The best formula is not chance but prayer, study, work
In 1978, Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve published a valuable book for young and old entitled What Is Your Destination? He expressed concern that many become confused in their journey through life. Some may be lost, on the other hand, because they think they have arrived! Elder Ashton mentioned examples of fundamental guidelines such as temple marriage, mission calls, education, and opportunities for service, pointing out that progress “is a continuing process, not a state of arrival.”
Decisions determine and regulate our progress. We make them every day. To make wise ones, it is important to have goals, objectives, purposes, a sense of direction, constant reevaluation and reckoning. Following missionary service in the British Isles, I wrote some goals for the next 20 years of my life on a yellow pad of paper. I still have that pad. Nearly all of the goals I set have been exceeded. I was blessed to be guided by the principle Elder Ashton outlined, namely that “it is a continuing process, not a state of arrival.” One objective outlined was not achieved, but that was something beyond my control. The Lord saw fit not to grant that particular blessing. However, it was compensated for in many, many other ways.
The teachings and practices of the Church provide very significant guidelines: clean living, that we may have health and strength, joy and happiness on earth; baptism, reminding us of our status and accountability; the gift of the Holy Ghost, our striving to really receive and benefit from this personage whose mission is to guide us into all truth; missionary service; temple marriage; a useful and productive life of service through work; family and children; constant self-improvement to equip us for better service to our fellowmen. The gospel principles of faith and repentance are the keys to (1) achievement, (2) correction of mistakes, and (3) reevaluation of where we are going.
To make decisions, the best formula I have found is prayer, study, work, seeking wise counsel, and then doing something about it. May I offer a few examples.
Entering Roosevelt Junior High School in Salt Lake City required some important decisions for me. One September day I was confronted with new choices! What subjects to take? Thus far my schooling had been prescribed. We had gone at 9:00 A.M. and followed through the day with what was presented in our homeroom. Now we were to change classes each period, going from room to room. Should I take Algebra A and B, or a course called Mathematics? Or, something called General Science? English, physical education, and some selections were prescribed. But there was remarkable latitude in other choices. I could take U.S. History, or something called Civics. I could elect to study Spanish, Latin, or French. Some of us had the benefit of prior consultation with our parents. In line with their counsel, I was left with the choices I have indicated.
I also discussed my choices with two classmates. One was the son of a University of Utah professor of history. The other was a future doctor of medicine, whose older brothers had already attended the University of Utah and had gone through “the mill.” Both were wise young men. I benefited by discussion with them. After a few hours, I made my choices: Algebra A with Miss Cora D. Patterson, continuing the second semester with Algebra B, the binomial theorem, factoring, and other algebraic systems. I elected Spanish, a modern language, with Miss Grace Hogan as teacher. Assignments to stake conferences in Mexico and Latin-America have been assisted by that choice. Third period found me in U.S. History, a subject I dearly loved, with Miss M. Hulbert. Then came the luncheon break. Period four was physical education, under E. V. Howell. Period five in English brought Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with Mrs. Jessie Hutchinson. Sixth period I elected music. I found my way to the room where Mrs. Matilda W. Cahoon presided.
This challenge of choices continued throughout high school and the university years following. The same process of consultation with parents and fellow students, prayer, study, and working it out in my own mind, produced the selections. In later years it was a great blessing to have elected in the ninth grade to study geometry, under Miss Snyder, and especially Ancient History under an excellent teacher, Miss Welthea M. Learned. I learned much of the history of the classical Middle East, Greece, and Rome and became acquainted with architectural and art forms that have enriched my life.
The decision to go on a mission had been made long before the call was received. Prayerful effort and study had helped me to qualify. That decision, blessed with the support of my parents and family, has brought the greatest blessings and some of the greatest experiences of my life.
A big decision following my mission was a career. What should I do? A new position opened with the Union Pacific Railroad Company as a passenger representative. After two months, other choices confronted me. An opportunity came to return to ZCMI in its finance division, plus part-time work as an early morning seminary teacher serving Salt Lake East High School; or to work as a mathematics teacher in Tucson, Arizona, High School, or as director of music at the Box Elder High School in Brigham City. I made it a matter of study and prayer. On an eventful afternoon I walked over to Temple Square during my lunch hour for a special, quiet prayer. The decision followed. The formula—prayer, study, work, consultation with parents and trusted friends—produced results.
The decision for graduate school came next. Harvard? The University of Chicago? London School of Economics? University of California at Berkeley? UCLA? I wrote to them all and was guided in the final decision by financial considerations and some sound counsel from a revered loved one. UCLA at that time had all of the advantages of the great prestige of the University of California, plus a new vital campus with extraordinarily high standards. I applied and was admitted and during the next three years was blessed with a loving wife, two children, part-time work, fellowships and assistantships, and a PhD.
So it has gone through life. I have faced decisions of whether or not to return to Utah State University in Logan, Utah, from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania; accept an overseas appointment in Greece and Turkey; become the cultural attaché at the embassy in India; or serve in several university presidencies. In each case I was guided by the careful process indicated. These occupational choices often represented something expressed in Robert Frost’s poem.
(“The Road Not Taken” in The Poetry of Robert Frost, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969, p. 105)
I have learned that if we follow the guidelines afforded by the gospel, we will always be on solid ground.
You, too, may be guided in your choice of subjects to study, in what you should major in at college, in your choice of occupation, in the choice of friends and your eternal companion. As Elder Ashton wrote in his book, “You can get there from here!”