Messages from the Doctrine and Covenants: Growth through Setbacks
July 2005

“Messages from the Doctrine and Covenants: Growth through Setbacks,” Ensign, July 2005, 12–13

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History

Messages from the Doctrine and Covenants:

Growth through Setbacks

Elder James M. Dunn

The scriptures tell us that if we will turn to the Lord, ultimately “all things shall work together for [our] good” (D&C 105:40). Throughout the years I have found that disappointments often lead to choice blessings in unexpected ways. One example from my younger years illustrates this.

I loved high school, where I had many good friends and was given many opportunities to lead in athletics and student government. However, I didn’t accomplish some of the things I wanted most to do.

I was a relatively good student, certainly not the head of my class. My strongest subjects were English, history, and current affairs. I avoided math and science classes as much as possible.

Toward the end of my senior year, I heard about the United States Naval Academy and how one could go there on full scholarship and graduate as a commissioned naval officer. I picked up some brochures about the academy. I particularly remember the pictures of naval cadets strolling about the campus in their uniforms or marching smartly in formation. I could see myself in a white uniform walking through the beautiful campus. The brochures extolled the leadership skills that could be developed at the academy. I imagined I could do well there because I thought I could be a leader. I didn’t appreciate as much the academic program that would lead to the only degree offered at the time: engineering.

I sought out and obtained a congressional appointment to the naval academy. Then I ran head on into the admissions test. It contained a lot of math. I received tutoring, but still I was not that good. Then there was the physical examination. I had high blood pressure and less than 20/20 eyesight. I was admitted to the hospital to see if bed rest would lower my blood pressure. It didn’t. I failed the physical and lost my congressional appointment. I not only suffered a great disappointment; I thought I was a failure somehow. I felt pretty low.

Isn’t it interesting how things turn out? The playwright Oscar Wilde wrote: “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”1

With the encouragement of my college sweetheart, and with the help of my family, I went on a mission. It changed my life. I later became a military officer and found that being in the military really was not my passion. I studied law and was an attorney for nearly 30 years.

Looking back, I realized I might not have married my college sweetheart and had six beautiful daughters if I had decided not to serve a mission. I was surprised to hear my wife say not long ago that she would not have married me if I had decided not to serve a mission. How different my life would have been. How much of eternal value I would have lost had my teenage dream come true.

When we do the best we are capable of and allow the Lord to guide our lives, apparent setbacks often set us on another course for our own good (see D&C 122:7). I can testify to that.

Helps for Home Evening

  1. Read aloud D&C 105:40. Then make a list of the blessings Elder Dunn received because he was not accepted to the military school. Invite family members to consider their own lives. How has the Lord blessed you through setbacks? Conclude by sharing D&C 122:7.

  2. Make a sweet drink or dessert without the sugar and invite family members to taste it. Ask what ingredient is missing. How was Elder Dunn’s experience like this? Discuss why attitudes can sweeten our setbacks. Add the sugar to the drink or dessert and enjoy the treat.


  1. Quoted in John Bartlett, comp., Familiar Quotations, 14th ed. (1968), 839.

Illustrated by Cary Henrie, posed by models