Editor's note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in June 2018.
One of the mists all of us have to face early in our lives is the suggestion that small deviations from the strait and narrow path don't matter. However, those early memories provide a foundation for later challenges, and hence we greatly limit the tempter's power if we win them. We might call this facing the lion and the bear.
When the Israelites were challenged by the Philistine champion, Goliath, not a single one had the courage to face him, including Saul, who “from his shoulders and upward… was higher than any of the people.” (1 Samuel 9:2.) When David entered the camp and heard Goliath's defiance of Israel's God, David said to Saul, “Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:32.)
Saul was not convinced. “Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him,” he said, “for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:33.) However, David had won earlier victories against lesser enemies, and those victories gave him the faith and the courage needed to face the present danger: “Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: and I went out after him, and smote him. . . . Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them. . . . The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:34–37.)
As I have taught the youth of the Church and conversed with their parents, I have noticed that two basic attitudes prevail. Some feel that the lion and bear choices are not that critical. If their children date a time or two before they are sixteen, where is the harm? Others believe these early decisions provide the strength needed later for future battles with greater Goliaths.
When I was a junior in high school, I came under the influence of a brilliant English teacher. She was tough on her students, always insisting that they clearly and thoroughly defend any position they took. One day while discussing Dante's Divine Comedy, she said that Christian religions teach that mankind is sent to two places after death, heaven and hell.
I raised my hand and said, “Not all Christians believe that.” I thought that would be the end of it, but she replied, “Oh, which religion believes differently?” I was trapped now. I briefly answered with the Church's teachings about the three degrees of glory. She then turned to the class and said, “Class, is there anyone here who would like to ask Mr. Wilcox about his position?” I was terrified. The class was filled with the top students of the school. They were intelligent and confident and represented many different religions. I felt both scholastically and socially out of my league. I was the only Latter-day Saint and would have no help.
There followed a full discussion that took the entire class period while student after student challenged my beliefs. I remember feeling I had made a bad decision to raise my hand at the beginning of the class. The teacher did not say a word for most of the period; she just let the questions and arguments flow while she sat on her stool and watched.
I kept glancing at the clock and prayed for the bell. I felt that I was doing a poor job of defending my beliefs. Just minutes before the period ended, the teacher stopped the attacks and with her words turned that frightening experience into a lion and bear foundation for me. She said, “We have all had fun at the expense of Mr. Wilcox, but I would like to ask each of you if you could have defended your beliefs as he has. Today, we have all witnessed a rare act of moral courage, and I compliment Mr. Wilcox.”
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Coming from her, it was the highest compliment I had received. She taught me that day that I could, and should, stand for my values and beliefs. There have followed more delicate and pressured situations where challenges have been more severe and critical, but the memory of that day has strengthened me. I believe the Lord may have had a hand in that day's events. Perhaps, knowing how valuable this would be throughout my life, the Lord motivated a teacher to turn the lions and bears of her class loose on a young man. I am grateful for the strength she gave me.