Challenges of the ’80s

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“Challenges of the ’80s,” New Era, Apr. 1981, 18

Challenges of the ’80s

Keynote address of the multi-regional youth conference held in and near Roanoke, Virginia, from August 7 to 10, 1980. See report beginning on page 22

My dear young women, I hope that your time here at this sesquicentennial conference is one of the happiest of your lives. I hope that you have so much fun and so many wonderful experiences and so many grand opportunities for personal and spiritual growth that you remember it always as a time when you took a moment to pause and make some important decisions and commitments, a time when you were able to affirm to yourself and to others who you are, what you believe, where you’re going, and what you’re willing to sacrifice for your beliefs.

So often you hear people talk about the terrible crises that you are facing, the awful times that are ahead. Do you know that in Chinese there is no word for crisis; rather it is the combination of two symbols—the symbol for challenge and the symbol for opportunity. Certainly before you is a time of challenge, but you also have before you enormous opportunities. If you handle both of these properly, for you there will be no crisis.

How many of you have read Dr. Seuss? It seems that one day this interesting man was asked to give a graduation speech. It was a bright, sunny day, and he strolled across the platform and turned to face the audience to deliver the following speech, exactly six lines long:

“This is my speech. Would you like to hear it? It’s called ‘My Uncle Terwilliger on the Art of Eating Popovers.’

“My uncle ordered popovers from the restaurant bill of fare,

And when they were served, he regarded them with a penetrating stare.

Then he spoke great words of wisdom as he sat down on that chair.

‘To eat these things,’ said my uncle, ‘you must exercise great care.

You must swallow down what’s solid, and you must spit out the air.’

“And my concluding comment,” said Dr. Seuss, “is, if you partake of the world’s bill of fare, that’s darn good advice to follow. Do a lot of spitting out of hot air, and be careful of what you swallow.”

In a different spirit, but speaking on the same subject and referring to our day, one of our prophets, President Harold B. Lee, said:

“We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through with this church and the world in this dispensation, which is the last dispensation, which shall usher in the coming of the Lord. The gospel was restored to prepare a people ready to receive him. … There will be inroads within the Church. There will be … ‘Hypocrites, those professing, but secretly are full of dead men’s bones.’ We will see those who profess membership but secretly are plotting and trying to lead the people not to follow the leadership that the Lord has set up to preside in this church. …

“You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’ (D&C 21:6).” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1970, p. 152.)

That’s quite a promise, isn’t it? That’s one sure way to meet the challenges of the ’80s. It really boils down to choices—what we believe, where we’re going, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for our beliefs. Once these decisions are made, the rest is easy. It’s while one stands undecided and uncommitted, with choices waiting to be made, that one is vulnerable to every wind that blows. Only with choice can you move forward in strength and certainty. Only with decision can you know for sure what you believe and what you will sacrifice for that belief. And only then will you know with surety, and without having to constantly rethink your position, what is the hot air you’re going to spit out.

Once you’ve made these decisions, you’re ready for the next step, which is to make some substantial, firm, hard commitments, commitments to your Father in Heaven, to your family, to your country, and to yourself. We can be of no service to the Lord, none whatsoever, until we have made commitments. Living a good life is not enough. We must do more. There is a greater need for commitments to your Father in Heaven than there has ever been before.

Have you ever thought that you will be able to live your lives according to the standard you have set for yourselves only if the community, the society in which you live, will allow it? And your community will allow it only if you have involved yourselves in its workings, because every community will take on the shape, and the structure, and the value system of those who involve themselves. The important thing is, you can make a difference. You really can. Robert Kennedy said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation.”

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re too young—too young to be courageous, to be of service, to be an example. You’re not too young. Some of the greatest acts of history have been performed by youth. Joseph Smith, who opened our dispensation, was 14 when he exercised such great faith that he was allowed to speak face to face with the Lord. Joan of Arc was 16 when she refused to recant her beliefs. In Maxwell Anderson’s play she says: “One life is all we have to live, and we live it as we believe in living it, and then it’s gone. But to surrender what you are, and live without belief—that’s more terrible than dying—more terrible than dying young.” (Maxwell Anderson, Joan of Lorraine, Dramatists Play Service, 1945, act 2, “The Trial—Joan Answers.”) She was burned at the stake for her beliefs. Thomas Albert Edison invented the repeating telegraph at 16. Sacajawea led the Lewis and Clark expedition through the vast reaches of this continent, thereby opening up the West, when she was just 14. Joseph F. Smith was 15 when he was called to serve a mission in Hawaii. Emily Dickinson was writing poetry at an early age and by age 18 had established a form of poetic style that was to have an influence on modern poetry. David was in his teens when he made the momentous decision to step forward and slay the giant.

You are not too young and you are needed. There is no question but what youth can, should, and must be a time of challenge, a time of growth, a time of commitment, and most of all, a time of action. You must act. You must do something. There is so much need for us to care, to help our fellowmen, to serve our God.

I often think of the haunting Civil War song that tells the story of two little brothers playing on their stick horses. Johnny breaks his horse and begins to cry. Jack, who has dashed ahead, turns around and gallops back. As he comforts his brother, the song goes, “Did you think I would leave you crying when there’s room on my horse for two? Come on, John, we’ll soon be flying. I can go just as fast with you.” Years pass, the brothers grow to manhood, the great Civil War comes, and both young men go off to war. But one is wearing a uniform of blue, the other a uniform of gray. One day they meet in fierce battle. Jack falls from his horse wounded. Without hesitation, John gallops out onto the battlefield, leaps from his mount, and kneels to cradle his brother’s head in his arms, saying “Did you think I would leave you dying when there’s room on my horse for two? Come on, Jack, we’ll soon be flying. I can go just as fast with you.”

Are we who believe we have a clearer view of the history of this country, of man and his destiny, to leave our fellows crying, or shall we not rather involve ourselves in those issues of greatest concern to us all? For is it not also true that none are free while one remains discriminated against or disadvantaged in whatever way? Please make a choice. Please make a commitment.

But there is one thing more that you must have if you are to stand, to stay true to the end, and that is faith. Our prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball, has spoken to us about building our own personal reservoirs of faith. He said, “I have on occasion cited the need for many reservoirs in our lives to provide for our needs. I have said, ‘Some reservoirs are to store water. Some are to store food, as we do in our family welfare program and as Joseph did in the land of Egypt during the seven years of plenty. There should also be reservoirs of knowledge to meet the future needs; reservoirs of courage to overcome the floods of fear that put uncertainty in our lives; reservoirs of goodness; reservoirs of stamina; reservoirs of faith.

“‘Yes, especially reservoirs of faith, so that when the world presses in upon us, we stand firm and strong; when the temptations of a decaying [and, I should add, increasingly permissive and wicked] world about us draw on our energies, sap our spiritual vitality, and seek to pull us down, we need a storage of faith that can carry youth, and later adults, over the dull, the difficult, the terrifying moments; disappointments; disillusionments; and years of adversity, want, confusion, and frustration.’” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1977, p. 6.)

How do you go about developing these great reservoirs of faith? First, as President Kimball pointed out in the same speech, we look to goodly parents, for that is why the Lord gave us parents. Second, we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our great and loving elder brother. To have faith in him is to know him, to know his doctrines and to know that the course of our life is in harmony and is acceptable to him.

Another of our prophets, President Harold B. Lee, told us, “Faithfulness without faith, practices without principles, leave us seriously wanting as we move closer to that time spoken of by Heber C. Kimball when he said, ‘The time is coming when no man or woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If ye do not have it, ye will not stand.’” Very sobering, isn’t it? A reservoir of faith is what you need.

Well, there you have it. Meeting the challenges of the ’80s. How do you meet them? Let’s review. First, you have a sure knowledge of who you are, what you believe, where you’re going, and what you would be willing to sacrifice for that belief. Second, you make some commitments, some good, firm, hard commitments to your family, to your home, to your community, to your Father in Heaven, and to yourself. And third, you build reservoirs of faith. One last word, for there is one challenge you will meet in the ’80s that we haven’t addressed. There are few left untouched by the upheaval surrounding the women’s movement and the sometimes angry debates over woman’s role.

The first question we must resolve as we look at this issue is, does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in equality for both men and women? Does it? Yes. The answer has always been yes. The Church is solid and firm and steady. Eighty years ago, when it was a very unpopular view, the Church believed in equality for women. And we were criticized for our stand. We still believe in equality, and we’re being criticized from another side. But the Church is true, and it is strong. It is steady, and the truth will stand the test of time. One of our early leaders said, “The place of woman in the Church is to walk beside the man, not in front of him nor behind him.

“In the Church there is full equality between man and woman. The gospel, which is the only concern of the Church, was devised by the Lord for men and women alike.” (John A. Widtsoe, in Improvement Era, Mar. 1942, p. 161.)

That raises another question: Does this mean that the roles of men and women are the same, that they don’t differ? No, I think not. Although there are many areas of commonality, and there are many parallel paths that can be pursued both in talents and careers, and even in child rearing and home responsibilities, the basic roles and assignments do differ.

Our prophet, speaking of the equality that must exist within the Church, said: “Within those great assurances, however, our roles and assignments differ. These are eternal differences—with women being given many tremendous responsibilities of motherhood and sisterhood and men being given the tremendous responsibilities of fatherhood and the priesthood—but the man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord.” He continued, “Remember, in the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. You are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and apostles!” (“The Role of Righteous Women,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 102.)

Let me say that again: “You and you and you and you are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and apostles!” Does this mean then that women’s role in the LDS church is limited to motherhood? No, again I think not.

Another of our prophets, Brigham Young, said, “We believe that women are useful, not only to sweep houses, wipe dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic, or become good bookkeepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and all this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large. In following these things they but answer the design of their creation.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book Co., 1941, p. 217.)

As Sister Kimball, wife of our President, admonished in speaking to a group of parents in 1976, “I would hope that every girl and woman here has the desire and the ambition to qualify in two vocations—that of homemaking and that of preparing to earn a living outside the home if, and when, the occasion requires” (in Paris Area Conference Report, July 1976, p. 12).

Obviously, then, we are free to make choices based on eternal values and our own commitments in the pre-existence, remembering always as was stated in an LDS Church News editorial, “When we leave this life, motherhood will go right on with us, and we will see that it is an institution of heaven, so sacred, so necessary to the eternal scheme of things, that without it there would be no real advancement beyond the veil” (“Sacred Motherhood,” Church News, May 13, 1972, p. 16).

Yes, women, we have a very real call and a responsibility within the Church for the spiritual growth and well-being of the Church, as was pointed out by the Lord to Emma Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 25). Also, we as sisters have a unique mission as was described by President Spencer W. Kimball in his address to women on September 15, 1979:

“Finally, my dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way. Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world. … Thus it will be that female exemplars of the Church will be a significant force in both the numerical and spiritual growth of the Church in the last days.” (“The Role of Righteous Women,” p. 104.)

I have a sure, firm testimony that every one of you made a special commitment in heaven to come to the earth at this time and that it is as Mordecai said to Queen Esther, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esth. 4:14).

I pray that as you meet your commitments, as you find your destiny, that you will find happiness and joy. Make your Father in Heaven a part of everything you do. Talk to him, love him, pray to him in every way—not just on your knees morning and night, but as you walk, as you sing, as you play, as you ponder, as you cry. Draw near to him. He loves you. He cares for you. He will answer your every prayer. I wish you joy; I love you all very much.

I leave my testimony with you. I know that this is the true church. I know that we have a prophet who is a spokesman for the Lord. I know that if we will listen to him and follow his words and his example, we will indeed return to our Father in Heaven.

Photo by Brian Kelly