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President J. Lawrence Richards

Lessons from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Thursday this week will be the 114th anniversary of the date when L. Frank Baum published a marvelous and enduring children’s fantasy book entitled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  It is the story of Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto.  She lived in the state of Kansas.  Because of a terrible storm Dorothy and Toto were swept away in a tornado and came to rest in the mystical Land of Oz.

          How many of you are familiar with this story either because you read the book or have seen the famous movie?  There are great lessons for life in this story and I invite you to listen for the Spirit’s whisper to know what principles in this story apply to you.  If you listen carefully and ask Heaven to enlighten your mind, you will gain insight today which will be helpful and important to your success this semester.  I am just the storyteller – today the Spirit must be your teacher.  Are you ready?

          The rest of the story is the tale of Dorothy’s encounters along with three traveling companions as they follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City.  There Dorothy hoped to find the Wizard of Oz who could fulfill her wish to get home to Kansas.  To assist in her journey to the Emerald City, she is given a pair of silver slippers to wear.  In the famous movie version, the slippers are ruby red.

Her traveling companions consisted of a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodman, and a Lion.  Each had a need they believed the Wizard of Oz could fulfill.  All three felt they lacked a vital element that impeded their success. They just did not feel whole and complete.  Their experiences up to this point in life and their own observations about themselves convinced them they were lacking in some material way. Therefore, they viewed themselves as not being fully capable of doing what scarecrows, tin woodmen, and lions were created to do. 

          The Scarecrow thought he was not smart because he had no brain.  Only straw filled his head.  The Tin Woodman could neither see nor feel his heart and therefore thought he did not have one.  The Lion was without courage or so his previous experiences had convinced him.

          In reality, what they thought they lacked they really possessed.  They just didn’t know it.  It took new experiences, some time, and a few challenging trials to bring to the forefront the very thing they thought they did not have. 

          In short, it was in the journey to the Emerald City, sticking to the yellow brick road, and successfully confronting the challenges and obstacles along the way that allowed the development of that which they thought they lacked.  They needed a challenge.  They needed to be pushed beyond their comfort zone.  They needed to be on a path that would provide those, sometimes very scary, developmental experiences. 

Their personal development would not have happened without a desire to improve; the faith to get on the path leading to that improvement, and the diligence to stay focused on what they wanted most when faced with opposition.  They also needed a good dose of patience and a dash of long-suffering to see the journey through to the end.[1]

          Let’s look at each character and see how their experiences while traveling to the Emerald City helped them get what they desired most.

          The Scarecrow believed he had no brains yet came up with several unique solutions to challenges faced in their journey.  His knowledge expanded with each new challenging encounter.  And with it came wisdom and the ability to judge rightly.  For example, at one point in their journey Dorothy became hungry and saw some tempting apples on a tree.  She wanted to eat one.  Here is what the Scarecrow said to her:  “Come along, Dorothy. You don't want any of those apples.”  The apple tree responded, “Are you hinting my apples aren't what they ought to be?”  “Oh, no.” said the Scarecrow, “It's just that she doesn't like little green worms!”  The Scarecrow knew more than he thought.  Though his knowledge was not complete, he had spent time in the fields and orchards and those experiences had taught him something.  He knew what was really in those appealing red apples.  His knowledge gave him the wisdom to know those apples should be avoided no matter how appetizing they appeared.

          Part of having a brain, being intelligent, and well educated, is having the wisdom to know where you are personally vulnerable and then avoiding anything that gets you near that vulnerability.  The Scarecrow makes this comment to others regarding his personal vulnerability: “Witch? Hmph, I'm not afraid of a witch. I'm not afraid of anything - except a lighted match.”  I invite you to ask yourself these questions: “On what issues am I most vulnerable?  Do I know how to avoid the ‘lighted matches’ in my life?” “Am I wise enough and strong enough to do so?”

          The Tin Woodman believed he had no heart yet with great compassion responds with tears when difficult things happen to others along the way.

The Lion believed he lacked courage.  At one point he confessed: “You’re right, I am a coward!  I haven’t any courage at all.  I even scare myself.”  From that starting point he grew in confidence and courage as the little group of travelers encountered their uniquely designed and tailored challenges.

          But it is in Dorothy’s personal story that we find the richest application of gospel principles.  Dorothy’sgreatest desire was to get back home to Kansas.  Her whole purpose for following the yellow brick road was to get to the Emerald City and learn how to get back home by doing what was required of her.

          What she did not realize was that the gift she was given when she first arrived in the Land of Oz was the key for getting home.  It was the pair of slippers on her feet.  They were magical because they allowed the wearer to travel anywhere.  Dorothy could go home by simply clicking her heels together three times and saying the words: “There is no place like home.”  She had the slippers all the time but did not know their power or how to use them to achieve her great desire.

          Where we lack magic slippers to carry us back to our heavenly home, we have the gift of covenants and promises from the very God of Heaven.  Where Dorothy and her traveling companions had a winding yellow brick road, we a straight and narrow path.  Where Dorothy had her sites on Kansas, we have sites on celestial glory and eternal family ties.

The story of these four travelers is a story of worthy desires thwarted by self-doubt, unproductive self-talk, and feelings of inadequacy.  These self-limiting ideas had become barriers to the growth and development of Dorothy’s traveling companions.  This is a story about gifts possessed but not discovered and therefore not used to help reach desired goals. It is a story about the value of life’s experiences which help us grow. Yes, the story is a children’s tale.  However the message and themes apply to each of us.

The good news is that these self-limiting thoughts and resulting behaviors changed with new experiences.  There is a replicable pattern for us in this tale.  New experiences create new beliefs and attitudes.  New beliefs and attitudes lead to new behaviors and actions.  New behaviors and actions lead to new results.  So if you desire different results in your life, start this semester and create for yourself new experiences.  The formula is just that simple.

Other aspects of this story apply to the College as a community of saints[2] as we travel the road of this semester together.  Consider these comparisons between the characters in the Wizard of Oz and you.

1.    They and you have a desire to improve.

2.    They and you want to obtain something you do not have in order to better yourselves.

3.    They discovered and you will too gifts, talents, and strengths where you might have only seen a weakness or a flaw.

4.    They and you experience common trials in order to develop those gifts and talents into strengths to be used to lift and influence your families, your communities, and the Lord’s Church - for such is the lot of life. It is what we came here for.

5.    As they and you sacrifice for others undiscovered gifts, talents, and strengths will emerge.

6.    Like Dorothy, you have an ultimate goal and have set your feet on a specific path to get there.

7.    Like these four travelers you will achieve your righteous desired goal as long as you follow the path laid out before you, and successfully meet the challenges along the way,minimizing the detours you are tempted to take.

Therefore, to some degree, each of us has a little Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, or the Lion inside of us. I invite you to cast away your self-doubts, and self-limiting thoughts.  Cast away any low expectations you might have for yourself and remember the power inherent in you because of who you are and whose you are, the eternal blessings that are yours because you are of Abraham’s seed, and the enabling power of the Atonement and its accompanying grace to lay hold upon things you would not be able to if left solely to your efforts.[3]  The Savior himself declared, “The power is in [you[, wherein [you] are an agent unto [yourself].  And inasmuch as [you] do good [you] shall in nowise lose [your] reward.”[4]

          You are invited to strengthen your mind by expanding the possibilities you see for yourself.  I invite you to be led by the Spirit who will speak to your heart as well as your mind.[5]  I invite you to be courageous in the pursuit of uplifting things which will prepare you for the mission which God has commissioned you to perform here upon the earth.[6]

          It was on the journey to the Emerald City, the Scarecrow’s mind was enlightened.  The Lion’s hope in what he could do was elevated.  The Tin Woodman’s heart was found and by his deeds his soul ennobled.  As a result they each gained a prize.  The Scarecrow became the ruler of the Emerald City.  The Tin Woodman became the ruler over a people liberated by the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West.  And of course the Lion became the King of the Forest. 

But what about you?  What is your reward for the trials of life successfully encountered on your straight and narrow path?  Listen to the voice of the Lord.  “For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments … and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.  For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand. Remember this, which I tell you before, that you may lay it to heart, and receive that which is to follow. Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you—that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come.”[7]

          So in the end, if you read this tale of Dorothy and her friends closely and ponder deeply, you will find additional personal insights for this unique season in your life.  Just one more example:  Because the little group traveled the road together, they taught each other as they supported each other through common experiences.  Their tribulation begat patience; patience begat experience, and experience begat hope.[8] As a result, they each grew in knowledge, heart, and courage. When knowledge, heart and courage, meet a soul is ennobled and there is meaningful personal growth.

          I invite you to accept President Gordon B. Hinckley’s challenge to step up your game a little bit this semester. My testimony, blessing, and prayer for you is that of President Hinckley’s.  Listen with your heart in the spirit of personal application as I conclude with President Hinckley’s words.

“I challenge every one of you who can hear me to rise to the divinity within you. Do we really realize what it means to be a child of God, to have within us something of the divine nature?

          I believe with all my heart that the Latter-day Saints, generally speaking, are good people. If we live by the principles of the gospel, we must be good people, for we will be generous and kind, thoughtful and tolerant, helpful and outreaching to those in distress. We can either subdue the divine nature and hide it so that it finds no expression in our lives, or we can bring it to the front and let it shine through all that we do.

          There is room for improvement in every life. Regardless of our occupations, regardless of our circumstances, we can improve ourselves and while so doing have an effect on the lives of those about us….

          We can lower our voices a few decibels. We can return good for evil. We can smile when anger might be so much easier. We can exercise self-control and self-discipline and dismiss any affront levied against us.

          Let us be a happy people. The Lord’s plan is a plan of happiness. The way will be lighter, the worries will be fewer, the confrontations will be less difficult if we cultivate a spirit of happiness….

          There is too much of criticism and faultfinding with anger and raised voices.  

          God bless you, my beloved associates. May a spirit of peace and love attend you wherever you may be. May there be harmony in your lives.  …Be smart, be clean, be true, be grateful, be humble, be prayerful. May you kneel in prayer before the Almighty with thanksgiving unto Him for His bounteous blessings. May you then stand on your feet and go forward as sons and daughters of God to bring to pass His eternal purposes, each in your own way, is my humble prayer as I leave my love and blessing with you, in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.”[9]


[1] Alma 32:41,43

[2] Ephesians 2:19

[3] See Bible Dictionary - Grace

[4] D&C 58:28

[5] D&C 8:2

[6] D&C 88:78-80; 1 Chronicles 19:13; Psalms 27:14

[7] D&C 58:3-6

[8] Romans 5:3-4

[9] President Gordon B. Hinckley “Each a Better Person” General Conference Oct. 2002


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