Stories from the General Authorities: President Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee


President Harold B. Lee

“You Can’t Have Me”

A few years ago, I was invited to the Beehive House to meet with a group of girls who had been shepherded there into a club during the war years in an effort to keep them from falling into evil ways while they were away from their homes—they came from country towns for the most part. After I had fulfilled my assignment and was about to leave, a young girl drew me aside and asked if she could speak to me a moment. She opened her purse and took out of it a picture of a handsome young soldier in uniform, and underneath it said something about love and was signed. Then she took out from behind the picture a folded piece of paper, and as she was doing this, the tears were swimming in her eyes, and I asked, “Well, what does this all mean?” She replied, “Brother Lee, I met this young man out here in one of the nearby camps. He was a fine young man, clean, good habits, and he always treated me with respect, gentlemanly. I felt perfectly safe when I was out on a date with him; all but for one thing. He was not a member of the Church. Finally he proposed marriage and I said, ‘Well I love you, Jack, but we have to think about something else. Marriage to us is more than just something for this life. If it is the genuine kind of love, it should last always and should make us husband and wife forever.’

“Well, at first he argued with me; then he became angry; and then he was out of patience. Finally the time came when he received his overseas orders to go into a combat area, and at this time he pressed the matter of our engagement, and so I said to him plainly, ‘No, I can’t marry anyone until I can be married in the House of the Lord.’ And he had replied in anger, ‘All right, if you think more of your Church and your religion than you do of me, why you can have them but you can’t have me.’”

I guess she cried herself to sleep or cried all night without sleep; I don’t know which. Two or three weeks passed before he arrived at his destination down in Australia, which was to be the staging area for the war raging in the Pacific Islands. On the way over he had time to think about all she had said to him, this sweet, lovely girl who to him represented the ideal of his life. She was everything that he could ask for in a sweetheart, a wife, the mother of his children. Then he started thinking, “I wonder if I have been too harsh. Maybe it’s the religion she believes in that has made her the kind of girl she is.”

Prompted by that thought, when he arrived in Australia, he located our Latter-day Saint boys and our Latter-day Saint chaplain who was over there. He began to attend meetings, and he began to ask questions, and finally, on her birthday, he was baptized, and he sent her his picture with his baptismal certificate as a birthday present. With it was a letter in which he said, “I am going to try hard to live as a Latter-day Saint should so that when I get back home I will be worthy to be ordained an elder so I can take you to the House of the Lord where at last you and I can have that eternal marriage you have planned for so long.”

“RadioTubes”

Some years ago when I served as a stake president, we had a very grievous case that had to come before the high council and the stake presidency and that resulted in the excommunication of a man who had harmed a lovely young girl. After a nearly all-night session of the council that had taken that action, I went to my office rather wearily the next morning to be confronted by a brother to this man whom we had had on trial the night before. This man said, “I want to tell you that my brother wasn’t guilty of that thing which you charged him with.”

“How do you know he wasn’t guilty?” I asked.

“Because I prayed, and the Lord told me he was innocent,” the man answered.

I invited him to come into the office, and we sat down. I asked, “Would you mind if I ask you a few personal questions?” and he replied, “Certainly not.”

“How old are you?”

“Forty-seven.”

“What priesthood do you hold?” He said he thought he was a teacher. “Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?” He answered, “Well, no.” He used tobacco, which was obvious.

“Do you pay your tithing?”

He said, “No”—and he didn’t intend to as long as that blankety-blank-blank man was the bishop of the ward.

I said, “Do you attend your priesthood meetings?”

He replied, “No, sir!” and he didn’t intend to as long as that man was bishop. “You don’t attend your sacrament meetings either?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you have your family prayer?”

“No.”

“Do you study the scriptures?” He said, well, his eyes were bad and he couldn’t read very much.

I then said to him: “In my home I have a beautiful instrument called a radio. When everything is in good working order, we can dial it to a certain station and pick up a speaker or the voice of a singer all the way across the continent or sometimes on the other side of the world, bringing them into the front room as though they were standing right there. But after we have used it for a long time, there are some little delicate instruments or electrical devices on the inside called radio tubes that begin to wear out. When one of them wears out, we get a kind of a static—it isn’t so clear. Another wears out and if we don’t give it attention it fades in and out just when we are about to hear who makes the winning touchdown. If we don’t give that attention and another one wears out—well, the radio sits there looking quite like it did before, but something has happened on the inside. We don’t hear. We can’t get any singer; we can’t get any speaker.

“Now,” I said, “you and I have within our souls something that might be said to be a counterpart of those tubes. We have what we might call a ‘Go-to-Sacrament-Meeting’ tube, a ‘Keep-the-Word-of-Wisdom’ tube, a ‘Pay-Your-Tithing’ tube, a ‘Have-Your-Family-Prayers’ tube, a ‘Read-the-Scriptures’ tube, and, as one of the most important that might be said to be the master tube of our whole soul, a ‘Keep-Yourselves-Morally-Clean’ tube. If one of these becomes worn-out by disuse or is not active—if we fail to keep the commandments of God—it has the same effect upon our spiritual selves that that same worn-out tube in the radio in my home has upon the reception we otherwise could receive from a distance.

“Now, then,” I said, “fifteen of the best-living men in the stake prayed last night. They heard the evidence, and every man was united in saying that your brother was guilty. Now you who do none of these things, you say you prayed, and you got an opposite answer. How would you explain that?”

And then this man gave an answer that I think was a classic. He said, “Well, President Lee, I think I must have gotten my answer from the wrong source.” And you know that’s just as great a truth as we can have. We get our answer from the source of the power we list to obey! If we are keeping the commandments of the devil, we will get the answer from the devil. If we are keeping the commandments of God, we will get the answers from our Heavenly Father for our direction and for our guidance.

“Now Why Do You Want to Go on This Mission, Son?”

I was attending a stake conference where I was to interview some prospective missionaries. Before one boy came in the room, the stake president said to me, “Now here is a boy who has just come through a serious experience. He is just out of the service. He suffered shell shock; you had better talk carefully to him and make sure that he is prepared to go.”

So as I talked with him, I said, “Now, why do you want to go on this mission, son? Are you sure that you want to go, really, after all this harrowing experience?”

He sat thoughtfully for a few moments and then replied: “Brother Lee, I had never been away from home before I went into the service. When I arrived in the military camps, every waking hour I heard filthy, profane language. I found myself losing a certain pure-mindedness, and I sought God in prayer to give me the strength not to fall into that terrible habit. God heard my prayer and gave me strength. Then we went through the training, and it was arduous, and I asked him to give me physical strength to go through, and he did. He heard my prayer, but as we moved up towards the fighting lines and I heard the booming of the guns and the crackling of the rifles—and sometimes as we crouched down in our shell holes, it just seemed that if I put a finger up it would be shot off so intense was the fighting—I was afraid. I would lie there just waiting, and I prayed to God to give me the courage to do the task that I was there to do, and the Lord heard my prayer and gave me courage. Then they sent me up with an advance patrol to search out the enemy and to radio back to the reinforcements, telling them where to attack. Sometimes the enemy would almost hedge me around until I was cut off, and it seemed that there was no escape and that surely my life would be taken. I asked the only source of protection to guide me safely back, and God heard my prayers. Time and again through the most harrowing experiences he led me back.

“Now,” he said, “Brother Lee, I am back home. And I would like to say thanks to that power to which I prayed—God, our Heavenly Father.” And then he said, “My purpose in going out on a mission is to teach others that faith that I was taught in my Sunday School, in my seminary, in my priesthood class, in my home. I want to teach others so that they will have that same strength that guided me through this difficult experience.”

“Nobody Cared What Happened to Us”

Elder Adam S. Bennion once told me of an incident that occurred when he was visiting the Utah State Penitentiary. If you will, speculate for a moment how difficult it is to speak at such a place with six to eight hundred or a thousand inmates. You cannot address them, “My dear brethren, I am glad to see so many of you here this morning.” You cannot address them as fellow citizens because they are not while they are felons. About every other manner of address seems quite as inappropriate.

This great teacher stood before them and said, “Now, I am going to talk with you. I am going to ask you some questions, and I want you to get up and answer me. What was it that brought you here as inmates of this penitentiary? I am frequently a speaker at various gatherings of young people and at graduation exercises, and I would like you to tell me so that I can warn them.”

With the adroitness of a skilled teacher, he finally had them on their feet, and they began to answer. Do you know what they said, almost without exception? “We are here in the state penitentiary because there came a time in our lives when we were made to feel that nobody cared what happened to us.”

“Don’t Go over There”

As a young boy I was out on a farm away from our home waiting for my father to finish his day’s work. I was playing about, manufacturing things to while away the time, when I saw over the fence in the neighbor’s yard some broken-down buildings with the sheds caving in and with rotting timbers. I imagined as a young boy that that might be a castle I should explore, so I went over to the fence and started to climb through.

Then I heard a voice as distinctly as you are hearing mine: “Harold, don’t go over there.” I looked in every direction to see where the speaker was. I wondered if it was my father, but he couldn’t see me; he was way up at the other end of the field. There was no one in sight. I realized that someone was warning me of an unseen danger—whether there was a nest of rattlesnakes, or whether the rotting timbers would fall on me and crush me, I don’t know. But from that time on, I accepted without question the fact that there are processes not known to man by which we can hear voices from the unseen world, by which we can have brought to us visions of eternity.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Ted Henninger