The Race Is Not to the Swift Nor the Battle to the Strong
February 1977

“The Race Is Not to the Swift Nor the Battle to the Strong,” New Era, Feb. 1977, 11

The Race Is Not to the Swift Nor the Battle to the Strong

When I first went to college right after World War II, I attended the university ward in town. I can remember going to a Sunday School class where the instructor was a young returned serviceman like myself. One day he described an experience he had in the service. On his way to an LDS servicemen’s meeting, he met a friend, an LDS boy he’d grown up with. He invited this young man to come with him to the meeting. His friend said, “No, I quit going to those meetings.”

“Why is that?”

He said, “Well, I went to church for years and years, and I cannot remember one single talk, one single Sunday School lesson that I ever listened to. You went to Sunday School and sacrament meeting last week, didn’t you?” My teacher replied, “Yes.” His friend said, “Do you remember what the talk was? Do you remember what they told you in those meetings?”

The Sunday School teacher said, “I have to confess I don’t remember.”

The other young man then asked, “Well, why do you go? If you can’t remember, why do you go?” As he was telling this, I was interested because I tried to remember what the sermon had been at sacrament meeting the Sunday before, and I couldn’t remember. So I was interested in what the Sunday School teacher’s response would be. This is what he told this young man: “You eat three meals a day, don’t you?”


“You’ve eaten them all your life. Do you remember the meals you ate last week?”


“Can you remember what you ate last Sunday?”

“No, I can’t.”

“Then why do you eat? If you can’t remember all the meals that you’ve eaten, why do you eat?”

The fellow said, “Well, obviously, if you don’t eat you’re going to die. You’re going to starve.” The Sunday School teacher said, “That, for me, is the same reason I go to these meetings. Our spiritual self, our soul, requires a certain amount of spiritual food, and if we do not digest that, then our spirit dies. That is a condition I do not want to experience.”

The Race of Life

Many of us have watched the Olympic Games and have marveled at the abilities of those athletes. I guess few of us will ever become Olympic competitors, but perhaps I can get you to recall the track and field day in elementary school. Do you remember that? You had all the races and the jumping. Some of you used to win all of the ribbons. Some of you didn’t win anything at all. Some tried and failed, and I guess some were even afraid to try. You might recall having felt in elementary school that it was unfair that there were some who were so much bigger and stronger and faster. They were able at that time to win all those desired ribbons that are so important when you’re in the sixth grade.

The elementary school field days are over, but all of us are involved in a race—the race of life. Even there it sometimes seems a little unfair that there are some who appear to be stronger, more capable, more effective than we are in that race. But perhaps we can draw some comfort from the words of the scripture that indicates to us “that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” (Eccl. 9:11.) Time and again the scriptures indicate that he who endures to the end, the same shall be saved. The race of life is not a sprint, it is not the 100-yard dash, nor is it really a middle-distance run. It’s a marathon run. It’s a long-distance run. The Lord says this: “And again, I would that ye should learn that he only is saved who endureth unto the end.” (D&C 53:7.) If you’ll read in the index of the Doctrine and Covenants, you’ll see at least 12 references to the fact that only he who endures to the end shall be saved.

I’d like to talk about the race of life. It’s kind of a hard race at times. It begins early. I guess it starts in earnest when we reach the age of accountability. Sometimes even in the teens the race is not that pleasant. Later as you look back on your high school days, you’ll probably remember this.

People almost never forget their teens. Even 20 or 30 years later people can recall those difficult experiences of their high school days. You will remember when you felt, perhaps, that the race was hard because you were too short or too skinny, or your hair was not curly enough or too curly, or you had to wear glasses or braces, or you even had bad skin. All of those things are a torment to the soul as you go through these difficult times and envy those who are taller, stronger, nicer looking. I guess one of the reasons that I have always liked the story of the ugly duckling is that it gives a promise that in time, if one waits and has the potential and works with it, it is possible for the ugly duckling to turn into the swan. You know, there is even a possibility that something good can happen to persons who are short, stocky, and redheaded. There is something to be said for those who can endure in this race.

Some Individual Runners

I can remember in my high school in Portland, Oregon, two contrasting young people. One was a young man named Steve Troy. Steve as a freshman was six foot six, weighed 220 pounds. He was tall, had dark, curly hair, and was a marvelous athlete. In the course of his high school days, he was all-state in football, baseball, and basketball. I guess everybody would like to be a Steve Troy in high school. Then there was Robert Calderwood. Robert was five foot two, wore glasses, carried his briefcase to school, got straight A’s, and all of the other kids asked him for help with their homework. Do you have any Robert Calderwoods in your school?

Now it is interesting to see what happened to those two young men some years later. Both of them served in the navy. Steve Troy came back and, still a fine person, wound up working in a small shop owned by his father. The interesting thing is to see what happened to Robert Calderwood, the ugly duckling, who emerged some time later, graduated from college, and became a banker. The last I heard he was vice-president of one of the large banks in Portland and was married and had a fine family; he is a person who truly has emerged, who didn’t give up because he had been the ugly duckling at Franklin High School.

Sometimes in our experience we also find people we tend to want to “chalk off.” We may consider someone a person who will never make it. In my young days, that person probably was Thorval Pattee. Thorval lived on the outskirts of town in Portland. His was a poor family; they didn’t have anything. We were part of the same Sunday School class that used to drive teacher after teacher out in despair. You remember those days, too. World War II came, and Thorval Pattee enlisted in the marines. He was in a battle in the South Pacific when a mortar shell fell into the foxhole with him and several of his buddies. Thorval lifted up the mortar shell to throw it out. It exploded at the last minute, filled him with shrapnel, and blew his hand nearly off, until it hung by a thread of skin. With his own knife he cut his hand off and then returned to get medical aid.

I saw Thorval when the war was over. There was a knock on my door at my home in Portland. I opened it up, and there he was—discharged now—with an ex-marine hat on and a T-shirt covered back and forth with wires, straps, and pullies that manipulated the hook that replaced his right hand. He had a cigarette in his mouth, and he was a bitter, cynical young man. We talked and visited, and I wondered what would happen to Thorval Pattee.

In contrast to Thorval, there was another young man in our Sunday School class who was the good boy. This was Daryl Porter. Do you have any Daryl Porters in your Sunday School class, the one who is always quiet, the one who is always good, the one whose name is always brought up when your mother says “Why can’t you be like Daryl Porter?” The years went by, and I saw neither Thorval Pattee nor Daryl Porter. Then, not long ago, after many years had gone by and I’d been at BYU for some time, I received a phone call one evening. A voice from the past said “Bill, this is Thorval Pattee.” I was delighted and I said, “Where are you?”

“I’m here in Provo.”

“Why are you here in Provo?”

“I am here to see my daughter graduate from BYU.”

“Well, come up. I’d like to have a chance to visit.” So Thorval and his wife came to spend an evening with me and my family. I found out that at some point he had decided to go back to church, and a fine young lady at church had seen something there that others had not seen. She was able to respond to that, and he to her. So they were married, later sealed in the temple. They had a very fine family. He became the early morning seminary teacher in his small community and now was at BYU to watch his daughter graduate. Truly in the case of Thorval the race was not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but to him who endures to the end.

Now the race is not yet over for Thorval Pattee. I asked him about Daryl Porter, and he said, “As far as I know, Daryl dropped out of the Church after the service was over and has never come back again.” But hopefully Daryl Porter has not yet given up in the race.

It’s an interesting thing in this race of life. There are, it seems, good times and bad times. There are times when the race seems to go easily for us, and there are times when it seems that all obstacles hedge up our way. It is easy at those points to become discouraged. Fortunately, I guess, it is not possible always to look ahead and to anticipate or understand exactly what will happen in our race of life.

I remember my last year as a student at BYU. I roomed with three fine young men. We were all returned missionaries—eager, confident, waiting to see what the test of life would bring for us. We were filled with all of those good things that young returned missionaries aspire to. Many years later it is interesting to see where those roommates are and what has happened to them. The wife of one roommate was killed in an automobile accident; he was left with nine children. Another roommate—by a strange, accidental slip of the knife in surgery in a routine operation—lingered between life and death for months, bordering on being permanently incapacitated and crippled. The third roommate, probably the most talented and the one with the greatest potential, somehow began to move away from the faith of his fathers, became disaffected with the Church, left the Church, and separated himself from his wife and his children. He lives a life of regret, I believe. So we cannot anticipate always what the race will bring us.

Enduring Difficulties of Life

One of the interesting books of our recent time, I believe, and perhaps one of the best on mental illness, has a title that I think describes something which is appropriate. The title of that novel is I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. I think that the Lord might indicate the same to us. In this test of life, none of us was promised a rose garden. Let me read quickly from Hebrews, where Paul, who knew much of the race of life, said this:

“And let us run with patience the race that is set before us …

“My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son [or daughter] whom he receiveth.

“If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:1, 5–7.)

So if the race sometimes seems difficult, perhaps that is part of the plan of the Lord for you.

Where are you currently, this time, this day, in this race of life? Where are you to be found? For some I find that they are ready to give up on themselves. The race is too difficult; the obstacles appear to be too hard. They may have failed an exam, lost a girl friend, committed a sin, and they are ready to give up the race. When I was a campus bishop, I had ward members who would come to visit with me and say, “Bishop, I’ve gone too far. It is not possible for me to come back. I might as well give up.” They had forgotten that the Lord has indicated that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isa. 1:18.) There is the possibility of repentance. There is the possibility of new goals. There is the possibility of a fresh start if we will not give up on ourselves, if we will not decide too early that the race is too difficult for us.

Avoiding Judgments of Others

There are others who are ready to give up on someone else. They have decided already that they have a parent or a brother or a sister or a friend or a roommate who is not worth it. This person may seem to be too rigid, too set in his ways, too far gone, and they have decided that the race is over for him. Such should never be the case. President David O. McKay has said that no success will compensate for failure in the home. Elder Marvin J. Ashton sometime later said we have only failed when we have given up, when we have stopped trying. So I would admonish all of us to remember for ourselves and for others that the race is never over as long as we remain in this life. We should never give up on ourselves or on others.

In this race there are some who have made judgments about how others are running their races. No one may truly know the obstacles, the difficulties in another person’s race of life. We should try to understand that each person faces his own Gethsemane. We know from research that people differ and vary in the amount of physical pain they can endure. What is a pinprick to one is intense pain to another. So it is with tests and trials. What is a major obstacle for one is merely a challenge to another. To the young lady who has never been very popular, who has never had many boyfriends, the loss of a special young man may be a terrible blow. Another young lady who has had many suitors may not be able to appreciate or understand the difficulty of that experience in the life of another human being. So I pray that we might be compassionate, that we might truly have that understanding of what another person is going through, and not judge him unfairly or swiftly or unkindly.

Helping Those Who Falter

There are some of us in this race of life at the current time for whom everything is going great. Things are wonderful. Life is just a bowl of cherries. At those moments I would hope that we would learn to be grateful, to be humble, to be thankful that the Lord has granted us the smoothness that we may now experience. May we not become overconfident. May we not become smug or complacent. For if we are experiencing that time in our lives, that is the time we may find the resources available to us to reach out and lend a helping hand to others. One of the great things about this race that the Lord indicated for all of us is that it does not have to be run alone. In fact, it may well best be run with others. Others may offer a helping hand, may carry the cross for a way, may lift us up and give us strength and sustenance. If the race is going well for you, perhaps it is your possibility to share your strength at that time with someone who needs it.

I remember one day going to my office and seeing outside the door of the faculty person next to me (a bishop) a young lady with a distraught look on her face. She waited and kept knocking on this door for some time, but my colleague was out. There was something about her appearance that was compelling to me, and so I said, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt, but you look distraught. Is there anything that I can do?”

She said, “I’m waiting for Brother So-and-so. He’s my bishop, and he seems to be out.”

I said, “Is there anything I can do?” So she came into my office, we talked, and I found that this young lady was a cousin of mine, a woman of about 38. When she found that we were kin, the tragic story of her life began to unfold. I began to see the despair and the disappointment and the frustration and the hopelessness that she was experiencing at that point in her life—single, never married, distraught, worried about her future. Later, she undoubtedly received help from her bishop, but I as a kinsman tried to engage for a period of months in a helping relationship with her, to talk with her, to sustain her, to counsel her as best I could. She finally decided that it was best that she go back with her family and help take care of her mother, who was an invalid. So she went home and was somehow able to put off her despair, invest herself intently again into the affairs of those things spiritual. Then came the time when I received a telephone call and later an announcement that she had met a young man whose wife had died and left him with five children. I was able to greet her in the temple when she was sealed to her companion and became the instant mother of five children. I have hope that at certain points my strength might have been a help to others. I pray that the strength you may have might be a help to those who are faltering in their race of life.

I quote again from the apostle Paul, a person afflicted with a thorn in the flesh, who spent his life midst all kinds of persecution true to the vision he had had on the road to Damascus. He wrote this to Timothy, and of this you are all aware. He sounds his own memorial:

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6–8.)

May we be strong and valiant in our race of life. May we be helpful with others. May we be sensitive to ourselves and to others, and may we strive always to pray and ask our Heavenly Father’s guidance and help as we go through our sojourn on this earth, that we might receive the reward that is prepared for us in the kingdoms of our Heavenly Father.

Illustrated by Larry Winborg