Why Work?


From a BYU devotional address given March 16, 1993.
Picking cherries that summer, I began to learn the real value of work. (It has very little to do with money.)

As a young girl I often went with friends to pick cherries in the summer for a local farmer. I remember one hot day in July when we had eaten our sack lunches under a tree. Being very weary, we decided not to go back to work in the afternoon but instead to strike for higher wages. We felt a sudden power and adulthood as we sat in the shade on our overturned buckets.

I was eager to report to my family later in the day about our mature negotiations with the farmer. My mother, who was normally very gentle, surprised me by expressing great disappointment. She was extremely upset that we had inconvenienced that farmer when he had a crop in need of picking.

Work as Service

I never did learn whether I was worth more than three cents a pound, but I learned a permanent lesson—in our family we valued service and the needs of others more than power and money. Since that time it has been reassuring for me to learn that many great people I know work for much less money than they are worth because service is a greater value to them than money. Whatever career or profession you pursue, consider the value of service.

Will to Prepare

One day in Sunday School, we were talking about success in a gospel setting. LaVell Edwards, BYU’s football coach, was in my class. I remember him saying, “I hear people, in describing a great athlete, use the words, ‘He has the will to win.’ To tell you the truth, I don’t know exactly what that means. But there is one characteristic I look for above all others—the will to prepare.”

A great violin teacher said he was often asked about talent, gifts, and natural ability. He said, “It is my experience that most people just quit too soon.” When we see someone excel, it’s easy to say, “Isn’t she gifted?” You are all gifted, but you must continue to work to develop the gifts.

I remember listening to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor speak at Stanford University. She reported that after her graduation from law school, the only job she could get was as a clerk. What did she do? She took the job. She continued to work. She could not have known at that time that she would one day be serving on the Supreme Court, but her readiness resulted from her continued preparation.

Character, Not Fame

My husband tells of an experience he had in medical school.

It is very difficult to get into medical school, and as you might guess, freshmen students are committed to work very hard. My husband said he still remembers going to his first examination at the University of Utah Medical School. The honor system was in place. As the professor passed out the examination and left the room, some classmates started to pull out little cheat papers from their pockets and from under their books. “My heart began to pound as I realized how difficult it is to compete with cheaters,” my husband says.

Then a tall, thin student stood up in the back of the room and said, “I left my home and put my wife and three little children in an upstairs apartment to go to medical school. I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats and YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT!” They believed it. Those cheat papers disappeared as fast as they had appeared. That young man set a standard of hard work and cooperation instead of dishonesty. He cared more about character than popularity.

When I heard the name of J. Ballard Washburn to be sustained as a member of the Quorum of Seventy, I remembered he was that medical student. Whether or not J. B. had been called to be a general authority, I realized his name would have been known for good wherever he was. He had developed character!

Most Important

It’s easy to sell yourself short if you don’t understand your own divine potential. The Lord may have things in mind for you that you can’t know right now, but will unfold to you as you continue to prepare. Learn to trust in Him as He leads you along.

I have thought a good deal about Korihor, whose story is told in the 30th chapter of the book of Alma. Korihor is described in the chapter heading as an antichrist, but I’m not sure he started out that way. Have you ever thought that possibly Korihor started out as a student with lots of questions? Although his questioning may have begun honestly, he made two really bad mistakes. First, he denied his faith. He denied the light of Christ that had been given to him. Second, he started to preach false doctrine to others.

Alma bore his testimony to Korihor. Then Korihor made another mistake. Rather than listening to his leader and listening to and relying on the Spirit, he defended his position with logic and became more argumentative. He demanded that he be given a sign, and he was. He was struck dumb. Perhaps he didn’t intend for the sign to have such an affect on him personally, but often the consequences of our mistakes do affect us personally. I believe the most important verses are when Korihor acknowledges, “I always knew that there was a God. But … the devil hath deceived me” (Alma 30:52–53).

It is sad to read about what happened to him in his later life as he wandered about as a beggar. Then in verse 60 we read, “Thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.” [Alma 30: 60] The Lord sustains; the Spirit sustains; righteousness sustains. That sustenance is not Satan’s to give.

One of the greatest lessons we can learn is how the Spirit sustains those who work to live by faith. As I recognize the need for the Atonement of Jesus Christ in my life, I value more each day the opportunities we each have to love one another and serve one another. That’s what He asks of us!

This is your time to prepare, to develop character, to increase your faith. Keep the commandments. Then as you move forward, making and carrying out your plans, you can feel the blessings and direction of the Spirit that the Lord has promised.

[photos] Photography by John Luke