However Long and Hard the Road

by Jeffrey R. Holland

Often in our most difficult times the only thing we can do is endure. We may have no idea what the final cost in suffering or sacrifice may be, but we can vow never to give up. In doing so we will learn that there is no worthy task so great nor burden so heavy that will not yield to our perseverance. We can make it to “Mount Zion, . . . the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all,” however long and hard the road.

We speak about excellence a great deal these days, and, by definition, excellence does not come easily or quickly—an excellent education does not, a successful mission does not, a strong and loving marriage does not, rewarding personal relationships do not. It is simply a truism that nothing very valuable can come without significant sacrifice and effort and patience on our part. Many of the most hoped-for rewards in life can seem an awfully long time coming.

My concern is that we sometimes face delays and disappointments but feel that no one else in the history of mankind has ever had our problems or faced those difficulties. And when some of those challenges come, we will have the temptation to say, “This task is too hard. The burden is too heavy. The path is too long.” And so we decide to quit, simply to give up.

To terminate certain kinds of tasks is not only acceptable but often very wise. If you are, for example, a flagpole sitter, then I say, “Come on down.” But in life’s most crucial and telling tasks, my plea is to stick with it, to persevere, to hang in and hang on, and to reap the reward. Or to be slightly more scriptural: “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.” (D&C 64:33-34.)

We must not give up, “for [we] are laying the foundation of a great work.” That “great work” is ourselves—our lives, our future, the very fulfillment of our dreams. That “great work” is what, with effort and patience and God’s help, we can become. When days are difficult or problems seem unending, we must stay in the harness and keep pulling. We are all entitled to “eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days,” but it will require our heart and a willing mind. It will require that we stay at our post and keep trying.

On May 10, 1940, as the specter of Nazi infamy moved relentlessly toward the English Channel, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was summoned to the post of prime minister of England. He hastily formed a government and on May 13 went before the House of Commons with his maiden speech. He declared:

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.’

“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all our strength that God can give us. . . . That is our policy. You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be.” (Churchill: The Life Triumphant, American Heritage, 1965, p. 90.)

Six days later he went on radio to speak to the world at large. He said: “This is one of the most awe-striking periods in the long history of France and Britain. . . . Behind us . . . gather a group of shattered States and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians—upon all of whom the long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall.” (Churchill, p. 91.)

Then two weeks later he was back before Parliament. “We shall not flag or fail,” he vowed. “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” (Churchill, p. 91.)

I love these lines not only because they are among the most stirring calls to patriotism and courage ever uttered in the English language, but also because I relied on them personally at a crucial time in my life.

More than twenty years ago I stood on the famous white cliffs of Dover overlooking the English Channel, the very channel that twenty years before was the only barrier between Hitler and England’s fall. In 1962 my mission was concluding, and I was concerned. My future seemed very dim and difficult. My parents were then serving a mission also, which meant I was going home to live I-did-not-quite-know-where and to pay my way I-did-not-quite-know-how. I had completed only one year of college, and I had no idea what to major in or where to seek my career. I knew I needed three more years for a baccalaureate degree and had the vague awareness that graduate school of some kind inevitably loomed up behind that.

I knew tuitions were high and jobs were scarce. And I knew there was an alarmingly wider war spreading in Southeast Asia, which could require my military service. I hoped to marry but wondered when—or if—that could be, at least under all these circumstances. My educational hopes seemed like a never-ending path into the unknown, and I had hardly begun.

So before heading home I stood one last time on the cliffs of the country I had come to love so much,

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle . . .

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war.

(Richard II, act 2, sc. 1, II. 40-44.)

And there I read again, “We have before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering. What is our aim? . . . Victory—victory at all costs; victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be. . . . Conquer we must; as conquer we shall. . . . We shall never surrender.”

Blood? Toil? Tears? Sweat? Well, I figured I had as much of these as anyone, so I headed home to try. I was, in the parlance of the day, going to give it “my best shot,” however feeble that might prove to be.

As we wage such personal wars, obviously part of the strength to “hang in there” comes from some glimpse, however faint and fleeting, of what the victory can be. It is as true now as when Solomon said it that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18.) If our eyes are always on our shoelaces, if all we can see is this problem or that pain, this disappointment or that dilemma, then it really is quite easy to throw in the towel and stop the fight. But what if it is the fight of our life? Or more precisely, what if it is the fight for our life, our eternal life at that? What if beyond this problem or that pain, this disappointment or that dilemma, we really can see and can hope for all the best and right things that God has to offer? Oh, it may be blurred a bit by the perspiration running into our eyes, and in a really difficult fight one of the eyes might even be closing a bit, but faintly, dimly, and ever so far away we can see the object of it all. And we say it is worth it, we do want it, we will fight on. Like Coriantumr, we will lean upon our sword to rest a while, then rise to fight again. (See Ether 15:24-30.)

But how, you ask, do we get this glimpse of the future that helps us to hang on? Well, for me that is one of the great gifts of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not insignificant that early in his life Joseph Smith was taught this lesson three times in the same night and once again the next morning. Moroni said, quoting the Lord verbatim as recorded by the prophet Joel: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids of those days will I pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29.)

Dreaming dreams and seeing visions. The Lord’s spirit upon all flesh—sons and daughters, old and young, servants and handmaidens. I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine an Old Testament verse of any kind that could have helped this boy prophet more. He was being called into the battle of his life, for life itself, or at least for its real meaning and purpose. He would be driven and hunted and hounded. His enemies would rail and ridicule. He would see his children die and his land lost and his marriage tremble. He would languish in prison through a Missouri winter, and he would cry out toward the vault of heaven, “O God, where art thou? . . . How long. . . . O Lord, how long?” (D&C 121:1-3.) Finally he would walk the streets of his own city uncertain who, except for a precious few, were really friends or actually foes. And all that toil and trouble, pain and perspiration would end maliciously at Carthage—when there simply were finally more foes than friends. Felled by balls fired from the door of the jail inside and one coming through the window from outside, he would fall dead into the hands of his murderers—thirty-eight years of age.

If all of this and so much more was to face the Prophet in such a troubled lifetime, and if he finally knew what fate awaited him in Carthage, as he surely did, why didn’t he just quit somewhere along the way? Who needs it? Who needs the abuse and the persecution and the despair and death? It doesn’t sound fun to me, so why not just zip shut the cover of your Triple Combination, hand in your Articles of Faith cards, and go home?

Why not? For the simple reason that he had dreamed dreams and seen visions. Through the blood and the toil and the tears and the sweat, he had seen the redemption of Israel. It was out there somewhere—dimly, distantly—but it was there. So he kept his shoulder to the wheel until God said his work was finished.

And what of the other Saints? What were they to do with a martyred prophet, a persecuted past, and a now hopeless future? With Joseph and Hyrum gone, shouldn’t they just quietly slip away also—somewhere, anywhere? What is the use? They have run and run and run. They have wept and buried their dead. They have started over so many times their hands are bloodied and their hearts are bruised. In the name of sanity and safety and peace, why don’t they just quit?

Well, it was those recurring dreams, and compelling visions. It was spiritual strength. It was the fulfillment they knew to be ahead, no matter how faint or far away.

In their very first general conference, convened three months after the Church was organized, the Saints had recorded this: “Much exhortation and instruction was given, and the Holy Ghost was poured out upon us in a miraculous manner—many of our number prophesied, whilst others had the heavens opened to their view. . . . The goodness and the condescension of a merciful God . . . create[d] within us a sensation of rapturous gratitude, and inspire[d] us with fresh zeal and energy, in the cause of truth.” (Times and Seasons 4:23.)

There they were, approximately thirty members of the Church meeting in that tiny Peter Whitmer home in Fayette, planning to overthrow the prince of darkness and establish the kingdom of God in all the world. All the world? What presumption! Were they demented? Had they lost all power to reason? Thirty very average, garden-variety Latter-day Saints willing to work the rest of their lives? To what end? Persecution and pain and maybe thirty more members—for a grand total of sixty? Perhaps they did see how limited their immediate personal success would be, and maybe they even saw the trouble ahead, but they saw something more. It was all in that business of the influence of the Holy Ghost and heavens being opened to their view. President John Taylor said later of that experience: “A few men assembled in a log cabin; they saw visions of heaven, and gazed upon the eternal world; they looked through the rent vista of futurity, and beheld the glories of eternity; . . . they were laying the foundation of the salvation of this world.” (History of the Church 6:295.)

Now there was to be a lot of bad road between the first conference of thirty people and a church that would one day have nations flocking to it. And, unless I miss my guess, there are several miles of bad road ahead of that church yet. But to have seen it and felt it and believed it kept them from growing “weary in well-doing,” helped them believe even in the most difficult of times that “out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” In a battle far more important than any battle of World War II would be, these Saints also vowed victory, however long and hard the road.

Though nothing in our lives seems to require the courage and patient longsuffering of those early Latter-day Saints, almost every worthwhile endeavor I can imagine takes something of that same determination. Even love at first sight—if there is such a thing—is nothing like love after some twenty years, if my marriage to Sister Holland is any indication. Indeed “the best is [always] yet to be.” (Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra.”)

In that sense Troilus, whose impatient love for Cressida makes him something of a basket case, teaches us a valuable lesson. “He that will have a cake out of the wheat must tarry the grinding,” Pandarus says to Troilus. “Have I not tarried?” Troilus pouts.

PANDARUS: Ay, the grinding; but you must tarry the bolting.

TROILUS: Have I not tarried?

PANDARUS: Ay, the bolting; but you must tarry the leavening.

TROILUS: Still have I tarried?

PANDARUS: Ay, to the leavening; but here’s yet . . . the kneading, the making of the cake, the heating of the oven, and the baking; nay, you must stay the cooling too, or you may chance to burn your lips. (Troilus and Cressida, act 1, sc. 1, ll. 14ff.)

The baking of life’s best cakes takes time. Don’t despair of tarrying and trying. And don’t “burn your lips” with impatience. Let me say just one bit more about the modern tragedy of sweethearts who will not tarry. It is of increasing alarm to me.

I do not speak here of specific lives or personal problems about which I know nothing and on which I would not pass judgment if I did. But the general matter of divorce, the abstract matter of divorce, is not only a major social but also a major symbolic problem in our world.

With the divorce rate hitting 50 percent and climbing, more than one million American children live through the trauma of a marital breakup every year. Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University says that “America[ns] . . . of the 70’s and 80’s are the first generation in the country’s history who think divorce and separation are a normal part of family life.” (Allan C. Brownfeld, “Who’s Minding the Children,” in Divorce and Single-Parent Family Statistics, p. 24.) That perception is being helped along by catchy new book titles like Divorce, the New Freedom and Creative Divorce: A New Opportunity for Personal Growth.

No one would wish a bad marriage on anyone. But where do we think “good marriages” come from? They don’t spring full-blown from the head of Zeus any more than does a good education, or good home teaching, or a good symphony. Why should a marriage require fewer tears and less toil and shabbier commitment than your job or your clothes or your car?

Yet some couples spend less time on the quality and substance and purpose of their marriage—the highest, holiest culminating covenant we can make in this world—than they do in maintaining their ’72 Datsun. And they break the hearts of many innocent people, including perhaps their own, if that marriage is then dissolved.

As President Spencer W. Kimball has counseled, we must not give half-hearted compliance to marriage. Marriage requires all of our consecration. (See Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage, Deseret Book, 1978, p. 10.) So every worthy task requires all that we can give to it. The Lord requires the heart and a willing mind if we are to eat the good of the land of Zion in the last days.

On July 28, 1847, four days after his arrival in that valley, Brigham Young stood upon the spot where now rises the magnificent Salt Lake Temple and exclaimed to his companions: “Here [we will build] the Temple of our God!” (James H. Anderson, “The Salt Lake Temple,” Contributor 6 [April 1893]: 243.)

The temple, whose grounds would cover an eighth of a square mile, would be built to stand through eternity. Who cares about the money or stone or timber or glass or gold they didn’t have? So what that seeds were not even planted and the Saints were yet without homes? Why worry that crickets would soon be coming—and so would the United States Army? The Saints just marched forth and broke ground for the most massive, permanent, inspiring edifice they could conceive. And they would spend forty years of their lives trying to complete it.

The work seemed ill-fated from the start. The excavation for the basement required trenches twenty feet wide and sixteen feet deep, much of it through solid gravel. Just digging for the foundation alone required nine thousand man days of labor. Surely someone must have said, “A temple would be fine, but do we really need one this big?” But they kept on digging. Maybe they believed they were “laying the foundation of a great work.” In any case they worked on, “not weary in well-doing.”

And through it all Brigham Young had dreamed the dream and seen the vision. With the excavation complete and the cornerstone ceremony concluded, he said to the Saints assembled: “I do not like to prophesy much, . . . but I will venture to guess that this day, and the work we have performed on it, will long be remembered by this people, and be sounded as with a trumpet’s voice throughout the world. . . . Five years ago last July I was here, and saw in the spirit the Temple. [I stood] not ten feet from where we have laid the chief corner stone. I have not inquired what kind of a temple we should build. Why? Because it was [fully] represented before me.” (Anderson, Contributor, pp. 257-58.)

But as Brigham Young also said, “We never began to build [any] temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book, 1973, p. 410.) No sooner was the foundation work finished than Albert Sidney Johnston and his United States troops set out for the Salt Lake Valley intent on war with “the Mormons.” In response, President Young made elaborate plans to evacuate and, if necessary, destroy the entire city behind them. But what to do about the temple whose massive excavation was already completed and its 8′ x 16′ foundational walls firmly in place? They did the only thing they could do—they filled it all back in again. Every shovelful. All that soil and gravel that had been so painstakingly removed with those nine thousand man days of labor was filled back in. When they finished, those acres looked like nothing more interesting than a field that had been plowed up and left unplanted.

When the threat of war had been removed, the Saints returned to their homes and painfully worked again at uncovering the foundation and removing the material from the excavated basement structure. But then the apparent masochism of all this seemed most evident when not adobe or sandstone but massive granite boulders were selected for the basic construction material. And they were twenty miles away in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Furthermore the precise design and dimensions of every one of the thousands of stones to be used in that massive structure had to be marked out individually in the architect’s office and shaped accordingly. This was a suffocatingly slow process. Just to put one layer of the six hundred hand-sketched, individually squared, and precisely cut stones around the building took nearly three years. That progress was so slow that virtually no one walking by the temple block could ever see any progress at all.

And, of course, getting the stone from mountain to city center was a nightmare. A canal on which to convey the stone was begun and a great deal of labor and money expended on it, but it was finally aborted. Other means were tried, but oxen proved to be the only viable means of transportation. In the 1860s and ’70s always four and often six oxen in a team could be seen almost any working day of the year, toiling and tugging and struggling to pull from the quarry one monstrous block of granite, or at most two of medium size.

During that time, as if the United States Army hadn’t been enough, the Saints had plenty of other interruptions. The arrival of the railroad pulled almost all of the working force off the temple for nearly three years, and twice grasshopper invasions sent the workers into full-time summer combat with the pests. By mid-1871, fully two decades and untold misery after it had been begun, the walls of the temple were barely visible above ground. Far more visible was the teamsters’ route from Cottonwood, strewn with the wreckage of wagons—and dreams—unable to bear the load placed on them. The journals and histories of these teamsters are filled with accounts of broken axles, mud-mired animals, shattered sprockets, and shattered hopes. I do not have any evidence that these men swore, though surely they might have been seen turning a rather steely eye toward heaven. But they believed and kept pulling. And through all of this President Young seemed in no hurry. “The Temple will be built as soon as we are prepared to use it,” he said. Indeed, his vision was so lofty and his hope so broad that right in the middle of this staggering effort requiring virtually all that the Saints could seem to bear, he announced the construction of the St. George, Manti, and Logan Temples.

“Can you accomplish the work, you Latter-day Saints of these several counties?” he asked. And then in his own inimitable way he answered: “Yes; that is a question I can answer readily. You are perfectly able to do it. The question is, have you the necessary faith? Have you sufficient of the Spirit of God in your hearts to say, yes, by the help of God our Father we will erect these buildings to his name? . . . Go to now, with your might and with your means and finish this Temple.” (Anderson, Contributor, p. 267.)

So they squared their shoulders and stiffened their backs and went forward with their might.

When President Brigham Young died in 1877, the temple was still scarcely twenty feet above the ground. Ten years later, his successor, President John Taylor, and the temple’s original architect, Truman O. Angell, were dead as well. The side walls were just up to the square. And now the infamous Edmunds-Tucker Act had already been passed by Congress disincorporating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the effects of this law was to put the Church into receivership, whereby the U.S. Marshal, under a court order, seized this temple the Saints had now spent just under forty years of their lives dreaming of, working for, and praying fervently to enjoy. To all appearances, the still unfinished but increasingly magnificent structure was to be wrested at this last hour from its rightful owners and put into the hands of aliens and enemies, the very group who had often boasted that the Latter-day Saints would never be permitted to finish the building. It seemed that those boasts were certain to be fulfilled. Schemes were immediately put forward to divert the intended use of the temple in ways that would desecrate its holy purpose and mock the staggering sacrifice of the Saints who had so faithfully tried to build it.

But God was with these modern children of Israel, as he always has been and always will be. They did all they could do and left the rest in his hands. Then the Red Sea parted before them, and they walked through on firm, dry ground. On April 6, 1893, the Saints as a body were nearly delirious. Now, finally, here in their own valley with their own hands they had cut out of the mountains a granite monument that was to mark, after all they had gone through, the safety of the Saints and the permanence of Christ’s true church on earth for this one last dispensation. The central symbol of all that was the completed house of their God. The streets were literally jammed with people. Forty thousand of them fought their way on to the temple grounds. Ten thousand more, unable to gain entrance, scrambled to the tops of nearby buildings in hopes that some glimpse of the activities might be had.

Inside the Tabernacle President Wilford Woodruff, visibly moved by the significance of the moment, said: “If there is any scene on the face of this earth that will attract the attention of the God of heaven and the heavenly host, it is the one before us today—the assembling of this people, the shout of ‘Hosanna!’ the laying of the topstone of this Temple in honor to our God.” (Anderson, Contributor, p. 270.) Then, moving outside, he laid the capstone in place exactly at high noon.

In the writing of one who was there, “The scene that followed is beyond the power of language to describe.” Lorenzo Snow, beloved president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, came forward leading forty thousand Latter-day Saints in the Hosanna Shout. Every hand held a handkerchief and every eye was filled with tears. One said the very “ground seemed to tremble with the volume of the sound” which echoed off the tops of the mountains. “A grander or more imposing spectacle than this ceremony of laying the Temple capstone is not recorded in history.” (Anderson, Contributor, p. 273.) It was finally and forever finished.

The prestigious Scientific American referred to this majestic new edifice as a “monument to Mormon perseverance.” And so it was. Blood, toil, tears, and sweat. The best things are always worth finishing. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” (1 Corinthians 3:16.) Most assuredly we are. As long and laborious as the effort may seem, we must keep shaping and setting the stones that will make our accomplishments “a grand and imposing spectacle.” We must take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow, dream dreams and see visions, work toward their realization, wait patiently when we have no other choice, lean on our sword and rest a while, but get up and fight again. Perhaps we will not see the full meaning of our effort in our own lifetime. But our children will, or our children’s children will, until finally we, with all of them, can give the Hosanna Shout.

Jeffrey R. Holland, However Long and Hard the Road, 114-127.

© 2004 Deseret Book. Printed from GospeLink.com