A Smooth and Polished Shaft
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“A Smooth and Polished Shaft,” New Era, Dec. 1984, 30

A Smooth and Polished Shaft

Just as a stone is carved and refined into a monument, modern teenagers in new Hampshire are being shaped by their beliefs.

“I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, … Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 304).

“Since you are about the same age Joseph Smith was when he had the First Vision and you live near the same places he lived as a child, try to put yourselves in his position. How would you feel?”

“I’d feel so young.”

“I would probably start crying.”

“I’d feel like, ‘Why me?’ How would I tell my friends, ‘Heavenly Father talked to me’?”

“I wouldn’t go tell my friends, no way.”

“That’s the hard part. You would know it was right, and you would know what happened to you, but you would want to keep it to yourself because you wouldn’t want to be rejected. That’s the big thing with kids now. You want to fit in. It would be hard.”

“Right now when you tell adults something, they say, ‘Oh, you’re so young.’ I can imagine he had a hard time with everybody, not just his friends.”

“I don’t see how I could tell anyone besides my family. I have close friends now that I explain the Church to, but so many people aren’t in touch with spiritual things at all.”

It was a crisp, rainy day at the Joseph Smith Memorial in Sharon, Vermont, when a group of young people from the Keene Ward, Concord New Hampshire Stake, came on their annual outing. They had made stops along the route at various places that were significant in the childhood of the Prophet Joseph and his family. And now the impact of what had happened to a 14-year-old boy, much like themselves, was the subject of conversation.

Tom Neil was thoughtful for a moment before he said, “I could have gone through part of it, but not everything. I don’t think I could have taken the persecution.”

Robin Hooper, a recent convert to the Church, has a firm testimony. In thinking about the First Vision, she said, “It would be so hard to tell someone you had seen a vision. They wouldn’t believe you and would say you were too young.”

For this group, the early life of the Prophet Joseph comes to life since they live close to many places that were important in Church history. Their hometown of Keene, New Hampshire, was founded by Solomon Mack, Joseph’s grandfather. In fact, the picturesque old stone bridge where the different carpools were to assemble for the trip was built by Solomon Mack and his brothers.

At each stop along the way, one person had been assigned to give a little history of the place. They stopped at a war memorial where the names of Joseph’s uncles who had fought in the Revolutionary War were engraved. Another stop took the group to Dartmouth College and the laboratory of the physician who founded the medical school, Nathan Smith. This doctor, years ahead of his time, tried experimental surgery on the boy Joseph and saved his leg when the accepted medical practice in similar cases was amputation.

Some things had not changed much in the more than 150 years since the Smith family had been here—for instance, the house in Norwich where the family lived when Joseph was eleven, just before the family moved to upstate New York. The white frame house is surrounded by farmland, a stream flows nearby, and the barn still houses livestock. It isn’t hard to picture a young boy, slamming the door behind him, setting out across the fields with a fishing pole or his favorite dog.

Other places have changed a great deal. The house where the family lived when Joseph was so ill with an infected leg and where Doctor Smith performed surgery is gone. In its place are a root beer stand and a prefabricated warehouse. Even so, the group stopped for a moment, trying not to be distracted by the bustle of the drive-in, and attempted to visualize the drama of the events that took place at that spot.

When the group arrived at the Joseph Smith Memorial, they became more subdued. Here is the exact spot where the Prophet Joseph was born. Here is the hearthstone in the same place where, as a newborn, he was bathed and dressed for the first time on that cold December day. Here is the hillside, now known as Patriarch Hill, that he must have climbed as a youngster. But he was not just an ordinary teenager. It was to him that a marvelous vision came and a charge to restore the truth to the earth.

Even though these New Hampshire youth may not believe it of themselves, in some ways they are similar to the young prophet. He stood out in a crowd, and so do they. Often they are the only member of the Church or one of a few members going to their schools. Their beliefs and style of living set them apart from other young people. These young Latter-day Saints have learned early in life to set their own standards, to separate themselves from the inappropriate activities of their peers—the smoking, swearing, and drinking. Their friends and acquaintances at school are surprised that they attend church every Sunday.

Sariah Neil is finding the Church easier to talk about in school, “I used to be afraid to tell people about the Church, but lately I find I can say things, stick up for it. It’s what I am.”

Meg Robbins is strengthened by sharing her testimony, and perhaps her friends will be guided as well. “When you tell your friends about what you believe in, it helps them reevaluate their beliefs. Even just talking about it helps.”

The group climbed a flight of steps to the base of a granite shaft cut from a single, unflawed boulder. This memorial to Joseph Smith stands 38 1/2 feet high, one foot for every year of his life, a memorial to Joseph Smith. The inscriptions at the base reminded them of the life of one man who so profoundly affects their lives today.

The Prophet Joseph said that it was the buffeting of the world that smoothed and polished him in becoming an instrument of the Lord. Perhaps it will be the trials and buffetings faced head on by the young men and women of the Keene Ward that will also smooth and polish them.

Photos by Janet Thomas

Keene Ward youth read the names of Joseph Smith’s uncles on a war memorial. One former Smith home is still in use as a private residence. Warm days start the sap running in the maple trees which line the road leading to the Joseph Smith Memorial in Sharon, Vermont. The awe-inspiring answer to a young boy’s prayer initiated the restoration of the gospel to the earth.