The Parable of the Sunburned Sailors


Spencer J. Condie
A modification of Spencer J. Condie, In Perfect Balance (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993), Chapter 16, “The Physical and the Spiritual,” pp. 239–40.
These sailors didn’t know what “burned” meant until they talked to the captain.

Several years ago there were three young American sailors stationed aboard a ship somewhere between Hawaii and Japan. Observing the beautiful deep blue sky above the sun-drenched Pacific Ocean, the three of them simultaneously concluded that this would be a wonderful opportunity to acquire a world-class suntan. After all, there was not a cloud in the sky and there was absolutely no pollution to block the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

They located some nice soft bath towels and staked out a place on the upper deck where the sun’s rays would be unobstructed. They remembered some good counsel from someone who had told them that in order to get the best results, you should turn over every few minutes like a grilled chicken on a turning spit. If you lay on your back a few minutes and then on your stomach a few minutes, you avoid the peril of becoming severely sunburned. The counsel was good, but it applies best when you don’t stay out too long, especially the very first day. Well, “boys will be boys,” and these young teenage sailors fell asleep during the rotation process as the warm summer sun slowly turned their skin from pasty pink to bright red.

When they awakened, they began to sense they were in real trouble. Their skin had been so badly sunburned it hurt to put on their shirts, it hurt to move, and it even hurt to breathe. With considerable difficulty they made their way to the lower deck to visit the ship’s physician. He gave them some anesthetic ointment which provided a degree of temporary relief from their pain. He suggested that they might be suffering from first-degree burns in a few areas and that they should probably stay in bed for a few days.

These three medium well-done musketeers proceeded to a captain’s quarters to report their plight and to request a few days sick leave as recommended by the doctor. They had anticipated some sympathy from the captain, but his reply was totally unexpected. With considerable agitation he said: “Your request for sick leave is denied. When you signed up for the U.S. Navy you agreed to keep yourselves in good physical condition, to be combat ready at all times. You are now the property of the U.S. Navy. If we had an emergency aboard ship, none of you would be in a position to help. Instead of giving you three days sick leave, I sentence you to three days in the brig for misuse and abuse of government property.”

As spirit children of our Heavenly Father we are, in a very real sense, His property. The Apostle Paul asked the profound question: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17). “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).

When we use our eyes to improve our minds and to edify our spirits, we do, indeed, glorify God with our body. And when we listen to sublime music and to the spoken word of the Lord’s servants, we pay Him honor. When we use our voices to share the gospel, to proclaim the truth, to sing lofty hymns, and to comfort and cheer others, we show our gratitude for our body temples. When we adorn our bodies with modest clothing, and when our behavior is also modest, we demonstrate that we are indeed the Lord’s children.

Whenever we eat a well-balanced diet (including brussels sprouts and broccoli because we know they’ll be good for us) and when we follow a program of physical exercise we are, in essence, paying tribute to our Father who created us all. We not only enjoy better health and vigor of mind and body now, but we are also better prepared to “waste and wear out our lives” spreading the gospel and building up the Church. May each of us fill our minds with light and our hearts with love, and may we take good care of the Lord’s property—our bodies—the temples of our spirits.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus