What Are You Doing Here?

    “What Are You Doing Here?” New Era, Jan. 1987, 32

    What Are You Doing Here?

    Taken from a devotional address delivered at Brigham Young University on May 1, 1979.

    Your mission in life—what’s it all about?

    Let me begin by asking you some questions. What is your mission in life? What does God expect you to accomplish during your sojourn here upon the earth? And are you doing it?

    To help answer these questions, I hope the Spirit of the Lord will impress upon us all the importance of at least these three eternal truths:

    1. God, our Father in Heaven, does have a specific mission for all of us to fulfill and perform while we are here upon this earth.

    2. We can, here and now, in this life, discover what that mission is.

    3. With his help we can fulfill that mission and know and have assurance, here and now, that we are doing that which is pleasing to him.

    Now these are all very, very important concepts; and they are all true. With the help of the Spirit of the Lord we can understand these truths and move the course of our life in tune with them.

    If we don’t know what our mission is, if we’re uncertain as to whether we are, in fact, fulfilling it, if we don’t have the positive assurance in our lives that our actions and our performance are pleasing to our Father in Heaven—then it doesn’t really matter what else we are spending our time doing; it is not as important as finding out what we should be doing and having the assurance that we are doing it. Or put another way, if we are really interested in doing our Father’s will we had better pay the price—whatever price is necessary to do so. We had better pray fervently, study the scriptures, get and prayerfully study our patriarchal blessing, and listen to the Brethren, or, in short, do whatever is required so that we can have the assurance that we are doing what our Father in Heaven wants us to do—that we are moving in the general area of the mission he has for us to perform. Obviously, that mission will be different for each one of us.

    Now, that assurance won’t come all at once. God will unfold it to us line upon line, according to what is best for the progress of his work. But remember, you have to start somewhere. I assure you that you should and can know that you are on the right path and that your performance, no matter where you are on that path—whether you are a student, or a missionary, or newly married, or whatever—is pleasing to the Lord.

    Listen to what Nephi tells us in 2 Nephi 32:9 [2 Ne. 32:9]:

    “But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.”

    Now that is powerful doctrine. It is powerful because it is true. Everything we do should be done for the Lord; and we ought to make sure that it is what he wants us to do.

    Many of you will say, “Okay. I believe that, but how do I go about finding what I’m supposed to do? How do I know what my mission and calling is? If I were going on a full-time mission, I’d send in a group of papers to Salt Lake and I’d be told to go to Germany or Texas or Japan or someplace. But how about this life-long mission? How do I understand? How do I know? Who tells me?”

    While every person must ultimately receive his own revelation and assurance as to his life’s mission, there are great helps available to us. I will review some of these with the hope that they will help all of us in discovering whether the course we are following is pleasing to the Lord.

    In our quest to discover our callings in life, the first and most fundamental thing we must do is to follow the Savior. Learn of him. Learn what he did, then do it. The things that he did, even though they occurred nearly 2,000 years ago, have universal application. Now this may seem pretty general to you, but it is the basis of all else. You will have to do this by personally studying the scriptures and his life and personally becoming acquainted with him. (And, incidentally, when you do that you will have your questions answered.) But en route to achieving this personal relationship with the Savior, let me give you five specifics to help.

    1. Get yourself worthy and keep yourself worthy to honestly hold a temple recommend.

    2. Get a patriarchal blessing and study it often, carefully and prayerfully.

    3. Read the scriptures prayerfully each day.

    4. Pray diligently and fervently at least every night and every morning.

    5. Start doing something—take a course, go on a date, choose a major. Start somewhere, in some areas that at least you don’t feel negative about. Maybe you feel negative about many things, but start in the direction you feel least negative about. In other words, don’t just sit and wait for a big revelation. Don’t wait to be changed. Don’t wait to be transferred. Don’t wait to be moved. Don’t wait for a different situation. Start where you are now and do something.

    Let me mention an experience that fits directly into this subject. I had the opportunity of serving a full-time mission in Tonga almost 30 years ago. I had two wonderful mission presidents. When I arrived, the first one said, “I’ve got just the place for you. It’s a small island several hundred miles from here. It is nearly seven miles around with about 700 people on it. There are no white people there, and no one speaks English. I want you to go up there and not come back until you know the discussions and know how to speak Tongan.”

    Well, I went; and to put it mildly, there were lots of problems. I had a wonderful native companion. Despite the problems—or more correctly, because of the problems—there was a lot of growth. At one time we came close to literally starving to death because of a hurricane and a wrecked boat. On another occasion we were subject to some serious physical threats and actual abuse. At one time we went a little over four months without mail. Things have changed now. But we learned to live with the challenges at hand. We kept moving. Even though there were only 700 people in a very limited area, even though I didn’t know the language, we kept moving, we kept doing something. Sometimes we made mistakes. (Although, whenever there was the possibility of our doing something seriously wrong, the Lord let us know in no uncertain terms that it was wrong and we did not do it. I assure you that if you are striving to do the right, the Lord will let you know if you are starting to do something wrong. So listen!) I am sure there was even more good we could have done, but at least we never stopped. We kept going. We did something; and that’s important.

    The facts are that when I left that little island after 13 months I was alive and well. I knew the discussions. I knew the language. Many souls had been baptized. I had been present when many infants had been born and when several people had died. I held some in my arms as they passed away. I learned quite a lot about life; but most important, I came away knowing at least three things (and we can all come away from our life’s experiences knowing these things):

    1. I knew that God lived and that he had all knowledge and all power and that he was literally the Father of our spirits. I knew that he loved each of us personally and individually and that he especially watches over his missionaries.

    2. I knew that Jesus Christ was his Son, our Savior and Redeemer, a real person, a true friend, one who gave his life for us, one who loves us and one whom we can love in a way that defies human comprehension, one through whom we can look forward to a glorious resurrection of our bodies and a forgiveness of our sins and an eventual opportunity to stand in the presence of our Father in Heaven cleansed and pure. I plead with you to love him with all your hearts. You will be a better person and you will be on the path of knowing your mission and calling in life. And that’s the third point.

    3. I knew that God had a mission for me and for all men and all women. I didn’t know exactly what it was in every detail, and that didn’t matter. I knew where to start. I knew I had to live more closely in tune with him. I knew I had to do better. I knew the path, and that was the important thing. I knew I could trust him. I knew our purpose here was to fulfill our mission. I knew that he would, in his own way and according to his timing, let me know what other things he would have me do to fulfill this mission so I could receive the joy that comes therefrom. I have not been disappointed and neither will you.

    When the new mission president arrived, he eventually found out where I was and transferred me to another area. This second area consisted of 16 small islands. That mission president told me that we were so short of missionaries I would not have a companion. He told me that I should preach the gospel and build up the Church on those 16 islands. Those were my only instructions. Again I kept moving and trying to do some good. There were members on some of those islands. I often took them with me on preaching trips. We mostly traveled by small sailboat.

    I suppose the Lord has his way of testing all of us. It seems that I was born with a weak stomach, and most of my boat trips (which were many) found me seasick. We would go to one island and tract all day and invite everyone out to a meeting that evening. The whole island usually came, sometimes a few dozen, sometimes several hundred.

    Because I knew I wouldn’t be back for several months, I would start with lesson one and spend three or four hours and go through all the lessons. When I concluded, I would ask the people to pray sincerely that evening about what they had heard. Then I would explain that those who felt it was true and had a testimony of it should be down to our boat by 8:00 A.M. the next morning to be baptized and confirmed before we left for the next island.

    We often baptized people, and they were good members of the Church. We gave them instructions and called couples from some of the other branches to help them. Then we would leave for the next island and try to get back a few months later. Thus, by constantly going around, we gradually built up several good branches that have today evolved into some very good units with some very strong leaders. There was a lot of persecution in those days; so when they joined, they were usually committed. They had a spiritual conversion. It wasn’t a social thing to join the Church. They had to believe it.

    After completing one of these rounds in a more than usually successful way, I remember heading home in a very happy and grateful mood for the success the Lord had blessed us with. The sea was rough; but we weren’t concerned for we felt we were in the hands of the Lord. As we got close to our home island, the rough weather became more severe, the wind became stronger and the waves higher. Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a regular tropical squall which, though of short duration, was very dangerous. I felt, “Well, we will get through this all right. After all we have done and the success the Lord has blessed us with, we shouldn’t worry about this.”

    But the storm increased in intensity, and suddenly with the emergence of two huge waves, the captain shouted those fateful words to the six of us aboard, “Abandon ship!” One can hear a lot of phrases in this life, but there are few as fearsome as those spoken by a captain in the midst of giant waves and inconceivable turmoil of elements.

    We did what we had to do and dove in as the gargantuan waves thundered down on our frail little craft, leaving it broken and listless and the six of us sprawled on the surface of the boiling sea struggling for our lives. Now, I know missionaries are not supposed to swim, but sometimes one doesn’t have a choice. We struggled against huge odds to make the nearest shore, which was a small island we had just passed. I remember thinking that this really shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t be going through this. But we were, and all my thinking or wondering didn’t do much good—only swimming and exerting all the energy and effort I had helped.

    After swimming for about an hour, we finally made it to the shore, exhausted but alive and gratefully so. Just to feel firm ground under our feet was a great blessing. How much more I appreciated life and solid ground than I had before. Just to be in that boiling sea and realize how tenuous life is, how quickly this earth life could come to an end, made a great impression on me. Sometimes we literally have to travel over rough waters in order to appreciate some of the fundamental blessings we have—like life itself, for instance. We probably don’t begin to understand or appreciate life as we should until we sense the closeness death has to all of us. As we sense these things, we can more clearly comprehend that there is a reason for our being here.

    The storm passed rather rapidly, but we were still stranded for several days before we got things together and were able to make our way home over much friendlier seas.

    This whole experience gave me a new outlook and appreciation for life. As I look back now, there was much more than our own strength involved in that horrendous task of getting to shore, but it still took all we could do. In a similar manner, even though it will take all the effort we can put forth to fulfill our missions here, there will still be much more than our own efforts involved in accomplishing them.

    I remember reading a poster once that said, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.” I think that applies to our lives. We may pass through troubled times, but if we constantly seek nothing but physical security, we’re probably not doing what we should. We need to seek the spiritual security of knowing we are doing the Lord’s will. Sometimes that will not give us all the physical security we may desire, but it will give us all we need.

    While I would not have chosen that experience in the sea or some other experiences I had, the fact remains that a big part of my subsequent happiness (and your subsequent happiness) and joy has to be traced back to some of those so-called “unwanted” experiences. We don’t need to seek them. They find us out more often than we may desire. All we have to do is try with all our might to live the way we should, keep our eyes on our goal, and leave the rest to the Lord. Then we realize the truth of the statement that problems are what we see when we take our eyes off the goal. Once we incorporate the available God-given directions in our lives, find our mission, discover our calling, then look out world; here we come! That’s the way you have got to feel. That is what has got to happen for us to be happy and for us to achieve the potential he has in mind for us.

    Now, apply this thought to your situation today. Most of you are students. You are concerned about several things. You are concerned about meeting and being sure of the right person who will be your eternal companion. You are concerned about gaining a knowledge of some profession and finding a job and raising a family and having time and means to help build the kingdom. This concern is, in effect, your desire to know your mission and calling in life.

    Maybe you would like to be a teacher, but you wonder what teaching jobs are available. So what do you do? Do you go into teaching or do you go into, say cabinet making, which may not require all the college education teaching does but could possibly make you more money? These are very valid questions, and they deal directly with what we are talking about—fulfilling your mission and calling in life. As you are obedient to the principles we have talked about, I promise you that you not only are entitled to but you will receive revelation, inspiration, and answers to these fundamental questions. They are important to you and they are important to the Lord. You can receive that inspiration right here and now, and you can feel good about the direction you are going.

    I got a master’s degree, and I taught for a while. I loved it. I would still be doing it, except I did not feel that was my calling—at least not in a professional sense. I went into the contracting and development business and felt a positive assurance that that is what I should be doing. I did not have any great revelation saying, “You be a contractor” or “Do not be a teacher,” but I did experiment with a few things and turned from those I did not feel right about and moved in the direction of those I did feel right about and soon ended up building homes and apartments and commercial buildings. Now that isn’t for everyone, but it was for me. You have to decide and know what yours will be.

    Let me just spend a moment on an item here that I think a great many people, particularly members of the Church, do not understand. A lot of our people have great amounts of faith but sometimes tend to distort that faith a little by saying, “I am not going to move until I receive a positive assurance, a burning in the bosom, as it were, that a particular thing is what I should do.”

    You are familiar with the scripture where Oliver Cowdery was trying to translate and could not do it. The Lord explained that he had to figure it out himself and if it was right he would experience a burning in his bosom; and if it was wrong he would have a stupor of thought. Many people say, “I am not going to move because I do not have that burning in my bosom. I am not positive about that person or I am not positive about this field, or I am not positive about this, that, or the other. Too often we want to be positive about everything. We feel like we have got to have this burning all the time. Often people say, “I am confused. I don’t know what to do,” and so they end up treading water and not doing anything or making any real progress and that, in and of itself, is wrong. We should not do wrong things; and as I said before, the Lord will let you know when things are wrong; but for heaven’s sake, do something.

    In my life there have been quite a few occasions where there was absolutely no question about it—that burning was there. I have had the experience, for instance, of installing stake presidents where there was absolutely no question, where I was positive, “that is the man to be the stake president now.” It has happened in other situations also. But much of the time it has been a matter of eliminating the least desirable directions to end up going in the best direction. We must try to figure it out ourselves. As I have begun to proceed along one path, having gathered what facts I could, I have found that if that decision was wrong (not that it was an evil one, but not right for me), without fail, the Lord has always let me know just this emphatically, “That is wrong. Do not go that way. That is not for you!”

    Now, on the other side, there may have been two or three ways that I could have gone, any one of which would have been right and would have provided the experience and means whereby I could fulfill the mission that He had in mind for me. Because He knows we need the growth, He generally does not point and say, “Now, open that door and go that direction twelve yards and turn right and go two miles, etc.” But if it is wrong, He will let us know—you will feel that for sure. I am positive of that.

    So, rather than saying, “I will not move until I have this burning in my heart,” let’s turn it around and say, “I will move unless I feel it is wrong; and if it is wrong, then I will not do it.” By eliminating these wrong directions and moving forward in others, very quickly you will find yourself going in the direction that you ought to be going, and then you can receive the assurance, “Yes, I am going in the right direction. I am doing what my Father in Heaven wants me to do and for sure I am not doing the things he does not want me to do.” This is part of the growth process and part of accomplishing what our Father in Heaven has in mind for us.

    Let me quote from 2 Nephi 32:1, 3 [2 Ne. 32:1, 3]:

    “And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts? … Wherefore, … feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (italics added).

    That’s pretty powerful, isn’t it? All things? Yes, all things that are necessary.

    I assure you that by following these procedures, you can receive answers and assurances to all things necessary to the fulfilling of your mission and calling in life. It may not be easy, but it can be done. This assurance can include at least those two most important concerns: who you should marry and what profession you should go into.

    My subject is not courtship and marriage; however, I do want to make one point in this regard. Unless the feeling of love and desire to be together forever is mutual between the boy and the girl, it probably is not of God. I have been a mission president. I have known the positive sureness and aggressiveness of outstanding young elders; and I would only caution you that you cannot receive a one-sided revelation from God in regards to an eternal marriage. Only as both parties feel the same way can you have the assurance that it is from the Lord. Those who try to force another’s free will into their supposed-revelation mold are doing a great disservice to themselves and to their friends. Until the feeling is mutual, the good envisioned in such a union will not come to pass. But on the other hand, when you feel it is right (and it may not come all at once), do not try to fight it. The Lord’s greatest institution and the means whereby he always has and always will bring to pass his greatest blessings is the family unit. Just make sure you are right—not forced but not withholding either—and God will bless you now and forever.

    As to the second concern, namely, a profession or occupation, I want to leave you my assurance that you can be blessed in this area as well. You can know within general areas what he wants you to do for a living. Sometimes we feel that God is interested in helping us choose a companion, that he is interested in helping us on our full-time missions, and that he is interested in helping us fulfill our Church assignments, but that he is not interested in helping us as we struggle to decide whether to become an engineer or a teacher or a building contractor. Now, I don’t believe that. I believe that God is very interested in what we do for a living. I believe he is interested in our relationship to him, he is interested in our relationship to our fellowmen, and he is interested in our relationship to this earth that he has created for us. All things are spiritual to the Lord (see D&C 29:34).

    Let me close by relating an experience that occurred a few years ago, again in the islands. It will demonstrate the universality of the basic premise that we began with—that all people do have a mission and they can perform it no matter where they are or under what circumstances they may live. As I conclude with that story and testimony, let us reevaluate our lives and make sure that we are doing with them what the Lord would have us do.

    Years ago as a young missionary, I was impressed by an older island couple who always seemed to be helping the missionaries and others. Every time I went to their home I would find them reading the scriptures or fixing a meal for a missionary or tending a neighbor’s child or preparing a Relief Society lesson or rendering some sort of service. They were not blessed with children of their own, but they were always helping so-called “outcast” children.

    I was soon moved to another area and left for home without ever returning to that area. I often wondered about that couple who had so impressed me. I was sure the Lord would bless them.

    Years later I was again in the area as the mission president when a messenger asked if I would visit a certain elderly widow named Luisa. Upon inquiring, I realized that it was the family I had wondered about all of these years. Her husband had obviously passed away; and as the messenger gave me the address, I realized she was still in the same old house she had been in those many years before. Of course we made arrangements to visit her.

    It was late afternoon when we drove up to the home. I was surprised to realize that hardly anything had changed. It was a neat, clean home, but a very humble one. As I walked up to the house I noticed her waiting by the open door. She held her hand out in a slightly waving fashion. Then I realized that she had gone blind. As I took her in my arms, I realized also that she had not long to stay in this life as there was nothing but the frailest body of skin and bones.

    We sat and visited, and she talked about her desire to help the “poor” people. I suggested that she may need some help herself. She kindly informed me that she was rich and had nothing to worry about.

    I was a little confused and began to inquire. I found that she and her husband had often saved money to pay their air fare to the temple only to end up lending it to someone else who needed it more. When all the facts came out, I said to her, “Luisa, how can you say you don’t have anything to worry about? You have no husband, you have no children, you’re blind, you are in poor health, you live in a poor home, you haven’t been to the temple. How can you say you’re rich?”

    Then she stopped all of my questions by quietly informing me that she was rich because she knew the Lord was pleased with her life. She said, “I know I will be with my husband soon. I know the Lord will bless us with a family. I may not have done all that I could, but I know that the Lord is pleased with what I have done.”

    I cannot express fully what happened at that time. However, I would like you to ponder Doctrine and Covenants 6:7, wherein the Lord says, “Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” [D&C 6:7]

    Luisa had taken the time to discover her mission and calling in life and had done whatever was necessary to fulfill it. She had obtained the “wisdom” spoken of.

    I hope you can see clearly the truth of these things. I hope you can really understand that our Father in Heaven does have a mission for you to perform. I hope you will find and fulfill that mission.

    Illustrated by Richard Brown