When I was serving as a mission president in Brazil, our family had five missionaries out at the same time. Three of our children were serving, and, of course, Sister Hillam and I considered ourselves missionaries. It was a great experience.
When our children came home from their missions, we were still in Brazil. They started their missions and reported their missions, and we were never there. Of our seven children, we’ve only been home to hear one report his mission. Likewise, we’ve only been home to see two of them go on their missions, and we’ve been gone when they started college. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you the counsel I gave them, even from long distance.
First, I would remind them of the scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants directed to Oliver Cowdery: “Behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:8).
Now what does that scripture mean? I’d say be sure that when you go to school you’ve really studied it out in your mind as to what you want to do. Don’t go just with the idea “I’ll go put in a few hours.” Study it out. Don’t expect that the Lord is just going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Now, Harold, you go into orthodontics or you do whatever.”
You really study it out, and then, when you feel that it’s the right thing, take it to the Lord and ask Him for a confirmation. Then I’m sure you will have that burning in your bosom and you will know that it is right.
When I decided that I wanted to go into dentistry, that’s all I could think of. I wanted to be a dentist so badly I could almost taste it. I don’t know what it is to taste dentistry, but it just permeated all my thoughts. And I believe I had a sensation reassuring me that it was the right decision for me. Once you’ve made your decision, be ready to stand by it. And be ready to not move your position, not to start this one day and that another day.
Brigham Young, thought of as one of the greatest colonizers in history, gave us some good counsel. One of the keys to his greatness was this statement: “I have Zion in my view constantly” (Discourses of Brigham Young, 443).
He had a vision. He knew what Zion was going to be. And everything he did was to build Zion.
Brigham Young is a remarkable model. He taught us that once we know what we want to do, once the Lord has given that confirmation, we must have it in our vision constantly. Have it in our vision and don’t plan on straying from it.
Now there are times when we do have to alter our goal just a bit. I’ll never forget my first day as a student at Ricks College. One of the instructors asked, “What are you all going to be?” One raised his hand and said, “I’m going to be a brain surgeon.” Another one said, “I’m going to be an atomic physicist.” I sat there and thought, Boy, I’m in the wrong league. I don’t know whether I can keep up with these guys.
But it was interesting how many of them hadn’t really thought it out. When I looked back at them later, some had dropped out of school and others hadn’t pursued the courses that would qualify them for such lofty goals. It was easy for them to set a goal and let it slip. Now there are times when we do need to modify our goals. But I would suggest that, in general, we should try to raise them rather than lower them simply because it is easier.
One pivotal scripture that teaches us a great deal about our destiny is found in the New Testament.
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
I’d like you to remember the Savior had His agency. He was not commanded. He was not forced to do what He did in completing the Atonement. He did it because He loved us. He did it because He knew that our exaltation depended on Him and what He did. It was not easy.
The Savior, as He hung on the cross, agonized more than you or I could ever imagine. All of the pains of this world, He suffered while He was in Gethsemane and on the cross. And because Heavenly Father had to let the Savior do it by Himself, He withdrew His presence from the Savior. This is the first time the Savior had ever gone through that, I believe. And now all the weight of the suffering of Gethsemane, all of the horrible suffering on the cross, every known suffering we could ever imagine was heaped upon Him—all without the help of His Father in Heaven.
He could have quit any time. He had control over life and death. He could have ended it and said, “I cannot.” And at the moment He was without the support of His Heavenly Father, I think we were at one of the most precarious times in the history of this world. I am confident we watched it all take place; as spirit children, we saw it. I believe that our prayers were with the Savior.
If I were to counsel my children, I would say, “In all of your studying, learn to know the Savior. Know what He really did for us. Know that He is the author as well as the finisher of our faith” (see Moro. 6:4). If you learn to follow His example and live His teachings, the other things that you learn will be brought into the proper balance and perspective.