In 1959, not long after I began my service as president of the Canadian Mission, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, I met N. Eldon Tanner, a prominent Canadian who just months later would be called as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, then to the Quorum of the Twelve, and then as a counselor to four Presidents of the Church.
At the time I met him, President Tanner was president of the vast Trans-Canada Pipelines, Ltd., and president of the Canada Calgary Stake. He was known as "Mr. Integrity" in Canada. During that first meeting, we discussed, among other subjects, the cold Canadian winters, where storms rage, temperatures can linger well below freezing for weeks at a time, and where icy winds lower those temperatures even further. I asked President Tanner why the roads and highways in western Canada basically remained intact during such winters, showing little or no signs of cracking or breaking, while the road surfaces in many areas where winters are less cold and less severe developed cracks and breaks and potholes.
Said he, "The answer is in the depth of the base of the paving materials. In order for them to remain strong and unbroken, it is necessary to go very deep with the foundation layers. When the foundations are not deep enough, the surfaces cannot withstand the extremes of weather."
Over the years I have thought often of this conversation and of President Tanner's explanation, for I recognize in his words a profound application for our lives. Stated simply, if we do not have a deep foundation of faith and a solid testimony of truth, we may have difficulty withstanding the harsh storms and icy winds of adversity which inevitably come to each of us.
Mortality is a period of testing, a time to prove ourselves worthy to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father. In order for us to be tested, we must face challenges and difficulties. These can break us, and the surface of our souls may crack and crumble - that is, if our foundations of faith, our testimonies of truth are not deeply embedded within us.
We can rely on the faith and testimony of others only so long. Eventually we must have our own strong and deeply placed foundation, or we will be unable to withstand the storms of life, which will come. Such storms come in a variety of forms. We may be faced with the sorrow and heartbreak of a wayward child who chooses to turn from the pathway leading to eternal truth and rather travel the slippery slopes of error and disillusionment. Sickness may strike us or a loved one, bringing suffering and sometimes death. Accidents may leave their cruel marks of remembrance or may snuff out life. Death comes to the aged as they walk on faltering feet. Its summons is heard by those who have scarcely reached midway in life's journey, and often it hushes the laughter of little children.
At times there appears to be no light at the tunnel's end, no dawn to break the night's darkness. We feel surrounded by the pain of broken hearts, the disappointment of shattered dreams, and the despair of vanished hopes. We join in uttering the biblical plea, "Is there no balm in Gilead?" (Jeremiah 8:22). We are inclined to view our own personal misfortunes through the distorted prism of pessimism. We feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone.
How can we build a foundation strong enough to withstand such vicissitudes of life? How can we maintain the faith and testimony which will be required, that we might experience the joy promised to the faithful? Constant, steady effort is necessary. Most of us have experienced inspiration so strong that it brings tears to our eyes and a determination to ever remain faithful. I have heard the statement, "If I could just keep these feelings with me always, I would never have trouble doing what I should." Such feelings, however, can be fleeting. The inspiration we feel during these conference sessions may diminish and fade as Monday comes and we face the routines of work, of school, of managing our homes and families. Such can easily take our minds from the holy to the mundane, from that which uplifts to that which, if we allow it, will chip away at our testimonies, our strong foundations.
Of course we do not live in a world where we experience nothing but the spiritual, but we can fortify our foundations of faith, our testimonies of truth, so that we will not falter, we will not fail. How, you may ask, can we most effectively gain and maintain the foundation needed to survive spiritually in the world in which we live?
May I offer three guidelines to help us in our quest.
First, fortify your foundation through prayer. "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed" ("Prayer Is the Soul's Sincere Desire," Hymns, no. 145).
As we pray, let us really communicate with our Father in Heaven. It is easy to let our prayers become repetitious, expressing words with little or no thought behind them. When we remember that each of us is literally a spirit son or daughter of God, we will not find it difficult to approach Him in prayer. He knows us; He loves us; He wants what is best for us. Let us pray with sincerity and meaning, offering our thanks and asking for those things we feel we need. Let us listen for His answers, that we may recognize them when they come. As we do, we will be strengthened and blessed. We will come to know Him and His desires for our lives. By knowing Him, by trusting His will, our foundations of faith will be strengthened. If any one of us has been slow to hearken to the counsel to pray always, there is no finer hour to begin than now. William Cowper declared, "Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees" (in William Neil, comp., Concise Dictionary of Religious Quotations , 144).
Let us not neglect our family prayers. Such is an effective deterrent to sin, and thence a most beneficent provider of joy and happiness. That old saying is yet true: "The family that prays together stays together." By providing an example of prayer to our children, we will also be helping them to begin their own deep foundations of faith and testimonies which they will need throughout their lives.
My second guideline: Let us study the scriptures and "meditate therein day and night," as counseled by the Lord in the book of Joshua (1:8).
In 2005, hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saints accepted President Gordon B. Hinckley's challenge to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. I do believe December of 2005 would set an all-time record for hours devoted to meeting the challenge on time. We were blessed when we completed the task; our testimonies were strengthened, our knowledge increased. I would encourage all of us to continue to read and study the scriptures, that we might understand them and apply in our lives the lessons we find there. I paraphrase the poet James Phinney Baxter:
Who learns and learns but never knows Is like the one who plows and plows but never sows. ("The Baxter Collection," Baxter Memorial Library, Gorham, Maine)
Spending time each day in scripture study will, without doubt, strengthen our foundations of faith and our testimonies of truth.
Recall with me the joy Alma experienced as he was journeying from the land of Gideon southward to the land of Manti and met the sons of Mosiah. Alma had not seen them for some time, and he was overjoyed to discover that they were "still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God" (see Alma 17:1-2).
May we also know the word of God and conduct our lives accordingly.
My third guideline for building a strong foundation of faith and testimony involves service.
While driving to the office one morning, I passed a dry-cleaning establishment which had a sign in the window. It read, "It's the Service That Counts." The sign's message simply would not leave my mind. Suddenly I realized why. In actual fact it is the service that counts - the Lord's service.
In the Book of Mormon we read of noble King Benjamin. In the true humility of an inspired leader, he recounted his desire to serve his people and lead them in paths of righteousness. He then declared to them:
"Because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.
"And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:16-17).
This is the service that counts, the service to which all of us have been called: the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Along your pathway of life you will observe that you are not the only traveler. There are others who need your help. There are feet to steady, hands to grasp, minds to encourage, hearts to inspire, and souls to save.
Thirteen years ago it was my privilege to provide a blessing to a beautiful 12-year-old young lady, Jami Palmer. She had just been diagnosed with cancer and was frightened and bewildered. She subsequently underwent surgery and painful chemotherapy. Today she is cancer-free and is a bright, beautiful 26-year-old who has accomplished much in her life. Some time ago, I learned that in her darkest hour, when any future appeared somewhat grim, she learned that her leg where the cancer was situated would require multiple surgeries. A long-planned hike with her Young Women class up a rugged trail to Timpanogos Cave - located in the Wasatch Mountains about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah - was out of the question, she thought. Jami told her friends they would have to undertake the hike without her. I'm confident there was a catch in her voice and disappointment in her heart. But then the other young women responded emphatically, "No, Jami, you are going with us!"
"But I can't walk," came the anguished reply.
"Then, Jami, we'll carry you to the top!" And they did.
Today, the hike is a memory, but in reality it is much more. James Barrie, the Scottish poet, declared, "God gave us memories, that we might have June roses in the December of our lives" (paraphrasing James Barrie, in Laurence J. Peter, comp., Peter's Quotations: Ideas for Our Time , 335). None of those precious young women will ever forget that memorable day when a loving Heavenly Father looked down with a smile of approval and was well pleased.
As He enlists us to His cause, He invites us to draw close to Him, and we feel His spirit in our lives.
As we establish a firm foundation for our lives, let us each one remember His precious promise:
Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand. ("How Firm a Foundation," Hymns, no. 85)
May each of us qualify for this blessing, I humbly pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, amen.