Elder Sabin begins his talk with an amusing story of his granddaughter coming home from a soccer game, so thrilled with herself for having scored all three goals—in a game quickly revealed to score 2-1. Yet the little girl’s enthusiasm was not dampened. The lesson we take from this is of a passionate young girl who gave her all and gave her best. Despite logically having scored at least one wrong goal, I like to imagine that this young lady’s soccer game eventually improved, as she took her enthusiasm and ability and redirected them to playing the game a little more correctly.
Every time I looked at the title of this talk, my mind kept trying to reinterpret its meaning. I would think of all those lovely metaphors of the oak tree. Some powerful tree that does not break or bend in the trials of adversity or temptation. However, as I would study the talk, I was reminded this was not that lesson. Elder Sabin speaks of redirection and repentance. Perhaps becoming the powerful unyielding oak tree is a fine goal, but as we grow toward that we actually want to be something different.
A huge essential part of the principle of repentance is change. We need to be a people who are willing to change ourselves, accept admonishment and advice, and listen to the words of our leaders. Another story used in this talk is speaking of a GPS device that recalculates for us and even tells to make a legal U-turn, things requiring change on our part.
So what is to be made of these lessons? We are to be devoted to the gospel, we are supposed to stand tall in our beliefs, and we are supposed to also be willing to change? What ideas do you have on how these principles fit together?
Another story Elder Sabin tells is of a Scouting camp-out. The Scouts built a fire and settled down to sleep in their sleeping bags while Scoutmaster Sabin slept in his truck. The next morning, one of the Scouts complained he had slept badly that night due to being cold. His excuse was that the fire had gone out, as fires will do. Scoutmaster Sabin asked the Scout why his sleeping bag had not kept him warm, and it turns out the kid had never even used his sleeping bag. His reasoning was some twisted plan to save time—if he didn’t roll out his sleeping bag, he wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of rolling it back up. This is technically true, the Scout didn’t have to bother with rolling up his sleeping bag in the morning. But at what price? Freezing all night.
A similar story came from one of my friends just this week. She administered a history test, and allowed her students to use all of their notes as well as the text book. One of the students missed every single question. When conferencing with the student, my friend asked the girl if she had used her notes and textbook like she had been allowed. The girl said she had. My friend asked how she then managed to fail the test. In the most inexplicable, headscratching answer I have ever heard, the girl replied “History test? I thought it was a science test!” So what happened in this situation? How did a girl who had every help handed to her fail to use what was given?
In the case of the Scout, surely this kid knew that a good quality sleeping bag will do just fine in keeping one warm, if one bothers to actually get into it. Surely he knew that taking five minutes to roll up the bag is better than freezing all night. (Though I worked five summers at Boy Scout camp and Scouts did tend to have some interesting logic.) In the case of the student, surely the girl knew how to read, how to determine just what the test was asking her and where she could find any information she needed.
We too have so much information and help given to us. We have our classic and oh-so-essential primary answers of prayer and scripture study. We have resources, words of our prophets and apostles. We have the advice of our church leaders and the fellowship and wisdom we can gain from each other. Thanks to the internet, I regularly check in on a Mormon-themed online community where all sorts of gospel questions and life problems are discussed. I feel somewhat comfortable in saying that we really have no excuse for not knowing better.
The same teacher friend once shared another story. Due to some issues, she had to change where her class would be meeting one day. So, she wrote what she thought was a very clear note and taped it to her regular classroom door. She then waited… and waited… at the other location. No one came. She finally went back to the regular program to find a bunch of very confused teenagers milling around the door. Oh, they had seen there was a note on the door. They just hadn’t bothered to read it.
Once again, the title of the talk is Stand Tall and Be All In. When do these things, we think of what we want, to truly live the gospel and return to our Father in Heaven. We are not lukewarm, but as passionate as Elder Sabin’s granddaughter even when she was scoring goals for the other team. We are willing to repent and learn and change. We do not wait to be acted upon, for someone to drag us back to the correct classroom or hold our hands and make us roll out our sleeping bag. Think how these stories could have been different. A Scout realizing he wanted to be warm enrolling his sleeping bag. A girl who wanted to do her best on a test paying attention to what the test was. A class of high schoolers reading a note.
And yet, how many of us do stuff like this in more gospel-related subjects? How many of us seek the easy way out despite bypassing the very principles that would make our life ultimately easier or better? How often do we refuse to do the simple commandments we have been given, preferring to spiritually freeze? I get it and I think we all do that life happens and things get hard. Perhaps we sometimes fail to do what we know we need to do. But, like the GPS that helpfully reminds us when we need to make a U-turn, we will always have the choice to change and repent. The trick is when we are willing to do this.
Another Scout Story. Years ago, we had a Scout who started the week off rather badly. He had trouble following his Scoutmaster’s rules, getting along with others. He was younger, and may have just been homesick. On that first or second day, he climbed up a tree in his ward’s campsite and hid there for hours, sending the entire camp staff into a lost Scout search. But the story has a happy ending. He changed. He found a way to do when he needed to do, to feel better about the week, to have fun and enjoy himself. He wound up receiving an award at the campfire at the end of the week from the staff for the hard work he had done in one area.
He stood tall despite his initial struggles. He didn’t let a troubled beginning stop him from growing that week. He bounced back and gave his all to that week of camp.
We compare these different children and we can compare ourselves. What happens when we remain lukewarm with principles we really know better about? What happens when we invest ourselves in those principles and do our best with faith and trust in God?
Another story told is of a father and son who went to a toy store and spotted one of those balanced punching bags shaped like a person. When punched, the punching bag man of course bent backwards with the force, only to quickly rise back up to standing. The father asked his why the man kept bouncing back up. The son replied “I guess it’s because he’s standing up on the inside.”
Here lies the lesson. Many of our not quite yet those huge unyielding trees that bend to no one. But we are saplings, able to spring back up. Some years ago my parents bought a young sapling for their yard. It was young, springy, and not as stable as a bigger tree. So they supported it for a time using twine tied to a stake. The tree relied on that freely given support, all the while growing and gaining strength. No matter what winds and weather and environmental problems knocked that little tree about, it had the support it needed. As the tree grew bigger, it no longer needed so specific as a length of twine to support it. To anthropomorphize the tree, it knew what it needed to do. It knew it was a tree that was supposed to grow and decorate the yard. It was all in, and even though it was still comparatively a little tree, it still bounced back against the wind.
We are still growing and learning the gospel. While we seek perfection, we do our best with where we are while still relying on our Savior and our Heavenly Father. We have been given what we need to stand tall on the inside no matter what happens and we have the resources we need if only we seek them out. When we repent and seek a change in our hearts, we give our all. We don’t assume we can be lukewarm and assume that the consequences for being lukewarm are all there is, or that there is no point in striving for more.
Now, perhaps we will have those moments of struggle in our lives, hard times where we care more about saving time on our sleeping bag than freezing, or times when we have no idea what test we are taking or can’t be bothered to read a note. But we should live our lives these times will be few and far between, and find those supports in our lives that can drag us back to the right classroom. The point is that we are invested enough in the gospel, truly willing to give our all, that we will repent, change, and turn our lives around. Perhaps we may, on the outside, have been knocked down. But we can stand up inside.
Elder Sabin says “We stand up inside when we wait patiently upon the Lord to remove or give us strength to endure our thorns in the flesh. Such thorns may be disease, disability, mental illness, death of a loved one, and so many other issues. We stand up inside when we lift up the hands that hang down. We stand up inside when we defend the truth against a wicked and secular world that is becoming increasingly more uncomfortable with light.”
How can we put this into practice? We can rely on the love of our Savior and our Heavenly Father. We can rely on our testimonies and even in times the testimonies of those around us. We can pray for the strength we need. We can serve others to help their burdens be lighter. We can attend the temple, church services, read our scriptures, pray, seek inspiritaional media.
Think of the people you may know who are the type who always seem to be standing up on the inside. These are the people that no matter what bare that attitude and light of taking on life’s challenges and standing up for what is good. Elder Sabin suggests that we all have the capacity to be these people and that if we aren’t, we should find ways to become so. I would again suggest the above answers.