The Decision of Life
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“The Decision of Life,” Tambuli, June 1991, 25

The Decision of Life

I want to reveal something to you, and I use the word reveal purposefully. I have struggled, really struggled, to frame a paragraph to express what I want to say. And I fear that when I’ve given it to you, many of you will say, “Well, I knew that already,” and regard it as simple and unimaginative—even dull; for what I want to reveal is ordinary, commonplace. That makes it very difficult to have it universally regarded as being important.

But beyond the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that there has been a restoration of His gospel through prophets—after that, this is the one truth I most want to teach my children. And now the paragraph over which I’ve labored with such exertion:

It is the misapprehension of most people that if you are good, really good, at what you do, you will eventually be both widely known and well compensated. It is the understanding of almost everyone that success, to be complete, must include a generous portion of both fame and fortune as essential ingredients. The world seems to work on that premise. The premise is false! It is not true! The Lord taught otherwise.

The truth about this is remarkably difficult to teach and difficult to learn. If one who is not well known and not well compensated claims that he has learned that neither fame nor fortune is essential to success, we tend to become suspicious of his statement as being an excuse. What else could he say and not consider himself a failure? If someone who has possession of fame and fortune claims that neither matters to success or happiness, we suspect that he is being patronizing or demonstrating false modesty.

Therefore, we reject as reliable authorities both those who have fame and fortune and those who have not. We question that either is an objective witness. That leaves us only one course—to learn for ourselves by experience about prominence and wealth and their opposites. We therefore struggle through life, perhaps missing both fame and fortune, to finally learn that we can indeed succeed without possessing either; or we may one day have both and learn that neither is basic to the recipe for true success and complete happiness. That is a very slow way to learn.

Will we ever learn that the choice is not between fame and obscurity, nor is the choice between wealth and poverty. The choice is between good and evil, and that is a very different issue indeed. When we finally understand that, our happiness will not be determined by the material things, either on one hand or on the other. Our God has vouchsafed to us our agency. If we can be shown where the deciding formative choices are, we can succeed.

The Book of Mormon tells us, “Men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil” (2 Ne. 2:5). We are also taught that “men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Ne. 2:27).

From ancient times the materialistic temptations to seek fame and fortune have confused the choices of man, and the world today has strange and frightening troubles because of these things.

I repeat, the crucial decision of life does not center in the choice between fame and obscurity, nor between wealth and poverty. The decision of life is between good and evil. It is possible to be both rich and famous and at once succeed in the eternal spiritual sense, but the Lord warned of the difficulty of it when He talked about camels and needles.

If neither wealth nor prominence are ideal objectives, how can we then be motivated to excellence? Toward what goals can we strive?

There are two that I would suggest. Excellence itself is a worthy goal—to be good, very good, at whatever you do; to develop your own talents to the fullest extent that you can; to develop a balanced, worthy, sensible individual.

The Lord said it. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

The other goal is service. “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).

I do not know at this moment whether you are learning. But I do know that what I am teaching you is true. Both fame and fortune are no more essential as ingredients to true happiness is mortality than the absence of fame and fortune can prevent you from achieving true happiness.

I mentioned earlier that I wanted my children to learn the truth I framed in that paragraph. I can envision the day, in generations ahead, when I can regard them, my children and grandchildren, struggling with the challenges of life. I might see them going the full distance of morality without becoming either well known or well compensated. I can see myself fall to my knees to thank a generous God that my prayers have been answered, that they are truly successful and truly happy.

Happiness will depend on what each of us does with what each has, what we learn from what we do, and what we do thereafter. These are the things that will be reviewed in the days of judgment.

“Christ and the Rich Young Man,” painting by Heinrich Hofman

Illustrated by Del Parson