Youth, beloved youth, what a world you live in! What glorious opportunities are yours!
For the first decade of your life there were joyous, happy, irresponsible days. Your parents and family protected you, taught and fed you, clothed and sheltered you; but now in the second decade of your life there is some relaxation of control. Gradually you are developing your personality, making increased numbers of your own decisions. You are maturing and assuming responsibility. The most important decisions of your entire life are before you—decisions which can open up for your future glorious, progressive pathways, or send you into dismal, dead-end streets.
Others can help you toward your decisions, but you must make them and you must abide by them. Free agency gives you the right to choose, but it gives you no immunity from the deprivation and sufferings which wrong decisions bring. Once you have set your feet upon the highway of life, the turning is not easy, especially if that highway be filled with heavy traffic and if it be a downward road.
Your life is your own, to develop or to destroy. You can blame others little and yourself almost totally if that life is not a productive, worthy, full, and abundant one. Others can assist or hinder you, but the responsibility is yours and you can make it great, mediocre, or a failure.
I grew up in a dry country. It seemed to me that hardly ever was there enough rain to spread over the crop-growing period to carry us through the season—not enough water to distribute between the many hungry canals and the tens of thousands of thirsty acres, not enough to irrigate all the crops.
We learned to pray for rain—we always prayed for rain.
When I was still very small, I knew that plants could not survive in dry country more than about two or three weeks without water. I knew how to harness up the old mare to a lizard (a forked log on which a barrel was placed) and I drove the animal to the “big ditch,” the Union Canal, which was a block below our home. With a bucket I scooped up water from the small stream or the puddles and filled the barrel, and the horse dragged it back so I could pour bucketsful of precious liquid on the roses, the violets, and other flowers, and the small shrubs and hedges and new trees. Water was like liquid gold, so reservoirs became the warp and woof of the fabric of my life.
In our times there is a need for reservoirs of many kinds—reservoirs to store water, some to store food, as we do in our family welfare program, some like the barns and bins set up by Joseph in the land of Egypt in which to store the seven years of plenty to carry them over the seven years of drought and famine.
But there should also be reservoirs of knowledge to meet future needs; reservoirs of courage to overcome the floods of fear that put uncertainty in lives; storage of physical strength to help us meet the frequent contaminations and contagions; reservoirs of goodness; reservoirs of stamina; reservoirs of faith. Yes, reservoirs of faith so that when the world presses in upon us, we stand firm and strong. When the temptations of a decaying world about us draw on our energies, sap our spiritual vitality, and seek to pull us down to the level of the worldly world, we need a storage of faith that can carry youth through the tantalizing teens and through the problems of later years, faith to carry us over the dull, the difficult, the terrifying moments, over disappointments, disillusionments, and years of adversity, want, confusion, and frustration.
How do we fill our reservoirs?
As a keenly observant generation of Latter-day Saints, it must be clear to you by now that you live in times filled with perplexity and difficulty, but these are times which are also filled with great opportunity.
I am grateful that you and all of us have the gospel of Jesus Christ as a guide, so that you have a framework of understanding into which you can fit the events and circumstances which you will live to see. It is clear from the scriptures that we in this part of our dispensation cannot be promised by our political leaders that there will be “peace in our time,” but we, as Church members, are given the means of having a personal peace, of coming to know serenity in our soul—even when there is no peace without!
By now you are perhaps accustomed to having those of us who are further along the pathway of life describe to you the importance of staying on the straight and narrow path. So often we say many of the same things to you again and again, but if you reflect upon why that is so, you will soon discover that the precipices that lie on each side of that straight and narrow path don’t change or become less dangerous; the steepness of that path does not change.
Church leaders are not able, each time we teach you, to offer a new or more glamorous route that will lead back to the presence of our Heavenly Father. The route remains the same. Hence, encouragement must often be given concerning the same things and warnings must be repeated. Just because a truth is repeated does not make that truth any less important or true.
We read also, “It is impossible for man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6). This is greatly misunderstood. Without waiting to find out the true meaning, many young people jump at conclusions and go off unprepared, following the traffic without road maps, and end in disappointment.
In what kind of knowledge is found power, and what power comes from knowledge? Let us analyze this great truth. In proper sequence comes first the knowledge of God and his program, which is the way to eternal life, and secondly comes the knowledge of the secular things, also very important. The Creator himself gives the proper sequence and defines the order:
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
Now this mortal life is the time to prepare to meet God, which is our first responsibility. Having already obtained our bodies, which become the permanent tabernacles for our spirits through the eternities, now we are to train our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. Preeminent, then, is our using this life to perfect ourselves, to subjugate the flesh, subject the body to the spirit, to overcome all weaknesses, to govern self so that one may give leadership to others, and to perform all necessary ordinances. Secondly comes the preparation for the subduing of the earth and all the elements.
We have this life of limited years in which to learn of God, to become the masters of our own destiny, and secondly, we have this life plus eternities to learn of the earth and the things thereon, and to accumulate secular knowledge which will help make us gods, which is our destiny.
Peter and John had little secular learning, being termed ignorant. But Peter and John knew the vital things of life, that God lives and that the crucified, resurrected Lord is the Son of God. They knew the path to eternal life. This they learned in a few decades of their mortal life. This exaltation meant godhood for them and creation of worlds with eternal increase for which they would probably need, eventually, a total knowledge of the sciences. But this fact escapes many: Peter and John had only decades to learn and do the spiritual but have already had about nineteen centuries in which to learn the secular or the geology of the earth, the zoology and physiology and psychology of the creatures of the earth. But mortality is the time to learn of God and the gospel first and to perform the ordinances, then to learn what can be secured of the secular things. Here are the so-called ignorant Peter and John heirs to exaltation.
A highly trained scientist who is also a perfected man may create a world and people it, but a dissolute, unrepentant, unbelieving one will never be such a creator even in the eternities.
Secular knowledge, important as it may be, can never save a soul nor open the celestial kingdom nor create a world nor make a man a god, but it can be most helpful to that man, who, placing first things first, has found the way to eternal life and who can now bring into play all knowledge to be his tool and servant.
Once I heard a forceful appeal by a woman from the Mutual. Perhaps it was the approach she made or perhaps it may have been the mood I was in. She gave a rousing talk on the reading of the scriptures and making them our own; then she stopped her dissertation to ask this mixed congregation, about a thousand of us, “How many of you have read the Bible through?”
I think I was about 14 years old at the time. An accusing guilt complex spread over me. I had read many books by that time, the funny papers, and light books, but my accusing heart said to me, “You, Spencer Kimball, you have never read that holy book. Why?” I looked around me at the people in front and on both sides of the hall to see if I was alone in my failure to read the sacred book. Of the thousand people, there were perhaps a half dozen who proudly raised their hands. I slumped down in my seat. I had no thought for the others who had also failed, but only a deep accusing thought for myself. In my slumped posture, I condemned no man, only my little insignificant self. I don’t know what other people were doing and thinking. I heard no more of the sermon. It had accomplished its work. The meeting closed. I sought the large double exit door and rushed to my home only a block east of the chapel, and I was gritting my teeth and saying to myself, “I will. I will. I will.”
Entering the back door of our family home, I went to the kitchen shelf where we kept the coal-oil lamps, selected one that was full of oil with a newly trimmed wick, and climbed the stairs to my attic room. There I opened my Bible and began on Genesis, first chapter, and the first verse, and I sat well into the night with Cain and Abel and Adam and Eve and Enoch and Noah and through the flood even to Abraham.
Learning the things of God must include, of course, the even more difficult part—that of becoming the perfected being. You must not only avoid adultery but also must protect yourselves against every thought or act which could lead to such a terrible sin. You must not only be free from revenge and retaliation but must “turn the other cheek,” “go the second mile,” “give the cloak and coat also.” You must not only love your friends, but you must even love your enemies and those who do you injustice; you must pray for them and actually love them. This is the way to perfection. You must not only be above burglary or theft but must be honest in thought and deed in all the numerous areas where rationalization permits dishonesty—in padding reports, in chiseling on time or money or labor, and every shady or questionable practice. You must not only cease from your worship of things of wood and stone and metal, but you must also actively worship in true fashion the living God. This is the straight and narrow way.
Now may I make a recommendation? Develop discipline of self so that, more and more, you do not have to decide and redecide what you will do when you are confronted with the same temptation time and time again. You only need to decide some things once!
How great a blessing it is to be free of agonizing over and over again regarding a temptation. To do such is time-consuming and very risky.
Likewise, my dear young friends, the positive things you will want to accomplish need only be decided upon once—like going on a mission and living worthily in order to get married in the temple—and then all other decisions related to these goals can fall into line. Otherwise, each consideration is risky, and each equivocation may result in error. There are some things Latter-day Saints do, and other things we just don’t do. The sooner you take stands, the taller you will be!
From my infancy I had heard the Word of Wisdom stories about tea and coffee and tobacco, etc. Nearly every Sunday School day and Primary day we sang lustily, I with the other boys:
(Sing with Me, B-24)
We sang it time and time again until it became an established part of my vocabulary and my song themes, but more especially my life’s plan. Occasionally some respected speaker said he had never tasted the forbidden things we sang against and then I made up my mind. Never would I use these forbidden things the prophets preached against. That decision was firm and unalterable. I would not and did not deviate.
In 1937 my wife and I were touring in Europe. In France I sat at a banquet table of the Rotary International Convention in a fashionable hotel. The large, spacious banquet room held hundreds of people. The many waiters moved about the tables, and at every place besides plenteous silver, linen, and fancy serving dishes were seven wine glasses. No one was watching me. The temptation nudged me: Shall I drink it or at least sip it? No one who cares will know. Here was quite a temptation. Shall I or shall I not?
Then the thought came: But I made a firm resolution when a boy that I would never touch the forbidden things. I had already lived a third of a century firm and resolute. I would not break my record now.
Remember, O youth of a noble birthright, that “wickedness never was happiness.” The unrighteous may pretend to be happy and may seek to entice others into such a way of life because misery loves company, as you know, but you will never see a happy sinner. Even the discontent of good people is traceable to such shortcomings as they have.
A casual observer may feel that an unrighteous person “has it made,” and for a fleeting moment it may even seem so. But gross sin produces a deep emptiness. Thus the wicked seem to do more of the same in order to reassure themselves and to try to fill the void. When you see a life filled with desperation, there is transgression in it. We may pity such people, but it is wrong and naive to envy them!
To know the patriarchs and prophets of the ages past and their faithfulness under stress and temptation and persecution strengthens the resolves of youth. All through the scriptures almost every weakness and every strength of man has been portrayed, and rewards and punishments have been recorded. One would surely be blind who could not learn to live life properly by such reading. The Lord has said, “Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
He is the same Lord and Master in whose life we find every quality of goodness, every quality we should develop in our own lives.
Can you find in all the holy scriptures where the Lord Jesus Christ ever failed his church? Can you find any scripture that says he was untrue to his people, to his neighbors, friends, or associates? Was he faithful? Was he true? Is there anything good and worthy that he did not give? Then that is what we ask—what he asks of a husband, every husband; of a wife, every wife; the girl, every girl; the boy, every boy.
Another word of counsel as you plan the course of your life. To do the special things given to this generation, you will need to guard against selfishness. One of the tendencies most individuals have which simply must be overcome is the tendency to be selfish. All that you can do now while you are young and are more pliant to become less selfish and more selfless will be an important and lasting contribution to the quality of your life in the years, indeed in the eternity, to come. You will be a much better wife or a much better husband, a better mother or a better father, if you can curb the tendency to be selfish. Your children whom you will not know for a few years yet have a stake in your conquest of selfishness.
As in all things, we have the example of the Savior on the cross at Calvary. He did something that he was not forced to do—something which would benefit others with the gift of immortality which Jesus already had. His was the supreme act of selflessness.
You may recall reading in 3 Nephi about the visit of the resurrected Jesus to this continent and how after blessing the children he wept twice and he also said, “And now behold, my joy is full” (3 Ne. 17:20).
True joy can only come from giving ourselves to correct causes such as the building up of the kingdom, causes that are in a sense larger than we are. Pleasure tends to be self-centered. True joy always includes others.
Now is the time to set your life’s goals. Now is the time to set your standards firmly and then hold to them throughout your life.
Ernest Renon gave us this: “Everything favors those who have a special destiny; they become glorious by a sort of invincible impulse and command of fate.” (The Life of Jesus.)
I see in you, my young friends, a generation of Latter-day Saints rising up who will be much more familiar with the scriptures than previous generations of Latter-day Saints were at the same age. You can be lifelong students of the scriptures. I see in you a rising generation of young Latter-day Saints who will be more willing to do missionary work (both before and after your formal full-time missions) than previous generations. Speaking collectively, your generation will see, even more clearly than your predecessors, how important it is to take the gospel to your fellowmen.
Your generation will be unashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ and equally unashamed of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I see in you a generation of young Latter-day Saints whose hearts will be turned to your forefathers as has never before happened on such a scale. You will develop a natural interest in research and temple going, surpassing the interest levels of your parents and grandparents in this regard when they were your age.
I see in you a generation of young Latter-day Saints who will make effective use of your leadership experiences gained in the Church in the Young Men and Young Women programs, in Sunday School, in Relief Society, in Primary, and in the priesthood quorums, who will then be sought after by the thoughtful people of the world who will want young men and women of integrity and competency to serve in various ways. Such young Latter-day Saints will carry their beliefs with them as well as carrying with them their skills, their competency, and their integrity.
I see in you young Latter-day Saints testimonies much more advanced for your age than preceding generations.
And so, beloved youth, remember, when the temporal kingdoms of men topple, the kingdom of God stands firm and unshaken. When the earthly influence of the worldly-wise is silenced by death, the glory and progress of the faithful and valiant who have lived all requirements live on in majesty and power. There is no other way.