Young people soon learn that they have to pay a price for most rewards. They learn that they must practice before they can perform well. I have several grandsons who are high school wrestlers. Despite their prodigious teenage appetites, they go without food and even water each week in order to make their weight classifications. They practice full tilt, often until their bodies ache and their lungs burn. They push themselves and endure these trials because they want very much to get in shape to do their best.
After my mission I wanted to attend college, but my family could not afford to send me. So I took a job in the freight yards of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Los Angeles to earn money for school. I worked fourteen hours a day moving freight between warehouses and boxcars on a two-wheeled hand truck. Often I had a thousand-pound load on the hand truck. I’m sure you can understand why I was tired at the end of the day.
I was living with my sister two or three miles away. The streetcar fare was ten cents, and I trudged the whole distance each way in order to save twenty cents a day. I wanted very much to go to college, and walking that distance made my goal that much nearer realization. I was able to save enough to return to my home state of Arizona and attend the University of Arizona.
One of the basic tasks for each individual is the making of decisions. A dozen times a day we come to a fork in the road and must decide which way we will go. Some alternatives are long and hard, but they take us in the right direction toward our ultimate goal; others are short, wide, and pleasant, but they go off in the wrong direction. It is important to get our ultimate objectives clearly in mind so that we do not become distracted at each fork in the road by the irrelevant questions: Which is the easier or more pleasant way? or, Which way are others going?
Right decisions are easiest to make when we make them well in advance, having ultimate objectives in mind; this saves a lot of anguish at the fork, when we’re tired and sorely tempted.
When I was young, I made up my mind unalterably that I would never taste tea, coffee, tobacco, or liquor. I found that this rigid determination saved me many times throughout my varied experiences. There were many occasions when I could have sipped or touched or sampled, but the unalterable determination firmly established gave me good reason and good strength to resist.
The time to decide on a mission is long before it becomes a matter of choosing between a mission and an athletic scholarship. The time to decide on temple marriage is before one has become attached to a boyfriend or girlfriend who does not share that objective. The time to decide on a policy of strict honesty is before the store clerk gives you too much change. The time to decide against using drugs is before a friend you like teases you for being afraid or pious. The time to decide that we will settle for nothing less than an opportunity to live eternally with our Father is now, so that every choice we make will be affected by our determination to let nothing interfere with attaining that ultimate goal.
Some people feel that decisions are really out of our hands, that we merely respond to circumstances without choice, like a rudderless ship that drifts at the mercy of the wind and waves. And I agree that there can come a time when we no longer have control over our destinies, but I believe that this is only after the cumulation of our own past decisions has left us helpless.
In the beginning, each of us is a bundle of potential that can be developed and shaped by what we choose to do. In youth there is still great malleability. We can choose what we will become. As the years go by, we find our past choices have narrowed the alternatives still open to us and we have less and less control over our future.
No one should deny the importance of circumstances, yet in the final analysis the most important thing is how we react to the circumstances. It is a tenet of my faith that every normal person has the capacity, with God’s help, to meet the challenge of whatever circumstances may confront him. One of the most comforting scriptures carries the message that God will not leave us helpless—ever.
“… 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.” (1 Cor. 10:13.)
I have seen poverty produce quite different results in people; some it embitters, so that in their self-pity they simply give up and abandon the future; others it challenges, so that in their determination to succeed in spite of obstacles they grow into capable, powerful people. Even if they never escape from economic stress, they develop inner resources that we associate with progress toward a Christlike character.