Mom used to say, “You won’t get far with that attitude.” And she was right.
Sometimes, when I pray, I think it’s hard to come up with something to say that doesn’t sound like last night’s prayer. The strange thing is that when I call my daughter, it seems like we never run out of thing to talk about. And it seems like twenty dollars is a lot of money when I am about to pay tithing, but such a small amount when I want to shop. Two hours seems like such a long time when I am trying to sit still and focus on conference, but it seems to go by pretty quick when I am at a good movie.
However, I have learned something from these kinds of seeming contradictions. I’ve discovered that it is my attitude at the beginning of anything I am about to do that decides what kind of an experience I am going to have.
Much about having and maintaining a good attitude comes from lessons I learned from missionaries and the people they taught. My sister and I shared a bedroom when we were children because the missionaries lived in our home. It was a happy time and I remember many instances in daily living when those young men set wonderful examples for us. The faithful missionaries, (those who came for the right reason) taught me that when I truly give …of my own free will… that kind of giving is really the only personal thing we have to place on God’s altar.
“The many other things we ‘give’ are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual will be swallowed up in God’s will then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”
-Neal A. Maxwell
One missionary who made a big impression on my young mind was Elder Barber. He was not one of the missionaries who lived in our home, although he came often for dinner. One afternoon, my mother said, “Elder, I see that you have torn your pants. Bring those over tomorrow and let me mend them for you.”
Elder Barber tried to decline, but my mother pressed him until he finally said, “Sister Nelson, these are the only pants I have. I can’t leave them with you.” My mother did not make a big deal out of it…she had him go wait in the bedroom while she fixed the pants. But over the next little while we learned that as a boy, his father had left him and his large family. His mother had raised them all alone. When it came time for his mission, they could only afford to purchase one suit. He had nothing else. Still, he did not let this ‘wardrobe malfunction’ stop him. He went on his mission.
One missionary who just returned home not long ago from a mission to Mexico wrote this in a letter to his father: “… Hurricane Alex hit Wednesday and it stayed until yesterday. My companion and I survived crossing rivers of death. …streets that aren’t paved…when it rains they become rivers. Our leaders said that since we couldn’t do anything about the water, we could stay in the house if we felt like we couldn’t work. But we felt pretty bad about staying in the house so we went out.
“First we crossed a huge river of water just to go to eat. We were able to help a woman and man get to their house with the food they had purchased. The water was up to our waist. Luckily it didn’t have a lot of strength. We walked all day Thursday just looking for people to help because no one would open the door. When we got home, we were soaked. We put our clothes next to the fan and went to sleep. When we woke, the clothes …and our shoes… were still wet. We figured they would be wet by the end of the day anyway, so we put them on and went to work. The hurricane hit even harder on Friday. We could only see about 5 feet in front of us. The wind and the rain were horrible. We looked for people to help again. We offered a lot of service. We cleaned two flooded houses and broke a sidewalk and gutter with a pickaxe so that another house wouldn’t flood.
“Friday night we had family home evening with a recent convert and by then the rain had slowed down a little and we thought it would pass. By the time we started to leave, it started up again and it rained for an hour. We were walking the whole time and when we got about 2 miles from our house we came across a river that we couldn’t cross for the strength of it. About three times we almost got sucked under in the current. Of course, everything we had was wet…books, book bags, coats, everything. We felt so weighted down, so we said a little prayer that we could have some help crossing and the rain slowed down and the river lowered just enough that we could cross. We found out right before we crossed that a dad and 2 kids were separated, so we hauled the 2 kids across giving them piggybacks.
“It was all pretty intense, but I learned that our Father in Heaven is always there to hear and answer our prayers.”
This man taught two important things in his letter:
1) It is our attitude toward life that will determines life’s attitude toward us. He might have chosen an easy day at his apartment reading his scriptures and resting up. Instead, he decided to look for ways to put those scripture teachings to work. He looked for ways to give service.
2) Part of a good attitude is to look for the best in every new situation. Your mind can only hold one thought at a time. So instead of holding on to negative thoughts, we should learn to cultivate positive thoughts. To be successful, a person must behave in a manner that will allow those results to truly come to pass. He might have wished and prayed every night for opportunities to teach. He might have prayed every night to make a difference in someone’s life. But he knew that he had to go outside of his comfort zone to find the people who needed him. They were not going to come into his apartment.
Sometimes we have to really go out of our way to maintain a good attitude. I can usually justify why I haven’t done my visiting teaching or anything else that is a little inconvenient.
Stephen L. Richards, who was a counselor to David O. McKay told about something that might have changed his attitude if he had let it. He said that on his wedding day, he reserved a horse drawn carriage to take him and his bride from the temple to their new home.
“It was the first hack I had ever hired.” He said. “I was quite proud to think I could get it to take my wife home after the marriage.”
When Brother Richards greeted his bride at the temple gate, he found she was accompanied by an elderly woman she’d met in the temple. His new wife said,” This sister lives two or three miles out on our way and I thought we could take her home.”
Fifty years later, President Richards said, “I don’t remember whether she sat between us or not.” His disappointment in what he had planned turned into a humorous memory.
In 1996, there were a group of Cambodian immigrants who lived near Buenos Aires, Argentina. One of these families was being taught the law of fasting. The missionary explained it to the family like this: “Fasting is a 24 hour period in which we do not eat or drink anything, putting our bodies in submission to our spirits. We use the time to read the scriptures, pray and engage in other uplifting activities, culminating in attending fast and testimony meeting, where we then give to the bishop of our ward the monetary equivalent of the food from which we had abstained in order that he may distribute it among the poor and needy.
After this explanation, the missionaries suggested that because the following Sunday was Fast Sunday, the family might like to try fasting. The father agreed and the missionaries left the home. The following Monday evening, the elders returned to give another discussion. They asked for a report on the family’s experience with fasting. The father rather apologetically explained that they had tried and would surely try again.
He said, “We began our fast in the afternoon with a prayer; followed by scripture reading and a discussion. We continued in this way until early the following morning. I regret to say that some of the younger children fell asleep during the night. We were very tired but showered in the morning and prepared to go to church where our spirits were revived and filled with the beautiful testimonies that were given. Perhaps next time we’ll do better, and the children will be able to stay awake with us all night.
The missionaries were astonished! You mean you didn’t go to sleep during the whole 24-hour period? “NO replied the father. “You didn’t mention sleeping.”
Such a beautiful lesson about enthusiasm for hearing and trying out new ideas for finding truth. This positive, enthusiastic attitude is contagious. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek words ‘en Theos.’