Life was simpler years ago in my hometown on the Canadian prairie. Our phone number was one digit—3. We had one black-and-white movie that came from Cardston every Thursday night. Mail came Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—unless it snowed hard.
There was one main road. Three miles west was our farm, and 20 miles east on that same road was the Cardston Alberta Temple. There weren’t many other roads to choose or places to go.
Today there are infinite telephone numbers, movies of all kinds and colors, e-mail at our fingertips 24 hours a day, and many roads that relentlessly call for our judgment. Our environment is flooded with choices. But our purpose for being here on earth has never changed. The Lord told Abraham that He sent us to earth to see if we would do what He asked us to do. The world’s two opposing forces seek our commitment. On the one hand is the reality of Satan, and on the other, the more powerful love of the Savior. It is in this exercise of acting for ourselves that we grow.
I remember asking my parents if I could do certain things. Their response never varied: “You have been taught. You know how we feel about that, but you will have to decide for yourself.” Yet deciding for oneself dictates consequences, which are not always what we want. We want the freedom without consequences. And so, too often, we try to stand neutral, undecided, and uncommitted. It is in this atmosphere that we become vulnerable to Satan.
King Ahab and his people in northern Israel tell us about neutrality and indecision. The Lord’s hand was stayed because the people would not decide whom to worship—Jehovah or Baal. The Lord sent Elijah the prophet with this clear message: “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” The scriptures say, “The people answered him not a word” (1 Kgs. 18:21). They didn’t want the responsibility of making a commitment. You remember the story: Elijah challenged them to a test to see who is God. They would each pray to their god to see which would burn up the offering on the altar. When the priests called mightily to their idol, they were left unheard and unsupported.
When Elijah petitioned his God, the fire of the Lord came down and consumed everything—the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the dust—and it licked up the water in the trench. Following this exhibition, the people said, “The Lord, he is the God” (1 Kgs. 18:39), and then the scriptures say the priests of Baal were killed. Choices would not be a dilemma if good were rewarded as quickly and spectacularly as was Elijah or if wrongdoing meant immediate death. But it is not that simple.
Our faith and commitment are tested when the world offers tempting alternatives that can turn our faces from the Lord’s kingdom. Choosing which way we face will determine our blessings or our burdens.
Finding the strength
A young man I love with all my heart said to me: “No one can tell me what to do. I am in charge of my own life.” He has the mistaken idea that to be independent and free, he must oppose God’s will. Where, then, will his strength come?
Brother James E. Talmage said of Jesus: He “was all that a boy should be, for His development was unretarded by the dragging weight of sin; He loved and obeyed the truth and therefore was free” (Jesus the Christ, 112).
Making right choices frees us and blesses us, even in choosing what may appear trivial in our lives. A friend thought the Lord was too involved in his life. He said, “I can’t take all those absolutes in the Church that tell me I must do this, I can’t do that.” My friend did not see that those absolutes are evidence of our Father’s vigilant care.
Isn’t it incredible? There are six billion people on this planet, and Heavenly Father cares what I watch for entertainment, and He cares what I eat and drink. He cares how I dress and how I earn and spend my money. He cares what I do and don’t do. Heavenly Father cares about my happiness.
Our Father’s caring comes in so many ways, and we have only to listen and live for it.
Because our purpose here on earth has not changed, our Father steadily and regularly supplies additional gifts to make our world safe and strengthen our wise use of agency. Think about the gift of prayer—opportunities to be heard and understood. Think about the gift of the Holy Ghost, who will show us all the things that we should do (see 2 Ne. 32:5). Think about sacred covenants we have made, the scriptures, priesthood and patriarchal blessings. Think about the ultimate gift of the Atonement and its reminder in the sacrament that blankets us with love and hope and grace. These gifts help us use our agency wisely to return to our heavenly home.
Today there are many roads, but like my hometown, there is only one main road, the strait and narrow.