Monday, December 31, 2018

Elder John A. Widtsoe on personal resolutions for life

Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952) was born in Norway. He was raised by his widowed mother who immigrated to Utah when John was 11. He was educated at Harvard and in Europe, and had formative roles in programs in several Utah universities including BYU. He served as an apostle from 1921 to his death in 1952.

On January 2, 1891, as a 19-year-old emigrant from Norway, a young John Widtsoe pondered his life to that point and then penned these words that would set the standard for the rest of his life:
"As I have come to fully realize; that, I am as weak as all other mortals—perhaps weaker than many; and realizing that happiness in life is only obtained by having a pure heart, a clear conscience; and fearing the Lord and keeping his commandments; also as I realize that happiness in old age consists of reviewing a life devoid from great sins; the gratification of noble desires manfully carried out; and finding that my life up to this time has not been as I should like it to have been: I lay down the following regulations by which I shall try to conduct my life hereafter; to which end may the Lord Almighty, my Creator, help me.
"1st. That religion, the science of sciences, be made my chief concernment throughout life.
"2nd. That I will daily pray to God in secret.
"3rd. That I will daily reflect upon God and his attributes and try to become like him.
"4th. That I will receive Light, Wisdom or Knowledge, wherever or however it may be offered.
"5th. That I never be ashamed to acknowledge my principles, beliefs and religion when I once become fully convinced of their correctness.
"6th. That I never lose one moment of time but improve it.
"7th. That I maintain strict temperance in eating and drinking.
"8th. That I never do anything that I would not do were it the last hour of my life.
"9th. That I daily read the word of God, that I may learn his will and that I may be comforted, strengthened and encouraged by so doing.
"10th. That in any narrations I speak nothing but the pure and simple verity.
"11th. That I always do that which I think is my duty and for the best good for my fellow beings.
"12th. That I live with all my might while I do live, that I may not die a living death.
"13th. That I never by word or manner try to force my opinions on others but that I simply state them and offer my arguments against others!
"14th. That I seek to overcome the habit of being quick tempered, loud speaking, impatient motions and whatever might offend my fellowmen and hurt me.
"15th. That I never for a moment forget my duty towards my mother, she who has made me who I am and who will make what I will become, she who has spent the better portion of her life in my behalf and to whom I owe all the honor, respect, and affection that I can give; also that I always remember my duties toward my brother and all my friends and relations.
"16th. That I complete every task which I begin; also that I carefully consider my purpose and its results before taking upon me any duty.
"17th. That I always remember that the men and women I meet are my brothers and sisters and that I look to the beam in my own eye before attempting to remove the mote in my fellow’s eye."
- John A. Widtsoe, recorded January 2, 1891; quoted in G. Homer Durham, "Faith, The Greater Knowledge," New Era, August 1978, pp. 4-6

It is remarkable to consider that these resolutions came from a relatively immature 19-year-old young man. But even more remarkable is to consider how his commitment to these principles led to a life of significant achievement in many ways—intellectually and spiritually. He begins by recognizing the source of true happiness in life:

Many of the items in this list of resolutions contain "normal" or expected items, such as establishing habits of regular prayer and meditation, studying God's word, faithfulness in obedience, and service to others. Beyond that, several of the less-common phrases used by Elder Widtsoe impressed me:

  • "8th. That I never do anything that I would not do were it the last hour of my life." This is an interesting way to establish priority and value, and to maintain focus on things that matter most.
  • "12th. That I live with all my might while I do live, that I may not die a living death." Live with enthusiasm and eagerness for your whole life; don't ever "die a living death" by fading slowly away.
  • "15th. That I never for a moment forget my duty towards my mother." This was the longest item of the list, but showed the loving dedication this young man felt for his widowed mother who had sacrificed much for him. He fulfilled this commitment.

It's fascinating to consider this list. It's even more fascinating to try to write one for ourselves, regardless of our position in life (young and eager with a whole life ahead, or older and more experienced).

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

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