Look Both Ways


From an address delivered at Brigham Young University on September 15, 1992.
You can just close your eyes and rush across the road. But what if you do it when a car is coming?

My four-year-old niece Mollie was playing at her grandmother’s house one day when she asked if she could cross the street to visit a favorite aunt. Mollie was cautioned to look carefully both ways before crossing. Always an inquisitive child, she questioned this procedure, so her grandmother replied, “You could easily get hit by a car, and I love you so much I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Before long Mollie was back. “You lied to me! You said I would get hit by a car if I didn’t look both ways. Well, I closed my eyes and ran over and back and a car didn’t hit me!”

Just as a loving grandmother cautioned a four-year-old child to look both ways before crossing a street, a loving Father in Heaven has given us detailed instructions to ensure our happiness and safe arrival at our ultimate destination. Yet we often question the consequences, or think we can get away with taking chances, so we close our eyes to some of God’s commandments and cross the street of life. At such times it appears that we might not get hurt if we obey only some of God’s laws. But the Lord has said, “Keep my commandments.” He didn’t say, “Look this list over and pick out what you think applies,” or “Try to work on part of these some of the time.” His instructions were simple, yet direct and unqualified—“Keep my commandments.”

My four-year-old granddaughter Jordan asks “why” after almost everything I say. I realize her need to understand and I explain as much as possible. But there are occasions when no amount of explaining can penetrate her level of understanding. And so it is with us. Our mortal minds are limited. How tedious it must become when we continue to question what we cannot comprehend. Often the consequences from our actions are not immediately visible and our obedience requires some faith. Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said, “Obedience, among other things, provides us with a grace period. During this period, we go forward out of a sense of duty, doing what we should do before we have all the answers as to why” (Meek and Lowly, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987, p. 114).

Many of us wish we could counsel with the Lord concerning situations in our lives. What we sometimes fail to realize is that we can! We have been given personalized counsel in the form of a perfect road map detailed specifically for us in ancient scripture and modern-day revelation. Just tune in to general conference, and you will be astounded at the solutions to your own problems that you will hear from the Lord’s chosen leaders.

We have also been given the ultimate model. The Savior’s life is the perfect example for us to follow. And if our footsteps falter, because of the Atonement, and through our own repentance, we are welcomed back to the pathway of righteousness.

Tucked inside our own personal road map, we have been given a promise concerning our willingness to follow the commandments of the Lord. We are told that the Lord is bound when we do what he says. And then, we are given a caution. When we do not what he says, we have no promise. (See D&C 82:8–10.)

It is pretty clear, isn’t it? We cannot afford to be selectively obedient. We must be steadfastly obedient. In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are told, “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:21).

If we are willing to put our trust in the Lord and keep his commandments, we have been promised that we will be blessed. The blessing might not come in the form of straight A’s, having a date every Friday night, or inheriting a lot of money. But we will grow in capacity, experiencing joy along the way as we keep more and more of the commandments and eventually become prepared for a celestial existence.

The catch in all of this is that our level of obedience determines the outcome. Whether we are studying music or microbiology, we all know that success hinges on how thoroughly we study or how hard we practice. Does it really surprise us that God operates in this same cause-and-effect manner?

Douglas Smoot, Dean of the College of Engineering and Technology at Brigham Young University, once told me, “It is impossible to leap from the top of a building and disobey the law of gravity. Placing one’s finger in an electric outlet will cause an electrical flow through a person’s body irrespective of intent. Fundamental laws of nature cannot be disobeyed.”

I thought about Dean Smoot’s comments, and how we as humans constantly try to push the laws of nature as well as the laws of God, when I read in the newspaper about a young man celebrating his birthday at a hotel. He and his friends had been drinking and were probably not thinking clearly when he decided to jump from one tenth-floor balcony to the next. Being successful the first time, he attempted a second leap and fell to his death. “We were just out having a good time,” said his friend, “but now] I realize how quickly life can be taken away.”

Use this tragic story to illustrate what happens when our judgment is impaired and we refuse to obey the laws God has given us—both physical and spiritual. In this case, the consequence of falling from that high up seems pretty obvious. But there will be times when we will feel physically or spiritually impaired and will not realize what could happen if we choose to disobey, or if we walk too close to the edge of disobedience. If only we could realize that the momentary pleasure we might feel by an act of disobedience can never be equal to the feelings of peace and happiness that result from obedience.

Joseph Smith assured us, “As God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—he never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256).

Sometimes we are tempted to test the law, as Mollie did, and even question the wisdom of the lawgiver. We may feel that we find freedom in disobedience as we dash across life’s highway with our eyes closed. But as Elder Boyd K. Packer has said, “Obedience—that which God will never take by force—he will accept when freely given. And he will return to you freedom that you can hardly dream of—the freedom to feel and to know, the freedom to do and the freedom to be, at least a thousandfold more than we offer him. Strangely enough, the key to freedom is obedience” (Obedience, BYU Speeches of the Year, Provo, 7 Dec. 1971, p. 4).

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond