I WISH I HAD NEVER SEEN THAT SQUIRREL
Abraham Lincoln, a noted storyteller, is credited with telling the following story. There was a farmer who had a very large shade tree towering over his house. He had cleared valley land in a forest around his house leaving the house situated in the middle of the cleared, fertile farm. The center piece of the beautiful farm was this majestic-looking tree, and apparently perfect in every part; -- tall, straight, and of immense size and shade -- the grand old sentinel stood by his forest home at the center of his beautiful farm. One morning, while at work in his garden, the farmer saw a squirrel run up the tree into a hole; he wondered if the tree might be hollow.
He proceeded to examine the tree carefully and, much to his surprise, he found that the stately tree that he valued for its beauty and grandeur was hollow from top to bottom. Only a rim of sound wood remained, barely sufficient to support its own weight.
What was he now to do? If he cut it down, it would destroy the beauty and value of his farm and possibly do great damage with its great length and enormous spreading branches. If he let it remain, his family was in constant danger. In a storm it might fall, or the wind might blow it down, and his house and children be crushed by it. What should he do?
As he turned away, he said sadly: "I wish I had never seen that squirrel!
Elders and Sisters, the dry humor of this story is obvious, and it has always been a classic for me as it relates to human nature. The problem still exists regardless of whether or not he saw the squirrel. Never having seen the squirrel would only force upon him the inevitable consequence of the reality and remove his choices for remedy. Most people are unwilling to confront the truth, actually hoping in some cases that it will simply go away.
Consider for a minute that the tree is repairable and represents your personal performance as a missionary. No one is perfect so change for everyone including you is needed for improvement. Change is inevitable but most people resist or simply endure change while only a few initiate change to stay ahead of and proactive in the game.
The key is to see the squirrel every day and then change into a more polished missionary by making small course adjustments along the way. Imagine if you had someone with whom you could talk at the end of each day, who could clearly remember the events of the day and who cared enough to be honest and tell you “that was good” or “that could be better”. You would see the squirrel each day. If such feed-back were possible every evening, you could review all actions, decisions and interaction that you were involved with during the course of the day and resolve to continue or to change the way you work. Fortunately, you have just such a friend in the Savior. Remember his promise by Ether:
27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)
I know you will literally see your own growth if you put the promise of Ether to the test and discuss with your Father in Heaven your actions during each day, ask for direction on what went well, what went poorly and how to improve and then feel for the answers. Using the scriptures, prayer and words of the living prophets you can receive this important learning and knowledge that will help you grow. Out of Preach My Gospel we read:
“…With a desire to please God, recognize your weaknesses and be willing and anxious to improve.
The Lord commanded, “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) ... Through study and prayer, seek help for your specific questions, challenges, and opportunities…
… As you study diligently, prayerfully, and with pure intent, the Holy Ghost will enlighten your mind, teach you, and help you understand…” (PMG p. 115, 119)
I have a mandate from the First Presidency to send “converted” missionaries home at the end of their missions. Elder Li in his parting testimony stated a simple truth. “Conversion does not come through focusing on conversion. Conversion comes from doing the work.” By doing the work with steady improvement you will: experience the atonement in your own life and see it’s affect in the lives of others, experience feeling and following the spirit, increase your knowledge, grow your love for and relationship with God and Jesus Christ and increase your love for the people.
I have a picture in the mission home that I frequently refer to. It shows a vertical rock climber making her way carefully upward on a vertical mountain face. The inscription states, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” You can make great strides in conquering yourself by taking time each day to prayerfully review the day’s performance, even with the small things, seeking instruction and with willingness to correct-up. Through this instruction from the Holy Ghost to identify areas needing improvement, you can see the squirrel in your behavior. You can make course corrections and never sadly say, “I wish I had never seen that squirrel.”President Robinson