Secret of the Second Mile


We all get assignments, jobs, things we must do. The temptation is to just get them over with. Yet real joy and satisfaction—and greatness—come from going beyond the mere requirements.

Secret of the Second Mile

Elder Delbert L. Stapley, who served for many years as a General Authority, once told about an incident that occurred when he arrived in the Southern States Mission. Charles A. Callis was the mission president. Shortly after Elder Stapley arrived in Atlanta, President Callis told him that they were catching a train together that would take the young elder to his field of labor.

The train stopped in a very small community and the bags were unloaded. They were transferred to a buggy. There was only room for two riders, the driver and one passenger. President Callis climbed up on the seat beside the driver and asked Elder Stapley to follow on foot.

The horse and buggy kicked up the dust as Elder Stapley walked along behind. He said he began to resent his new mission president. The farther he walked and the more the dust was raised, the more he came to dislike his mission president. He felt he was losing respect for this leader.

After he had walked a mile, however, the president had the driver stop. Then President Callis traded places with Elder Stapley and he walked for two miles.

“I grew to love him more with every step,” Elder Stapley recalled. “I thought he was about the greatest man who had lived.”

In the Sermon on the Mount we read, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matt. 5:41). I recently read a speech that casts an interesting light on this statement from the Master.

“In ancient … times, soldiers could [force] teen-age boys in Roman provinces to carry their heavy backpacks for one mile, but no more. In a typical scene, we would see a soldier walk into a community. A teen-age boy sees him and starts to run and hide. The boy knows that if the soldier has seen him that he will be caught and whipped for running. The soldier does see the boy and motions for him to come and pick up the heavy backpack. Reluctantly, the boy shoulders the heavy load. The soldier motions toward the road leading out of town, and together they trudge toward the first mile marker.

“When the marker comes into sight, the soldier motions for the boy to put the pack down. The boy instead agrees to carry the pack another mile. The soldier reminds him that only one mile is required. However, the boy agrees to go ’the second mile.’ As they continue down the road, the soldier begins to talk with the boy. He asks him if he has seen the mighty ocean. The boy replies ‘No,’ so the soldier gives descriptive accounts of his adventures on the high seas. The soldier then relates stories about military campaigns in distant countries and describes snow covered mountains, which the lad has never seen.

“The vivid accounts stir the imagination of the young lad as he hears the tales of the seas and of distant lands. The second mile goes quickly, and the boy discovers the secret of ‘going the second mile.’ You go the first mile and you discharge a duty; you go the second mile and you make a friend. The great men and women in history have been those willing to go the second mile” (Beverly Chiodo, Vital Speeches of the Day, 1 Nov. 1987, p. 42).

History shows that there have been a number of people who have learned this great secret, that when service is freely given it becomes sweet. In going the second mile, these people honor our Heavenly Father by honoring themselves and honoring others.

Those who go the second mile are often blessed with another rare and unique gift—they discover the divine in others. When we consider that every soul who walks the earth may become like our spiritual Father in Heaven, it should humble us in the presence of any human soul.

“When Queen Victoria of England pinned one of England’s highest awards on Helen Keller, she asked [her], ‘How do you account for your remarkable accomplishment in life? How do you explain the fact that even though you were both blind and deaf, you were able to accomplish so much?’ Without a moment’s hesitation, Helen Keller said, ‘If it had not been for Anne Sullivan, the name of Helen Keller would have remained unknown.’

“While we know Helen Keller’s story (and that Anne Sullivan was the teacher who helped her along), most of us do not know who saw the potential in Anne Sullivan. As a young girl, Anne Sullivan was known as ‘Little Annie.’ She was diagnosed as being hopelessly insane and was locked in the basement of a mental institution outside of Boston. Little Annie would on occasion violently attack anyone who came near her. At other times she would completely ignore them.

“An elderly nurse believed there was hope for the child and felt she could communicate love and hope to her. The nurse daily visited Little Annie, but for a long time Little Annie gave no indication she was aware of her presence. The elderly nurse persisted and repeatedly brought some cookies and left them in [the] room. Soon the doctors in the institution noticed a change. After a period of time, they moved Little Annie upstairs. Finally the day came when this seemingly ‘hopeless case’ was released. Filled with compassion for others because of her institution experience, Little Annie, Anne Sullivan, wanted to help others.

“Therefore, it was Anne Sullivan who saw the great potential in Helen Keller. She loved her, disciplined her, played, prayed, pushed, and worked with her until the flickering candle that was her life became a beacon that helped light the pathway and lighten the burdens of people all over the world. But first there was the elderly nurse, then Anne Sullivan, then Helen Keller, and finally each one of us, and additional millions, who have been influenced by the people of Helen Keller” (Vital Speeches of the Day, p. 42).

An unknown elderly nurse has made a monumental contribution to our society. Anne Sullivan honored that nurse and Helen Keller honored Anne Sullivan. In the same way, as we honor God by going the second mile, he will honor us.

Conversely, when we dishonor ourselves or others, we dishonor our Father in Heaven and our Savior. They have blessed us with gifts, talents, and intelligence to bless mankind, but some misuse this.

“Let me tell you about a man named Emmanuel Ninger. The year is 1887, and the scene is a small neighborhood grocery store. A distinguished looking gentleman in his late 50’s or early 60’s is buying some turnip greens. He hands the clerk a $20 bill and waits for his change. As she starts to make change, she notices that the ink is coming off on her fingers which are still wet from handling the turnip greens. She is shocked and pauses to consider what to do. She thinks, ‘This is Emmanuel Ninger, a long-time friend, a neighbor, and a customer. Surely he would not give me a bill that was anything less than genuine.’ So, she gives him the change and he leaves.

“Later she had some second thoughts because $20 was a large amount of money in 1887. She sent for the police. One policeman was confident that the $20 bill was genuine. The other was puzzled about the ink that rubbed off. Finally they obtained a warrant to search Mr. Ninger’s home.

“In the attic they found the facilities for reproducing $20. As a matter of fact, they found a $20 bill in the process of being printed. They also found three portraits which Emmanuel Ninger had painted. Ninger was an artist, and he was a good one. He was so good, he had hand painted those $20 bills. Meticulously, stroke by stroke, he had applied the master’s touch so skillfully that he was able to fool everyone until a quirk of fate in the form of wet hands of a grocery clerk exposed him.

“After the arrest, his portraits were sold at public auction for $16,000—over $5,000 each. The irony of the story is it took Emmanuel Ninger almost exactly the same length of time to paint a $20 bill as it took him to paint a $5,000 portrait.

“This brilliant and talented man was a thief in every sense of the word. Tragically, the person he stole the most from was himself, Emmanuel Ninger. Not only could he have been a wealthy man if he had legitimately marketed his ability, but he could have brought joy and benefit to his fellowman. He had a choice, and he compromised his integrity” (Vital Speeches of the Day, pp. 40–41).

We ought to use our talents to benefit man and in so doing, benefit God. I think we honor our Heavenly Father best by serving his children. He honors us when he allows us to serve.

We can do nothing better than to honor God and do it through our life and works. Choose to follow this course in life by going the second mile, and he will honor you.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett