Soon after my 18th birthday, I was invited by my bishop, who happened to be my father, to work on the ward welfare farm. The assignment was to thin beets in the company of other priesthood holders. I was a master of this slavelike labor; I have a lame back to prove it. I could do an acre in one day, providing I started before sunup and ended long after sundown, and providing I cared little about standing erect for several days.
I worked diligently up one row and down another, hoping to finish the task early. One of the older workers was my stake president, a banker by profession. It pleased me to see him digging in the soil and sweating under the hot sun. It was the first time I had seen this fastidious man dressed in anything other than a dark suit, white shirt, and conservative tie. I must admit that I enjoyed watching him get his hands dirty. In fact, I was so carried away by this pleasure that I sped up the soiling by deliberately kicking up clouds of dust in his direction as I moved by.
On one move past President Tietjen, he called my name and invited me to engage in conversation. I stopped, laid down my hoe, and sat on the soft ground. He asked, “Carlos, how old are you?”
I replied, “18.”
“Do you know how old I am?” he continued.
“Oh, about 70,” was my quick and foolish answer. I overestimated the mark by some 15 years.
Laughing outwardly, and I suspect crying inwardly, he said, “My time on earth is running out. Yours is just beginning. Carlos, would you sell to me the next ten years of your life?”
I thought to myself, what’s wrong with this money changer? Can’t he forget money and buying and selling for just one morning?
He was able to discern my thoughts and to note my discomfort. He quickly added, “I know that it is impossible for you to transfer to me part of your life. However, if it were possible, would you sell?”
With little hesitation I blurted out, “No, I would not.”
“Suppose I offered you $100,000 for those years,” he pressed.
Again, I declined his offer, saying that I had things to do in the years ahead.
During the next ten years, my visits with President Tietjen were few and scattered. On each occasion, he would refer back to the question asked in the beet field. He would say, “Will you take $90,000 for the remaining nine years? $80,000 for the next eight?” And on it went until ten years were gone.
It didn’t take me the full decade to appreciate the profound lesson which my wonderful church leader was trying to teach. He caused me to treasure those formative and crucial years between 18 and 28. He also motivated me to make plans and to initiate actions that would enable me to claim the most of my opportunities.
You cannot package a part of your life and transfer it to another. But you can, if you are not careful, squander the prospects of the immediate future. Just as Esau despised his birthright and sold it for a “morsel of meat” (Heb. 12:16), so may you through neglect and myopic living forfeit all that the decade ahead could have to offer.
There is a profound scripture in the Book of Mormon wherein reference is made to those who have been called to a “holy calling.” It is stated that these holy callings were given selected people because of their faith, good works, wise choices, and their reliance upon the Spirit of God. Others, according to the record, rejected the Spirit of God “on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren” (Alma 13:4).
Your privileges, opportunities, holy callings, and dreams can be snatched from your grasp by those twin thieves called “hardness of heart” and “blindness of mind.” They prey upon all members of Adam’s family, particularly the young—for these robbers know that the path of youth is slippery and full of risks.
Permit me to suggest six specific ways of perfecting yourselves and safeguarding your possibilities for the future.
First, you must avoid blindness of mind by setting goals. A person who sets realistic, attainable, yet challenging goals paints on the corridors of his mind a picture of what he can do and can become. This picture serves as a catalyst to every action taken in the direction of reaching established objectives. It beckons one to move forward, not backward, and it pulls from the goal striver the finest performance.
Without goals, how does one keep score? How does one know if he is winning or losing the game? What purpose would there be to the game of football if the goal line were erased or the crossbars in the end zone removed? Who would want to play basketball if the hoops and nets were taken down? What incentive would there be to dribble, pass, and screen if there were no means of making a goal?
The same applies to the game of life. Goals lend purpose and direction to our living. They excite imagination and stir interest, and they generate a strength of anticipation which can rally all the powers of one’s soul.
God has an avowed purpose. It is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Moreover, he has a plan for the accomplishment of his stated goal, and we refer to that plan as the gospel of Jesus Christ. Added to all of this, note Deity’s goal-striving determination described in this scripture:
“For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round” (D&C 3:2).
I have long contended that the person who sets goals and who strives to attain such is the master of his own fate. On the other hand, the person without goals becomes the pawn of time, circumstance, and every wind of influence. President Kimball had this in mind when he said, “I am convinced that unless we set goals, we move no place.”
Second, you must avoid blindness of mind by following models of righteousness. Several years ago, President Kimball in a general conference quoted these words of Walter MacPeek:
“[Young men] need lots of heroes like Lincoln and Washington. But they also need to have some heroes close by. They need to know some man of towering strength and basic integrity, personally. They need to meet them on the street, to hike and camp with them, to see them in close-to-home, everyday, down-to-earth situations; to feel close enough to them to ask questions and to talk things over man-to-man with them” (Ensign, May 1976, p. 47). The same could be said of young women. All of us, it seems, need the strength and encouragement which only a role model can provide.
There are times when the road ahead becomes blurred in one’s mind. Perhaps the goal is too far out of sight or the obstacles over which one must jump block vision and give rise to the feeling “I can’t do it.” At times like this a hero can ride to the rescue. His appearance on the scene assures us in these implied words: “He did it! And, by golly, if he did it, so can I!”
In the selection of a role model, you must be very cautious. You will want to pick someone who can be trusted—not someone with feet of clay. You will want to follow someone who walks the straight path—not someone who will lead you down strange roads.
When I think of role modeling, I think of that great chief captain Moroni. It was said of him: “If all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men” (Alma 48:17).
Yes, I urge you to avoid blindness of mind by following models of righteousness. Conduct your modeling with the words of the Savior in mind: “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27). He is the ultimate model.
Third, you must avoid blindness by discovering and cultivating the gifts within. Paul advised Timothy: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee” (1 Tim. 4:14). The apostle may have said this in reference to priesthood conferral and blessings. I personally believe, however, that there is a broader application.
I suspect that many of you wondered where you were when the gifts were distributed. Perhaps you even feel that you were completely overlooked. At times I have envied the gifts made apparent in the lives of others. I have wondered why I haven’t received more of an endowment. But, as I have studied this subject and my knowledge of gifts has increased, I have repented of past feelings, for I now know that “to every man [and woman] is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:11). I also know that every man and woman has his/her “proper gift of God” (1 Cor. 7:7). Furthermore, I know that some may be given an abundance of gifts.
We find in holy writ more than a casual invitation to obtain spiritual gifts. We are told to desire spiritual gifts, seek earnestly the best gifts, and lay hold upon every good gift, and to apply ourselves to our gift.
Gifts are not cast freely into the wind. They must be sought; they must be cultivated; they must be used to benefit others—for these are the conditions upon which they are granted. Always bear in mind that they are reserved for those who love God and keep his commandments.
Is it possible that a gift lies dormant within you? Perhaps you haven’t mined deeply enough within the recesses of your soul to discover the “gold” that resides there. Maybe you haven’t heeded sufficiently the subtle intimations of the Spirit which provide clues to special inner powers.
When a man ignores the spiritual dimension of his soul, he binds himself with the weaknesses of the flesh. But when he recognizes the divine spark within and allows that spark to be kindled by heavenly fires, almost limitless powers are unleashed.
Fourth, you must avoid hardness of heart by obeying God’s commandments. Cecil B. DeMille said: “We are too inclined to think of law as something … hemming us in. We sometimes think of law as the opposite of liberty. But that is a false conception. … God does not contradict Himself. He did not create man and then, as an afterthought, impose upon him a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules. He made man free and then gave him the Commandments to keep him free. … We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them—or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fulness of freedom under God. God means us to be free. With divine daring, he gave us the power of choice” (Commencement Address, BYU Speeches of the Year, Provo, 31 May 1957, pp. 4–6).
I regard each law and each commandment as an expression of God’s divine love. He loved us enough to provide some “thou shalts” and some “thou shalt nots.” And, on occasion, he has simply challenged us to exercise judgment and to use wisdom. All is done by a loving Father in Heaven who warns and forewarns his children.
You who are laying the foundations of future vocations or professions need to retain in memory the promise predicated upon your faithfulness, for the Lord has declared: “I … am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10). You can perform beyond your natural abilities; you can accelerate your learning—providing you live in accordance with God’s commandments.
I would have you remember that sin, ignorance, and error have a hardening influence upon the inner man—the heart. Whereas, obedience, knowledge, and truth liberate the soul and enable it to reach heights of greatness. Truly the righteous are favored of God. Look to God, keep his commandments, and live.
Fifth, you must avoid hardness of heart by obeying parents and church leaders who have more than a casual interest in you. Since ancient times, there has appeared in the books this requirement: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12).
A more recent statement reads: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). Please note the words “in the Lord.” I interpret this to mean that a son or daughter is obligated to sustain and obey parents only in righteousness. Unrighteous dominion in parent-child relationships, I feel, is as reprehensible as it is in husband-wife affairs. One really does not sustain another when goodness is compromised.
Permit me to illustrate this point. A young man of faith practiced diligently and became a championship swimmer. He excelled to the point that scholarship offers from many universities were extended. One by one he turned them aside. His father asked, “Son, why won’t you accept one of these free-ride scholarships?”
“I can’t,” the boy answered. “I’m going on a mission, and it would not be honest for me to accept it and then drop it before the year is gone.”
Angrily the father shouted, “How foolish can you be! You are throwing away an opportunity of a lifetime.”
“I’m sorry, Dad,” the boy added respectfully, “but I take seriously what the Lord said about his coming again, and when he does, I don’t want to be found in the swimming pool practicing the backstroke.”
I don’t mean to give the impression that parental advice is usually wrong or misdirected. This is not the case. Generally, parents will lend you counsel that is reliable. It is sparked by genuine love and given with your best interests in mind.
The same applies to the direction given by Church leaders. They, too, have investment in your well-being. Their role is to serve as shepherds to the flock—whether they be fathers of wards, heads of quorums, or teachers in the home.
Perhaps we should view the obeying of parents as a preparatory duty. Did not Paul state: “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?” (Heb. 12:9).
Love of parents is akin to love of God. Obedience to parents, in the Lord, will soften hearts and make one more receptive to the will of God.
Sixth and finally, you must avoid hardness of heart by obeying the eternal rhythms. By this I mean that there is an orderly sequence of events in this life which must not be offended. The poet put it this way: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted” (Eccl. 3:1–2).
I would add: a time to serve a full-time mission; a time to marry; a time to explore fields of learning; and a time to specialize.
President Kimball has addressed this subject in this way: “One can have all the blessing if he is in control and takes the experiences in proper turn; first some limited social get-acquainted contacts, then his mission, then his courting, then his temple marriage and his schooling and his family, then his life’s work. In any other sequence, he could run into difficulty” (Ensign, Feb. 1975, p. 4).
Earlier I shared a beet field conversation which I had with my stake president years ago. You will recall that I rejected his offer of $100,000 for ten years of my life. Those years between 18 and 28 came and went like a dream in the night. Have you any idea what I would have lost had I been willing and able to sell those years?
—Two years of military service in World War II, a precious time of testing.
—Nearly three years in the Palestine-Syrian Mission, an experience of eternal worth.
—Four years at the University of Utah, a precious learning opportunity.
My first year of teaching in the public schools, a time when gifts and interests reached a peak.
And cradled within all of this is marriage to my childhood sweetheart and the birth of a daughter and son.
Can you place a monetary value upon these formative years? No! They are priceless.
How much do the next ten years mean to you? Though my time is running out and yours is only beginning, I will not offer to buy that which is yours. I do, however, warn you in the spirit of helpfulness to guard against the wasting and squandering and the forfeiture of your privileges. In the words of a hymn:
(Hymns, “Improve the Shining Moments,” no. 73.)
May you go forward with staunch faith and firm resolve and rely upon the Spirit of God, making wise investments of your time. For if you do, added callings and greater privileges will be yours to enjoy.