“Why not just a little?” That was the question David asked after his early-morning seminary teacher finished an entire lesson about protecting yourself from sin by keeping your covenants.
“I’m not talking about doing anything big,” David continued. “I just want to know why I can’t have a sip of beer—just to taste it and know what it is like. Why not just one cigarette or one night with a girl so my friends will stop bugging me?”
Before the teacher could even start giving the usual answers, David outguessed him and blurted, “And don’t tell me that alcohol kills your brain cells and that cigarettes cause cancer. Don’t tell me about AIDS.” He didn’t want to hear the “scare” stories. David continued, “I know men who used to drink and smoke, and they’re bishops now.”
It was true. David knew many people who had repented and been forgiven of their sins. “So,” he looked directly at his teacher and repeated his original question, “why not just a little?”
By now nearly every young person in the room was nodding and saying, “Yeah, why not?” The seminary teacher knew he had to say something—quickly. He swallowed hard, said a silent prayer, and offered, “None of us is perfect. We all sin and have need to repent—we know that. But try looking at it like this: Isn’t the Holy Ghost a member of the Godhead?”
“Yes,” David answered, “but what does that have to do with anything?”
The room was quiet. Despite already sitting through one lesson that day, David and his friends were listening to their teacher: “The immediate consequence of sin is withdrawal of the Spirit. So one cigarette may not be enough to give you cancer, but it is enough to alienate you from the Spirit. One can of beer may not make you an alcoholic and leave you homeless, but it is enough to leave you without the Spirit. The same would be true for a premarital sexual experience.”
Most of the class was agreeing with their teacher now, but David still wasn’t completely convinced. He said, “So the Spirit leaves. So what?”
Class was over. The students needed to go to school. “Let’s pick this discussion up tomorrow,” the teacher said, and they did. Over the next few days the class studied the fruits of the Spirit. What David had not considered was that when we lose the Spirit we automatically lose some other things as well.
While serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder David O. McKay (1873–1970) compared our walk through life to the walk of a small child and his father through a busy and frightening city. As long as the child holds his father’s hand, he is safe. The minute the child allows himself to become confused by the bustle of the crowd and breaks away from his father’s grasp, he is in danger (in Conference Report, October 1928, 36–37).
The prophet Mormon described the emptiness and loneliness that engulfed his people when they were no longer worthy of the Spirit. He wrote, “We were left to ourselves” (Morm. 2:26). One young woman said it like this: “When I lose the Spirit, I feel completely alone. Even when I am surrounded by people on every side, I feel alone.”
President George Albert Smith’s (1870–1951) grandfather taught him an important lesson: “There is a line of demarcation, well defined, between the Lord’s territory and the devil’s. If you will stay on the Lord’s side of the line you will be under his influence and will have no desire to do wrong; but if you cross to the devil’s side of the line one inch, you are in the tempter’s power, and if he is successful, you will not be able to think or even reason properly, because you will have lost the spirit of the Lord” (quoted in Sharing the Gospel with Others, selected by Preston Nibley , 42–43).
When a young person tells the bishop, “Now I’ve blown it, so there is no use trying anymore” or “God just can’t love me now that I’ve sinned” or “I’m not worthy to pray,” it’s obvious clear perspective has been lost.
Mormon said of his people, “The Spirit of the Lord did not abide in us; therefore we had become weak” (Morm. 2:26). One young man said, “I find that when I sin, my strength to resist temptation goes way down. I just can’t seem to say no to myself for anything, and spiritually I feel like a little weakling.”
When I was growing up, my mom always quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said, “When I do good I feel good. When I don’t do good I don’t feel good” (quoted in Richard Evans’ Quote Book , 207). In For the Strength of Youth, we read: “You cannot do wrong and feel right. It is impossible!” ([pamphlet, 1990], 4). It’s interesting how often these phrases come to my mind as I try to maintain the inner peace of conscience promised in the Book of Mormon (see Mosiah 4:3).
Those who sin claim to have a lot of what they call fun or pleasure, but they don’t have real happiness and joy. The scriptures do not say that wickedness never was pleasurable or fun. They say, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). I love Romans 14:17, where we read, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
I received a letter from a missionary who was almost not allowed to serve because of the severe problems he got himself into as a teenager. He wrote: “My biggest regret is not even the sins I committed—as bad as they were. Even more, I regret the time I wasted. I feel so far behind. I know that through the Atonement I have been forgiven for my sins, but there is one thing even Jesus can’t give me back—the time I lost.”
My brother Roger tells his seminary students: “Each of us is given a pocketful of time to spend however we may. We use what we will. We waste what we will. But we can never get back a day.” The adversary is cunning and deceitful. He has convinced many there is no heaven. He has convinced others there is no hell. But we are no better off than any of them if we apathetically allow Satan to convince us there is no hurry.
The seminary class was glad David had asked, “Why not just a little?” In the course of their discussions, David and his friends came to some important conclusions. One student summed it up: “Why not just a little sin? Well, why not just a little touch on the burner of a hot stove? Sure, you may heal in the long run, but not without going through a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.”
In the same way, those who choose sin, even just a little, can repent and be totally forgiven. But they choose to be without the Holy Ghost at least for a time and will suffer consequences—the pain and suffering that accompany the loss of safety, companionship, perspective, strength, peace, joy, and time.