What Are You Doing Here?
September 1987

“What Are You Doing Here?” Tambuli, Sept. 1987, 42

What Are You Doing Here?

Taken from a devotional address delivered at Brigham Young University.

Let me begin by asking you some questions. What is your mission in life? What does God expect you to accomplish during your stay here upon the earth? And are you doing it?

To help answer these questions, I hope the Spirit of the Lord will impress upon us all the importance of at least these three eternal truths:

1. God, our Father in Heaven, does have a specific mission for all of us to perform while we are on earth.

2. We can, in this life, discover what that mission is.

3. With the Lord’s help, we can fulfill that mission and have the assurance that we are doing that which is pleasing to him.

Start Where You Are

Now, that understanding and assurance won’t come all at once. God will unfold it to you line upon line, according to what is best for the progress of his work. But I assure you that you should and can know that you are on the right path—whether you’re a teenager, a student, a missionary, newly married, or at any other stage in life.

Many of you will say, “But how do I find out what my mission and calling is?”

The first and most fundamental thing we must do is to learn of the Savior and follow him, for when you do, you will have your questions answered. Let me suggest five specific steps that will help you do that.

1. Become and stay worthy to honestly hold a temple recommend.

2. Get a patriarchal blessing and study it often, carefully and prayerfully.

3. Read the scriptures prayerfully each day.

4. Pray earnestly at least every night and every morning.

5. Start where you are now in life and do something positive—make a new friend, learn something new, develop a talent, read a good book. Don’t wait for a big revelation. Don’t wait to be changed. Don’t wait for a different time or a different place. Take charge of your life now and move in a positive direction.

Take Charge and Move

We sometimes find ourselves in a situation where we have to take charge and move, or nothing gets done. When I arrived at my mission in Tonga some thirty years ago, the mission president said, “I’ve got just the place for you. It’s a small island several hundred kilometers from here. It is nearly twelve kilometers around with about 700 people on it. No one speaks your language. I want you to go there and not come back until you know the missionary discussions and know how to speak Tongan.”

Well, I went; and to put it mildly, there were lots of problems. At one time we came close to literally starving to death because a hurricane wrecked the supply boat. But my companion and I kept moving.

Sometimes we made mistakes. However, whenever there was the possibility of our doing something seriously wrong, the Lord let us know and we did not do it. I assure you that if you are striving to do right, the Lord will let you know if you are starting to do something wrong. So listen! I am sure there was even more good we could have done, but at least we never stopped. We kept going. We did something; and that’s important.

When I left that little island after thirteen months, I had learned the Tongan language, and I had learned quite a lot about life. But most important, I came away knowing that God lives and that he had all knowledge and all power and that he was literally the Father of our spirits. I knew that he loved each of us personally and individually.

I knew that Jesus Christ was his Son, our Savior and Redeemer, a real person, a true friend, one who gave his life for us. I knew that because of the Savior, we can look forward to a glorious resurrection, and an eventual opportunity to stand in the presence of our Father in Heaven cleansed and pure.

I knew that God had a mission for me. I didn’t know exactly what it was in every detail, but I knew where to start. I knew I had to live closer to him. I knew I had to do better. I knew the path to take. I knew I could trust him. I knew that he would let me know what else I could do to fulfill my life’s mission. I have not been disappointed, and neither will you be.

Unwanted Experiences

Even as we strive with all our might to fulfill our mission, we will all have experiences we would rather avoid. But these experiences, as unpleasant as they may be, can be most helpful to us. My next area of mission service was made up of sixteen small islands. Because the mission was so short of missionaries, I had no companion. My only instructions were that I should preach the gospel and build up the Church in my area.

Often I took members of the Church on some of those islands, and I often took them with me on preaching trips. We mostly traveled by small sailboat. One day as we were sailing to our home island, the weather became very rough. Suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a tropical storm which was very dangerous. As two huge waves came toward us, the captain shouted to the six of us on board the boat, “Abandon ship!”

We dove into the sea as those waves smashed our tiny boat, leaving us struggling for our lives. Exerting all our efforts, we headed for a small island we had passed earlier. After swimming for about one hour, we finally made it to the shore, exhausted but alive. The storm passed rather rapidly, but we were still stranded on the island for several days before we were able to make our way home over much friendlier seas.

How much more I appreciated life and solid ground than I had before. We don’t begin to understand or appreciate life as we should until we sense the closeness of death. This whole experience gave me a new outlook and appreciation for life.

While I would not have chosen that experience in the sea or some other experiences I had, much of my subsequent happiness and joy can be traced back to some of those so-called “unwanted” experiences. We don’t need to seek these experiences. They find us more often than we may desire. All we have to do is try with all our might to live the way we should, remember on our goal, and leave the rest to the Lord.

What Ships Are For

I remember reading, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.” I think that applies to our lives. We may pass through troubled times, but if we constantly seek nothing but physical security, we’re probably not doing what we should. We need to seek the spiritual security of knowing we are doing the Lord’s will. Sometimes that will not give us all the physical security we may desire, but it will give us all we need.

Many members of the Church do not quite understand the true nature of faith. They say, “I am not going to move until I receive a positive assurance, a burning in the bosom, that a particular thing is what I should do.” They are not sure of any number of decisions that face them each day, but they feel they have to have this “burning” all the time. Often they say, “I am confused. I don’t know what to do,” and so they do nothing and thereby make no real progress. That basically is wrong. Although we should not do wrong things we must do something!

In my life there have been quite a few occasions where I have felt that burning in my bosom. I have had the experience, for instance, of installing stake presidents when I was positive that was the man to be the stake president at that time. That has happened in other situations also. But often I have had to eliminate the least desirable directions and then go in the best direction. We must try to think it out for ourselves. As I have begun to proceed along one path, having gathered what facts I could, I have found that if that decision was wrong (not that it was an evil one, but not right for me), without fail, the Lord has always let me know emphatically, “That is wrong. Do not go that way. That is not for you!” You can receive the same prompting.

So, rather than saying, “I will not move until I have this burning feeling in my heart,” let’s turn it around and say, “I will move unless I feel it is wrong; and if it is wrong, then I will not do it.” By eliminating wrong pathways and moving forward in others, you will find yourself going in the direction that you ought to be going. Then you can receive the assurance, “Yes, I am going in the right direction. I am doing what my Father in Heaven wants me to do. I know I am not doing the things he does not want me to do.” This is part of the growth process and part of accomplishing what our Father in Heaven has in mind for us.

Marriage and Career Choices

Let me quote from 2 Nephi 32:1–3 [2 Ne. 32:1–3]:

“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts? … Wherefore, … feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (Italics added.)

That’s very powerful, isn’t it? All things? Yes, all things that are necessary.

I assure you that by following these procedures, you can receive answers and assurances to all things necessary to the fulfilling of your mission and calling in life. It may not be easy, but it can be done. This assurance can include even those two most important concerns: who you should marry and what profession you should go into.

Of the first of those two concerns, let me say, unless the feeling of love and desire to be together forever is mutual between the man and the woman, it probably is not of God. I would caution you that you cannot receive a one-sided revelation from God in regards to an eternal marriage. Until the feeling is mutual, the good envisioned in such a union will not come to pass. But on the other hand, when you feel it is right (and it may not come all at once), do not try to fight against it. Just make sure you are right—not forced but not withholding either—and God will bless you now and forever.

As to the second concern, namely, a profession or occupation, you can be blessed in this area as well. You can know within general guidelines what the Lord wants you to do for a living. He is interested in all the elements that make up our individual missions.

The Mysteries of God Unfolded

I knew of a couple in the Tongan islands who discovered what their mission together was. Years ago as a young missionary, I was impressed by this couple who were always helping the missionaries and others. Every time I went to their home I would find them reading the scriptures or making a meal for a missionary or taking care of a neighbor’s child or preparing a Relief Society lesson or doing some sort of service. They were not blessed with children of their own, but they were always helping other people’s children.

Years later, back in Tonga as the mission president, I was asked if I would visit an elderly widow named Luisa. When I was given the address, I realized it was the lady I had come to appreciate so many years before.

It was late afternoon when we drove up to her home. I was surprised to see that hardly anything had changed. It was a neat, clean home, but a very humble one. As I walked up to the house I noticed her waiting by the open door. As she held her hand out I realized that she had gone blind. Embracing her, I realized also that she had not long to stay in this life as she had a frail body of skin and bones.

We sat and visited, and she talked about her desire to help the “poor” people. I suggested that she may need some help herself. She kindly informed me that she was rich and had nothing to worry about.

I was a little confused and began to inquire. I found that she and her husband had often saved money to pay their air fare to the New Zealand Temple only to end up lending it to someone else who needed it more. When all the facts came out, I said to her, “Luisa, how can you say you don’t have anything to worry about? You have no husband, you have no children, you’re blind, you are in poor health, you live in a poor home, you haven’t been to the temple. How can you say you’re rich?”

Then she stopped all of my questions by quietly informing me that she was rich because she knew the Lord was pleased with her life. She said, “I know I will be with my husband soon. I know the Lord will bless us with a family. I may not have done all that I could do, but I know that the Lord is pleased with what I have done.”

Consider D&C 6:7, wherein the Lord says, “Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.”

Luisa had taken the time to discover her mission and calling in life and had done whatever was necessary to fulfill it. She had obtained the “wisdom” spoken of.

I hope you can see clearly the truth of these things. I hope you can really understand that our Father in Heaven does have a mission for you to perform. I hope you will find and fulfill that mission.

Illustrated by David Linn