When I was a young man, my home was on Long Island about 30 miles from New York City. My father had a large yard with hedges, rock gardens, a fish pool, a vegetable garden, lawns, and trees. They all required regular care. There were always chores, like cutting the lawn in the summer and raking leaves in the autumn.
I thought we worked pretty hard taking care of our yard, but one day my father said to me, “You’re never going to learn how to work until you go out and work on the ranch with your Uncle Frank.” So I spent that summer in Skull Valley near Tooele, Utah, learning how to work.
I had grown up near a large city. Ranch life was an education for me. I was impressed to see the cattle and the horses and the hard work necessary to bring about the harvest. I can remember the feelings when I first realized that an enormous amount of preparation was necessary before the crops were brought in. We had to plow, harrow, plant, cultivate, weed, irrigate, and then continue to cultivate, weed, and irrigate, endlessly it seemed. That summer is a cherished part of my heritage because it was there, in this almost desolate, remote corner of the world, that I learned the law of the harvest.
The law of the harvest is simply that you don’t get something for nothing in life. The scriptures tell us the law of the harvest is that as ye sow (plant), so shall ye reap (harvest). “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
Since then, I have learned that working out creative solutions to life’s problems uses these same law-of-the-harvest principles. To many, the word creativity simply refers to the cultural, performing, or visual arts. This is a very limiting definition. There are endless ways of applying creative reasoning.
We have the ability to produce creative works in our daily activities. Creativity can also be used to find solutions to everyday problems by developing new ways of approaching the problems. I have seen such creativity during my lifetime.
When I was elders quorum president of the Cambridge Ward in Boston, Massachusetts, we found that we often lost track of incoming LDS students during the first few days of their arrival to attend universities in the area. Some of them never did associate with us in a strong, active way. So we developed a program called Project 48. It offered incoming students who would be members of our elders quorum a chance to stay with a quorum member for 48 hours. The quorum member helped the newcomer find a place to live. (We kept a list of available apartments.) Quorum members offered friendship and brotherhood to the arriving student and made sure he knew his way around.
We bonded many new arrivals to our quorum this way. We didn’t lose them during the first critical hours in a new environment. Years later, Project 48 was still being used to welcome students in the Boston area.
In the Book of Mormon, the brother of Jared sets a good example of how the Lord lets us solve our own problems with His guidance.
The brother of Jared had already built barges according to the Lord’s specifications. But there was no way of supplying light for the travelers inside. The brother of Jared prayed: “Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether 2:22). Too often in our prayers we only restate our problems. “And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (Ether 2:23). He was told he couldn’t use windows or fire. In life we are sometimes limited in the possible options we can use to solve problems.
The brother of Jared’s solution was to take 16 transparent stones and ask the Lord to touch them. “Touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness … that we may have light while we shall cross the sea” (Ether 3:4). The Lord made the stones glow, and they worked perfectly throughout the voyage.
I’m sure there could have been other acceptable solutions to the same need for light. Once, at home evening, my son suggested that the brother of Jared should have had the Lord put his finger in a can of paint. Then the glowing paint could have been applied to the boat’s interior. But the brother of Jared decided to use rocks, and the Lord accepted his solution.
We are thinking, reasoning human beings. We have the ability to identify our needs, to plan, to set goals, and to solve our problems. The characteristics of a creative person can be used to develop solutions for seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We can use originality to overcome opposition. We can develop new ways to help others resolve difficult situations in their lives.
The creative approach is a disciplined approach to meet life’s needs. Creative thinking is not a substitute for education, integrity, or living the commandments. Nor is it a shortcut around the challenges of life. Creative thinking can become a process of inspiration that leads us to decisions.
Creative people must have a constant curiosity. They should be constantly observing and listening to new ideas. They should be willing to admit that someone else’s solution might be better. And they should learn the lessons provided by previous experience—both their own and others’.
May each of us use our creative reasoning to do all in our power to solve our problems and then look to the Lord for the reassuring, peaceful confirmation that we have made the right decision. Surely then our harvest will be plentiful.
The process of creative thinking reminds me time and again of the work we used to do on my uncle’s ranch. The steps used in growing crops offer a good guideline:
Prepare the soil.
Start with prayer to clear your mind and set the proper atmosphere. Research the problem thoroughly. Develop a positive attitude that a solution can be found. Establish an atmosphere of trust in yourself and in others.
Plant the seeds.
Investigate what you can do to help. Determine where you may need help. Ask for counsel when you are ready to act on the advice given to you, but don’t ask someone else to make the decision for you.
Let the seeds grow.
Don’t uproot your idea before it has a chance to grow. Back off and give the idea time to develop. But you must be willing to face failure with a willingness to try again.
Examine your crops.
Weed out ideas that don’t belong. Through obedience to the Lord, you are entitled to inspiration. Review D&C 9:7–9. Inspiration comes when we ask if we have made a correct decision.
The most productive farmers in the world would be unsuccessful if they didn’t harvest their crops. Do something about your ideas. Take the initiative to share your thoughts with others and to take action on your own.
—Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles