‘Steady As She Goes’ — Enduring to the end
Elder Boyd K. Packer, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, delivered at Brigham Young University on January 7, 1969
Brethren and sisters, those of you here in the field-house an you in the other assembly halls, I am happy to greet you on your return to school and to share with you some thoughts on entering a new year.
A MARINER’S COMMAND
There is a mariner’s command, given usually by the captain to the helmsman,which embodies my message to you this morning. It is a command, but it becomes an expression of direction and reassurance, particularity when a vessel is set on course in difficult times. The expression is “Steady as she goes”. Those of you who have served on ships, particularly in times of stress and difficulty, have heard that reassuring command, ‘Steady as she goes’.
LIKE THE PRESENT PERIOD
The classic historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, was opened by Charles Dickens with this long sentence: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only….It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five.” Across the world in that year there was unrest, dissension, disorder, violence, insurrection, and revolution. It was indeed a “period like the present period.”
AN ADVENTURESOME TIME
We live in such a time. Your voyage on the sea of life now heads into troubled waters. During this school year we have already ridden out a squall or two. Storm clouds gather ominously ahead. Perhaps they will pass over, but perhaps we must face into the storm and ride them out. You will be participants, at least witnesses, to trying and important events in the history of the world and the history of the Church. Thank God you were born in this era! Be grateful that you are alive and have the happy opportunity, the priceless, happy opportunity of arriving at early maturity in this momentous, adventuresome time. I have several suggestions for you — positive hints on navigation — each in keeping with my conviction that this is the best, the very best time to be sailing toward maturity.
A GOOD BEGINNING
First, please know that your voyage has a good beginning. While no one of you is so well endowed as to be overly impressed with your own potential, no one of you is so un-endowed that you don’t have an adequate beginning, particularly spiritually, and that is where the test will be.
You may wish to compare your beginning with another. A few weeks ago I was traveling in The Netherlands with President Peter Dalebout. As we drove into Rotterdam along the Rhine River, I commented on the barges moving upstream loaded with sand and rock and timber. President Dalebout mentioned that as a boy he had lived on such a barge, and then related this touching story. When he was eight, his father was in America trying to get means to bring the family over here to America. His mother did her best to keep several children fed and clothed back in The Netherlands. They were in difficult, if not desperate circumstances. Because of their impoverished way of living, the family contracted tuberculosis. When one member of the family was cured, they would be reinfected from another who had the disease. Two sisters died. One night, after the boy was asleep, an uncle whom he had never seen stopped to visit. He worked on a barge going up and down the Rhine. It almost never stopped at this little community, but that night it had. The uncle had come to see the family. Peter’s mother sobbed out her concern for the lives of her children, and her brother generously thought of a way that he could help. “I can take the boy with me,” he said. “He will be all right on the barge.” So that night, while he was still asleep, his uncle carried Peter and the few meager items of clothing that he possessed to a rowboat and took him aboard the barge. Peter awakened the next morning from the motion of the barge. Puzzled and frightened, he began to cry. A woman he had never seen came into the cabin to comfort him and said, ” I am your Aunt Elizabeth. You are going to live with us now.” He cried most of the time for the first two weeks. Then one day as he changed clothing, he felt in his pockets and to his great surprise, he found a dime. Now, a dime in The Netherlands is a very small coin, much smaller than our ten-cent piece. And on the dime was a profile of Queen Wilhelmina. He wept for joy when he found the coin. He knew, then, that his mother loved him. His mother just didn’t have a dime for anything, but Peter’s mother had put that coin in his pocket; it was a message to him. The dime was almost worn through between his little fingers. He looked at it so often that somehow he became sure that it was a picture of his mother on the coin. It was eighteen months later, then robust in health, that he was returned to his family — a family united in hopeless poverty.
It is an interesting account, how he found his way through life, how he finally came to own a large steel plant in Los Angeles, how he came to possess substantial wealth, but, more importantly, how he became capable and worthy to be called of the Lord to return to his homeland and president over the Church there.
POWER TO CONTROL
No one of you has less a beginning than that, so we say, move ahead, “Steady as she goes”. You have great power for good, power to control your course. Here is a lesson, in this regard, drawn from a little girl who reported to her mother that her brother was setting traps for birds. She didn’t like it at all. “He won’t catch any birds in his trap, will he, Mother?” she asked. “I have prayed about it and asked Heavenly Father to protect the birds. He won’t catch anything, will he, Mother?” Becoming more positive, she said, “I know he won’t catch anything because I have prayed about it.” The mother asked, “How can you be sure he won’t catch anything?” The came a meaningful addition, “He won’t catch anything because, after I said my prayers, I went out and kicked that old trap all to pieces.” I think no editorializing on that is necessary.
The next suggestion I have for you is to learn to live fully and righteously now. If there are storms and uncertainty on the course ahead, look to the present. I learned a lesson while serving in the military during World War II. We were sent overseas to the Pacific and while en-route to our assignment, the Japanese surrendered. The war was over and we were diverted to a replacement depot on Leyte in the Philippines. From there we moved to Manila, then to Clark Field. No one seemed to know that to do with us. We would be in one place a short time and then we would be shipped to another place. It was miserable!
Sometime during this experience, I heard a lesson relating to he pioneers, It emphasized the theme that they built permanently wherever they were. In Kirtland, in Missouri, in Nauvoo, they settled down. They build fine substantial homes and strong communities. When the storms broke over them, they were exiled and moved form place to place. They rebuilt, each time, as well and permanently as they could. When they moved to these valleys, they built the best they possibly could with the materials and resources available to them. Many of them had hardly finished their homes when they were called to colonize other places in the Great Basin. They followed the same pattern settled down and built substantially.
After hearing that lesson, I rebelled against my own circumstances. For months we had been living out of our duffel bags — pushed here and there, never knowing how long we would be in a location, never unpacking, living form hour to hour and day to day, always waiting for the next assignment. I decided I would have no part of that spirit. If the pioneers could settle down, so could I. That day I unpacked an settled in as comfortably as possible and began to act like a permanent resident there. Before long we moved. The day we arrived at the new destination, I unpacked and settled down. This meant the difference between misery and happiness. And it was a great lesson. It is one we all ought to draw from our forefathers. We have lived that way since. This ideal has contributed to our security in marriage, to our happiness and stability as a family. I meet so many people who are always “en-route”, anxious to finish their present task so that they may begin to live, yet nervous about the uncertainty and the storm clouds ahead. Don’t be that way; settle down. Here in school, look forward, but remember life is TODAY. Settle into your studies, particularly into your ward assignments and your spiritual growth. Settle down permanently where you are. Relax, enjoy it, though you know, as students, you will not be here very long. The future is not your challenge, nor will it ever be. The present is your challenge; so remember, set your course, and “steady as she goes”.
Now be glad that you live in stormy, troubled times, and be glad that you are you. Never, never wish that you were someone else. You are you. Accept that. You always will be you. You may complain with your lot in life. Your social or economic inheritance may not be to your desire. Yo may think yourself limited mentally (we probably don’t use even 15 percent of our capacity). You may not like the body you are inhabiting — remember ultimately it may be perfected. You are you — a separate individual intelligence. You are a spirit inhabiting a body. “And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15). Sometimes we make an appraisal of ourselves in comparison with another and foolishly wish we were somebody else. Never do that. Thank the Lord for who you are and what yo may become. “As man is, God once was, as God is, man may become.” (Lorenzo Snow). The measure of success will be neither fame, nor fortune, nor wealth. I am sure there are those here, particularly I am thinking of faculty members who are not known widely beyond the classrooms where they teach, who live in almost complete obscurity, and yet whose names are spoken reverently on the lips of angels as the spiritual aristocracy on earth. Now stand steady. Be you. “Steady as she goes.”
USE SPIRITUAL POWERS
Now as the squalls hit us there are those aboard who lack faith. Some are embarrassed and fearful. They question the course we are on, pointing nervously to the clouds and criticizing the captain and the crew. “Change course, change course,” they plead. Some grow mutinous and a few abandon ship to be set adrift in the endless expanse of eternity, perhaps lost in the darkness and the depths. “Steady as you go” lest you be washed overboard. As you sail through stormy issues, be wise in your judgments. Some things are not as they seem to be. Make sure you use all of your powers, particularly your spiritual powers to resolve the touchy issues before you.
ARRESTING THE WRONG PEOPLE
In conclusion, let me share with you one other lesson. Several years ago, I was a member of a city council and also a member of a stake high council. Late one Monday night, I was going home from a high council meeting. I went through the business district on a street without traffic. Suddenly behind me there was a police car with a red light flashing. The officer said that I had been going 45 miles an hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone. I couldn’t contest it, as I hadn’t been paying close attention. The streets were deserted, and I was probably going as fast as he said. Since it was his duty, he made out a ticket. I was embarrassed and irritated at myself, because there were a number of places to put the money that would go toward the fine. Early the next morning, wanting to get the matter settled, I went to the city judge. He chuckled at my embarrassment and asked a question. “Well, what do you want to do with it?” It was a meaningful question. As a city councilman, I was in charge of the city judge. He had recently asked for new furniture for his office, and I was in the process of seeing his request through the council. Well, this was one of those moments of temptation. I finally answered that he must treat me as any other citizen. He was a bit reluctant, but said, “All right, ten dollars. That is a dollar for each mile of excess speed.” That was the going rate. I took the good-natured ribbing from the city treasurer and paid the fine, and that was that. Two nights later I attended a city council session. It was an open meeting with a number of delegations present, including a representative from the press. When each of the councilmen made his report, the councilman in charge of the police department announced that he had fired one of the patrolmen. It was the man who had issued my ticket. When the mayor asked the reason for the dismissal, the councilman said, “Oh, he was always arresting the wrong people.” What the councilman had meant was that his rookie policeman just didn’t seem to be able to catch the idea of what he should do when on patrol duty at night. Someone could be hot-rodding through the cemetery at night pushing over headstones, or could be running along the curbing clipping off newly -p[planted trees, while he was parked on a little-traveled street waiting for an unsuspecting motorist. I had nothing to do with the dismissal, i knew nothing about it, i may even have objected to it had I know about it sooner. But do yo think that you could ever convince that policeman that I didn’t have him fired? The circumstantial evidence was too convincing. Monday night he gave a ticket to a city councilman. Wednesday morning he was dismissed from the police force for “arresting the wrong people.” Can you see his surprise and the trial to his faith when I was called as one of the General Authorities of the Church? Can you hear him saying, “Well, I remember him when he took away my job because I gave him a ticket.”
Now, the lesson is to all of us. The circumstantial evidence was in error. Any one of us can be easily misled unless we have inspiration and save we are “steady on the course.” We can be washed overboard or diverted an destroyed in the storms.
A SEAWORTHY CRAFT
I do not doubt that we sail into troubled waters. There are storms to ride out, there are reefs and shoals to negotiated before we reach port. But we have been through them before and found safe passage. “…the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; and the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve. (Moses 7:61) “Steady as she goes.” Our craft has weathered storms before. It is seaworthy.
What a glorious time to be alive! What a marvelous age to live in! Thank the Lord for the privilege of living in an adventuresome day of challenge. There is a celestial radar – revelation from God – guiding us. There is an inspired captain, a Prophet of God, leading us. I want to bear witness to you, my young friends, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on the right course. It is led by inspiration, and I say to you, to all of us, “Steady as she goes.” I bear witness that Jesus is the Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ is true. It was formulated for strength and direction in stormy times. “Steady as she goes.” I leave for your contemplation these words about another storm. “And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full… and they awake him, and say unto him, Master carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:37-39).
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen