“You Go First,” New Era, Feb. 1993, 41
Doing something for the first time is generally a little scary. But with repetition it becomes easier, and the feelings of fright and uneasiness seem to go away.
When Heber J. Grant was president of the Church, he had a slogan printed and distributed by the thousands. It said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easy to do; not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that the power to do has increased.” That simply means we get better with practice! Someone has said, “We learn to do by doing.” This is absolutely true.
Our ability to do increases both in the doing of good things and the doing of not-so-good things. A person who does something dishonest may find it exciting and somewhat frightening at first, but after repetition those feelings diminish and it becomes easier to be dishonest again.
The Lord has given to each of us a conscience to help us have certain negative feelings when we do something that is improper or incorrect. Our conscience is one of the great safety valves of life and should not be destroyed by inattention. If neglected, the conscience gradually becomes less and less sensitive and more and more calloused until it no longer has much effect upon us.
On the other hand, the good, positive things that we do become easier, more enjoyable, and more interesting as we practice them.
I suppose there are some things in life that we would never get used to. I am reminded of an experience that happened many years ago while I was a young missionary. Between the north and south islands of New Zealand is a very rough body of water known as Cook Strait. Out in this rough water are many small and beautiful islands. On D‘Urville Island lived a large group of wonderful Maori people who were members of the Church. They were in an excellent branch of the Church and lived the gospel well. All were related to one another and were mainly professional fishermen.
President Matthew Cowley, my mission president, and I left Wellington on the steamer that sailed between the two islands. It was a rather large ship carrying up to 600 passengers. The only way for a passenger to get off the ship anywhere near D’Urville Island was to climb down a rope ladder lowered from the side of the ship at about two o’clock in the morning. This little maneuver didn’t frighten me too much until the time to perform it approached.
It was a dark night with no moon and few stars. As the ship slowed down to stop, President Cowley and I could see off in the distance a little light bobbing up and down in the water. It was a lantern held by one of the Maori men who was rowing out to pick us up. As it got closer, we could tell that the water was very rough.
Finally the boat was right under us and we could look over the railing and see them. Then we heard one of them shout for us to come down. The deck steward on the ship opened a gate in the railing and threw down the rope ladder. I looked down into the water that dark night, turned to President Cowley, and said, “You are the mission president. You go first.” He looked down that rope ladder into the darkness of the night and said, “I am the mission president. You go first.”
Fearfully, yet bravely, I started down the ladder. Never in my life had I ever climbed a rope ladder more than two or three rungs long. The first and second steps were easy because I could still feel that I was near the side of the ship. But the farther down I went, the farther the ladder hung away from the side of the ship. After I had gone down about six steps I felt very much alone and was hanging on for dear life, praying with each step.
I think that in the darkness of that night, thousands of miles away from home, I learned how to pray all over again. I was frightened, but I hung on and slowly and carefully took it one step at a time. Finally a large Maori hand grabbed me by the ankle, and a voice assured me, “You’ve made it!” I managed to get into the rowboat and put on a raincoat to keep from getting wet.
I sat down and relaxed. Then I looked up the long rope ladder to watch my wonderful mission president begin to climb down. I am sure he prayed just as hard as I did, and finally he made it into the boat. We were then with friends, feeling safe and secure. In a short while we were on dry land on D‘Urville Island. The whole branch was out to greet us in the middle of the night.
Several times while we were there, I thought of that rope ladder. I thought, That is something no one would ever get used to doing. You could never take that downward trip for granted. But doing it over and over would make it easier and possibly less frightening.
When our visit was over and it came time for us to return to the North Island it dawned on me that we needed to climb up that ladder. I discovered that a climb like that would be just as dangerous and treacherous as the climb down. This would require practically the same amount of prayer and effort.
I will never forget that one dark night in the islands of the sea. It was a most unusual and unique experience in my life. There have been many other tasks to perform that have required faith, prayer, and careful effort. Fortunately, as I have grown older and have done the things I ought to do when I ought to have done them, I have acquired the ability to do them better and with less distress and worry. I am grateful at this stage of my life that I can look back and say that about many good things. I’m grateful I chose not to indulge in sinful or improper actions that would have become easier to do with repeated practice.
Young people of the Church, you live in a day of great challenge! I urge you to be true to the faith. Live up to the standards of the Church. Think positively and act according to the teachings of your leaders with a good, clean, strong conscience. Remember, “That which we persist in doing becomes easy to do; not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that the power to do has increased.”