pioneer woman

The Pioneer, by Robert T. Barrett, courtesy of Church History Museum

As I think about our pioneer heritage, one of the most moving things that come to mind is the hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints” (Hymns, no. 30). Those who made the long journey to the Salt Lake Valley often sang this hymn during their trek.

I am very much aware that all was not well with these Saints. They were plagued by sickness, heat, fatigue, cold, fear, hunger, pain, doubt, and even death.

But despite having every reason to shout, “All is not well,” they cultivated an attitude we cannot help but admire today. They looked beyond their troubles to eternal blessings. They were grateful in their circumstances. Despite evidence to the contrary, they sang with all the conviction of their souls, “All is well!”

Our praise for the pioneers is empty if it does not cause inner reflection on our part. I mention a few of their attributes that inspire me as I contemplate their sacrifice and commitment.

Compassion

The pioneers cared for each other irrespective of social, economic, or political background. Even when it slowed their progress, caused inconvenience, or meant personal sacrifice and toil, they helped each other.

In our goal-driven and partisan world, individual or party objectives can take precedence over taking care of others or strengthening the kingdom of God. In today’s society, reaching certain ideological goals can appear to be a measure of our worth.

Setting and achieving goals can be a wonderful thing. But when success in reaching goals comes at the expense of disregarding, ignoring, or hurting others, the cost of that success may be too precious.

The pioneers looked after those in their company, but they also considered those who came after them, planting crops for the wagon trains that followed.

They knew the strength of family and friends. And because they depended on each other, they became strong. Friends became family.

The pioneers serve as a good reminder of why we must break away from the temptation to isolate ourselves and, instead, reach out to help each other and have compassion and love for one another.

Work

“Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear.”

This phrase became an anthem to the weary travelers. It is difficult to imagine how hard these great souls worked. Walking was one of the easiest things they did. They all had to pull together to provide food, repair wagons, tend animals, minister to the sick and feeble, seek and collect water, and protect themselves from the pressing dangers of the elements and the many hazards of the wilderness.

They woke up each morning with clearly defined purposes and goals that everyone understood: to serve God and their fellowmen and to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley. Every day those purposes and goals were clear to them; they knew what they needed to do and that each day’s progress mattered.

In our time—when so much of what we desire is so easily within our reach—it is tempting to turn aside or give up whenever the road ahead seems a little bumpy or the slope tends to rise steeply before us. In those moments, it might inspire us to reflect on those men, women, and children who did not allow sickness, hardship, pain, and even death to deter them from their chosen path.

The pioneers learned that doing hard things deepened and strengthened body, mind, and spirit; magnified their understanding of their divine nature; and heightened their compassion for others. This habit firmed their souls and became a blessing to them long after their trek across the plains and mountains had ended.

Optimism

When the pioneers sang, they voiced a third lesson: “But with joy wend your way.”

It is one of the great ironies of our age that we are blessed with so much and yet we can be so unhappy. The wonders of prosperity and technology overwhelm us and shower us with security, entertainment, instant gratification, and convenience. And yet all around us we see so much unhappiness.

The pioneers, who sacrificed so much, went without and hungered for even the most basic of necessities to survive. They understood that happiness doesn’t come as a result of luck or accident. It most certainly doesn’t come from having all of our wishes come true. Happiness doesn’t come from external circumstances. It comes from the inside—regardless of what is happening around us.

The pioneers knew that, and with that spirit they found happiness in every circumstance and in every trial—even in those trials that reached down and troubled the deep waters of their very souls.

Trials

We sometimes look back on what the pioneers endured and with relief say, “Thank goodness I didn’t live in that time.” But I wonder if those courageous pioneers, had they been able to see us today, might not have voiced the same concern.

Though times and circumstances have changed, the principles for facing trials and successfully living together as a caring and prospering community under God have not changed.

From the pioneers we can learn to have faith and trust in God. We can learn to have compassion for others. We can learn that work and industry bless us not only temporally but also spiritually. We can learn that happiness is available to us no matter our circumstances.

The best way we can honor and show gratitude to the pioneers is by incorporating into our own lives faithfulness to God’s commandments, compassion and love for our fellowmen, and the industry, optimism, and joy the pioneers demonstrated so well in their own lives.

As we do so, we can reach across the decades of time, take the hands of those noble pioneers in ours, and add our own voices to theirs as we sing with them: “All is well! All is well!”