When Men’s Hearts Fail
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“When Men’s Hearts Fail,” Tambuli, Apr. 1988, 41

When Men’s Hearts Fail

As evidenced by the violence, wars, famine, devastation, and destructive forces of nature reported by the media each day, we are obviously living in the time of great confusion predicted by the Lord when he said, “And in that day … the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them” (D&C 45:26). When “men’s hearts … fail,” deep anxieties ensue that can cause us to lose self-confidence, which is essential to our success. Ours is a time when the loving support of friends and associates is critical.

Such loving support is vital even to those who might seem not to need it. Ironworkers, for example, have the reputation of being strong and brave. They belong to the craft that erects the steel framework of buildings and bridges. Some of the structures they erect rise into the sky more than 100 floors, and they walk on the narrow beams they bolt into place. Some of the bridges they erect span bodies of water hundreds of feet below, and they walk on the narrow girders that will later support the weight of the concrete deck and the heavy traffic.

These workers must be alert and careful, for one false step could be their last. It is essential that they keep their mind on what they are doing. Many accidents resulting in injury or death have been traced to a disagreement at home or to a heavy burden they carried which affected their emotions and took their mind off their work. While their trade gives them the reputation of being insensitive to risk they represent a cross section of normal citizens, whose feelings, concerns, responsibilities, and traits are like anyone else’s. The one trait in which they must excel, however, is self-confidence. They must be fearless.

Jim was an old-timer. He had been an ironworker for over 30 years and had worked on about every type of job in the trade, which gave him a rich background of experience. He had walked narrow beams hundreds of feet off the ground and moved or crawled to the end of beams to make the connections thousands of times. Connectors are supreme among ironworkers. They take the greatest risk, and their job requires the greatest courage. Jim was admired by his peers as a man of great courage and stability.

One day he was working with a crew of ironworkers on a job in the rugged mountains of the Colorado Rockies when a storm struck without warning. The rain poured down, the lightning flashed, the thunder roared, and the wind blew with fury. The ironworkers quickly climbed down and gathered in their work shack to wait for the storm to end.

They had been there for about fifteen minutes when someone asked, “Where’s Jim?” He wasn’t in the shack. They went outside and looked up at the steel structure. There he was, standing on a beam with his arms wrapped tightly around a steel column. They called but got no response, so two of the crew went up the framework and found him frozen in panic. His arms were so tightly clenched around the column that they had to pry him loose. Then they fastened him to a cable and lowered him to the ground. He was terrified with fear.

They took him into the shack and warmed him by the fire. An hour later the storm was over, the weather was calm, the sun shone brightly, and the birds sang in the trees. The crew started back to work, but Jim stayed behind. He had lost his nerve and was afraid to get back in the air.

The foreman recognized the problem. It was not something for Jim to be ashamed of. It happens to the best of men. The situation needed wise care and attention. If Jim didn’t get back in the air now, he never would. The fury of the storm combined with the risk of his trade had broken the spirit of an old-timer. He alone could mend the damage. But he needed a helping hand as he had never needed one before.

The wise foreman put his arm around Jim and said that what had happened to him could happen to any one of them. The foreman told Jim to get back to work and assured him of his complete confidence that he could do so. Jim knew that the foreman was right. Every ironworker knows he has to go back. Jim knew he had to do it now. It would be even more difficult tomorrow if he didn’t go back today, and within a week it would be impossible. Finally, he demanded of himself that he get up on the steel structure and go to work. His legs felt weak and his body shaky. As he climbed the steel and cautiously proceeded to carry on, the members of the crew gave him a rousing cheer. That gave him the strength and confidence he needed.

Jim went to work, and as he strove to keep pace with the others in the crew, he gradually regained his self-confidence. Had the foreman not been understanding or had the other members of the crew been critical, he would likely have been unable to return to work. Jim learned that his fellow workers were his true friends, for they had understood and given him support in a time of dire need.

What was it that caused this man with a rich background of experience and a history of courage and self-confidence to be overcome with fear? The medical profession describes his condition as one of extreme anxiety. “Anxiety is a specific unpleasurable state of tension which indicates the presence of some danger to the (individual). When danger is real, we speak of fear; when it is fancied, we call it anxiety (conscious or unconscious ideas of a frightening nature)” (Weiss and English, Psychosomatic Medicine, Second edition, p. 22).

In the turmoil and strife of our society today, many are frustrated, overwhelmed by anxieties and fears. As an individual strives to regain stability and self-confidence, it is vital that friends put their arms around him and assure him that he is not alone, that he can succeed in the struggle to return. Too often we weaken such an individual through thoughtless remarks and failure to understand rather than building with love and sincere concern.

The Savior spoke of such love and concern in the following parable: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

“And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

“And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:31–40).

Illustrated by Rob Colvin