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Doug McDougal

We Should Be Better

Thank you so very much. Thank you for your kind words, Brother Shriner. I’m so grateful to be here with you wonderful young men and young women today. Let me tell you, when I look out across this group—Brother Kusch, I know you’ve been here for a while, but can I tell you what I see? I see students who have left their homes, their families, their countries, and even their continents. I see those who work full time and go to school full time. I see those here that I know that work full time and have a part-time job, and still come to school. I see those who work and go to school and still make time to serve in the temple, to do genealogy, and to volunteer with other service groups. You amaze me, students.

I see those who Skype with their families at night because they are thousands of miles away, and they want to be able to have family scripture study with them. I see those I know who are learning, who come from old ways of life, who have struggled and known hardship, and who are here to rebuild their lives—but not without tears and trials.

I see those who have been the first in their families to accept the gospel, who have found for themselves the truth—who, against all odds, have found a “pearl of great price.”[1] I see those who were originally unsure if they could succeed here at school, but who are working hard and are starting to discover for themselves that they really have that ability. I even see a few out there who still owe me homework.

Now, know that we love you and we pray for you. We pray for your academics, but more importantly, we pray for your eternal success. I can only believe that our Heavenly Father is very proud of you and all the sacrifices that you are making to be a better, more prepared you.

President Richards shared with me a personal story that he has agreed to allow me to share with you today. You should know that I think that President Richards is one of the finest men I know, almost without blemish. During his time here as president, he had the opportunity to go to the office of President Packer. As he waited, he spoke with the secretary to President Packer. One of the topics that they discussed was President Richards’ grandfather, who was Elder LeGrand Richards. For those of you who don’t know, Elder LeGrand Richards was a very beloved apostle.

Upon entering President Packer’s office, his secretary said to President Packer, “Do you know who President Richards’ grandfather was?”

And President Packer said, “Yes,” and nodding towards President Richards, said, “And he ought to be a better man.”

Well, that shocked me because I know of President Richards’ great faith and his extreme obedience. How could President Packer say that? Then I thought about my own father. Now, you should know that I had a great father, a man that lost his own parents when he was a young boy in Wisconsin. He was a man who I never saw make a selfish decision in all the years I knew him. Even as an adult, I lived across the street from him, and I never saw him even have a harsh word with his spouse. A man who was financially self-made by hard work, who loved his family and the gospel above all else, a mission president, a sealer, and ordained patriarch—but more importantly, if there was ever any shadow of doubt in that man, ever a thought of unkindness, I never saw it.

These words from President Packer hit me hard because I knew who my father was, and I should be a better man. And then the thought came that has stayed with me ever since: that you and I both know who our Father is, and we should be better men and women. If we recognize from whom we have descended, our divine lineage, how can we accept the mediocrity with which we sometimes act? I should expect more from myself.

Recently, an apostle discussing our efforts said that the Lord is easily pleased with our efforts but hard to satisfy.[2] While I am sure that God is pleased with our efforts, we must continue to progress if, in the end, we would have Him satisfied. What is it, then, that we must do?

First, Joseph Smith said we can’t keep the commandments unless we know them.[3] When I was a young boy, my parents took me to Mexico. And there I saw, for the first time, people parasailing. It was pretty neat. This was back in the 80s, and it was right when the sport was developing.

We didn’t have the money to go parasailing, but at least I knew about it. So when we got back, my cousins and I went out to what is now Eagle Mountain to the jump school there, and we bought an old, old parachute. Then we decided that we would take it down to Yuba Lake. First, we stopped by the farm to the Quonset shed out where the potato barn is, and we got the longest rope we could find—hundreds of feet long. And we tied it to the back of the boat, and we went up the beach as far as we could, and we tied it onto the old parachute that we got, tied on a harness with a crude knot. We didn’t exactly know how to fly it, so we had a little discussion about how we could get it into the air.

We put the 14-year-old—now, mind you, there were none of us over 16—but we put the 14-year-old in the boat, and we said, “Now, when we tell you, gun it as hard as you can, and this will work.” Well, I was kind of sure it would work, so I talked Craig into doing it instead—my cousin. Brian hit the gas, and it pulled Craig down the beach at ever-increasing speeds, and when he hit the water, he went right under the water just like a fishing lure.

By the time we got Craig up, he was almost drowned; not quite, but he sure didn’t want to do it again. So we talked Dain into it instead. I said, “Listen, Dain. This time it’s going to be different. We’ll hold the chute up.” Because the chute hadn’t inflated. “We’ll each hold the chute up on each side, and we’ll just leave Brian in the boat, and when he hits it, we’ll run down the beach with you.”

Brian hit the gas again, and we ran down the beach, and Craig let go of his side of the chute, but I didn’t let go of mine quick enough. So, the whole chute turned and took Dain sideways right into the bushes. I should tell you there was no permanent damage, but there was quite a bit of pain involved. Dain wasn’t about to try it again either.

But I still had this dream, so I hooked on this harness and I told those guys, “You hold the chute so it will fill up with air, and don’t let go until I yell. Hopefully, we’ll keep it straight.”

So, Brian hit the gas, we ran down the beach, I yelled let go, they let go, and the chute was partially inflated—enough that I didn’t go under the water but not enough that I could get off the top of the water. I was like one of those cartoon characters, running across the water until the chute filled up enough to take me up into the air. And it took me up and up and up. Pretty soon, I was looking straight down into the back of the boat, hundreds of feet in the air. That was pretty exciting. Success.

But then, as it was dragging it through the air, the problem with my theory was that a parachute is made for slow descent. It’s not made to be drug behind a boat like a parasail is. A parasail can take the wind; the parachute can’t. So as the parachute filled up with air, the front of it would buckle and then fill back up and pop it really hard. It would wake you up in the morning, okay?

After we realized that and we slowed the boat down a little bit, got it slowed down, life was pretty good. It was pretty neat for the first 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes. And then the thought finally occurred to me, we never discussed how to get down. We only discussed how to get up. So, now I’d got a 14-year-old driving around Yuba Lake, and around, and around, not knowing what to do. He decided that the beach wasn’t a good idea to start with, so let’s do it in the lake. He won’t get hurt when he hits the lake, right?

So, he shut off the boat, I came down. The problem is when I came down, there is still a parachute to come down on top of my head. The parachute, which was now wet, and all the cords that used to hold me up were now holding me down.

Brothers and sisters, it was a terrifying experience to be under the water with that over my head. Luckily, I had been on swim team, and I managed to get out from under it, but guess what? Nobody else wanted to do it.

A couple of years later, when I was on my mission, I got a call from my cousin and he said my aunt burned it. I was so frustrated; they burned the chute. I said, “Why?” And he said, “Well, we got this great idea. You know, we used to take the pickup truck and waterski down at the farm. It was really cool. We would just take the chute and put it behind the truck. That would work.” Until they broke Dain’s legs, and then they said, “No, it doesn’t work.” So, my aunt burned the chute.

Sometimes, it’s better to know the right way to do things, don’t you think? It would have been a much better experience if we would just simply have known how to do it. Brothers and sisters, we have been given so many ways to know how to do things.

Kirsten and George, would you come up here? We’re going to do a little experience. George, come on up here. George, do you feel like you have a lot of hot air today? Michelle, will you come help me? So, George, we only have a few minutes, so you’ve got to be kind of quick about this. I want you—I want to see how big George’s lungs are, okay? He’s going to blow this bag up as much as he can with five breaths, okay? He’s going to blow it up like a balloon. Take big breaths, and blow it up like a balloon, will you? One, two—come on, bigger than that. Let’s help him out a little bit. Let’s open this up here—three, four, five. Okay, hold on. This isn’t working, George [He can’t inflate the balloon].

Something is wrong here. Let’s take it all out and try again, can we? Okay, this time you’ve got to blow it up big, okay? Come on now, big breaths. One, two, three—don’t pass out on me—four—you’ve got one more—five. Let’s see how we did here. We might have expected a little bit more from my friend here, but all right. Thanks, George. Go sit down.

All right. Kirsten, give it a try, will you? But you know what, we’re going to change it for Kirsten. We’re going to change the rules, George. Is that okay? We’re only going to give Kirsten one breath, and if she doesn’t beat you—if she doesn’t get more than you got in five breaths, in one breath—she fails her classes this semester. All right? Help her out, Michelle. Hold up that bag.

Okay, go ahead, give it a shot. [Laughter and applause] All right. Thank you, Kirsten. She passes. I’m glad. All right. Now, what do we know? This demonstrates the Bernoulli principle. The Bernoulli principle. Bernoulli was the guy that—it’s the same principle that makes an airplane fly. That is, when she blows the air in, it makes a low-pressure zone that sucks in air from around her. If she put her face right against the bag, it’s only filled with what you can blow out your lungs. But if you put it a little bit further away from you, that low pressure that is caused by the speed of the air going into the bag sucks in other air around with it. Pretty neat.

There are principles at play in this life that if we but know them and apply them, our efforts will go so much further. We can be more efficient in our time and our efforts if we will just pay attention to those principles.

Now, let’s identify what it is that will really bring us happiness. Joseph Smith, in an oft-quoted statement, said, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence.” However, we usually miss the caveat that follows: “and will be the end thereof, if”—you’ve got to love that word if— “we pursue the path that leads to it.”[4]

Just as we are taught in Doctrine and Covenants 130, the only way to obtain any blessing is by obedience to the law upon which it is set.[5] Now, just in case you were wondering what the path to happiness is, Joseph said, “And this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”[6]

Now just as an aside, let me tell you, as an attorney, I have had the opportunity to spend many hours in a courtroom. You might find it interesting that on Monday morning, the courts do roll call. In Ogden or West Valley, there is always a long line of men and women that come in in orange, who have been arrested over the weekend. They are brought into the courtroom in chains so that the judge can conduct a first hearing.

 If you sat and categorized the reasons that they are there, the vast majority would fall into two categories. You may think I have oversimplified it, but try it sometime. It really is the truth. Those two categories are: violations of the Word of Wisdom and violations of the law of chastity. These laws cannot be broken without corresponding unhappiness, just like any other commandment.

How should we proceed to find happiness? First, it falls to us to do some work. While life is meant to be experiential in nature, we have been given incredible resources to make sure we know His will. He has given us prophets, scriptures, parents, seminary and institutes, and most importantly, the Holy Spirit. We are not left to guess at it, like I was with the parachute, or poor George was with his bag.

Unfortunately, our lack of knowledge is not what usually keeps us from coming to God. We have those resources and can use them. Indeed, one of the themes that traverses the scriptures is that we can only please God by bending our will to His. That seems to be more of a problem.

In the Old Testament, we read the story that my children have heard way too many times—the story of Saul, the leader of Israel, who the prophet Samuel told to destroy everything of the Amalekites. When he returned, he brought with him the king and some of the best of the flocks for sacrifice. The prophet informed him that the Lord has greater happiness in obedience than in sacrifice, and the Lord rejected Saul from being king.[7]

We’re going to just kind of summarize this because we only have a few minutes left. This is Balaam. Balaam was a prophet in Midian. When the children of Israel started to come into the new land, the people there–the Moabites—were afraid. And they needed somebody to come and curse the Israelites. They tried to talk Balaam into it. They tried to bribe him. They tried to get him excited about it. And each time they would come, he would say, “I can’t go with you unless the Lord tells me I can go with you.”

But each time he says, “But wait . . . let me go ask, see if I can go.” Well, by the second time he asked, he should kind of know the answer, right? But because he has the same desires as you and I do, he has to keep going back and asking for more. Eventually, as he is going, the servant of the Lord is there to kill him to stop him from going to curse the children of Israel.[8]

Now, you think Shrek[9] has an exclusive on talking donkeys? No, Balaam’s donkey talks to him, and Balaam isn’t very quick to learn. He doesn’t learn one principle, and that is that we have to do it Heavenly Father’s way.

In the modern world, Joseph Smith and Martin Harris were guilty of a similar line of thinking. In June of 1828, after Joseph had dictated the 116 pages of the book of Lehi, Martin—who was funding the project—repeatedly asked if he could take the 116 pages to show his wife so she would get off his back. The answer was still no. Finally, the third time, they were given permission to do it but under strict covenants, which were broken. And you know the devastating consequences of losing the majority of the book of Lehi.[10]

As an attorney, I like the idea of making our best case. Maybe, if I do a really good job of preparing my own brief and presenting it in a really good way, then He—our Heavenly Father—will give me what I ask for. Maybe I can talk Him into it if I am just a little bit more eloquent.

However, this thinking is flawed. We should seek the will of our Father, not our own. The Bible Dictionary says, “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God.”[11] If it’s not to change His will but that we need the wills to become as one, whose will is it that needs to change? Prayer should be about changing our hearts and our minds.

When it comes to doing what the Lord wants instead of what I want, I unfortunately have some of my own stories. I will tell you what I’ve told few others because of my own embarrassment. The two greatest financial mistakes I’ve ever made in life, I knew better. I had prayed for getting the deal done for weeks. However, on the day that we were to sign, I knew it wasn’t a good idea. The feeling of the Spirit was subtle, but it was there. But the feeling of greed was there, and it was powerful.

I had a sense that it was not a good idea. I even half-heartedly tried to talk my partner out of doing the deal. However, in the end, the Lord let me have my own way. I heard the voice, and I didn’t listen, and it cost us millions of dollars. Why do we insist on doing such stupid things? Zig Ziglar said, “Some of us learn from other people’s mistakes and the rest of us have to be other people.”[12]

Each of us one day will stand before Christ to be judged. It will not be enough for me to say or for you to say that we knew him. James says in the New Testament, with a note of sarcasm, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”[13]

Remember that at that judgment day, we will be judged according to our deeds and our desires. Do we desire His will? Have we become like Christ, who was always doing the Father’s will? It would appear that even the atoning power was partially derived by His bending His will to His Father’s. Is it then so hard to believe that unless we bend our will to His, we “can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God”[14]?

One way to bend our will to our Father’s is by serving Him. When I was a boy, we had this wonderful opportunity to go hunting in southern Utah. My uncle owned this farm with his partner, named Jack. Jack was a character bigger than life. He was also the stake president in southern Utah. After a great weekend of hunting, on Sunday we went to priest’s quorum, and Jack, the stake president, comes into priests quorum. And he tells us, “Guess what, guys? You don’t need to do all these things that these guys are telling you. It’s okay if you don’t keep all these commandments because you know what? When I die, I’m going to become a god, and I’m going to build a duck-hunting world.” I thought, “Hey, this is pretty cool.”

And he said, “And if you guys don’t do what it takes to qualify, you can come carry my decoys and my ducks on my earth.” Well, it had its intended effect. It was very motivational. There was no way I was carrying his decoys for the rest of eternity.

The problem is, I learned an untrue principle. I labored under the false assumption that if I worked hard enough in life, that I would qualify to have others serve me in the next life. One day recently, I learned a higher truth. While reading in Doctrine and Covenants 76 on a totally unrelated topic, I read that those of the celestial kingdom would minister to those of the terrestrial.[15]

Wait, what was that? Even if I make it to the celestial kingdom, I’m going to be serving others? And then the truth dawned on me: all the service we give here is not to earn some great reward. A primary purpose of life on earth is to learn to live a celestial life of happiness like our Father’s.

God said, “Behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”[16] His work is His happiness and His glory. Brigham Young said that if you didn’t qualify for the celestial kingdom, to put you there wouldn’t make you happy anyways.[17] Those not in the celestial kingdom have never learned to live the life of happiness because they did not qualify for it. They didn’t learn to serve others.

Throughout the scriptures, we are admonished to serve others. Could it really be that all this service we are asked to do is to help us learn to live and enjoy a celestial life? Could the call of King Benjamin and President Monson really be a request to help us learn how to live a celestial life?

After I had struggled with this new idea, I decided that if it were really true, surely I ought to be able to find it in the teachings of the prophets. Then I found it. The following quote comes from a member of the First Presidency, given at General Conference. I guess I just hadn’t been ready for it when it was given.

President Marion G. Romney said,

By serving and lifting others…. we experience the only true and lasting happiness. Service is not something that we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which . . . life in the celestial kingdom is made.

“Knowing that service is what gives our Father in Heaven fulfillment, and knowing that we want to be where He is and as He is, why must we be commanded to serve one another? Oh, for the glorious day when these things all come naturally because of the purity of our hearts.[18]

Can you imagine how well prepared for celestial life our current prophet is? Do you have any doubts about how easily he will fall into the next life, where he can continue to minister to others?

In conclusion, this is a hibiscus flower. I have a tree in my yard that in the summer, looks something like this. It has a beautiful flower on it. It’s a great tree—not so great for Utah—but a great tree. It’s beautiful. When I was shopping a year later, I found a bush that has the same flower on it. And I thought, “How cool am I? I can put them both in the front yard, and they will match, and it will be beautiful.” And then I found out that it is the exact same bush. It is the same flower. It doesn’t match; it’s the same flower.

If you really want to be a tree, it will take a lot of work, especially at the beginning. You must constantly be pruning anything away from the trunk that will threaten to turn it back into a bush. My young friends, you can make your life what you want it to be, but it will take a lot of work, especially in the beginning. You must be pruning away those things that waste time. If you want to be more than you can even imagine, you will have to check your pride at the door and learn to live God’s rules, by the principles of happiness that He has handed down to us as commandments. Do not forget who you Father is, and do not accept mediocrity.

I testify that Christ “is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.”[19] It is only by and through our Savior, Jesus Christ, and in keeping His commandments that we can find His happiness and become like Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Matthew 13:46.

[2] George Macdonald, in Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Endure It Well,’” Apr. 1990 General Conference.

[3] See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 256.

[4] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 255–256.

[5] See D&C 130:21.

[6] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 255–256.

[7] See 1 Samuel 13.

[8] See Numbers 22.

[9] Shrek, DreamWorks Animation (2001).

[10] See D&C 3, 10.

[11] Bible Dictionary, “Prayer.”

[12] “Learning from Mistakes,” Ziglar, Oct. 10,2015,

[13] James 2:19–20.

[14] See 3 Nephi 11:37–38.

[15] See D&C 76:86–87.

[16] Moses 1:39.

[17] See Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 95.

[18] Marion G. Romney, “The Celestial Nature of Self-reliance,” Oct. 1982 General Conference.

[19] “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Ensign, Apr. 2000, pp. 2.


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