A Constructive Life

“A Constructive Life,” New Era, June 1976, 4

The Message:

A Constructive Life

You know the old saying that to arrive nowhere is to be going nowhere. That is where one arrives with utmost certainty without the use of road signs or guideposts. I hope that each of you will aim at something constructive during your vacation period.

I would like to make a few suggestions. I will start out with a little experience that I encountered just a few years ago while I was supervising the missions along the West Coast. I was up in the Alaskan-Canadian Mission when I heard this story.

While attending high school, the daughter of the mission president was successful in bringing one of her friends into the Church. When the summer vacation came along, she said, “Daddy, I want to spend my summer months in the mission field.” So he called her as a summer missionary and sent her up to Anchorage. He and I were there when the elders held a baptismal service. Eleven people were baptized, and nine of them were the converts of this girl and her companion. One was a man who looked as if he could grace any position in the Church. After the baptism the daughter of the mission president came up to me and, with the tears rolling down her cheeks, said, “Oh, President Richards, I have never been so happy in all my life.” Wasn’t it a wonderful ambition for that girl to want to spend her summer months in missionary work? And what a compensation if you want to lay away treasures in heaven!

Some years ago down in California, where I presided as a stake president, a bishop asked a young man in his ward if he would be willing to spend his summer months in doing missionary work. He was studying medicine, but he agreed that he would. Do you know what he did? He went around to the boys and girls he had attended high school with and said to them, “My Church has asked me to do some missionary work for it, and I am not very well prepared. How would you like to give me a few nights of your spare time and let me practice on you so that I will become prepared to do my missionary work?” With just that one little thought, he brought four of those high school friends into the Church during those summer months. Isn’t that better than sitting around twiddling your thumbs, wasting your time? There is opportunity all around us on every hand.

Missionary Work in the Armed Forces

Our boys in the armed forces have been successful in bringing many new converts into the Church. I read a letter written by a young man who was stationed in Texas a few years ago. The letter said that while he was off duty he and some Mormon boys volunteered to help the mission president with his missionary work. This letter was written in October, and it said that they had already had over 100 baptisms during the year. When I read that letter, I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every young man who is honored to wear the uniform of this great country would help build the kingdom of God on the earth during his spare time instead of cutting some of the capers that we hear about?”

As Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33.)

That means we need to seek the kingdom of God when we are in school, when we are in the service, or no matter where we go or what our activities are. If we have that as the guiding star in our lives, we will keep on the straight and narrow. We will reach the place that we would like to arrive at.

One day I received a letter from one of my former missionaries. He had labored under me while I was a mission president, and now he was in the armed forces. He was successful in bringing a young man into the Church. This young man wrote him a letter, and he sent it to me to read. It read something like this:

“I have just written a letter to my mother and to my best girl. I have been quoting to them out of the Book of Mormon.” Then he started mentioning the words of Nephi, Alma, and some of the other great prophets. He continued, “They are the best letters I have ever written.” You know, it is wonderful when the gospel gets into someone’s heart enough so that he can write to his mother and his best girl and have them be the best letters he has ever written.

Some years ago I met a young man who had been in the armed forces and had flown a plane that completed one of the first bombing trips over Germany. In England after the war was over, he was selected to represent the American soldiers in an introduction to the Queen Mother and her daughters. He was put through a training course on how he should salute them. When he was finally introduced to them, he said, very naturally, “Hello, girls, how are you?” That won them over for him. I heard this same young man speak at a youth fireside. He held up the Book of Mormon and said, “This is what brought me home clean. I read it day after day.” Then he advised the young people to catch the spirit of that book, as it would keep them on the straight and narrow path.

I had a nephew called into the armed forces. He wrote a letter from the Philippines to his mother and said, “Mother, I have just finished reading the Book of Mormon. When should I figure on going on my mission?” He has since been on his mission, and he did a great work. He was loved by the people, and he loves them.

Power of Example

We can set objectives, if we will, to help guide us and to help us achieve something worthwhile in life. I would like to tell you about another letter I received during the hottest fighting in the Pacific. A young man in California wrote: “Brother Richards, there have been so many Mormon boys here in uniform and they have been such outstanding young fellows that it has literally changed the attitude of the people of this town toward the Mormon Church.” Then he told this specific story. He said that one of the women’s clubs in that town had sponsored a luncheon at a hotel. The lady in charge had had an extra plate placed at the table. She said, “We’ll invite the first soldier who comes along to occupy this place.” The first soldier happened to be a Mormon, and he did not hide his light under a bushel. When they tried to serve him coffee, he did not accept it. They offered to get him tea, and he did not want that.

This experience opened the door for that soldier to do missionary work. The women in the club wanted to know why he did not drink coffee or tea. This gave him a chance to tell them how he was raised. One woman at that table said right there that if the Mormon elders ever knocked at her door, she would let them in. She wanted to know more about a people who could raise a boy like that young man.

I told that story in the Assembly Hall one day at a conference. At the close of the meeting, a young man came up and he said, “Bishop (I was Presiding Bishop then), I am that young man.” I said, “No kidding.” He said, “No, sir.” And I asked, “Did I tell the story correctly?” He said, “Just exactly.” Then I asked, “What are you doing in the Church today?” Oh,” he answered, “I am bishop of such and such ward.” You see, the Lord knows who can be trusted. As President McKay has said, “It is better to be trusted than to be loved.”

During the Second World War we used to call the men and women in uniform to talk in our stake conferences. In Oakland we called on one of the women. She said, “I work over in San Francisco in the government hospital. One day they brought in a girl for medical treatment. She was a Mormon girl. When they sent her tray up, one of the nurses said, ‘Should we send milk or should we send coffee?’ I spoke up and said, ‘Send milk; she won’t touch coffee.’ ‘Why won’t she touch the coffee?’ asked the other nurse. ‘Because she is a Mormon.’ ‘Ah, don’t kid yourself,’ the girl said. So the tray went up with the coffee on it.”

That first girl was on the spot—not only for herself, but for the Church. She said she almost held her breath until that tray came back for fear that the Mormon girl would let her down. In a few minutes the tray came back. The coffee had not been touched. With it was a note: “Please send me a glass of milk.” That is what it is to be able to live up to your standards. The eyes of the world are upon us.

Personal Purity

I want to tell you one more story about the military. I was on a train coming from La Grande, Oregon, to Salt Lake City, Utah. There were a number of officers just returning from the South Pacific, and something was said about Salt Lake City. One of those officers, a doctor, came out with a statement about Salt Lake and the Mormons that was the filthiest thing I have ever heard. Of course I did not want to take that, so when he got through, I returned to him and said, “Doctor, it may interest you to know that my home is in Salt Lake City, that I am a member of the Mormon Church, and that I know that you don’t know what you are talking about. I have here in my briefcase a magazine article from the Surgeon General’s Office. It tells about the immoral conditions of the men—married and unmarried—in the armed forces. I wouldn’t want to give you those statistics because I am ashamed of them.”

I continued, “I have another article here that is a letter from a hospital superintendent in Salt Lake indicating that they have given the Wassermann test, which is the test for impure blood, to 7,000 Mormon boys. There were only three who had any trace of impure blood. Doctor, I challenge you to duplicate that record anywhere in this world, outside of a Mormon community. You can’t do it, and you know you can’t.”

“Well,” he said, “I will have to say this: over in the Pacific everybody lets their hair down.” That was his way of saying, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (See 1 Cor. 15:32.) “But,” he admitted, “there was one Mormon girl there from Salt Lake that no man could touch. She said, ‘I left my home clean, and I am going to return the way I left.’”

I do not know who that girl was, but in my heart I have asked God to bless her over and over again—and every other girl like her in all Israel.

Remember the experience of Joseph who was sold into Egypt? Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him time and time again. As he fled from her on one occasion, she grabbed his cloak. He knew that that might mean imprisonment or death; but when he fled from that wicked woman, he was not thinking of injury to his body. He made a statement like this: “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9.)

Today when we are told by the patriarch that we are descendants of that Joseph who was sold into Egypt, how our hearts should rejoice to think of our noble parentage. In a like manner, the children and the grandchildren of this Mormon girl stationed in the South Pacific will honor her and thank God for the nobility of her life. That will be true with each of us when we are able to avoid the evil, pitfalls, and temptations of this world.

A Great Responsibility

If the veil could be parted and you could see yourselves as you were when the Lord stood in the midst of the spirits, the noble and great ones, you would hear him say, “These I will make my rulers,” and, “Abraham, thou art one of them.” (Abr. 3:23.)

I received a patriarchal blessing when I was only eight years old. Among other things it said, “Thou hast not come here upon earth by chance, but in fulfillment of the decrees of the Almighty to accomplish a great work.” Then it went on in detail about what I could do. All my life as a boy, I prayed that if I did not come here by chance that the Lord would help me to live so that I would not be deprived of the privilege of doing the work that he sent me to do. I cannot imagine anything that would be more disappointing than to return after this life and have the Lord say, “Well, LeGrand, this is what we sent you to do, but you just wouldn’t do it. You got off on a detour, and we had to raise up someone else to do your work for you.”

If the veil could be parted and you could see who you were then, then have a recollection and vision of what awaits you—what the Lord had in mind for you noble and great ones who have come forth in this day and time—I do not think any of you would want to wile away your time. You would want to make sure that you are using those gifts and talents that God has endowed you with for the honor and glory of his name and the blessing of his children.

How We Use Our Talents

You remember the parable of the talents. A merchant went on a long journey, and he divided his talents with his servants. “Unto one he gave five, to another two, and to another one.” After a time he came back and held an accounting with those servants. The one who had received five had won another five. His master said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”

The one who had had two—we do not all have the same—had won another two and received the same answer. But the one who had received the one said, “I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth.” The master therefore took the talent from him and gave “it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto everyone that hath shall be given,” but “from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” And the master cast the “unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (See Matt. 25:14–30.)

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9.)

Everywhere our young people go, whether in groups or individually, when they have the courage to be trusted, we get such wonderful reports back that it thrills us.

A Light unto the World

I think I will share with you a little statement about our boys in the armed forces down at Fort Ord during World War II. This is from Lieutenant Colonel Ira Freeman, post chaplain at Fort Ord. He said:

“During several years of service in the United States Army, especially since Pearl Harbor, I have had the privilege of administering to the needs of many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon boys whom I knew intimately overseas were such outstandingly good soldiers in every sense of the word that I found myself wondering from time to time if they were an especially selected group, the salt of Utah.

“When I came to Fort Ord, I had to dismiss that idea. The Mormon boys on duty at this post have what it takes. There is something about a Mormon soldier. He loves the United States. He is loyal to Almighty God. Apparently, no Mormon lad leaves his religion at home when he accompanies the colors to the battlefield.

“Undoubtedly, that is the chief reason why it is comparatively easy for them to carry on without shamming, without shirking, without sniveling. Anyway, neither worldliness on the one hand or the roaring of guns on the other affects their faith in and loyalty to God or country. Naturally, therefore, as an American I am proud of them.”

Truly the Lord has called us out of the world to be a light unto the world. A general at Fort Ord asked the Mormon boys to come up in front of all the soldiers. Then, addressing the rest of them, he said, “You can watch these men and anything you see them do, you can do.” Talk about being called out of the world to be a light.

A Marvelous Work and a Wonder

A woman in the East wrote to our bureau of information in Salt Lake City. They sent her the book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, then sent me the correspondence. People who really hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. I want to read you this illustration of what you might bring into someone’s life if you set your heart to do it.

This lady wrote, “Will you please inform me about your Church, its origins, its history, present-day aims, enterprises, and ideals. I would appreciate this information firsthand and believe you will be better able to supply it than the oft-misleading hearsay can. If your Church is the one I have been seeking for 53 years and never found so far in any Christian church or off-color religious societies from theosophy to free thought, I might be able to contribute as well as receive benefits. I am not a chronic curiosity-seeking person, nor a habitual joiner.”

Then, after reading the book, she wrote this:

“I don’t want to appear ‘gushy,’ but I will say this for your religion: I find it interesting. It quickens within me a feeling—what shall I call it—a gladness, like a beautiful song I might have known long, long ago and then lost and forgotten in a way both sublime and sorrowful.”

Then she goes on to tell all about the investigation she had made. She turned away from the Catholic Church when she found that the little children could not go to heaven or see the face of God. After joining the Church, she said this:

“I now have a serenity and a composure and an inward strength, and an inward joy which I never before possessed. Do all souls receiving enlightenment exclaim within their silent hearts, feeling compassion for a blind, groping, and grieving world, ‘Oh, suffering world, I come, I come’?”

The gospel changes our lives. When I was in Denmark with Sister Richards a few years ago, we met a young couple who had just returned from the Swiss Temple. She said, “Brother Richards, we have been members of the Church for only six years, and we figure we are only six years old. We didn’t know what life was all about until the Mormon elders came to our home and taught us the gospel.”

When I was president of the mission in Holland, a man passing our office one night saw my light burning. He was just going home from doing his home teaching, and he rang my doorbell and said, “I saw your light burning, President Richards, and I thought you might be interested in what I was thinking as I was on my way home. I was thinking of who I was and what I was when the missionaries came to my home and who I am today and what I am. I just can’t believe I am the same man. I don’t have the same habits. I don’t have the same thoughts. I have changed so much that I just can’t believe that I am the same man.”

May God bless you, all of you, according to the righteous desires of your hearts and give you ambition and desire to live to accomplish something worthwhile in this world. Help build the kingdom of God on earth; help make this a better world in which to live.

Illustrated by Ted Nagata