“The Right Thing at the Right Time,” New Era, July 2005, 4
Life has some strange turns. When I was a young man I thought I would serve a mission. I graduated from high school in June 1950. Thousands of miles away, one week after that high school graduation, a North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel, and our country was at war. I was 17 years old, but as a member of the Utah National Guard I was soon under orders to prepare for mobilization and active service. Suddenly, for me and for many other young men of my generation, the full-time mission we had planned was not to be.
Another example: After I served as president of Brigham Young University for nine years, I was released. A few months later the governor of the state of Utah appointed me to a 10-year term on the supreme court of this state. I was then 48 years old. My wife June and I tried to plan the rest of our lives. We wanted to serve the full-time mission neither of us had been privileged to serve. We planned that I would serve 20 years on the state supreme court. Then, at the end of two 10-year terms, when I would be nearly 69 years old, I would retire from the supreme court, and we would submit our missionary papers and serve a mission as a couple.
Four years after we made that plan I was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—something we never dreamed would happen. Realizing then that the Lord had different plans and different timing than we had assumed, I resigned as a justice of the supreme court. But this was not the end of the important differences. When I was 66, my wife June died of cancer. Two years later I married Kristen McMain, the eternal companion who now stands at my side.
How fundamentally different my life is than I had sought to plan! My professional life has changed. My personal life has changed. But the commitment I made to the Lord—to put Him first in my life and to be ready for whatever He would have me do—has carried me through these changes of eternal importance.
In all the important decisions in our lives, what is most important is to do the right thing. Second, and only slightly behind the first, is to do the right thing at the right time. People who do the right thing at the wrong time can be frustrated and ineffective. They can even be confused about whether they made the right choice when what was wrong was not their choice but their timing.
The Lord has His own timetable. “My words are sure and shall not fail,” the Lord taught the early elders of this dispensation. “But,” He continued, “all things must come to pass in their time” (D&C 64:31–32).
The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith means trust—trust in God’s will, trust in His way of doing things, and trust in His timetable. We should not try to impose our timetable on His. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said:
“Since faith in the timing of the Lord may be tried, let us learn to say not only, ‘Thy will be done,’ but patiently also, ‘Thy timing be done.’”1
Indeed, we cannot have true faith in the Lord without also having complete trust in the Lord’s will and in the Lord’s timing.
For a vivid illustration of the importance of timing we can look to the earthly ministry of the Lord and His succeeding instructions to His Apostles. During His lifetime the Lord instructed the Twelve Apostles not to preach to the Gentiles but “rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5–6; also see Matt. 15:22–26). Then, at the appropriate time, this instruction was reversed in a great revelation to the Apostle Peter. Only then, at the precise time dictated by the Lord, was the gospel taken to the Gentiles (see Acts 10–11). As this example shows, continuing revelation is the means by which the Lord administers His timing. We need that revelatory direction.
The Lord’s timing also applies to the important events of our personal lives. A great scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants declares that a particular spiritual experience will come to us “in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will” (D&C 88:68). This principle applies to revelation and to all of the most important events in our lives: birth, marriage, death, and even our moves from place to place.2
Anson Call was in the initial exodus from Nauvoo. He and his family crossed Iowa in the spring of 1846 and reached Council Bluffs, Iowa, that summer. There Brigham Young was organizing wagon companies. He appointed Anson Call captain of the first 10 wagons. The Twelve ordered his wagon train to move west. It left the Missouri River for the West on July 22, 1846. Organized by priesthood authority, they were directed toward the Rocky Mountains, and they went westward with great energy.
After traveling more than 130 miles through what is now Nebraska, this first wagon train was overtaken by new instructions directing them not to proceed further that season. They found a place to winter and then, in the spring of 1847, returned east and rejoined the main body of the Church on the Iowa side of the Missouri. There Anson Call and his family remained for a year, making further preparations and helping others prepare for the trip west. It was two years after their initial start westward in 1846 that Anson Call and his family finally journeyed to the valleys of the mountains. There the obedient and resourceful Anson Call was frequently used by Brigham Young to begin new settlements in the Intermountain West.3
What is the meaning of this pioneer experience? It is not enough that we are under call, or even that we are going in the right direction. The timing must be right, and if the time is not right, our actions should be adjusted to the Lord’s timetable as revealed by His servants.
The achievement of some important goals in our lives is subject to more than the timing of the Lord. Some personal achievements are also subject to the agency of others. Someone has said that life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. Because of things over which we have no control, we cannot plan and bring to pass everything we desire in our lives. Many important things will occur in our lives that we have not planned, and not all of them will be welcome. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, and their revolutionary consequences provide an obvious example. Even our most righteous desires may elude us, or come in different ways or at different times than we have sought to plan.
So what should be done in the meantime? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ prepares us for whatever life brings. This kind of faith prepares us to deal with life’s opportunities—to take advantage of those that are received and to persist through the disappointments of those that are lost.
Wise are those who make this commitment: I will put the Lord first in my life and I will keep His commandments. The performance of that commitment is within everyone’s control. We can fulfill that commitment without regard to what others decide to do, and that commitment will anchor us no matter what timing the Lord directs for the most important events in our lives.
Commit yourself to put the Lord first in your life, keep His commandments, and do what the Lord’s servants ask you to do. Then your feet are on the pathway to eternal life. You do not know what will happen. Do your best on what is fundamental and personal and then trust in the Lord and His timing.
Do not rely on planning every event of your life. Stand ready to accept the Lord’s planning and the agency of others in matters that inevitably affect you. Plan, of course, but fix your planning on personal commitments that will carry you through no matter what happens.
The most important principle of timing is to take the long view. Mortality is just a small slice of eternity, but how we conduct ourselves here—what we become by our actions and desires, confirmed by our covenants and the ordinances administered to us by proper authority—will shape our destiny for all eternity.