you, then you have made an approach to immortality.”
He who conquered death and atoned for the sins of the world, even Jesus Christ, invited each of us to follow His divine example. “Follow me” became His kind instruction. “Come, learn of me” was His personal invitation to the learning that lasts beyond life and which endures through eternity.
“The end of education,” wrote John Sloan Dickey, “is to see men made whole, both in competence and in conscience. For to create the power of competence without creating a corresponding direction to guide the use of that power is bad education. Furthermore, competence will finally disintegrate apart from conscience.”
How are we to gain that determination and steadfastness, even the insight, to see clearly the path Jesus would have us walk and not be deterred by the things of the world or the designs of the evil one? In an interview with Albert Speer, Hitler’s personal architect and minister for armaments, Herr Speer was asked, “If you knew of Adolph Hitler’s evil nature, why did you serve him as his architect?”
Speer replied, “It is difficult to recognize Satan when he has his hand on your shoulder.”
President N. Eldon Tanner, when he was president of the Edmonton Alberta Branch of the Church, shared some homespun and practical advice with the many young men and young women who came to Edmonton to attend university. He gave much of himself, and he expected much in return from the youth. He would call students into his office and talk about the purposes of education and the goals of the Church. He would make a promise to the students: “You want very much to pass your courses, don’t you? I will promise you something. If you will work hard on your studies during the week, live the principles of the gospel, and attend to your Church duties on Sunday, I will promise you that you will graduate from university. And what is more important, I will promise you that you will be a better and a happier person than if you don’t attend church.” Many students bear humble and grateful testimony that President Tanner’s promise has been literally and completely fulfilled.
A ring of holiness and an expression of parental love is found in a tender letter which Elder John H. Groberg wrote to his children: “I hope we can all be more grateful for what we have and be willing to share even more with others. There are so many who need so much—especially the truths of the gospel, which when lived bring first light, then love, then hope, then action, and finally fulfillment of our fondest dreams and more.”
Several years ago while attending a priesthood leadership session of the Zurich-Munich Region, I witnessed the application of the very counsel Elder Groberg was directing to his children in the letter he sent to them. Regional representative, now temple president, Johann Wondra arose and spoke to the audience. He invited Brother Kuno Müeller, who was seated near the front of the building, to stand. Brother Wondra then told the congregation: “Here is the missionary who brought the gospel and all that it means to my wife and me. Without him, where would I be?” He then turned to Brother Müeller as though he were the only one present, and said: “Brother Müeller, I love you. My family and I think of you every day.” Both Brother Wondra and Brother Müeller were weeping. In fact, we all had moist eyes that reflected touched hearts and tender souls.
Fifth—this path is comprehensive—keep all the commandments of God. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”13 There is no need for any of us to walk alone. We can look up and reach out for divine help. “The recognition of power higher than man himself does not in any sense debase him. If in his faith he ascribes beneficence and high purpose to the power which is superior to himself, he envisions a higher destiny and nobler attributes for his kind and is stimulated and encouraged in the struggle of existence. … He must seek—believing, praying, and hoping that he will find. No such sincere, prayerful effort will go unrequited—that is the very constitution of the philosophy of faith.”14 So taught President Stephen L Richards.
A line from the delightful play The King and I gives us encouragement in our quest. The King of Siam lay dying. Anna’s son asks her the question, “Was he as good … as he could have been?”
Anna answers wistfully, “I don’t think any man has ever been as good … as he could have been—but this one tried.”15
I return to the Prophet Joseph’s words: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” Let us walk these clearly defined paths. To help us do so, we can follow the shortest sermon in the world. It is found on a common traffic sign. It says, “Keep right.”
This advice was found and followed by Joe, who had been asked to get up at 6:00 in the morning and drive a crippled child 50 miles to the hospital. He didn’t want to do it, but he didn’t know how to say no. A woman carried the child out to the car and set him next to the driver’s seat, mumbling thanks through her tears. Joe said everything would be all right and drove off quickly.
After a mile or so, the child inquired shyly, “You’re God, aren’t you?”
“I’m afraid not, little fellow,” replied Joe.
“I thought you must be God,” said the child. “I heard Mother praying next to my bed and asking God to help me get to the hospital so I could get well and play with the other boys. Do you work for God?”
“Sometimes, I guess,” said Joe, “but not regularly. I think I’m going to work for him a lot more from now on.”
My brothers and sisters, will you? Will I? Will we? I pray humbly, yet earnestly, that we will.
Happiness is the reason for our existence.
The path that leads to happiness is—
keeping all the commandments of God.