Where would we be if Moses hadn’t written his history of the world, those first five vital books of the Old Testament? He had the background, the data, the record, and the inclination, and he has blessed us throughout the eternities for the service he rendered in writing the first five books of the Bible.
How grateful we are that Abraham wrote his own life story and that important segment of the history of the world and his own revelations, thoughts, feelings, and rich experiences.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself emphasized the great importance of record keeping to the Nephites and Lamanites.
“Behold, other scriptures I would that ye should write, that ye have not.
“And it came to pass that he said unto Nephi: Bring forth the record which ye have kept.
“And when Nephi had brought forth the records, and laid them before him, he cast his eyes upon them and said:
“Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?
“And his disciples answered him and said; Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.
“And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?
“And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written.
“And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded” (3 Ne. 23:6–13).
I am glad that it was not I who was reprimanded, even though mildly and kindly, for not having fulfilled the obligation to keep my records up to date.
Early in the American life of the family of Lehi, his son, Nephi, said:
“Having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. …
“And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge” (1 Ne. 1:1, 3).
This great record included not only the movements of his people but events from his own personal life.
And then we must not forget or minimize the great efforts of our modern prophet, Joseph Smith, to write the history of the Restoration of the gospel and also his own personal experiences in great detail. What a mass of confusion we would have without those authentic, personal, carefully written records!
Again, how happy we are as we find our grandparents’ journals and follow them through their trials and joys and gain for our own lives much from the experiences and faith and courage of our ancestors.
Your personal record
Accordingly, we urge our young people to begin today to write and keep records of all the important things in their own lives and also the lives of their antecedents in the event that their parents should fail to record all the important incidents in their own lives. Your own private journal should record the way you face up to challenges that beset you. Do not suppose life changes so much that your experiences will not be interesting to your posterity.
Experiences of work, relations with people, and an awareness of the rightness and wrongness of actions will always be relevant. The Royal Bank of Canada Monthly Letter made this point when it reported, “One famed bookman divided his big library into two parts—biography and ‘all the rest.’”
No one is commonplace, and I doubt if you can ever read a biography from which you cannot learn something from the difficulties overcome and the struggles made to succeed. These are the measuring rods for the progress of humanity.
As we read the stories of great men, we discover that they did not become famous overnight nor were they born professionals or skilled craftsmen. The story of how they became what they are may be helpful to us all.
Your own journal, like most others, will tell of problems as old as the world and how you dealt with them.
Your journal should contain your true self rather than a picture of you when you are “made up” for a public performance. There is a temptation to paint one’s virtues in rich color and whitewash the vices, but there is also the opposite pitfall of accentuating the negative. Personally I have little respect for anyone who delves into the ugly phases of the life he is portraying, whether it be his own or another’s. The truth should be told, but we should not emphasize the negative. Even a long life full of inspiring experiences can be brought to the dust by one ugly story. Why dwell on that one ugly truth about someone whose life has been largely circumspect?
The good biographer will not depend on passion but on good sense. He will weed out the irrelevant and seek the strong, novel, and interesting. Perhaps we might gain some help from reading Plutarch’s Lives, where he grouped 46 lives in pairs, a Greek and a Roman in each pair. He tried to epitomize the most celebrated parts of their stories rather than to insist upon every slightest detail of them.
Your journal is your autobiography, so it should be kept carefully. You are unique, and there may be incidents in your experience that are more noble and praiseworthy in their way than those recorded in any other life. There may be a flash of illumination here and a story of faithfulness there; you should truthfully record your real self and not what other people may see in you.
Your story should be written now while it is fresh and while the true details are available.
A journal is the literature of superiority. Each individual can become superior in his own humble life.
What could you do better for your children and your children’s children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved?
Some of what you write may be humdrum dates and places, but there will also be rich passages that will be quoted by your posterity.
Get a notebook, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events.