Speaking to an audience of LDS Business College students and faculty in the Conference Center Theater on Jan. 30, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy shared experiences from his life to help listeners become “people of substance and worth."
“I believe that at this point in your lives, when you’re working so hard on things that you want to become, it’s important to remember the larger picture of what you’re becoming,” he said. Elder Clayton told the students how important the education they were working toward is and how valuable it will be for their future.
Elder Clayton used Luke 14:28 as a springboard for his remarks. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” He then invited the students to “consider the thoughts of counting the cost, thoughts about ensuring that your life is complete. Complete in the rounded sense, complete in the fulfilling sense, and that in the long run you’ll be pleased with what you did with your life, with how you lived and where it took you.”
Elder Clayton shared an experience he had while he and his wife, Kathy, lived in Sacramento, California. Not long after they moved there, a building began construction. But for one reason or another, the construction halted. That scripture from Luke 14:28 often came to mind when he saw the skeletal framework of that building frozen in construction.
“I have since seen that there was a much larger message in that,” Elder Clayton said. “How terrible it is for a life not to accomplish all the good, all the wonder, all the beauty that heaven intends for it to accomplish. Heaven wants you, it wants me, it wants all of us to have satisfying, noble, uplifting, joyful, happy lives.”
He then shared an insight he learned from a friend while in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This friend raced giant sailboats down the Rio de la Plata, a river which is 20 miles wide in some places. Thanks to the geography, when one is in the middle of the river, he or she cannot see the sides. At one point in the river is an island called Punta del Este. “He explained how carefully he had to steer that boat by the compass. He said, ‘If you’re only off by a degree or two, you may pass by Punta del Este without seeing it.’ And where’s the next stop? Africa.” An error of just one or two degrees can make a huge difference, Elder Clayton said.
“Those who venture off the straight and narrow path by even a degree, over the period of a lifetime will find that the separation that that degree has caused in their lives ... has taken them to destinations that they didn’t want to reach,” Elder Clayton said. “Look for the center of the straight and narrow path because that’s where safety is.”
While serving as a General Authority Seventy in 2002, he had an experience that illustrated the importance of staying on that path. At that time, Argentina was going through an economic collapse and Paraguay, which depended on Argentina for nearly everything, was suffering even more, he explained. He had a meeting with six stake presidents in Paraguay, but because he was so new to the area, Elder Clayton felt he couldn’t adequately address the problems of the members. While the stake presidents were sharing some of the many issues their members were facing, a question came to his mind.
He asked, “Presidents, of the people in your stakes who pay a full tithing, who pay a generous fast offering, who hold family home evening, who read their scriptures as a family, who magnify their callings, and who go out and honestly serve as a visiting teacher or home teacher every single month — for that group of people in your stakes, presidents, how many people are there who have problems in today’s world in Paraguay that they can’t solve?”
The stake presidents told him there were none. None of those people needed welfare assistance from the Church.
These were people who had stayed in the center of the straight and narrow path, Elder Clayton said. “Don’t wander off the path. Safety is found in the center.”
Elder Clayton then told about a time when he and his family were living in Irvine, California, while the San Diego California Temple was being constructed. He had a legal case that brought him to San Diego frequently, and he witnessed from the freeway the gradual construction of the temple, from clearing and flattening the land, to building the framework, to the cladding on the outside, to the placing of the Angel Moroni statue on top that slowed traffic that day as people watched from their cars.
“That experience taught me some valuable concepts about building lives,” Elder Clayton said. “Heaven starts with the basic commandments that level the land, that clear away the brush from our lives, that clear away the things that are obstacles. And then heaven starts by laying a solid foundation, by putting within us a steel superstructure of commandments and faith on which other things can then be added. When you look at a temple, you see a metaphor for the building of our lives.”
Elder Clayton then shared a phrase found in the Book of Mormon. “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (2 Nephi 1:20).
“I do believe that those who keep the commandments of God, prosper in all the ways that matter most,” he said. “When we prosper in the land, we prosper because God has blessed us with peace of conscience, with revelation and inspiration when they are needed, with a family which is happy and intact. When we prosper in the land, we prosper because we become dependable to both the Lord and other people.”
Sister Kathy Clayton also spoke at the devotional. She urged the students to “think bigger. Don’t be paralyzed or governed by your fear. If this new place, these new studies, these new people, and for many of you this non-native language feels like a lot, feels a bit daunting or foreboding or unpassable or impossible, don’t let that be your governing principle."