Decisions Determine Destiny
November 1979

“Decisions Determine Destiny,” New Era, Nov. 1979, 4

The Message:

Decisions Determine Destiny

Youth of today are faced with monumental decisions. The world in which you live is not a play world or a Disney world. It is a very competitive world that will require the very best that you can bring to it, and it will reward you when your best efforts are put forth

Important to remember is the solemn truth: Obedience to God’s law will bring liberty and eternal life, whereas disobedience will bring captivity and death.

It has been said by one, years ago, that history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. Our lives will depend upon the decisions which we make—for decisions determine destiny.

Decisions have their eternal consequences; for example, the decision made by people at the time of the prophet Noah, when they laughed and they mocked and they jeered as this prophet of God erected a vessel called an ark. But they ceased from their laughing and their jeering when the rain began to come and when the rain failed to cease. They had made a decision contrary to the instructions of God’s prophet, and they paid for that decision with their very lives.

I think of the decision of Laman and Lemuel, when they were commanded to go and obtain the plates of Laban. What does the record indicate that they did? They murmured and said, “This is a hard thing which we have been commanded to do,” and they decided not to obey that commandment—and they lost the blessing. But Nephi, when he received the commandment, responded with that beautiful declaration: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded,” and he did; and he received the coveted prize that comes through obedience.

Think of the decision of a 14-year-old boy who had read that if anyone lacked wisdom, he should ask of God, “that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). He made the decision to put to the test the Epistle of James. He went into the grove and he prayed. Was that a minor decision? No—that was a decision that has affected all mankind and particularly all of us who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

During the 13th century another important decision was made when the Mongol hoards came out of Mongolia, swept across the part of the world that we know as Turkey and Iran, and then entered into Europe. They were at the very gates of the city of Vienna; it looked as though western Europe and its civilization were doomed as that leader of the Mongol hoards, Subedei, stood there, ready to lead his cavalry in an annihilation of western culture. Then something happened. A messenger from Mongolia brought the news that the Great Khan, Ogedei, had died; and Subedei had to make the decision to go on and conquer western Europe or to return for the funeral of the Great Khan. He made the decision to return, and the Mongol hoards returned to Mongolia and never again threatened western Europe. A small decision, but oh, its consequence!

As I have read the history of World War II, I think perhaps one of the greatest decisions of the period was the one made by General Eisenhower and his supreme staff to invade France on the beaches of Normandy. The enemy general staff had been led to believe that the invasion would take place at Calais, and consequently had “crack” troops situated at Calais, ready to hurl back into the ocean the landing force. This defense strategy proved to be wrong. The force landed on the beaches of Normandy, penetrated the hedgerows, and before the assault troops of the enemy army could repel them, they were firmly entrenched beyond the beachhead and World War II was headed toward its conclusion. A decision that determined destiny.

Each youth, indeed all of us, have the responsibility to make vitally important decisions. Our decisions may not be to invade the coast of Normandy, and they certainly will not be to ride with the Mongol hoards toward the gates of Vienna; and we will not be called upon to make quite the same decision as did the people at the time of Noah. But there are certain decisions that you young people make. They are all important.

What are the three most important decisions? First, what will be my faith? Second, whom shall I marry? Third, what will be my life’s work?

First, what will be my faith? I feel that we should put our trust in our Heavenly Father, that each one should have the responsibility to find out for himself whether or not this gospel of Jesus Christ is true. As we read the Book of Mormon and the other standard works, as we put the teachings to the test, then we will know of the doctrine, for this is our promise; we will know whether it be of man or whether it be of God. Our quest can have far-reaching consequences.

During the period 1959 to 1962, I had the privilege to preside over the Canadian Mission, with headquarters in Toronto, Canada. There Sister Monson and I had the wonderful opportunity of working with 450 of the finest young men and young women in all the world. From that particular experience I should like to relate an experience that came to Sister Monson that had far-reaching significance. One Sunday she was the only person in a usually very busy mission home. The telephone rang, and the person who was on the other end of the line spoke with a Dutch accent and asked the question, “Is this the headquarters of the Mormon Church?” Sister Monson assured her that it was as far as Toronto was concerned, and then she said, “May I help you?” The party on the line said: “Yes. We have come from our native Holland, where we’ve had an opportunity to learn something about the Mormons. We’d like to know more.” Sister Monson, being a good missionary, said, “We can help you.” Then the lovely lady who had called said, “We have chicken pox in our home; and if you could wait until the children are better, we’d love to have the missionaries call.” Sister Monson said that she would arrange this, and that terminated the conversation.

Excitedly she told the two missionaries on our staff, “Here is a golden referral,” and the missionaries agreed. Then, as some missionaries do, they procrastinated calling upon the family. Days became weeks, and the weeks became several. Sister Monson would say, “Are you going to call on that Dutch family tonight, elders?” And they would respond, “Well, we’re too busy tonight, but we’re going to get around to it.” After a few more days Sister Monson would say, “What about my Dutch family? Are you going to call on them tonight?” Again the reply, “Well, we’re too busy tonight, but we’re going to work it into our schedule.” Finally Sister Monson said, “If you aren’t able to call on the Dutch family tonight, my husband and I are going to call on the family,” and the elders replied, “Well, we’ll work it into our schedule tonight.”

And thus they called on a lovely family. They taught them the gospel. Each person in the family became a member of the Church. The family was the Jacob de Jager family. Brother de Jager became the president of an elders quorum. His employer, the gigantic Phillips Company, then transferred him to Mexico, where he served the Church with distinction. Later he became the counselor to several mission presidents in Holland; he then became a Regional Representative of the Twelve; he then became a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, serving as the executive administrator of the work in Southeast Asia.

I ask the question: Was it an important decision that was made on the part of the missionaries to call on the de Jagers? Was it an important decision for Sister Monson to say, “Tonight is the night or else!” Was it an important decision for the de Jagers to telephone mission headquarters in Toronto, Canada, and say, “Could we have the missionaries come to our home?” I bear testimony that these decisions had eternal consequences, not only for the de Jagers, but for many other people as well, for here is a man who can teach the gospel in English, in Dutch, in German, in Spanish, and in Indonesian, and he now is learning to preach the gospel in Chinese. I ask the question, “What will be our faith?”

Our conversion may not be as dramatic as Brother and Sister de Jager’s happened to be, but to each it will be equally as vital and equally as long-lasting and equally as far-reaching. That which we believe is a very important matter. Let us weigh carefully our responsibility to search for truth.

To you comes a second question: “Whom shall I marry?” May I make personal application of this question? At a dance for the freshman class at the University of Utah, I was dancing with a girl from West High School when a young lady from East High School danced by with her partner. Her name was Frances Johnson; I didn’t know it at the time. I just took one look and decided that there was a young lady I wanted to meet. But she danced away, and I didn’t see her for three more months. Then one day, while waiting for the old streetcar at Thirteenth East and Second South Street in Salt Lake City, I looked and couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was the young lady whom I had seen dancing across the floor, and she was standing with another young lady and a young man whom I remembered from grade school days. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember his name. I had a decision to make, and I thought to myself: “This decision requires courage. What should I do?” I found in my heart an appreciation of that phrase, “When the time for decision arrives, the time for preparation is past.”

I squared my shoulders and plunged toward my opportunity. I walked up to that young man and said, “Hello, my old friend from grade school days,” and then he said to me, “I can’t quite remember your name.” I told him my name, and he told me his name. Then he introduced me to the girl who later became my wife. That day I made a little note in my student directory to call on Frances Beverly Johnson, and I did. That decision was one of the most important decisions that I have ever made. Young people who are at that particular time in their lives have the responsibility to make similar decisions. They have the important responsibility to choose whom to marry—not only whom to date.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Nothing is more important than marrying the right person, at the right time, in the right place, and by the right authority.” We hope you will avoid too quick courtships. It is important that each of you become acquainted with the person you plan to marry, that there is certainty that each of you is looking down the same pathway with the same eternal objectives in mind.

Let us turn now to the third question, “What will be my life’s work?” I have counseled many returning missionaries who have asked this question. Frequently we find that missionaries tend to emulate their mission president. If he is an educator, a preponderant number of missionaries will want to be educators; if he is a businessman, a large number will want to study business; if he is a doctor, many of the missionaries will want to be physicians, for they naturally desire to emulate a man whom they respect and admire. My counsel to returning missionaries and to each young person is that you should study and prepare for your life’s work in a field that you enjoy, because you are going to spend a good share of your life in that field. I believe it should be a field that will challenge your intellect and a field that will make maximum utilization of your talents and capabilities; and finally, I think it should be a field that will provide you sufficient remuneration to provide adequately for a companion and children. Such is a big order; but I bear testimony that these criteria are very important in choosing one’s life’s work. I quote a passage of which President David O. McKay was fond: “You are the fellow that has to decide Whether you’ll do it or toss it aside. … Whether you’ll try for the goal that’s afar Or be contented to stay where you are.” (“It’s Up to You,” in Clinton T. Howell, Design for Living, New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1970, p. 30.)

Adequate preparation enhances the ability to think and to decide. We find many people who are willing to alibi or who make excuse for a failure. During the early phases of World War II, a most vital decision was made by one of the great leaders of the Allied Military, Viscount Slim of Great Britain. Long after the war he made this statement concerning this decision made in the battle for Khartoum in 1940: “Like so many generals whose plans have gone wrong, I could find plenty of excuses, but only one reason—myself! When two courses of action were open to me, I had not chosen, as a good commander should, the bolder. I had taken counsel of my fears.”

I urge you to not take counsel of your fears. I hope you will not say, “I’m not smart enough to study chemical engineering; hence, I’ll study something less strenuous.” “I can’t apply myself sufficiently well to study this difficult subject or in this comprehensive field; hence, I’ll choose the easier way.” I plead with you to choose the hard way and tax your talents. Our Heavenly Father will make you equal to your tasks. If one should stumble, if one should take a course and get less than the “A” grade desired, I hope such a one will not let it become a discouraging thing to him. I hope that he will rise and try again.

Consider the experience of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. When he graduated as an ensign, he was given an old, decrepit destroyer as his first command. It was named the Decatur. It was all he could do to put the old destroyer in shape, and on one of its maiden voyages, Ensign Nimitz ran the ship aground. It resulted in a summary court martial. Had Chester Nimitz not been made of the stuff he was, that defeat could have ruined his career. But what did he do? He put that defeat behind him and went on to become the commanding admiral of the greatest sea force ever assembled in this world—the Pacific Fleet. He showed one and all that one defeat could not keep a good man down.

What will be my faith? Whom shall I marry? What will be my life’s work? I am so grateful that we need not make decisions without heavenly help. All can have the guidance and direction of our Heavenly Father if we strive for it. I would encourage us to read and understand the ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants. This is a section that is frequently overlooked but which has a lesson for all of us. When we contemplate making a significant decision, may I suggest we go to our Heavenly Father in the manner in which the Prophet Joseph indicated the Lord advised him. The Lord said to Oliver Cowdery through the Prophet Joseph in the ninth section:

“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong.” (D&C 9:7–9.)

Such is inspired direction for us in our day.

Illustrated by Nathan Young Jarvis