Each evening as daylight departs and darkness comes to New York’s famed Broadway or London’s Drury Lane, the bright lights of the theater bid welcome to the native and to the tourist. Some productions are poor and play for only an abbreviated season. Others are splendid and continue to attract hosts of patrons. Both Broadway and Drury Lane boast of one marvelous musical which sets a record each time the curtain is raised. Fiddler on the Roof, by Joseph Stein, is in a class by itself.
One laughs as he observes the old-fashioned father of a Jewish family in Russia as he attempts to cope with the changing times brought forcibly home to him by his beautiful daughters. With exuberance they sing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match.” Tevye, the father, replies with “If I Were a Rich Man.” Tears come to the viewer as he hears the beautiful strains of “Sunrise, Sunset,” and he seems to appreciate Tevye’s love for his native village when the cast sings “Anatevka.”
The gaiety of the dance, the rhythm of the music, the excellence of the acting all fade in significance when Tevye speaks what to me becomes the message of the musical. He gathers his lovely daughters to his side, and in the simplicity of his peasant surroundings, counsels them as they ponder their future. “Remember,” cautions Tevye, “in Anatevka each one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to become.”
Oh, the records may indicate your names to be Mary Jane Roberts or John S. Marshall; they may show you to be from Boston, Atlanta, or Portland. The revealed word of God tells you much more.
Listen to chapter one of the first book of Moses, called Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. …
“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. …
“And God said, Let there be a firmament … and it was so.” (Gen. 1:1–3, 6, 7.)
God created the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the creatures of the deep.
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: …
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
“And God blessed them.” (Gen. 1:26–28.)
Heaven reflects his handiwork; earth echoes his skill; man becomes his masterpiece.
“Created in the image of God.” You cannot sincerely hold this conviction without experiencing a profound new sense of strength and power. As Latter-day Saints we know that we lived before we came to earth, that mortality is a probationary period wherein we might prove ourselves obedient to God’s command and thus worthy of celestial glory.
Our individual journey through life will be marked by sorrow and joy, sickness and health—even by failure and accomplishment. Failure, that monstrous scoundrel who would thwart our progress, stifle our initiative, and destroy our dreams, has many faces. Can you recognize them?
There is the Face of Fear. Fear erects barriers that separate us from our objectives. We become content with mediocrity, when in reality excellence is within our grasp. The comment of the crowd causes us to withdraw from the race, and we retreat to the supposed safety of a sheltered life. A question from the movie Shenandoah points up our cowardice: “If we don’t try, we don’t do; and if we don’t do, then why are we here?”
Failure has yet another face, even the Face of Idleness. To daydream, to loaf, to wish without work is to fall into the power of its hypnotic trance. So subtle, so inviting is the appeal of idleness that one does not know he has yielded his powers to such a deceitful face. “There has never lived a person who was an idler in his own eyes.”
Consider the Face of Doubt. It too is one of failure’s many masks. Doubt destroys. It chips away at our confidence, undermines our testimony, and erodes our resistance to evil. Shun its winsome smile.
No enumeration of failure’s many faces would be complete without the Face of Sin. This culprit plays for keeps. The stakes are high. Paul declared: “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23.) And who can disregard the word of the Lord:
“That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment.” (D&C 88:35.)
These are the Faces of Failure: The Face of Fear, the Face of Idleness, the Face of Doubt and the Face of Sin. Let us never for a moment cast even a glance toward such a face. Rather, may we determine our destiny by incorporating into our lives the Attitudes of Accomplishment.
First is the Attitude of Faith. Whereas doubt destroys, faith fulfills. Such an attitude brings one closer to God and to his purposes.
President David O. McKay often mentioned, “Man’s earthly existence is but a test as to whether he will concentrate his efforts, his mind, his soul upon things which contribute to the comfort and gratification of his physical nature, or whether he will make as his life’s pursuit the acquisition of spiritual qualities.”
Faith implies a certain trust, even a reliance, upon the word of our Creator.
An attitude of faith can convert a doubter to a doer. When Joseph Smith approached the doubting John E. Page with a call to fill a mission to Canada, Brother Page replied, “I cannot go on a mission to Canada, Brother Joseph. I haven’t even a coat to wear.”
The Prophet removed his own coat, handed it to him, and said, “Here, wear this and the Lord will bless you.”
John E. Page had faith in the Prophet’s promise. He labored two years in Canada, walked 5,000 miles, and baptized 600 souls.
Second is an Attitude of Work. Formula “W” is interesting: “Work will win when wishy washy wishing won’t.” An attitude of work results in the capacity to make continuous effort toward the accomplishment of a given goal.
I am an ardent sports fan. Long will I remember a TV sportscaster as he lauded the marvelous performance of Y. A. Tittle, one of the all-time great professional football quarterbacks. He said: “This will be the key play of the game. Tittle has the snap from center; he fades to throw, but his line cannot hold. It appears the game is over.
“Wait! Tittle has eluded his tacklers; he has fallen deep behind the line. He cocks his arm to throw, and the pass is away and caught in the end zone for a touchdown.
“That was a great second effort by Y. A. Tittle!”
In the game of life a second effort is often required. The happy life is not ushered in at any age to the sound of drums and trumpets. It grows upon us year by year, little by little, until at last we realize that we have it. It is achieved in individuals not by flights to the moon or Mars, but by a body of work done so well that we can lift our heads with assurance and look the world in the eye. Of this be sure: You do not find the happy life … you make it.
Third is an Attitude of Courage. I have seen courage in the military. I have witnessed courage in the classrooms of learning and the factories of industry.
Never have I observed its beauty more radiant than reflected from the service of a missionary. Often I am called upon to interview missionary candidates who have physical impairments. In considering the recommendation of one such candidate, the bishop of the ward had written:
“Brother (blank) is badly scarred due to an automobile accident. However, if courage will help, he’ll lead the lot.”
I made an appointment to visit with the lad. My initial reaction upon meeting him was one of overwhelming compassion.
“Son,” I explained, “if you were in the mission field, there would be those who would reject your message and you might feel that they were rejecting you. That would be unbearable.”
“Brother Monson,” he replied, “I have become used to that problem. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I so much want to serve the Lord and to preach the gospel. Please let me be called.”
The courage of his spirit bore witness to me of his faith. He received a call.
After two years of outstanding missionary activity, his president wrote, upon the occasion of his honorable release:
“The bearer of this letter has served in this mission for two years. He has been one of the finest missionaries in our mission over the whole time that he has been here. He has been effective as a leader, as a proselyting missionary, as the liaison between the mission office and the several stakes in which he has served, and in all respects his performance has been without flaw.
“He has handled his personal problem, his severe scarring, in a way that has discouraged or affronted no one. It has been on a basis that ‘this is my problem; don’t worry about it.’
“We love him dearly. We are grateful for his service; and if you have any more just like him, send them along.”
Fourth is an Attitude of Obedience. Each of you has an opportunity to live the commandments of our Heavenly Father, to love him with all your heart, mind, and strength, and to demonstrate this love by how you serve. You have received callings in his kingdom. How well do you obey his bidding? How do you magnify your calling from the Lord?
Now I ask you, what does it mean to magnify a calling? It means to build it up in dignity and importance, to make it honorable and commendable in the eyes of all men, to enlarge and strengthen it, to let the light of heaven shine through it to the view of other men. And how does one magnify a calling? Simply by performing the service that pertains to it. An elder magnifies the ordained calling of an elder by learning what his duties as an elder are and then by doing them. Remember, my young friends, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22.)
Finally, there is the Attitude of Love. Such an attitude characterized the mission of the Master. He gave sight to the blind, legs to the lame, and life to the dead. Perhaps when we face our Maker, we will not be asked, “How many positions did you hold?” but rather, “How many people did you help?” In reality, you can never love the Lord until you serve him by serving his people.
Do you recall the experience of John Weightman from Van Dyke’s immortal, The Mansion? He lived a life of wretched selfishness. He gave only those coins which would be seen of men and honor thus accorded him. Then one night he dreamed that he visited the Celestial City. He was given a dilapidated, old house in which to live.
Feeling that this was unjust, because he felt he had lived a successful life, he inquired of the keeper of the Celestial City: “What is it that counts here?”
The answer was: “Only that which is truly given. Only that good which is done for the love of doing it. Only those plans in which the welfare of others is the master thought. Only those labors in which the sacrifice is greater than the reward. Only those gifts in which the giver forgets himself.”
Like John Weightman, we may be called upon to demonstrate an attitude of love. It may not take place in a Celestial City, but closer to home and nearer to the heart.
Prison Warden Kenyon J. Scudder has told this story:
He happened to be sitting in a railroad coach next to a young man who was obviously depressed. Finally the man revealed that he was a convict returning from a distant prison. His imprisonment had brought shame on his family, and they had neither visited him nor written often. He hoped, however, that this was only because they were too poor to travel and too uneducated to write. He hoped, despite the evidence, that they had forgiven him.
To make it easy for them, however, he had written them to put up a signal for him when the train passed their little farm on the outskirts of town. If his family had forgiven him and felt that he could rebuild his life in his own home and own town, they were to put a white ribbon in the upper branch of the apple tree located in the lower pasture near the railroad tracks. If, however, they felt it would be best for him to rebuild his life in a new environment, in a new city, they were to do nothing, and he would remain on the train.
As the train neared his home town, the suspense became so great he couldn’t bear to look out of his window. His companion changed places with him and said he would watch for the apple tree. In a minute, he put his hand on the young convict’s arm. “I can see the tree,” he said.
The young man then asked, “Does it contain a white ribbon?”
The reply, “Not one white ribbon, but a white ribbon on every branch!”
In that instant, all the bitterness that had poisoned a life was dispelled. Warden Scudder said to the young man, “I feel as if I have witnessed a miracle.”
The young man responded, “Perhaps you have.”
What was the wise and inspired counsel from Alexander Pope? “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
Thus, we have but a sampling of the Attitudes of Accomplishment: the Attitude of Faith, the Attitude of Work, the Attitude of Courage, the Attitude of Obedience, and the Attitude of Love. Such will overcome the Faces of Failure and permit us to affirmatively respond to old Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, “Each person knows who he is and what God expects him to become.”
And with a loving Heavenly Father’s ever-present help, we shall become sons and daughters to the Most High God.