“Is There Room on Your Horse for Two?” Ensign, Mar. 1972, 31
One evening, upon my return home from the office, I was met at the door by my wife, whose face betrayed the crisis that was otherwise concealed in her soul. In the privacy of our room she told me that our second son, who played end on the grade-school football team, had a special championship game scheduled for the next afternoon at four o’clock.
Now, at four o’clock on Tuesdays my wife presides over our ward’s Primary. Being a Primary president brings with it certain obligations, one of which is to set a proper example and to see that one’s family also exudes goodness.
“What does David want to do?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Play football,” she replied. Firmly she continued, “But he must go to Primary; you will have to talk to him.”
Caught between a wife’s determination and a son’s free agency, I called him into the house, and we went into his room for a quiet talk. He looked scared for a moment, then relaxed; then he grew tense again as I brought up the subject of the football game and its conflict with Primary.
We began by discussing the commitments he had made when he entered the waters of baptism. I told him that according to the scriptures, he had, in effect, said to his Heavenly Father, “I willingly take upon myself the name of thy Son, and I will do my best to live as he lived and would have me live. I will, furthermore, bear the burdens of my fellowmen, mourn with those who mourn, and live the teachings of the Church the best way I know how.”
Continuing, I stated that our Heavenly Father never promised us that it would be easy, that conflicts would never arise, that difficult decisions would not have to be made; but we, in effect, said that we would try to solve life’s problems as Jesus Christ would have solved them. Then I told him of famous sports figures who had refused to pitch world-series games because of their religious commitments, of others who refused to play on Sundays, of some who gave up promising athletic careers to serve in the mission field. To be honest and fair, I also told him about other athletes who, feeling an obligation to the team, had participated in athletic events on Sundays and other religious holidays, trying to make up for it at other times during the week.
Then I said, “If you feel good about my suggestion, why don’t you think about your baptismal covenant and pray about the problem? Then you decide, and Mother and I will honor your decision.”
He remained in his room for a long time, and I saw him pray for even longer than usual before retiring that night. I also prayed that he would make the right decision, and his mother prayed almost the same prayer I had uttered, because we both knew that our boy was more important than being Primary president or any other considerations at that moment.
It was barely light when I felt someone shaking my arm. It was David. “I’ve made my decision,” he said.
“And what is it?” I asked.
“I’ll read the scriptures for a half hour before I leave for the game and for a half hour after I get home, but I will play the game.”
“Okay,” I said, as he left the room. Disappointed, my wife and I hardly said a word. He read in the New Testament, played the game, lost, and read some more in the New Testament, while his mother tried to explain his absence to a concerned Primary teacher.
One day months later he told me, “Dad, I believe I blew it the day I played football, but you didn’t. I’m glad you loved me enough to let me make the decision, even though I know you believed it was wrong. I’ll make the right choice next time.”
Later I thought, What does our baptism really mean in everyday life? What does the oath and covenant of the priesthood really mean to an Aaronic Priesthood holder? Are the Church and the priesthood really more important than sports, dances, and other forms of recreation? Which should come first, the Church or school? the Church or sports? the Church or my brothers and sisters? the Church or fun?
It has become apparent to me of late that we are called upon to make difficult choices more often than some people believe. Frequently we must choose between two goods or between two grays rather than between a good and a bad or a black and a white. I am equally convinced that our loving Father in heaven has not always given us definite answers that will solve every problem for us, but has, rather, given us guiding principles that can and do apply to every human dilemma.
I am also certain that how one views his baptism, or how deeply committed he is to the oath and covenant of the priesthood, can make a great difference in the way he solves difficult problems and, indeed, the meaning he attaches to the priesthood and his Church membership.
Antoine de Saint Exupery, in his famous children’s book The Little Prince, tells of the Little Prince who comes from another planet to visit the earth. There is only one rosebush upon his planet, so he expresses shock, disappointment, and even anguish when he discovers on the earth a huge garden with hundreds of roses like his own. But having been taught a great lesson by a sly fox, the Little Prince walks through the large rose garden and speaks to the roses:
“… To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you—the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.”1
The priesthood and the Church are in a sense more meaningful to us when we make them ours, as well as God’s and Christ’s. And the way we do this is by full participation in and sacrifice for the cause we know to be true.
The priesthood becomes meaningful when we bless children, pass the sacrament, administer the sacrament, administer to the sick, set apart teachers, go home teaching, attend temple sessions regularly. As suggested by President Harold B. Lee, it is more meaningful when we use the priesthood to help the lost find their way. Thus we are admonished to give complete dedication and participation, because in this way we make the Church our own.
Another way we attach real meaning to the Church and to the priesthood is by preparing ourselves physically and mentally for each experience in the Church. We should begin on Monday morning of each week to prepare ourselves for the ordinances of the sacrament that will take place the next Sunday. As young men approach age fourteen, they should begin to prepare for the added responsibilities of being teachers, and at age nineteen they should culminate years of preparation by increasing their commitment and dedication as they are about to have the Melchizedek Priesthood conferred upon them.
Another passage from The Little Prince might help us understand this aspect of the Church and why inspired leaders have said that worthy deacons are ordained at age twelve, worthy teachers at age fourteen, worthy priests at age sixteen, and worthy elders at age nineteen.
The Little Prince, when asked by the fox to tame him, replies, “How shall I do this?” The fox declares:
“You must be very patient. … First you will sit down at a little distance from me—like that—in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstanding. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day. …”
The next day the Little Prince came back. “It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you. … One must observe the proper rites. …”2
If ordinations were administered at just any time, we too would never know at what hour our hearts are to be ready. But when we know that at age eight we will be making covenants with God, at twelve young men will take upon themselves additional responsibilities, and at nineteen the full oath and covenant of the priesthood will be theirs, then we can make our hearts ready and our commitment sure, so that the Church will be first in our lives and in the lives of our families.
While it is true that we should live each day as if we were going to meet Christ that evening, still it is wise to make special preparations for great events in our lives. Therefore, rather than complain about the frequency of church meetings or the regularity with which we participate in the ordinance of the sacrament, we should rejoice that the Lord has given us so many opportunities to make our hearts ready for sacred and solemn experiences. If we follow the advice of the fox and observe the proper rites, we can bring greater meaning into our lives.
When our hearts are right, and when we desire with our whole beings to do that which is good, then we will begin to see the significance of the Church and the priesthood in our lives. We will also begin to share each other’s burdens.
While growing up as a boy, I was privileged to have a horse. One thing I learned early was that there is room on every horse for another person. This is expressed in a song about Jack and Joe. Jack’s stick horse breaks while the two boys play in the woods. Joe rides up and says:
“Did you think I would leave you crying
When there’s room on my horse for two?
Climb up, Jack, and don’t be crying,
I can go just as fast with two.”
Then the boys talk about growing up and becoming soldiers, and they speak of the great battles they will fight. Time passes too quickly; they are now men. Soon their boyhood dreams are realized in too literal a way—they are fighting in the Civil War. Joe lies severely wounded in battle when Jack rides to his rescue and says:
“Did you think I could leave you dying
When there’s room on my horse for two?
Climb up, Joe, we’ll soon be flying,
I can go just as fast with two.”3
Those who hold the priesthood, as well as those who have been baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ, should always be cognizant of the fact that we cannot leave our fellowmen dying. In a way, we all have a horse, and there is room on our horse for another. Christ, defined by some writers as the “man for others,” expects all of us to involve ourselves with other people. Baptism and the priesthood, in the spirit of that great old Primary song “Called to Serve,” are indeed calls to service. For Christ said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.)
What does the priesthood mean in daily life? It means commitment, dedication, service. It means making the Church ours as well as Christ’s. It means preparing our hearts each day so that our involvement in life is clean, honest, genuine, and right. It means putting another person on our horse with us so that together we can achieve joy here and eternal life hereafter.
It means, as President Spencer W. Kimball says, that “seminary courses should be given preferential attention over the high school subjects; the institute over the college courses; the study of the scriptures ahead of the study of man. … The association with the Church is more important than the association with the clubs, fraternities and sororities; … the ordinances of the temple are more important than the Ph.D. or/and all other academic degrees.”4
Yes, Primary is more important than a championship football game, MIA is more important than basketball or a school dance. When we entered the waters of baptism, we told the Lord that his work would take precedence over our work, that our lives would be patterned after his life. And after all, that is what commitment is all about.