Not long ago I interviewed a young man who desired to fill a mission, but he had been guilty of some very serious transgressions during his teen years. He was a member of an active Latter-day Saint family, and he himself had been an actively participating member of the Church, even during the time of his transgressions. Ultimately he had gone to his bishop and confessed his wrongdoings. Now, for more than a year, his life had been free of the earlier difficulties, and he was anxious to serve a mission.
As we talked about his situation and the decisions he had made earlier in his life that led to his questionable standing in the Church, he said, “Oh, I knew that what I was doing was wrong, and I was sure that one day I would put things back in order and go on a mission.”
While I was pleased with this young man’s desire to reorder his life and serve the Lord as a missionary, I was troubled by the apparent premeditated, calculated way in which he had allowed himself to move off the proper course to engage in some destructive, immoral behavior, and then, almost as if he were following a timetable set by himself, he had begun to reconstruct his resolve to be obedient.
If my experience with this young man had been an isolated one, it would not be worthy of note here; unfortunately, however, it is not unique. There appears to be an increasing tendency and temptation for young people to sample the forbidden things of the world, not with the intent to embrace them permanently, but with the knowing decision to indulge in them momentarily as though they held a value of some kind too important or exciting to pass by. It is one of the great tests of our time.
While many recover from these excursions into forbidden territory, an increasing number of tragedies are occurring that reach out to bring a blight and a despair to many lives and that have long-lasting consequences. There is no such thing as private sin. Although its commission can be calculated and predetermined, its effects cannot be regulated by the person guilty of the misbehavior. To believe otherwise is to become gullible to one of the most insidious lies ever perpetrated by the father of lies.
Recently I attended a graduation ceremony at a local high school. The students who had been invited to speak for their classmates expressed themselves in terms of the grand and noble challenges that lay before them as they stepped across the threshold into adult life. The adult speakers extolled the virtues and potential of today’s youth and spoke of the horizons to be conquered in future years, the new scientific frontiers to be opened by members of the graduating class, the dread diseases for which cures would be found, and the breakthroughs in diplomacy and human relations that would bring lasting peace to the earth. It was a stimulating, inspiring service.
As I listened to the impressive addresses on this occasion, I found myself framing in my own mind the things I would have liked to say to this group of young people. I knew that most of them were Latter-day Saints. I knew they came from families where high expectations were held for them, where there was a shared pride in their accomplishments. I also knew about the experiences some of these young people had planned for themselves in the hours and days immediately following the graduation service. I found myself wanting to plead with this graduating class, not about the glorious, obscure years of the dim future when they would hopefully accomplish so much for mankind, but about the here and now. I wanted to say to them, “I am not so much concerned about what you do next year or in the next generation; I am worried about what you are going to do tonight and tomorrow when you have handed in your cap and gown. What have you planned? Where will you go? What will you do tonight?”
I know now, as I record these thoughts, that there were those in that graduating class, as well as some others in similar groups, who willfully, with calculated premeditation, placed themselves in circumstances following their graduation services where they dishonored themselves, their families, their Church, and their Heavenly Father. Their behavior was not intended to become a permanent fixture in their lives. It was done as a lark, a momentary thrill, a dare. But its cumulative effect is devastating. The reverberations will impact their lives, and the lives of those who loved and trusted them, in unfortunate and unforeseen ways for indefinite periods of time. Humanity will have slipped inexorably to a lower level. Some will never completely recover, and all mankind will inevitably feel the loss.
For those who kept the trust placed in them and did not yield to the pattern of the times, I have the most profound admiration and gratitude. You are our shining hope. I owe you a great debt. You will make a significant difference in the final outcome of things. You are the last great counterforce against the evil that is engulfing the earth. You demonstrated that you are incorruptible. You are untainted. God bless you for this!
I tremble as I read the words of the Lord to his people of this dispensation. “For this is a day of warning, and not a day of many words. For I, the Lord, am not to be mocked in the last days” (D&C 62:58).
As I view the days that lie ahead of us, I am hopeful because of the Lord’s promise. But I am frightened by his warnings to us as I see compromises being made.
Young people, let’s keep the trust the Lord has given us. Let’s pay the price and measure up to the expectations placed in us. It will make a difference.