So it is with each of us. It seems we spend much of our mortal existence waiting. After high school, those who go on to college wait for acceptance to the college of their choice. They wait for grades to be posted at the end of every semester as though it takes eternities to learn whether they have done well. That first degree seems as if they wait forever to graduate.
Sometimes we interrupt our college education to serve a mission for the Church. We wait for months to discover which mission in all the world where we may be called to serve. Then we enter the MTC. We are overwhelmed with how unprepared we are for the task ahead. Everyone around us seems better prepared than we are. They are so smart, so mature, so accomplished, and we wonder if we will ever be good enough. Then at the end of two years (or eighteen months) of serving, loving and working through hard and difficult challenges we emerge at last as one of those finished and accomplished missionaries we first admired, and others see us as being exactly what they wish they were. Little do they realize all the patient waiting upon the Lord we did as we learned through our sorrows, fears and occasional victories exactly what went into our transformation.
There are few successful things in life that happen only because the lightning strikes us, however. There are few lottery winners in mortality. Most of us face the necessity of doggedly believing our dreams will come true over time, and some have to forfeit temporal success and be content with what comes after this life. We are called upon to wait, to learn patience, and to exercise our faith in what often seem protracted campaigns of endurance. We sometimes weaken in the journey. Often in our extremities it seems the only thing we can do is endure.
And sometimes we do not endure our trials well. We murmur. We curse God. We blame others. We may have no vision of the future left to cling to. We may wonder why we ever undertook a certain course that proved to be an empty hole when we expected a gusher. Even when we have no idea what the final cost in suffering or sacrifice may be, we can do this much - we can determine to never give up trying. We can learn that in our simple act of "doing" whatever we choose, there is no worthy task so unreachable nor road ahead so arduous that will not yield to our perseverance. We can cling to the promise of Zion despite the ever-flowing evidence its realization seems so far-fetched in our present circumstances.
My friend the "overnight success" would tell you excellence is not achieved in a flash of brilliant lightning that just happens to strike in the right place at the right time. When he determined to open his first restaurant it was a disaster. His head chef was ordering food in the front door and selling it at a profit out the back door. His pizza oven didn't work, so he tore it out and replaced it. The fountain in the center of the dining room splashed the guests, making an unsavory dining experience for his early patrons. He couldn't find reliable help. He often worked early, long and late to perfect his menu. He went to other restaurants to study what they were doing right, then he continued to push for excellence in his offering. But it didn't happen overnight. Excellence in everything tends to be elusive, and does not yield itself to casual wishes and fleeting dreams of sweepstakes. Opportunities always come disguised as hard work. This is true of missionaries, strong and loving marriages, and rewarding personal relationships founded upon truthful interactions with one another. Nothing of lasting value - nothing - comes without significant sacrifice and effort. Intrinsic in it all is learning patience. I have observed that most of the "hoped-for" outcomes in life seem like they take a long time to be realized, including but not limited to, mortgage modifications from Bank of America/Fannie Mae.
We are admonished by the Lord, "Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days." (D&C 64:33-34).
We must choose here and now not to give up, "for [we] are laying the foundation of a great work." That "great work" is us — our lives, our honor, our posterity, their future, the very achievement of the dreams and goals we set for ourselves. Remember, we chose our here and now, and we are choosing our future every day in our determination to see them through to fruition no matter what the pain. Our "great work" is the essence of our existence. It is what, with effort and patience and God's help, we can become. We are temples of the eternal spirit creation that dwells within us, and we are in the temple building business every day of our lives. When the days are long and difficult, when our problems seem insurmountable, we must do as my friend did - stay in the harness with our spouse and children and keep pulling. We are all promised we will someday "eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days," but it will require our whole heart invested in the work of salvation and a willing mind. It will require that we keep trying.
|Sir Winston Churchill|
"I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.'
"We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all our strength that God can give us. . . That is our policy. You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory — victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be." (Churchill: The Life Triumphant, American Heritage, 1965).
Six days later he took to the radio airwaves and spoke to the whole world. He said: "This is one of the most awe-striking periods in the long history of France and Britain. . . Behind us. . . gather a group of shattered States and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians — upon all of whom the long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall." (Churchill, 91).
In what seemed like a role only this one man on earth could fill, two weeks later he was back before his own Parliament. "We shall not flag or fail," he fiercely declared. When life itself seemed to hang in the balance, "We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." (Churchill, 91).
I love the audacity of those lines spoken under duress with little more than a vision of what might be if he could rally the people he was destined to lead. In Churchill I have found an unfailing source of inspiration and hope, courage and grit, determination and persistence. Few will ever utter again such lofty words in the English language. His is a matchless example upon which we can rely for our own moments of doubt and fear.
In our Mormon history we need look no further than that luminous visionary, Brigham Young. From the writings of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland we glean this valuable lesson of persistence and faith:
|President Brigham Young|
The temple, whose grounds would cover an eighth of a square mile, would be built to stand through eternity. Who cares about the money or stone or timber or glass or gold they didn't have? So what that seeds were not even planted and the Saints were yet without homes? Why worry that crickets would soon be coming — and so would the United States Army? The Saints just marched forth and broke ground for the most massive, permanent, inspiring edifice they could conceive. And they would spend forty years of their lives trying to complete it.
The work seemed ill-fated from the start. The excavation for the basement required trenches twenty feet wide and sixteen feet deep, much of it through solid gravel. Just digging for the foundation alone required nine thousand man days of labor. Surely someone must have said, "A temple would be fine, but do we really need one this big?" But they kept on digging. Maybe they believed they were "laying the foundation of a great work." In any case they worked on, "not weary in well-doing."
And through it all Brigham Young had dreamed the dream and seen the vision. With the excavation complete and the cornerstone ceremony concluded, he said to the Saints assembled: "I do not like to prophesy much, . . . but I will venture to guess that this day, and the work we have performed on it, will long be remembered by this people, and be sounded as with a trumpet's voice throughout the world. . . . Five years ago last July I was here, and saw in the spirit the Temple. [I stood] not ten feet from where we have laid the chief corner stone. I have not inquired what kind of a temple we should build. Why? Because it was [fully] represented before me." (Anderson, Contributor, 257-58).
But as Brigham Young also said, "We never began to build [any] temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring." (Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book, 1973, 410). No sooner was the foundation work finished than Albert Sidney Johnston and his United States troops set out for the Salt Lake Valley intent on war with "the Mormons." In response, President Young made elaborate plans to evacuate and, if necessary, destroy the entire city behind them. But what to do about the temple whose massive excavation was already completed and its 8' x 16' foundational walls firmly in place? They did the only thing they could do — they filled it all back in again. Every shovelful. All that soil and gravel that had been so painstakingly removed with those nine thousand man days of labor was filled back in. When they finished, those acres looked like nothing more interesting than a field that had been plowed up and left unplanted.
When the threat of war had been removed, the Saints returned to their homes and painfully worked again at uncovering the foundation and removing the material from the excavated basement structure. But then the apparent masochism of all this seemed most evident when not adobe or sandstone but massive granite boulders were selected for the basic construction material. And they were twenty miles away in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Furthermore the precise design and dimensions of every one of the thousands of stones to be used in that massive structure had to be marked out individually in the architect's office and shaped accordingly. This was a suffocatingly slow process. Just to put one layer of the six hundred hand-sketched, individually squared, and precisely cut stones around the building took nearly three years. That progress was so slow that virtually no one walking by the temple block could ever see any progress at all.
And, of course, getting the stone from mountain to city center was a nightmare. A canal on which to convey the stone was begun and a great deal of labor and money expended on it, but it was finally aborted. Other means were tried, but oxen proved to be the only viable means of transportation. In the 1860s and '70s always four and often six oxen in a team could be seen almost any working day of the year, toiling and tugging and struggling to pull from the quarry one monstrous block of granite, or at most two of medium size.
|Salt Lake Temple, 1877|
"Can you accomplish the work, you Latter-day Saints of these several counties?" he asked. And then in his own inimitable way he answered: "Yes; that is a question I can answer readily. You are perfectly able to do it. The question is, have you the necessary faith? Have you sufficient of the Spirit of God in your hearts to say, yes, by the help of God our Father we will erect these buildings to his name? . . . Go to now, with your might and with your means and finish this Temple." (Anderson, Contributor, 267).
So they squared their shoulders and stiffened their backs and went forward with their might.
When President Brigham Young died in 1877, the temple was still scarcely twenty feet above the ground. Ten years later, his successor, President John Taylor, and the temple's original architect, Truman O. Angell, were dead as well. The side walls were just up to the square. And now the infamous Edmunds-Tucker Act had already been passed by Congress disincorporating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the effects of this law was to put the Church into receivership, whereby the U.S. Marshal, under a court order, seized this temple the Saints had now spent just under forty years of their lives dreaming of, working for, and praying fervently to enjoy. To all appearances, the still unfinished but increasingly magnificent structure was to be wrested at this last hour from its rightful owners and put into the hands of aliens and enemies, the very group who had often boasted that the Latter-day Saints would never be permitted to finish the building. It seemed that those boasts were certain to be fulfilled. Schemes were immediately put forward to divert the intended use of the temple in ways that would desecrate its holy purpose and mock the staggering sacrifice of the Saints who had so faithfully tried to build it.
|Salt Lake Temple, 1893|
|President Wilford W. Woodruff|
In the writing of one who was there, "The scene that followed is beyond the power of language to describe." Lorenzo Snow, beloved president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, came forward leading forty thousand Latter-day Saints in the Hosanna Shout. Every hand held a handkerchief and every eye was filled with tears. One said the very "ground seemed to tremble with the volume of the sound" which echoed off the tops of the mountains." A grander or more imposing spectacle than this ceremony of laying the Temple capstone is not recorded in history." (Anderson, Contributor, 273). It was finally and forever finished.
|Elder Jeffrey R. Holland|
In each of us there is a "great work" to be accomplished. Have you undertaken it yet? Do you know who you are? Have you made the determination to start and to never quit until it is a finished piece of magnificent artwork you can present without apology to the God who gave you life?
It will take time. It will not happen overnight. Like my friend, you will not become an "overnight success" without arduous and consistent effort. But with enough patience and perserverance you will inevitably see it come to pass. Remember this stunning promise as it applies to Zion, and remember it applies to you as one of its inhabitants in time:
Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.
Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered.
They that remain, and are pure in heart, shall return, and come to their inheritances, they and their children, with songs of everlasting joy, to build up the waste places of Zion —
And all these things that the prophets might be fulfilled. (D&C 101:16-19).
And it is in the "waiting patiently" upon the Lord's promises to be fulfilled that we are sanctified day by day.