Monday, July 12, 2010

For Pioneer Day: Find the Pioneer in You

The following is a talk* I gave a few years ago about pioneering...

As a small child, I was profoundly affected by stories of pioneers leaving their homes and taking only the things they absolutely needed with them. After a family home evening lesson about the Saints leaving Nauvoo, I went up to my room and challenged myself to choose which of my belongings I would take with me if I had to leave the house in 15 minutes with my family and never come back. I told myself to limit the amount to what would fit in a milk crate. Not only did this teach me even more respect for the pioneers, it also gave me an early lesson about priorities that has stuck with me to this day.

As a younger teenager, I loved to read stories about scientists and inventors and patriots who pioneered to bring us the lightbulb, the television, immunization, our republican government, the radio, the airplane, the automobile, the train, the telephone, cleanliness in hospitals, the sandwich, the vacuum cleaner, the periodic table, and more. The desire to pioneer something great grew within me. I still have this desire today. You may have this desire too.

Satan does not want us to pioneer and make progress. (In fact, he wants us to regress.) So he tells us lies to try and get us to stop our efforts and cease our desires to pioneer. I’m going to list some of these lies and discuss why they are false. Then I will discuss principles of pioneering and use lots of illustrative examples. Then I will point out many ways that we pioneer today without even knowing it. Finally, I will give some ideas of ways we can pioneer in the gospel.

Lies Satan tells about pioneering

1. Satan tells us, “There’s nothing new under the sun. Everything that can be contributed has already been done.”

This is completely false. We still have problems, a few of which are: working with computers, finding clean entertainment, gas prices, finding modest clothing, heavy traffic, and so on. Every problem represents a place pioneering is needed. Look for problems that you can pioneer into and solve.

Here's a very small example--I loved the ease of making cornbread from a mix, but I found the dryness of cornbread annoying. So I pioneered "pumpkin-spice cornbread" and "apple-spice" cornbread by mixing quantities of pumpkin puree or apple sauce into the batter to give it more moisture. Problem solved.

2. Satan tells us, “Pioneering only involves colonizing using a covered wagon or handcart.”

This is false. A pioneer is a person who goes before, opening up new ways of thought or activity. Our challenges are different, and pioneering is about solving the new problems that arise. It’s also about solving old problems in new, better ways. Dallen H. Oaks taught that our problems are different from the pioneers’, but they’re just as dangerous and significant to our salvation. To paraphrase him, the pioneers protected their children from prowling wolves. We protect our families from pornographers and drug dealers. Pioneers struggled against physical hunger. We struggle against spiritual hunger. Pioneer children had to work very hard to survive. Today, our children have to work just as hard to find meaningful work to teach discipline, responsibility, and self-worth.

3. Satan tells us, “YOU can’t be a pioneer; you’re too ordinary.”

This is ABSOLUTE BOSH. Pioneering is done by people just like us. Missionaries pioneer the gospel into the hearts of men. Mothers and fathers pioneer knowledge, civilization, gospel teaching, and life skills into the hearts and minds of their children. Oldest children pioneer for their siblings what privileges will be given by their parents. They also pioneer what’s considered “cool” to their siblings. (So you oldest children, consider carefully the precedent you set is righteous or not, because I know as an oldest child myself that you will be held accountable for those precedents.) Another way that we pioneer is by eradicating faults passed down by our parents. If your parents were alcoholics or smokers, if you work to keep the Word of Wisdom, you are a pioneer going to new realms of righteousness where your parents have never been themselves.

All pioneers began as ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Consider Joseph Smith Jr. He was an ordinary farm boy of fourteen years old. What does he do? He asks a question—“Which church is true?” and got extraordinary results. So many of his revelations came from his pioneering efforts as he asked the hard questions. Or consider the guy named Al, an ordinary man. He was terrible at math when he was going to school. Yet this is the person who pioneered the theory of relativity. He gave us the simple equation E = mc^2. He pioneered the dual nature of light—particle and wave. You know him as Albert Einstein. Ordinary people who pursue their talents and interests in extraordinary ways become pioneers.

Think about your interests and talents. Suppose you had an interest in gardening. Suppose you pursued that in an extraordinary way, experimenting with all kinds of ways and means of growing plants, growing them quickly, creating an ideal growing environment for them. Wouldn’t that be pioneering?

Or suppose your interest was in reactivating members in the gospel. Suppose you experimented with different ways of reaching these people and finding the best way to love them back into church activity. Wouldn’t that be pioneering?

4. Satan tells us, “YOU can’t do that; it’s too scary. You don’t know anything about it.”

Oh yeah? Well ignorance is only a temporary obstacle. N. Eldon Tanner said, “Anyone seeking to become a pioneer will take care to fill his mind with what is known about the route he plans to take.” Pioneering starts out as something you are curious about and know nothing about. You pioneer your own knowledge first.

For me, this was the Book of Isaiah. I felt my first interest in the Book of Isaiah when I was a teenager and I read a book my mom had bought about it. I took a class about Isaiah at BYU. I continued studying Isaiah. In time, I knew enough about what was out there about Isaiah to be able to see what was NOT out there. (This was when I decided to write a book for teenagers about Isaiah.) When you reach a point that you see what is not known, you see where you can pioneer for others.

Dallen H. Oaks said, “It is not enough to study or reenact the accomplishments of our pioneers. We need to identify the great, eternal principles they applied to achieve all they achieved for our benefit and then apply those principles to the challenges of our day.”

Principles of Pioneering

1. Self-reliance and independence. Pioneers have no one to depend upon for help but themselves and God.

When the pioneers got the Great Basin, they didn’t have any hotels in which to stay while they were building their houses. They didn’t have food except for what they could carry with them and whatever edible plants they could find around. They had the tools they carried with them. They had their animals they brought with them. And they had God.

Nephi went to the Lord for direction on how to build a ship. Yes, others had built ships before, but it was Nephi’s first time, so he was a pioneer. Also, the scriptures say that the ship the Lord helped him build was “not after the manner of men,” and from this we can infer that the ship was different from previous ship designs Nephi had seen before. It was a pioneering design he was guided to build. And he had the skills to make the tools he needed to make the ship.

When I first started writing my book about applying the writings of Isaiah to the temptations that teenagers face, I realized pretty quickly that I was all alone on the topic. No one else had been there yet. All I had to help me was some stuff I had learned from that BYU class and what I had learned on my own study since then. I also had the certainty that if I lacked wisdom, I could ask of God and He would give liberally and not upbraid.

2. Problem-solving skills. Pioneers solve problems not yet tackled by anyone else, or they solve problems in a different, better way from anyone else.

3. Creativity. Pioneers use what resources are around them.

Nephi built a temple in the promised land like Solomon’s temple, except he couldn’t make it out of so many precious things because they were not to be found upon the land. But he DID build a temple using what he could find. That’s resourceful pioneering.

4. Vision and work. Pioneers have a vision of what they want and they work on it.

Thomas Edison wanted to make an incandescent lightbulb that lasted for many hours. He had a vision in his head of the result for which he was working. He tried many, many different materials to see if they would make a good filament. That took a lot of work.

5. Curiosity and interest. If pioneers don’t know anything about what must be done, they educate themselves about it.

An example is that Brigham Young studied guidebooks about crossing the plains. He also talked to explorers and mountain men about what was out west.

When the Wright brothers were trying to build their first airplane, they read everything they could find about other people’s attempts to build flying machines.

6. Courage. Pioneers are not immune to fear. Instead of running from their fears, they face them. Facing fears is courage. We know it as faith. Joseph Smith noted that fear and faith can’t be found in the same person at the same time.

I had a difficult time with the subject of Calculus in high school, and I didn’t feel very proficient in it when I finished the class. I feared it. But I didn’t like that I feared it. So I made a promise to myself that one day I would take Calculus again and I would make myself LIKE it. When I took it again, I did more than like it; I loved it. I learned that when I fear something, I must face it. I also learned that when I face my fears, I can overcome them.

7. Perseverance. Pioneers are not immune to failure, but the determination to keep trying and keep working on their goal is what sets them apart. It is also what keeps them going when the new sparkle has worn off their goal and they are in the midst of the nitty-gritty labor that lasts for months or years.

Mothers and fathers are brilliant examples of perseverance. They work for 18 years on their children (sometimes longer), pioneering knowledge, civilization, the gospel, and life skills into the hearts and minds of their children.

Two separate times, Henry Ford formed a company to build and sell automobiles. Each time, the company went bankrupt. It was his third attempt that succeeded and made money as he instituted assembly-line manufacturing. It is likely that the first two failures taught him important lessons that made his later success possible.

8. Pioneers don’t worry much about what people think of them. Lots of times other people think they are crazy. Pioneers are frequently misunderstood by their contemporaries who prefer to stay in their comfort zones.

How do we gain the pioneering mindset?

1. Push to know a little more about a subject you’re interested in. Do what it takes to learn a little more. Do one more math problem than you have to.

2. Push yourself to begin your assignments a little earlier than you would otherwise. This builds self-starting skills that are absolutely necessary to pioneering. It also helps you get used to the feeling of doing things your peers haven’t done. It helps you get comfortable with the sensation of not being able to check your answers with other people and it teaches you how good it feels to be able to help your peers because of what you’ve done.

3. Push yourself to keep the commandments more carefully than you have before. Or keep a commandment that you haven’t kept before. That’s new, exciting territory with new blessings to discover such as you have never imagined before!

4. Push yourself to do a little something that you’ve never done before, whether it is learning a new word in a different language or trying to ride your bike with no hands, doing a cartwheel, or trying a puzzle. Or eating a new food. Regularly leaving your comfort zone is a kind of pioneering that we usually call “personal growth.”

5. Push yourself to confront your fears.

I told you about how I confronted my fear of Calculus. Another fear I confronted was my fear of learning dance. (I had some bad experiences in junior high school when I had to learn a dance routine in gym class and then perform it. When I started performing, I couldn’t remember any of it.) I could PRETEND to dance pretty well at church dances with no set moves at specific times, but learning choreography and then performing it was something I was scared of. At BYU I decided to take a folk dance class to face my fear. It was hard for me to get used to switching my weight the right way and I was always afraid I would forget the dances we learned, so I spent a lot of time after class making notes to myself about how the dances went. It turned out to be a lot of fun for me and I gained confidence in myself.

6. Keep trying a little longer.

Every insight I have gained in my scripture study came because I didn’t stop thinking about things that confused me. Other factors played a part too, but the very first factor that always came in to play was my dogged attempts to understand.

If you are scared to try something new and you don’t know where to start, God can help you. Moroni 7:26, at the end of the verse says, “…whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.” This tells us that if we want to have the courage and the drive to pioneer in our lives, we can ask Heavenly Father for our very nature to change, and He will do it. He will give us that little beginning push and then it is up to us to keep up the momentum and do.

What if you are pioneering something and you want to do it, but you can’t? Again, Heavenly Father can help. Moroni 7:33 says, “And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” This tells us that Christ gives us the ability to pioneer and succeed. This can be in the form of opportunities to practice, or it can be in the form of a miraculous success. (I personally prefer the practice opportunities because it makes success repeatably consistent.)

The consequences of these little things we can do is that they build the pushing-for-progress attitude of pioneering, and doing those things often can make that attitude so much a part of us that when the Lord gives us a big opportunity to pioneer something, instead of running away screaming, we’ll be ready to take it on. It will seem like just another incremental step in our development.

Pioneering and the Gospel

It is still possible to pioneer in the gospel. In Doctrine and Covenants 76, the Lord says that to those who fear Him and who serve Him in righteousness and in truth unto the end, he will give these chances to pioneer:
And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.
And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.
For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.
Again, in verse 5, those who get this privilege are those who 1) fear God and 2) serve Him in righteousness and in truth unto the end. I know those promises are fulfilled because I have seen it in my own life. As my respect for God has increased and as I have tried to be more obedient, God has shown me wonderful, fascinating truths, things that were right under my nose and I never saw them before. I anticipate learning the wonders of eternity and all hidden mysteries. This promise is to everyone.

Pioneering and Missionary Work

Missionary work is spiritual pioneering. As I pointed out before, it is taking the word of God and the gospel of Christ into the wilds of men’s hearts and minds. It is laying the foundation of Zion in a person’s soul.

In many cases, missionary work is like walking through a jungle, but instead of seeing monkeys and tropical birds, and panthers, you see all manner of strange beliefs peering out at you from the underbrush. In these cases, your pioneering involves pushing back the jungle of error and planting the truth in its stead.

In other cases, pioneering missionary work is like setting up a city in the desert where there is nothing. In these cases, your pioneering involves nourishing faith, bringing in all the truth you can to fill up the emptiness, setting up sources of nourishment, digging wells for the living water.

One of the apostles talks about building a gospel-sharing home into which we can bring our friends and associates and introduce them to the gospel as it is seen in action. Our bishop believes this is a way of sharing the gospel that will be emphasized more and more as the Spirit is sucked out of the rest of the world. This is an exciting chance for us to be pioneers and implement pioneering principles in carrying this out.

Pioneering and the Temple

One way you can pioneer in temple work is by doing your family history. When you search for more knowledge of your progenitors than is available, you are clearly pioneering your family tree through the roots. Each ancestor is a new discovery.

We are in an exciting time as temples are spread throughout the world. We have heard stories of people pioneering to the temple, sacrificing their worldly possessions just to attend the temple one single time. Now, we have an opportunity to pioneer our temple attendance by going more frequently.

When we lived in Austin, Texas, my husband Devon and I attended the temple in Houston. It was a three hour drive each way. Going to the temple essentially took the day. We went to the temple perhaps once every six months. At one point, Devon suggested that we make a goal to attend the temple once a month. It was a bit of a sacrifice to give up an entire Saturday each month. We met our goal about 3/4ths of the time. When we moved to Chandler, Arizona in 2004, going to the temple once a month became a cinch because the Mesa temple was only a 30-minute drive. In May 2005, a traumatizing event caused us to flee to the temple for solace, and while there, we ran into another friend, who told us that she and her husband went to the temple every week. This seemed like a great idea to us, so we started coming to the temple every Tuesday, first in hopes of meeting our friends there, and after a while, because we wanted to and it felt right. We still go every week.

As you can see, we pioneered into new realms of temple-attending frequency two different times. I know several people in our ward who go to the temple every week. They have a hefty schedule, yet they go. You can also pioneer into new realms of temple attendance.

Another way that we can all collectively pioneer is in establishing new temples. We have seen that when temple attendance is great enough, a new temple is needed in a community. Our Mesa temple is a large one, but I was curious to find out what it would take to completely flood our temple, filling every seat, and make a new temple necessary in the valley. I did some figuring and I gathered some numbers and I figured the following, taking into account the temple’s current schedule:
  • If we were to go to the temple once every 6 months, it would take approximately 6500 youth and 968,000 adults to fill the temple.
  • If we were to go to the temple once every month, it would take approximately 1100 youth and 162,000 adults to fill the temple.
  • If we were to go to the temple once every week, it would take approximately 245 youth and 36,500 adults to fill the temple.
  • If we were to go to the temple once every day, it would take approximately 35 youth and 5200 adults to fill the temple.
(Youth numbers assume one baptismal group in the morning before school.)

According to our bishop, our stake has over 6,000 people in it. That kinda makes you think a bit, doesn’t it?

Let’s say that half of our stake are endowed adults with current temple recommends. Let us say that all the youth in the stake are worthy to go to the temple. That’s 3,000 adults and more than 35 youth. Let us say that the next stake over has the same numbers of worthy adults and youth. These two stakes could fill and overflow the temple and make a new one necessary in our valley if they went every day! That’s only TWO stakes out of 45 stakes in the east valley.

I challenge you to kick your temple attendance up a notch. If you can’t yet attend the temple, I challenge you to kick your preparation to attend the temple up a notch. Pioneer your way into realms of faithfulness you’ve never entered before!

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Note: About two years after this talk was given, new temples were announced in Gilbert, Arizona (next town over from Chandler, Arizona); Gila Valley, Arizona; and Phoenix, Arizona.

*A few deletions, insertions, and reordering was done for editorial purposes in this post.