I have a top five list of all time best… well, I have a top five list for pretty much everything, but this particular post concerns speeches. Not necessarily GC speeches, but religious speeches. I would like to focus now on two of them, because they have been such a big part of my life, as I have referred back to them over and over again. They happen to be by the same person: Elder Holland; but he gave these two speeches before he was an apostle. The two speeches were incorporated into a book of essays and speeches entitled However Long and Hard the Road (Deseret Book 1985), which also happens to be the title of one of the speeches. It begins by quoting Winston Churchill and ends with the 40 year struggle of the building of the Salt Lake Temple. It’s stirring stuff, but for me, the money quote is this:
My concern this morning is that you will face some delays and disappointments at this formative time in your life and feel that no one else in the history of mankind has ever had your problems or faced those difficulties. And when some of those challenges come, you will have the temptation common to us all to say, “This task is too hard. The burden is too heavy. The path is too long.” And so you decide to quit, simply to give up. Now to terminate certain kinds of tasks is not only acceptable but often very wise. If you are, for example, a flagpole sitter then I say, “Come on down.” But in life’s most crucial and telling tasks, my plea is to stick with it, to persevere, to hang in and hang on, and to reap your reward. Or to be slightly more scriptural:
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 64:3334]
I am asking you this morning not to give up “for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.” That “great work” is you–your life, your future, the very fulfillment of your dreams. That “great work” is what, with effort and patience and God’s help, you can become. When days are difficult or problems seem unending, I plead with you to stay in the harness and keep pulling. You are entitled to “eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days,” but it will require your heart and a willing mind. It will require that you stay at your post and keep trying.
* * *
As you wage such personal wars, obviously part of the strength to “hang in there” comes from some glimpse, however faint and fleeting, of what the victory can be. It is as true now as when Solomon said it that “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). If your eyes are always on your shoelaces, if all you can see is this class or that test, this date or that roommate, this disappointment or that dilemma, then it really is quite easy to throw in the towel and stop the fight. But what if it is the fight of your life? Or more precisely if it is the fight for your life, your eternal life at that? What if beyond this class or that test, this date or that roommate, this disappointment or that dilemma, you really can see and can hope for all the best and right things that God has to offer? Oh, it may be blurred a bit by the perspiration running into your eyes, and in a really difficult fight one of the eyes might even be closing a bit, but faintly, dimly, and ever so far away you can see the object of it all. And you say it is worth it, you do want it, you will fight on. Like Coriantumr, you will lean upon your sword to rest a while, then rise to fight again (see Ether 15:2430).
After relating the long, torturous, but ultimately against-all-odds triumphant, struggle to build the Salt Lake Temple, Elder Holland ends with these words, delivered as only he can deliver them: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?”
The second speech is entitled “The Inconvenient Messiah” and it is framed around the temptations of Christ in the desert. Holland compares each of the temptations Christ suffers to similar temptations that we all face: appetite, recognition, wealth. In each case, he gives the Savior’s answer, and the one we ought to give in the face of similar temptations: “Yes, but not this way.” He closes with Roger Rosenblatt’s masterful essay “The Man In The Water:”
His selflessness [is] one reason the story held national attention; his anonymity another. The fact that he [has gone] unidentified invests him with a universal character. For a while he was Every man, and thus proof (as if one needed it) that no man is ordinary.
Still, he could never have imagined such a capacity in himself. Only minutes before his character was tested, he was sitting in the ordinary plane among the ordinary passengers, dutifully listening to the stewardess telling him to fasten his seat belt and saying something about the “no smoking sign.” So our man relaxed with the others, some of whom would owe their lives to him. Perhaps he started to read, or to doze, or to regret some harsh remark made in the office that morning. Then suddenly he knew that the trip would not be ordinary. Like every other person on that flight, he was desperate to live, which makes his final act so stunning.
For at some moment in the water he must have realized that he would not live if he continued to hand over the rope and ring to others. He had to know it, no matter how gradual the effect of the cold. In his judgment he had no choice. When the helicopter took off with what was to be the last survivor, he watched everything in [his] world move away from him, and he deliberately let it [go]. . . .
The odd thing is that we do not. . . really believe that the man in the water lost his fight. . . . He could not, [like Nature], make ice storms, or freeze the water until it froze the blood. But he could hand life over to a stranger, and that is a power of nature too. The man in the water pitted himself against an implacable, impersonal enemy; he fought it with charity; and he [won].
Of course, Elder Holland then says, “We are all, you and I, the man or the woman in the water.”
These speeches have helped me many times. They give me hope, and they remind me of what’s important. I hope they help you too. If you have your own personal favorites, please share them.