I have used some of the following stories to emphasize the importance of letting our light shine. The savior taught, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12-14) Like the candlesticks in the book of Revelation (see Revelation 1:20), we are not the light, but by living the gospel, we hold up the light, even Jesus Christ and His Father. By living the life He would have us live, the goodness of the Father and the Son shine through us.
As he stated to his followers in America, “Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you” (3 Nephi 18:16). Later he said, “hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up- that which ye have seen me do.” (3 Nephi 18:24). The following are illustrations that help to crystallize this idea in the minds of students.
You Never Know Whom You Will Save
To illustrate my point, I would like to go back in thought to my native Holland where six generations of my father’s ancestors lived in the little village of Scheveningen at the seashore. They were fishermen or had other related vocations, like fishing-boat builders, sailmakers, or fishing-net repairmen. Many of them were also involved in the voluntary but hazardous task of lifesaving. They were stouthearted, experienced men who always were ready to man the rowing lifeboats to go on a rescue mission. With every westerly gale that blew, some fishing boats ran into difficulties, and many times the sailors had to cling to the rigging of their stricken ships in a desperate fight to escape inevitable drowning. Year after year the sea claimed its victims.
On one occasion during a severe storm, a ship was in distress, and a rowboat went out to rescue the crew of the fishing boat. The waves were enormous, and each of the men at the oars had to give all his strength and energy to reach the unfortunate sailors in the grim darkness of the night and the heavy rainstorm.
The trip to the wrecked ship was successful, but the rowboat was too small to take the whole crew in one rescue operation. One man had to stay behind on board because there simply was no room for him; the risk that the rescue boat would capsize was too great. When the rescuers made it back to the beach, hundreds of people were waiting for them with torches to guide them in the dreary night. But the same crew could not make the second trip because they were exhausted from their fight with the stormwinds, the waves, and the sweeping rains.
So the local captain of the coast guard asked for volunteers to make a second trip. Among those who stepped forward without hesitation was a nineteen-year-old youth by the name of Hans. With his mother he had come to the beach in his oilskin clothes to watch the rescue operation.
When Hans stepped forward his mother panicked and said, “Hans, please don’t go. Your father died at sea when you were four years old and your older brother Pete has been reported missing at sea for more than three months now. You are the only son left to me!”
But Hans said, “Mom, I feel I have to do it. It is my duty.” And the mother wept and restlessly started pacing the beach when Hans boarded the rowing boat, took the oars, and disappeared into the night.
After a struggle with the high-going seas that lasted for more than an hour (and to Hans’s mother it seemed an eternity), the rowboat came into sight again. When the rescuers had approached the beach close enough so that the captain of the coast guard could reach them by shouting, he cupped his hands around his mouth and called vigorously against the storm, “Did you save him?”
And then the people lighting the sea with their torches saw Hans rise from his rowing bench, and he shouted with all his might, “Yes! And tell Mother it is my brother Pete!” 1
When Holding Up the Light We Must Be Careful!
In our efforts to live and to share the gospel, we must always keep in mind that we are not in a race with other people. By comparing our efforts to others we may become discouraged by our seeming lack of progress. On the other end of the spectrum, we might get a false sense of security as to where we are when we compare ourselves to those who appear to not have advanced as far along the path of discipleship. Both ways of thinking are damaging in different ways. The following parable helps to teach this concept. We must let our light shine, but we need to always remember who the source of light is!
The Parable Of The Divers
“Many years ago, when I was somewhere between nine and eleven, I participated in a community summer recreation program in the town where I grew up. I remember in particular a diving competition for the different age groups held at the community swimming pool. Some of the wealthier kids in our area had their own pools with diving boards, and they were pretty good amateur divers. But there was one kid my age from the less affluent part of town who didn’t have his own pool. What he had was raw courage. While the rest of us did our crisp little swan dives, back dives, and jackknives, being every so careful to arch our backs and point our toes, this young man attempted back flips, one-and-a-halfs, doubles, and so on. But, oh, he was sloppy. He seldom kept his feet together, he never pointed his toes, and he usually missed his vertical entry. The rest of us observed with smug satisfaction as the judges held up their scorecards that he consistently got lower marks than we did with our safe and simple dives, and we congratulated ourselves that we were actually the better divers. “He is all heart and no finesse,” we told ourselves. “After all, we keep our feet together and point our toes.”
“The announcement of the winners was a great shock to us, for the brave young lad with the flips had apparently beaten us all. However, I had kept rough track of the scores in my head, and I knew with the arrogance of limited information that the math didn’t add up. I had consistently outscored the boy with the flips. And so, certain that an injustice was being perpetrated, I stormed the scorer’s table and demanded and explanation. “Degree of difficulty,” the scorer replied matter-of-factly as he looked me in the eye. “Sure, you had better form, but he did harder dives. When you factor in the degree of difficulty, he beat you hands down, kid.” Until that moment I hadn’t known that some dives were awarded “extra credit” because of their greater difficulty. . . . .
“Whenever I am tempted to feel superior to other Saints, the parable of the divers comes to my mind, and I repent. At least at a swim meet, we can usually tell which dives are the most difficult. But here in mortality, we cannot always tell who is carrying what burdens: limited intelligence, chemical depression, compulsive behaviors, learning disabilities, dysfunctional or abusive family background, poor health, physical or psychological handicaps—no one chooses these things. So I must not judge my brothers and sisters. I am thankful for my blessings but not smug about them, for I never want to hear the Scorer say to me, “Sure, you had better form, but she had a harder life. When you factor in degree of difficulty, she beat you hands down.”
“So, enduring to the end doesn’t have much to do with suffering in silence, overcoming all life’s obstacles, or even achieving the LDS ideal (“pointing our toes” and “keeping our feet together”). It just means not giving up. It means keeping—to the best of our abilities—the commitments we made to Christ when we entered into the marriage of the gospel. It means not divorcing the Savior or cheating on him by letting some other love become more important in our lives. It means not rejecting the blessings of the atonement that he showered upon us when we entered his church and kingdom. 2
What Does It Look Like?
Occasionally I am asked by young people how they are doing. While I cannot judge them (only the Savior can do that), I can give them markers by which to measure their progress. As I have studied the life of the prophet Joseph Smith, I have found that he was often asking the Lord about his progress. He was concerned with eternal matters and his standing before the Lord. This is good to do. The following quote has been helpful for me as I have tried to measure how I am doing in my quest to follow the Savior:
“Some Christians carry their religion on their backs. It is a packet of beliefs and practices which they must bear. At times it grows heavy and they would willingly lay it down, but that would mean a break with old traditions, so they shoulder it again. But real Christians do not carry their religion, their religion carries them. It is not a weight; it is wings. It lifts them up, it sees them over hard places, it makes the universe seem friendly, life purposeful, hope real, sacrifice worthwhile. It sets them free from fear, futility, discouragement, and sin- the great enslavers of men’s souls. You can know a real Christian, when you see him, by his buoyancy.” 3
1. You Never Know Who You May Save, Elder Jacob De Jager, Ensign, October 1976.
2. Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News [Salt Lake city: Deseret Book, 1995], 34-38.
3. Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Twelve Tests of Character (1923), p. 87-88; as quoted by L. Tom Perry, Ensign, Nov. 1999, p. 77.