Latter-day Saint Life

The Unforgettable Lesson a 16-Year-Old Learned After Spending the Day Weeding with President Ballard


Just as the sun was coming up on a brisk, spring morning in 1963, I headed to the stake center to meet my priests' quorum adviser. It was Saturday and, oh, how I longed to be almost anywhere but digging weeds at the church. I was pretty much a normal 16-year-old kid, totally into myself and involved with countless activities.

The night before, my adviser had called me at home and asked me to participate in a service project. He described it as “a great opportunity to work together to improve the looks of the gardens at the church.” I had made big plans to hang out with my friends, but when he said, “Craig, can I count on you?” I felt as though I didn’t want to let him down. Well, the next morning, I wondered what I had been thinking. Spending my Saturday weeding a garden was like babysitting my little brother, but at least I loved my baby brother.

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For you to really appreciate this story, I need to tell you about my priests' quorum adviser. He and his family had recently moved into our ward. He was young and dynamic. He loved the young men and was a spiritual role model. His name was M. Russell Ballard. It would be years before he was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but even back then he was impressive and lived close to the Spirit. He was a pure motivator of young men, and he understood each of us very well. He knew just how to get us engaged in things that really mattered.

So on that morning, I arrived at 7:00 a.m. to find Brother Ballard in his work pants and baseball cap. He was alone. We had 17 priests in our ward, and I couldn’t believe I was the only one to show up.

Initially, we worked side by side without saying much. I must admit that Brother Ballard knew I was a little put out, so he was patient. It wasn’t long, however, before he started asking me questions. We talked about my family, my friends, and school. As we visited, the grueling job of weeding was forgotten, and Brother Ballard shifted the conversation to education, career, mission, thinking straight, and even the importance of choosing to live gospel principles.

The day wore on, and the astounding thing to me was that we had had fun. In addition, I hadn’t even realized that we had weeded around the entire building!

Almost five decades later, the images of that day are still fresh in my memory. I remember how Elder Ballard made me feel. I remember some of the counsel he gave me, the smile on his face, and the genuine compliments he gave me as we completed our task and headed home.

It would be years before I would come to appreciate the true impact of that experience. Recently, Elder Ballard and I were reflecting on our experiences in the Monument Park 13th Ward. I asked him if he remembered the long day we spent pulling weeds together at the church. In what I know was a voice of annoyance, I said, “Could you believe that I was the only one of our 17 priests who came to pull weeds that day?” I added that I felt the other young men had missed out on a great opportunity to learn from him.

He looked me straight in the eye and with a smile on his face said, “Craig, you were the only one I invited.”

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In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined at the time that he had singled me out to spend an entire day with me. I thought about his own young family at home without their dad. I thought about the love I had felt from him and the wise counsel he gave me. As I have contemplated his words and the impact of that event, I have been reminded again of the importance of “the one.” What he did for me that day profoundly affected my life.

This story teaches many lessons, but the most important thing I gain is this: the one-on-one moment spent with caring parents, spouse, or an adult leader can be truly productive. Moments such as these are priceless, and when they become available, the opportunity must not be wasted. To be effective, these moments need not be filled with spectacular activities. Often it is quiet conversation in which genuine interest is shown that creates the powerful effect.

The Savior demonstrated his love for the Nephites through just this kind of one-on-one interaction, when “he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them” (3 Nephi 17:21). His gentle touch and tender words of prayer on behalf of every child surely spoke volumes about His love for each of them and His empathic understanding of each one’s unique personality, experiences, and challenges.

It was an important time in my life, a time when a young person can incline toward the Lord or away from Him. Elder Ballard was a true shepherd watching out for his flock. His love and sound counsel reinforced my desire to do what was right. For that, I will forever be grateful to a caring priests' adviser and eternal friend, Elder M. Russell Ballard.

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Discover more gospel insights from everyday experiences in More to Your Story: Discover the Powerful Experiences You're Already Having by Elder W. Craig Zwick and his wife, Sister Jan Zwick.

They recount stories drawn from everyday experiences—recollections from their youth, insights from Sister Zwick's work as an artist, and lessons learned from their children. Other stories tell of exceptional life-changing events while serving in the Church in a variety of places around the world. The stories in More to Your Story will inspire you to reflect on your experiences and record your own stories so that those you love can learn from you how the gospel has blessed your life and can bless theirs too.


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