When Men’s Hearts Fail
July 1987

“When Men’s Hearts Fail,” New Era, July 1987, 4

The Message:

When Men’s Hearts Fail

Ironworkers rushed to the elevator to escape the storm. Then someone asked, “Where’s Jim?”

As evidenced by the violence, atrocities, wars, famine, devastation, and destructive forces of nature reported by the media each day, we are obviously living in the time of great confusion predicted by the Lord when he said, “And in that day … the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them” (D&C 45:26). When men’s hearts fail, deep anxieties ensue that can cause us to lose self-confidence, which is vital to our success. Ours is a time when the loving support of friends and associates is critical.

Such loving support is vital even to those who might seem not to need it. Ironworkers, for example, have the reputation of being rough and tough. They belong to the craft that erects the steel framework of buildings and bridges. Some of the structures they erect rise into the sky more than 100 stories, and they walk on the narrow flanges of the beams they bolt into place. Some of the bridges they erect span bodies of water hundreds of feet below, and they walk on the narrow girders that will later support the weight of the concrete deck and the impact of heavy traffic.

These workers must be alert and wary, for one false step could be their last. It is essential that they keep their mind on what they are doing. Many accidents resulting in injury or death have been traced to a disagreement at home or to a heavy burden they carried which affected their emotions and took their mind off their work. While their trade gives them the reputation of being insensitive to risk they represent a cross section of normal citizens, whose feelings, concerns, responsibilities, and traits are like anyone else’s. The one trait in which they must excel, however, is self-confidence. They must be fearless.

Jim was an old-timer. He had been an ironworker for over 30 years and had worked on about every type of job in the trade, which gave him a rich background of experience. He had walked narrow beams hundreds of feet off the ground and shimmied to the end of beams to make the connections thousands of times. Connectors are supreme among ironworkers. They take the greatest risk, and their job requires the greatest courage. Jim was admired by his peers as a man of great courage and stability.

One day he was working with a crew of ironworkers on a job in the rugged mountains of the Colorado Rockies when a storm struck without warning. The rain poured down, the lightning flashed, the thunder roared, and the wind blew with fury. The ironworkers quickly descended and gathered in their work shack to wait for the storm to abate. They had been there for about 15 minutes when someone asked, “Where’s Jim?” He wasn’t in the shack. They went outside and looked up at the steel structure. There he was, standing on a beam with his arms wrapped tightly around a steel column. They called but got no response, so two of the crew went up the framework and found him frozen in panic. His arms were so tightly clenched around the column that they had to pry him loose. Then they fastened him to the cable of an erection rig and lowered him to the ground. He was petrified with fear.

They took him into the shack and warmed him by the fire. An hour later the storm was over, the weather was calm, the sun shone brightly, and the birds sang in the trees. The crew started back to work, but Jim stayed behind. He had lost his nerve and was afraid to get back in the air.

The foreman recognized the problem. It was not something for Jim to be ashamed of. It happens to the best of men. The situation needed wise care and attention. If Jim didn’t get back in the air now, he never would. The fury of the storm combined with the risk of his trade had broken the spirit of an old-timer. He alone could mend the damage. But he needed a helping hand as he had never needed one before.

The wise foreman put his arm around Jim and said that what had happened to him could happen to any one of them. The foreman told Jim to get back to work and assured him of his complete confidence that he could do so. Jim knew that the foreman was right. Every ironworker knows he has to go back. Jim knew he had to do it now. It would be even more difficult tomorrow if he didn’t go back today, and within a week it would be impossible. Finally, he demanded of himself that he get up on the steel structure and go to work. His legs felt weak and his body shaky. As he climbed the steel and cautiously proceeded to carry on, the members of the crew gave him a rousing cheer. That gave him the strength and confidence he needed. Jim went to work, and as he strove to keep pace with the others in the crew, he gradually regained his self-confidence. Had the foreman not been understanding or had the other members of the crew been critical, he would likely have been unable to return to work. Jim learned that his fellow workers were his true friends, for they had understood and given him support in a time of dire need.

What was it that caused this man with a rich background of experience and a history of courage and self-confidence to be overcome with fear? The medical profession describes his condition as one of extreme anxiety. “Anxiety is a specific unpleasurable state of tension which indicates the presence of some danger to the [individual]. When danger is real, we speak of fear; when it is fancied, we call it anxiety (conscious or unconscious ideas of a frightening nature)” (Weiss and English, Psychosomatic Medicine, 2nd ed., p. 22).

“There are two basic causes of anxiety: fear of harm and fear of loss of love . … Secondary causes of anxiety are situations which threaten to bring about either of these conditions, such as battle experience or loss of money or loss of social prestige” (Weiss and English, p. 23).

When General Douglas MacArthur kept his promise to the people of the Pacific Isles that he would return, in his troops was a young Latter-day Saint soldier. They landed on a beach on the Isle of Luzon in the Philippines and set up a beachhead. The enemy had established a fortress on a hill nearby and was bombarding the beachhead to rout their opposers, but General MacArthur’s troops captured the hill. In doing so, approximately 700 men lost their lives.

This slaughter was a dramatic shock to the mind of this young man. He spent two years on the island but could not overcome the horror of what he had experienced. When he returned home, he never told any war stories. He never shared the details of his experiences even with his family. His feelings lay dormant inside him. The scene of the battle haunted him for years. He tried hard to forget, and finally he felt that he had been able to put it behind him.

Forty years after the carnage at Luzon, while he was serving as a counselor to the mission president in his home area, he and his wife received a call to serve a mission. He rejoiced at this wonderful opportunity, for he loved to teach and talk about the gospel. Several months passed before he learned where he was assigned. A letter from the First Presidency advised him that he was to serve in the Philippines. This information was very disconcerting. He had to go back to the place where he had been on that fateful day many years before. He feared that going back would resurrect the horrible scenes that had haunted him through the years and that he had tried to bury in the recesses of his mind.

When he arrived in the Philippines, the memory of that dreadful experience returned. On one of his preparation days, he went to the beach where he had been with General MacArthur when they landed 42 years before and where he had witnessed the great loss of life. He visited the hill where 700 men had died in taking the stronghold. He saw smoke on an adjoining hill, which sickened him as it brought back scenes of booby traps and dangers that had confronted him years before. He recalled wading through swamps in water up to his armpits and lying in foxholes with poisonous snakes slithering around him. He recalled things he had seen and experienced that he had blanked out of his mind. Then in contemplation he realized he couldn’t shut out reality. Not talking about it had bottled it up inside. Talking about it helped. Now he has shared his feelings of those difficult days with his friends, family, and loved ones. To do so is therapeutic when the listener is understanding and supportive.

In the turmoil and strife of our society today, many are frustrated, overwhelmed by anxieties and fears. As an individual strives to regain stability and self-confidence, it is vital that friends put their arms around him and assure him that he is not alone, that he can succeed in the struggle to return. Too often we weaken such an individual through thoughtless remarks and failure to understand rather than building with love and sincere concern.

The Savior spoke of such love and concern in the following parable:

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

“And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

“And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

“I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

“Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

“Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matt. 25:31–45).

Illustrated by Rob Colvin