The year was 1951. The place was New York City. The Brigham Young University basketball team was in town to participate in the National Invitational Tournament (N.I.T.).
Coach Stan Watts and trainer Rod Kimball had just made their nightly bed check to make sure the players were all right. Shortly after, two older players slipped out of bed, dressed, and left the hotel by a side entrance. They were attracted by the big city night life and wanted to look around.
They were silent as they headed for the bright lights of a Times Square that was safer and cleaner in those days than it is today. Finally one stopped and said, “Do we really want to be doing this?” His friend replied, “You know, I’m having the same feelings. I’ve got too much respect for this team to be doing what we’re doing.” The first one said, “Let’s go back.” Both players returned to the hotel. Incidentally, BYU gained national honors that year by winning the N.I.T. for the first time. The New York press was high in its praise, and the team returned to Utah with a hero’s welcome.
Not everyone will find himself on a championship team, but sooner or later most everyone finds himself or herself on a dark side street of life, either alone or with others, trying to decide if the attraction of a Times Square should draw them in or whether they should turn back. These decisions are usually made in private. Many of them are also made when we are young. They almost always help determine what the future will hold—what we are going to accomplish in life. It is a very important step for a person to stop at that moment and say, “Wait a minute, I’ve got too much respect for myself to do this—too much love for my family—too much value in what I have stood for up until now.” Such a self-conversation could lead to great moments later on, just as it did for those ball players. Often such great moments aren’t seen by others, but, instead, are private accomplishments unseen by the world.
In his day, the prophet Joshua was successful in persuading his people to turn away from a wrong course. Like every prophet he was trying to help people make the right decisions. Joshua used the words of the Lord to show his people how the Lord blessed and led Israel. He spoke of how, before the flood, the ancestors of the house of Israel “served other gods,” (Josh. 24:2); of how the Lord brought Abraham out of this environment and into the light; of the righteous paths of Isaac and Jacob; of how Jacob (or Israel) went to live with Joseph in Egypt; of Moses and how he was raised up to bring Israel out of Egyptian bondage in a most spectacular way; of how the Lord fought the battles of the house of Israel at Jericho and elsewhere so they could inherit the land the Lord gave them.
“And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat” (Josh. 24:13). (It reminds us of how many blessings we enjoy today because of the efforts of others.) All of this caused Joshua to offer his people this choice: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods” (Josh. 24:15–16).
Joshua and his people had weighed their own spiritual heritage against the gods of this world, and they turned away from the evil traditions around them. They would serve the Lord. Their righteous trust was in the true Lord and in their spiritual heritage.
My grandfather joined the Church in the 1800s in Kirkintilloch, Scotland. As a single, young man he immigrated to the United States with the intent of coming to Utah. When he arrived in New York there was a delay as he waited for a wagon train to be organized that would take him to the Salt Lake Valley. During this time he became discouraged. He evidently had a talent for acting and had appeared in one or two amateur productions in Scotland. However, before he left for the United States, his mother, for whatever reason, made him promise that he would not pursue a life on the stage. Yet, as he spent those discouraging days in New York, he saw an advertisement that an acting company was hiring actors. He decided he would try to join them. As he walked up the steps toward the front door of the theatrical company, the words of his mother came into his heart. He paused for a moment and then turned back. He had only gone a short distance when he met someone who had been looking for him. A wagon train was being organized, and it was going to the valley. My grandfather came to Utah in that train.
Had he not stopped and remembered what he was told by someone who loved him, had he not made the decision to turn back, it is clear that his life would have been totally different and the lives of his many descendants as well. It was all decided when he paused for a moment, thought about what he was doing, what it meant to himself and others, and then decided to turn back.
And so it is with each one of us. Sometime or another those moments usually come—moments of great decision, moments that have a bearing on our eternal life, moments that affect the destiny of those who come after us. If we never travel down that side street, so much the better, but if we do, the decision to turn back can always be made.
“But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage” (Mosiah 7:33).