Ball, Bow, Boat Teach Us Valuable Lessons
President J. Lawrence Richards
LDS Business College Devotional
May 08, 2012
[The faculty and staff sang a special number just before President Richards arose to speak.]
I think that was a home run. Don’t you agree? And if you think they’re pretty good at singing, you ought to see them teach and administer. They’re really good. I wanted them to sing so you have a chance to see them, because this is a group who have dedicated their careers to serving you and their Father in Heaven. Believe me, they are not here for the money. They are not. They love you. They love their Father in Heaven. They see in you great potential. They see potential in you that you don’t see in yourself yet. And that’s why they are here, and that’s why they put up with me, and why they put up with some of the other things we ask them to do. And that’s why they put up with you when you come with an excuse that you think is novel but they’ve heard a hundred times before. And they will smile, and they’ll be gentle, and then they’ll hold you accountable. That’s the way it is and needs to be. So when you go to class and you’re not dressed or groomed appropriately, or if you come down on the second floor and try to get a service and you’re not dressed appropriately, they’re going to smile and tell you they love you. And then they’re not going to serve you, because they love you enough to hold you accountable to the covenant that you made to live an Honor Code including a dress and grooming standard.
Get to know these people. They are great spirits. They have much to teach beyond the subject that they teach or the area in the College they administer. If I were in your shoes and know them as I do,, I would apply an expression we sometimes use in business: I would “suck the marrow of their bones.” That is, I would get everything I could by way of learning from them. Learning about the subject matter we are teaching and about life and finding true success.
Adam [Adam Fisher, student body president], come stand by me for a minute. How tall are you Adam? Adam is 6 foot 2 inches. I’ll tell you a little story. In the mission field, I went to Australia—the Great Australia West Mission. And we’re tracting one day, on splits in the district, and I was tracting with Kelly Eves who played basketball for a University before his mission. . Kelly was like 6 foot 8. I mean, he’s a huge guy, and we’re tracting together. So you have to imagine Adam plus about six more inches.
So we’re tracting, and we go to the door, and this little boy comes to the door. And we say, “Is your mom or dad home? We’d love to talk to them.”
And the little boy said, “Yes. I’ll go get them.” So he walked around the corner and we heard him say, “Mom, there’s a man and a boy at the door.”
So I looked at Elder Eves, as I’ll look at President Fisher, and said, “It’s your baby face that throws them off guard.”
Okay, you look great. I appreciate how great you look. You’ve made two great decisions already this summer. One is to come to summer school, for which I salute you. I’m like Brother Nelson I tried summer school once. The operative word is “once.” I had insufficient discipline to do it right. So the first great decision you’ve made is to be part of the very first full summer semester that we know of in our history, congratulations.
The second great decision you’ve made is to be here on a Tuesday, looking the way you do. So I commend you for that. You are far better now than I was at your age. And so, what’s the consequence of that? I expect you to be far better than I am now, because you are farther ahead on the road than I was. And so we recognize that in you.
A couple of weeks ago we had Elder Holland here for commencement. We were recognizing Sister Holland as our Distinguished Alumnus. She went to school here, and, in fact, I found out that my sister-in-law was her roommate.
After hearing warm and motivating remarks from Sister Holland, Elder Holland spoke for a few moments. And he related his own experience about being at college and being newlywed and being financially poor and not having much more than a dream of what he might want to do in his life and a good spouse that was supporting him. And he shared with us his thoughts about working hard, having a dream, and when he worked hard on that dream he ended up in a place he never thought he would end up.
And then he quoted to us the second chapter of the book of Joel, verses 28 to 30, and here’s what is written: “And it shall come to pass afterward [meaning our day], that I [the Lord] will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, [and] your young men shall see visions:
“And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
“And I will shew wonders [to them] in the heavens.”
And then he told the audience — made up primarily of faculty and staff—that the students attending here are entitled to dream dreams and to see visions about their potential and what might be possible for them. And so like Elder Holland, maybe some of you right now have nothing more than a dream and an empty pocket. But we are here to help you make those dreams come true, to catch the vision of your potential, so you can move forward to accomplish Heaven’s will for you.
So I invite you to dream those dreams. I dare you to open yourselves to visions, about yourselves and what might be possible in your life. When you couple those dreams with hard work, then you watch the quiet miracle that will take place in your life. That’s a promise.
It’s not a promise made of a wish. It is a promise because we have seen it in the lives of those who have come before you. Because you are like unto them, that same promise and blessing is like unto you.
And so I want you to be uplifted and inspired by attending the temple, whose very shadow, as it were, crosses our doorstep. Every time you visit the temple, whether it’s to do baptisms or initiatory or an endowment or a sealing, it should be a revelatory, and comforting experience for you, wherein the potential of your life takes on more clarity. Do you know that there are only four places on the earth where there is a House of the Lord adjacent to a Church owned University or College - temples of learning? Only four places, and you’re in one of them. I invite you to ponder that. Because if you do, it will change the way you think about learning, and it will change the way we as faculty and staff think about what we do to help you.
Here are the words of J. Reuben Clark. The acquisition of knowledge is lifelong. It is a sacred activity, pleasing to our Father in Heaven and favored by His servants. “He who invades the domain of knowledge must approach it as Moses came to the burning bush; he stands on holy ground; he would acquire things sacred … We must come to the quest of truth—in all regions of human knowledge whatsoever, not only in reverence but with a spirit of worship.” ("Charge to President Howard S. McDonald at His Inauguration as President of the Brigham Young University," Improvement Era, January 1946, p. 15, http://education.byu.edu/edlf/archives/prophets/clark_mission_of_byu.html)
I invite you to think about your education this summer as standing on holy ground, as a sacred activity, a searching for knowledge in the spirit of worship. And I promise you that if you work hard, you combine your dreams with the temple, then you can be assured of good things to come in your life.
Now the invitation here is to come and drink deeply from wells of nourishing water that will ennoble you. You come and share your dreams with us, then let us help you become spiritually and temporally self-reliant to achieve those dreams. There is no need, brothers and sisters, for you to live below the privileges of mind, body and spirit that Father in Heaven has for you. A common transgression you can commit is that of pygmy thinking. And so again, I invite you to dream dreams and see visions, go to the temple, live your covenants, work hard and see miracles.
I learned that about three weeks ago, a member of the bishopric in the City Creek YSA Ward gave a talk on a ball, a bow, and a boat. Now here’s just a question I’ve got for you, because I’m going to talk about the same thing. I didn’t talk to that member of the bishopric. I didn’t know that that was his topic until just a couple of days ago. So I ask you to contemplate in your heart for just a minute why two independent people would pick the very same theme of a ball, a bow, and a boat and speak to you twice on it.
Now, you might consider that a coincidence. I don’t.
You know the story. One morning, Lehi wakes up. He’s in the wilderness. He goes outside his tent, and what does he find on the ground? He finds a “ball of curious workmanship.” (1 Nephi 16:10) It was made of fine brass. It contained two spindles, one pointed the way that they should go. And words appeared on the ball that gave them a better “understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.” (1 Nephi 16: 29)
Question: To whom and to what do you look to for guidance on the direction you should go and for getting a better understanding of the way of the Lord? There are many voices that are competing for your attention. Some voices that are very quiet whisper truth, and they are only heard by ears that are spiritually trained. But on the contrary, there are other voices that rival the enticing sirens that Odysseus heard while he was on his ship, as conceived by Homer. And from Lehi’s record, we can find a better way to avoid the siren’s calls than putting wax in our ears and tying ourselves to the mast of the ship, as Odysseus did.
The way to do that is a very key phrase that sits inside this story of this little curious ball, and here’s what the phrase says. The scripture records that the ball led them “in the most fertile parts of the wilderness.” (1 Nephi 16:16) The most fertile parts of the wilderness.
Now, going to college at times can feel like a wilderness, can’t it? And so, what keeps you in the most fertile parts of that wilderness? What are the spindles that show you the way to go? Let me share three: First of all, the scriptures. When you are willing to be led, to give heed and are ready to be led, the Spirit will speak the most loudly in your ears. You will hear words and have feelings of nurturing and admonition—encouragement and correction. It has been said that when we want to speak to God, we pray; when He wants to speak to us, we read the scriptures. That’s what Heavenly Father in guiding Lehi’s family, with the words that appeared on the ball.
Number two: Prophets. When we exercise faith and follow the counsel of prophets without having to hear “thus saith the Lord,” we can more clearly sort out those voices that are speaking. We can more clearly determine the difference between right and wrong, good and evil; good, better and best; those who would lift us up and those who would set a snare for our feet.
Number three—the third spindle: patriarchal blessings. Listen to President Monson: “Your patriarchal blessing will see you through the darkest night. It will guide you through life’s dangers… Your … blessing is … a personal Liahona to chart your course and to guide your way. … Patience may be required as we watch, wait and work for a promised blessing to be fulfilled.” (“Your Patriarchal Blessing: A Liahona of Light, Ensign, Nov. 1986, 66)
So each of you have a Liahona, a ball with spindles—scriptures, prophets, patriarchal blessings. So I invite you to follow the guidance and direction you receive. If you do, the effectiveness and efficiency of your study will improve. I promise you that. Your ability to retain what you learn will be magnified, and the Spirit will be your companion. And you will learn at rates that “just amaze the world.” (President Henry B. Eyring)
So you will stay in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, and when you follow those counsels you will not be led astray by the sweet sound of sirens.
One of the next things that happened in their journey is Nephi broke his bow. The lesson to be learned here is that we have to take positive action in our lives to improve our situation, rather than waiting for somebody else to do it for us, to act upon us, to fix our problem.
When his bow broke, Nephi could have easily been discouraged and have asked God: “Why me? Why this? I’ve done everything you have asked me to do. I have put up with two older brothers who have done nothing but persecute me for trying to do the right thing. I’m trying to live the best I can out here in the wilderness. I’m grateful for the Liahona—it’s kept us in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, but doggone it, it’s a wilderness. I am tired. I am hungry. You sent manna from heaven to our forefathers. How about a few rabbits for us?”
Now these were neither Nephi’s thoughts nor his expressions. Rather, he picked up a piece of wood, and he did his best to fashion a bow out of it. He found a straight stick, as straight as he could, and he made an arrow. Now compared to his bow of fine steel, that wooden bow was a pretty pitiful sight. But here are the lessons to be learned from this event: First, he took responsibility for breaking his bow. There was no blaming of parents, irritating brothers, roommates, his circumstances or his dog that ate the homework for the third time in a week. He clearly said in the scriptures, “I did break my bow.” (1 Nephi 16:18)
Second, Nephi did what he could do with the resources he had and the talents he had to fix his own problem. And then he sought counsel on how his solution might be used to accomplish a worthy objective—finding food. Now the interesting result. The prophet—Lehi, his father— prays to the Lord to find out where Nephi should be sent to find food. And where did the answer appear? On the Liahona.
To Lehi’s family, the ball was the same as scripture to us. It solved a very practical problem. In the introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants, we read these words: “These sacred revelations were received in answer to prayer, in times of need, and came out of real-life situations involving real people.” So, brothers and sisters, when you intend to take action to fix your own problems, to find your own direction, you too may pray earnestly and expect divine help, just like those who received it in the Doctrine and Covenants, and oftimes those answers will come in the scriptures.
Now when Nephi finally obtained food, and we don’t know how long it took him, I bet that no one else was as surprised as he was, given what he took up there to make that happen. And though he no longer had his steel bow, what he had was sufficient in the hands of the Lord to accomplish what needed to be done.
In terms of talents and resources, some of you come to the College with a steel bow. Some of you come with wooden bows. Some of you may not even have a bow yet. But you have sufficient for your needs. And the key is to take what you have and make the Lord your partner in pursuing a worthy goal for yourself.
Take the education and talents that you bring, and expand them, stretch them, explore new opportunities to grow. Dare to dream. Pray to see. Strive to be obedient, and your experience in the College will change your life in profound ways.
So the lesson in the bow is stated clearly in the axiom: pray as if everything depended upon God, and you work as if everything depended upon you.
Nephi’s last challenge came when his family was finally at rest in a pretty good place—the land Bountiful. They had food, water, all that they temporally need. In the face of such plenty, he is instructed to build a boat. Not just any boat—it was a boat to be built “not after the manner of men.” (1 Nephi 18:2) Isn’t that interesting? Nephi was commanded to build something he had never built before to take him to a place he’d never been before, and all he knew was that the ocean was in front of him.
So what do we learn from the experience? First of all, you don’t get much rest when you are in your personal land Bountiful. So get over it. That’s not the way of the Lord. We are to be ever moving, ever pressing forward, ever striving with steadfastness in Christ.
I remember President Kim Clark described it this way. He said, “The Lord works on the frontiers. The problem is most of us are content with living in settlements.” So just like Lehi’s family, there was not much rest on the frontier.
When my grandfather would release stake presidents, he would tell them, “Now, don’t take your boots off.” What did he mean by that? He meant for them not to get too comfortable. Don’t relax, because there is always work tailored for you in the kingdom.
Second, Nephi’s faith in the Lord was unshakable. If the Lord commanded him to build a boat, a seemingly impossible task, he knew that he could do it. The Lord is not asking you to build a boat, but he is asking you to build a life—day by day and to do it “not after the manner of men.”
Nephi’s previous experience in obtaining the plates of Laban taught him that all things were possible if done in the Lord’s way. So you and I can take comfort, counsel and enthusiasm from Nephi’s example. Third, Nephi didn’t have tools. He had to make them. At the College, you don’t even have to make the tools. We’ve done it for you. But you have to pick them up, and only you can use them. And if you don’t know how to use those tools to build and to bless your life, we’ll help you do it. The tools include course content, the learning pattern, internships, activities, student mentors and ambassadors, the learning assistance lab, a job placement center, a student success team, faculty, other staff—and this fall, we’ll even have a new writing center to help you. Those are all tools, but you have to pick them up. You have to use them to build the life that Father in Heaven wants you to build. So I invite you to use those tools wisely to build what Father wants you to build and then get sailing.
Like Nephi, you will not get all the answers at once, nor will you be constantly told what to do. To be given answers, spiritually or temporally, as soon as you ask them only cripples you, and makes you too spiritually dependent. And Father in Heaven would have you dependent on Him but not crippled. We would have you dependent on us but not crippled. We are to act and not be acted upon. Revelation comes when we are up and doing – moving our feet.
You’ll receive directions “from time to time” And when answers don’t come, don’t delay. Don’t stand there waiting for somebody to fix it. Move forward, using your very best spiritual judgment. And if you do, here is Brigham Young’s promise to you, when you move forward and you don’t have the answer yet: “If I do not know the will of my Father, and what he requires of me in a certain transaction, if I ask him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in my life or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, [or] my family, [or] my children, or those that I preside over, and [I] get no answer from him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me”—listen carefully—“he is bound to … honor that transaction, and he will do so to all intents and purposes.” (Deseret News, Feb. 27, 1856, 402, Quoted in Joseph Fielding McConkie, “Finding Answers, Ensign, Feb. 2011)
So do not stand idly by, brothers and sisters, waiting for every instruction on where to pound the nail in the “boat” of your life. I just bet Nephi put in a couple of pieces of wood that, when he stepped back and looked at them, he had to tear them out and have a “do-over”. Don’t you think? The same thing will happen to you. And in putting the wood in incorrectly and having to tear it out and do it again, you will probably learn more than if Father in Heaven lifted your hand and pounded the nail for you.
If you are to make a mistake in your education, this is the place to make it. Because we will scaffold you, we will buoy you up. We only ask that you not make the foolish mistakes that come by listening to the sweet sounds of sirens.
What are you building, anyway? You are building a character. You are building the foundation for the right job, leading to a self-reliant career, and you’re building a deeper and a new dimension to the testimony of Jesus Christ that you have. And so I promise you, my good friends, that whatever you think you are capable of, you are capable of more.
“Dream no small dreams,” Goethe said, “for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” So dream big and then work hard.
Eleanor Roosevelt said this: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” We may give you some counsel and advice regarding those dreams, but we will never tread on them. Let us play a role in helping you become what you dream and what you envision for yourself. And whatever limitations you have, they will be less severe if you remember the ball and take the guidance in your life from the right sources; if you remember the bow and take action to do what you can do with what you have; and if your intent is pure and your objectives are worthy, the Lord will magnify you to yield results that He thinks are expedient for you. But remember you must act and not wait to be acted upon.
And finally, remember the boat. You can do hard things. You can do what you think you cannot. You’re here at LDS Business College constructing the foundation of a life, for the rest of your life, and a testimony for the rest of your life. Not after the manner of men, but in a more excellent way—the Lord’s way.
So this summer, work hard. And play hard. Do your best to give the Lord something to work with. You have a role in building the Kingdom, and so I plead with you not to waste your time, or as Shakespeare wrote, miss the “tide … which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” (The Life and Death of Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3) You have a ball to follow, a bow to make, a boat to build. The Lord is counting on you. He needs you to do your part. For out of our collective small efforts to improve our life and to make of it what Heaven has decreed: a mighty nation of spiritual Israel will rise up prepared to carry off the Kingdom triumphantly.
I wish you all the best for the summer. We love you. Your Father in Heaven loves you more. His personal direction to you and what He wants you to learn this summer will be found in textbooks and temples, in scriptures, and in the events of your life. I pray that you will accept the message of the ball, the bow and the boat. I pray that you are prepared to learn. I pray that you will “open your ears that ye may hear,” as the scriptures (Mosiah 2:9) say, “and your hearts that ye may understand and your minds” that God’s plan for you may be “unfolded to your view,” in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.