Small Things—Big Consequences!
by Brent Andrus
Thank you choir for making such a beautiful start to the day. Angel thank you for your sweet testimony, yours parents named you appropriately. I can’t tell you how much I love and appreciate him. I want to share an experience I had this morning as I was getting ready to come to school. I had a distinct and powerful impression that my parents would be here in devotional today. My father passed away little over 14 years ago and my mother 2 years before that. What a tender mercy it was to receive that witness that they would be here today. I want to express gratitude to those who have made changes in their personal schedules to be here today I am glad to have my son and daughters and their spouses here today.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today and share some thoughts that have been on my mind for some time. I would like to speak today on how seemingly small things can lead to big consequences, either for good or bad in our lives. I want to illustrate this by sharing a few brief stories and a number of examples.
This is a picture of my grandfather, William Reynolds Andrus. His father was instrumental in building the railroads here in the Salt Lake Valley, so it was natural for William to take an interest in railroading. William studied to be an engineer for the railroad, but was persuaded not to pursue this by his father in law. So he chose instead to farm a 20-acre plot in Draper, Utah, and became a very prominent citizen in what was then a small community. I never knew my grandfather in this life. As a young man he contracted what was then referred to as the “flu”, but was most likely a strep or other bacterial infection. Left untreated, this led to significant kidney damage and ultimately to his death at the age of 43. At the time of his first illness, penicillin would not be discovered for another ten years. That microscopic bacteria shortened my grandfather’s life by as much as thirty years or more.
This is a picture of my family (I am the dashingly handsome youngster in the middle). When I was six years old, my family moved all the way from Logan, Utah to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sometime either just before or shortly after that move, I contracted a case of strep throat, and it was not treated immediately. Two months later as I was within weeks of finishing first grade, I got up one morning and decided that I didn’t want to go to school. This was so out of character for me because I loved going to school (and I still do). Surprisingly, my mother didn’t question my decision, and I believe that we were both prompted by the Holy Ghost that I should stay home that day. Within two hours I was passing a significant amount of blood and had come down with a severe kidney infection. Fortunately for me, by taking this little mold (penicillin), now widely available, by making constant visits to the doctor, and three months recuperation in bed (literally my entire summer) I was cured from this horrible infection.
That little mold saved my life, and has allowed me to live a much longer, healthier life than my grandfather! Same disease, big difference! Later that same year, my family built a new house and we moved in just before Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day, we all woke up with severe headaches, nausea and vomiting—not the way you want to enjoy Thanksgiving! It was discovered later that a small gas leak in the water heater was the culprit causing the most miserable Thanksgiving I can remember. Thankfully, the water heater was located in the garage (just next to the kitchen rather than inside the house), or things could have been much worse. In more recent years, my family has suffered carbon monoxide poisoning on more than one once, leading me to question at times why we were spared when others have not been. But I know without a doubt that the Lord has watched over us. Again, small things that can lead to great consequences!
Next story. This is a pint of cream, which is referred to as “strippings” in the story that I am going to share with you next. From the Journal of Discourses we read the following as written by Elder George A. Smith (the language is a little quaint): “The wife of Thomas B. Marsh, who was then President of the Twelve Apostles, and sister Harris concluded they would exchange milk, in order to make a little larger cheese than they otherwise could. To be sure to have justice done, it was agreed that they should not save the strippings, but that the milk and strippings should all go together. Small matters to talk about here, to be sure, two women's exchanging milk to make cheese.
Mrs. Harris, it appeared, was faithful to the agreement and carried to Mrs. Marsh the milk and strippings, but Mrs. Marsh, wishing to make some extra good cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow and sent Mrs. Harris the milk without the strippings. Finally it leaked out that Mrs. Marsh had saved strippings, and it became a matter to be settled by the Teachers. They began to examine the matter, and it was proved that Mrs. Marsh had saved the strippings, and consequently had wronged Mrs. Harris out of that amount.
An appeal was taken from the Teacher to the Bishop, and a regular Church trial was had. President Marsh did not consider that the Bishop had done him and his lady justice, for they decided that the strippings were wrongfully saved, and that the woman had violated her covenant.
Marsh immediately took an appeal to the High Council, who investigated the question with much patience, and I assure you they were a grave body. Marsh being extremely anxious to maintain the character of his wife, as he was the President of the Twelve Apostles, and a great man in Israel, made a desperate defense, but the High Council finally confirmed the Bishop's decision.
Marsh, not being satisfied, took an appeal to the First Presidency of the Church, and Joseph and his Counselors had to sit upon the case, and they approved the decision of the High Council. This little affair, you will observe, kicked up a considerable breeze, and Thomas B. Marsh then declared that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it.
The then President of the Twelve Apostles, the man who should have been the first to do justice and cause reparation to be made for wrong, committed by any member of his family, took that position, and what next? He went before a magistrate and swore that the "Mormons" were hostile towards the State of Missouri.
That affidavit brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 Saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering the exposure consequent on this state of affairs.” (Smith)
After 18 years of apostasy, Thomas B. Marsh requested rebaptism and was admitted back into the church. Consider for a moment what might have been had President Marsh remained faithful to his calling. He was the first president of the Quorum of the Twelve. As we understand it today, that placed him directly behind Joseph Smith in seniority. Perhaps BYU would be known as TMU, or it could be Marshville up north instead of Brigham City. Ponder in your minds what else might have been different.
I love it when President Uchtdorf talks about airplanes and flying. So, for a moment, let’s talk about airplanes: did you know that they are off course 90% of the time? Good instrumentation and constant attention from the pilot can correct this. But consider this: being off course by only one degree—that’s less than 3/10 of one percent, takes us 92 feet off course for every mile traveled. On a cross country flight from New York to Los Angeles, we will be 40 miles off course and likely somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. The instrumentation can be likened to the Holy Ghost, who gives us warnings when we are off- course in our lives. Like the pilot, we must heed the warnings and take corrective action to remain on course.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking of the time he worked for a railroad told the story of a train going from Oakland, CA to Newark, NJ with 300 passengers on board. The baggage did not arrive with the passengers. The baggage car was to be switched in St. Louis to another railroad. According to Pres. Hinckley, “...some thoughtless switchman in the St. Louis yards moved a small piece of steel just three inches, a switch point, then pulled the lever to uncouple the car. We discovered that a baggage car that belonged in Newark, New Jersey, was in fact in New Orleans, Louisiana—1500 miles from its true destination. ...That is the way it is with our lives. Instead of following a steady course, we are pulled by some mistaken idea in another direction. The movement away from our original destination may be ever so small, but if continued, that very small movement becomes a great gap and we find ourselves far from where we intended to go.” (Hinckley)
In athletic events, small things can significantly impact the outcome of those events. A blocked pass or a fumble that causes a turnover can literally shift the momentum of the game. A dropped fly ball can make the difference between winning and losing a baseball game. In the Olympics, events are won by fractions of an inch or in milliseconds of time. Over the many years I have worked with students in competitive events, I have observed that it is usually the little things that separate the winners from everyone else. I am amazed at how often events are won with just one or two points difference between first and second place.
This picture depicts Lehi’s dream. The rod of iron depicts the Word of God or the gospel. As long as people hold fast to it, they continue on the path to eternal life (the tree). There are many things that can cause us to let go of the rod and wander off into the unknown. It may be the clouds of darkness that blind us or the words of scorn from that “great and spacious building” (the world). Simple things may creep into our lives such as not praying, criticizing church leaders, not paying our tithing or going to church, or not shaving today (or any other dress, grooming or honor code violation) with the excuse that “just this once” won’t hurt anything. Clayton Christensen, in his book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” says “Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.” (Christensen, p. 189)
We all have little things in our lives that if left unattended can have a devastating impact on our eternal progression. Fortunately for each of us, the atonement of our Savior provides a way for us to rid ourselves of those small things and continue to grasp or return to the iron rod. The Holy Ghost, when needed, can help us to make those small one degree changes that will keep us on course towards eternal life and exaltation.
Next example: This is my granddaughter Elli. Her smile can light up a room! She was baptized last month. She learned at a very early age how to use the phone to entice her grandmother to participate in personal “play dates” just for her. She regularly draws pictures of hearts with little messages expressing her love for others. The week before her baptism, she called me and asked, “Grandpa, will you be a witness for my baptism?” I learned later that she had called others as well to participate on her baptismal program. Small gestures, huge impact! Twenty years ago, I received a letter from my son, Ryan, Elli’s father, while he was serving on his mission. I carried Ryan’s letter with me everywhere for many years. I won’t share what’s in the letter because it is very personal, but in the letter he expressed gratitude for the influence I had had on him. However small that influence might have been, I have seen it magnified and multiplied many times over in his own influence in his children’s lives. You may not think you are having any impact on others, but think again!
My favorite all time movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life!” and I see a smile from my daughter from here. Even though it’s old and a little corny, my daughter and I have made watching it a Christmas tradition for many years. I have been known to include the question “what is my favorite all-time movie and why?” as a bonus question on quizzes at times (the important part of that question is “why?”). This movie illustrates just how much impact one person can have for good in the lives of others—each one of you is far more important in the lives of others than you realize!
Little things: a smile, a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, or an expression of gratitude; each can have a remarkable, positive influence on the lives of others. I wasn’t blessed with a natural smile on my face, so it takes extra effort for me to even appear to smile (my children often accuse me of giving them “the look”, even though I am happy inside—I think it’s this little crease on my forehead that does it). I relate a lot to Mormon, who at the age of ten was told by Ammaron, “I perceive that thou art a sober child” (Mormon 1:2). So please know that I am smiling inside even when it may not appear that way. I’m really just a big teddy bear with a crooked smile that doesn’t always turn up on the corners.
It is an incredible opportunity and blessing for me to work with you students, many of whom have significant challenges in your lives. A number of years ago, I received a letter from a student that had a huge impact on my life. In her letter, she described a conversation we had had, and thanked me for seeing in her the potential that she did not see in herself. If I can give any of you even a small ray of hope, or the assurance that Heavenly Father loves you and hears and answers your prayers, then I know I have accomplished something worthwhile.
One last example: This is a depiction of Joseph Smith’s first vision. Think for just a moment of the impact of that single prayer on your own life. Look around at those who surround you here. Our very being here today is a result of that one prayer. Your very being here today also in accumulation of the many small decisions you made, the prayers you offered, the prayers others offered on your behalf and listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It is not by consequence, but by divine design.
Your prayers may seem a small thing to you, but be assured that they are not to Heavenly Father. Even though we may never experience glorious or miraculous visions from our prayers, it is my testimony to you that God hears and answers even our most simple, humble prayers. I have witnessed this countless times in my own life regarding even the most basic things. The Holy Ghost is a most precious gift given to us because our Heavenly Father wants us to return to Him. Just as a microscopic bacteria can weaken us to the point that it takes our life, or a small unrepented act can lead us to apostasy, so can a simple prayer and listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost lead us back. May we listen and heed those ever so quiet promptings that will lead us to correct our course and hold fast to that iron rod, that we may reach the tree of life. As we sang in the opening hymn, may we “do what is right” and “let the consequence follow” (Hymns) I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen