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Begin with the End in Mind

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Florence Chadwick was a record-breaking, long-distance, open-water swimmer.

Open-water swimming is a grueling and often dangerous sport. Ms. Chadwick set out to be the first woman to swim the 22 miles from Catalina Island to the California coast. She was already recognized as the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. Ardeth G. Kapp, former Young Women General President of the Church, tells the rest of the story this way:

The day she made the attempt, the California coastline was obscured in dense fog. Her mother and her trainer were at her side in a boat, warding off sharks several times with rifles and encouraging her along. After fifteen hours, she asked to be taken out of the water, but her problem wasn’t so much fatigue as it was the bone-chilling cold of the ocean. Though she knew she must be near land, all she could see when she looked toward the shoreline was the thick fog. She stayed with it for a while longer, but near the sixteen-hour mark she was finally lifted, exhausted and freezing, into the boat. It turned out she had given up only half a mile from her goal. ‘Look, I’m not excusing myself,’ she told one reporter, ‘but if I could have just seen land I might have made it.’ [1]

Two months later, she tried again. She encountered the same thick fog, but this time she persevered and accomplished her goal. What was the difference? Well, she said that, while she swam, she kept a mental image of the shoreline in her mind. [2] In other words, the thing that made the difference was that she kept the end in mind.

President Russell M. Nelson, in his first public address [3] as president and prophet, and again in his most recent general conference talk, “Think Celestial!,” [4] encouraged us to begin with the end in mind. Interestingly, going back four decades, then-Elder Nelson, in his first message to university students as a recently-called Apostle, delivered a talk entitled, “Begin with the End in Mind.” [5] We will be wise to pay close attention to what prophets and apostles teach with repetition.

Our mission here at BYU-Idaho is to develop disciples of Jesus Christ who are leaders in their homes, the Church, and their communities. So today, I wish to talk about how the concept of beginning with the end in mind applies to being both a leader and a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Leadership

At its core, beginning with the end in mind is about having a vision, a clear understanding of where you want to go or what you want to accomplish. Consider the pattern found in the account of the Creation: For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” [6]

Before the work of the physical Creation began, there was a spiritual creation, or a vision of what was to be accomplished.

Beginning with the end in mind, or having a vision, is a prerequisite for personal leadership (or self-mastery) as well as for leading in your homes, the Church, and your communities. Vision will provide the direction as well as the motivation to reach your full potential.

I invite you to participate in a thought experiment with me.

Imagine that you find yourself in a rowboat in the middle of a calm ocean, with no sign of land in any direction. You look north, south, east, and west and see no evidence of life or land. Question: how fast would you row that boat? Why? Now imagine that in one direction, in the distance, you see some land. How fast and how hard would you row then? What’s the difference? [7]

An oft-quoted proverb teaches us that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” [8] Why do we perish without a vision? Because without a vision, we either stop rowing the boat or row in directions that take us to unintended places with unintended consequences.

Great leaders have a clear vision of the end of any endeavor—the potential of what can be accomplished. In other words, they understand what they want to accomplish. There are many other things that great leaders do, but it all begins with a vision of the end. Without that vision, other things are of little consequence and can, in fact, distract and misdirect one’s journey.

President Thomas S. Monson taught this principle in a way some of you will recognize:

Most of you are familiar with Alice, in Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You will remember that she comes to a crossroads with two paths before her, each stretching onward but in opposite directions. As she contemplates which way to turn, she is confronted by the Cheshire Cat, of whom Alice asks, “Which path shall I follow?”

The cat answers, “That depends where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take.”

President Monson then emphasized, “Unlike Alice, we know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life leads to our destination in the next life.” [9]

Before we talk about that destination in the next life, let me highlight some worthy milestones along the way in this life. We know by prophecy that "the day will come that [your] capacity to influence people around you for good will have you singled out as one of the great leaders in whatever place you’re in.” [10]

With that sacred aspiration in mind, may I invite you to begin with this end in mind? Be thoughtful and intentional now about creating a vision of what being a leader in your home looks like. How will you treat those in your home? What kind of spouse do you want to be? What kind of parent? When it comes to leading in the Church, irrespective of calling, how can you lead in the cause to gather Israel? How can you do that on this side of the veil? What can you do to gather Israel on the other side of the veil? Ask those same questions about being a leader in your communities, your workplace, and all your other interactions with people.

Discipleship

President Russell M. Nelson and prophets of old have encouraged us to be mindful of our ultimate destination in the next life. In this last conference, President Nelson said,

[Beginning with the end in mind] means making the celestial kingdom your eternal goal and then carefully considering where each of your decisions while here on earth will place you in the next world.

Alma asked, “Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality . . . to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?” [11]

Mormon lamented, “And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.” [12]

Beginning with the ultimate end in mind, the judgment bar and the celestial kingdom, can help us in our journey of discipleship. It can give us perspective in the midst of our trials and increase our resolve in the face of our temptations.

Sister Meredith and I were recently on a Church assignment getting acquainted with the stake presidency. One of the counselors mentioned that he was a baseball fan and was particularly passionate about the LA Dodgers.

He told us that he recorded every Dodgers game but did not watch the games while they were being played. Once a game concluded, he checked the score. If the Dodgers won, he watched the recording of the game. However, if the Dodgers lost, he deleted the recording. Then he said, “So if the Dodgers give up a three-run home run in the fourth inning, I don’t fret, because I know that in the end, they win all the games that I watch.”

You are going to have some difficult innings in life. That is part of the test of mortality. But Christ suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind so that He could succor us in our time of infirmity, even in our most desperate and hopeless times. [13] In those times, you may feel that life, or part of it anyway, is unfair.

Elder Renlund reminds us that, in the end, all will be well:

In the eternities, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will resolve all unfairness. . . . For those who come unto Him, a crown of beauty will replace the ashes of mourning; joy and gladness will replace grief and sorrow; appreciation and celebration will replace discouragement and despair. Your faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will be rewarded more than you can imagine. [14]

So, when you find yourself in a difficult inning, when things don’t seem to be going your way, don’t forget how the game ends for those who come unto Jesus Christ and who strive to become His disciples. I pray that that assurance will renew your strength and provide succor in your time of need.

Beginning with the end can also give us valuable perspective in the midst of temptations. When I turned 15 years old, my father taught me to drive a car. He took me to a long, straight, two-lane road on the outskirts of my hometown in Tennessee. He pulled the car over onto the shoulder and let me get in the driver’s seat. He instructed me to look in my mirrors for oncoming cars and then to ease out onto the road. I excitedly followed his coaching and drove with what I thought was great care and caution. That is until he said, “Son, pull the car over. You’re making me nauseous. You are swerving all over the road. What are you looking at?”

With some exasperation, I answered, “I’m looking at the road.”

Then he said, “I’m watching your eyes, and you are looking only at what is right in front of the hood of the car. If you look only at what is directly in front of you, you will never drive straight.” Then he emphasized, “Keep your eyes down the road, on where you want to go. That will help you drive straight.”

As we travel on the road of our lives, one reason we may swerve or veer from the straight and narrow path is that we get too myopic and just look at what is immediately in front of us. We will make better choices if we lift our eyes up regularly to ensure we are headed in the right direction. Satan often tries to distract us from what we want most (think of those eternal blessings) and trade them for things that are enticing and that we feel we must have in any given moment.

The Old Testament story of Esau and Jacob is a cautionary tale for all of us. Esau and Jacob were fraternal twins but very different in virtually every way. Esau focused more on the things of the world, while Jacob was more spiritually minded. Because Esau was born first, he had rightful claim to his father’s birthright. But one day, after hunting, Esau returned home extremely hungry. He asked Jacob for some pottage. Jacob agreed, but for a price: his brother’s birthright. You know how the story ends. Esau gave up his birthright, and all for a mess of pottage. [15]

President Nelson counseled, “When you make choices, I invite you to take the long view—an eternal view.” He went on to say,

Far too many people live as though this life is all there is. However, your choices today will determine three things: where you will live throughout all eternity, the kind of body with which you will be resurrected, and those with whom you will live forever. So, think celestial. [16]

Many years ago, President Nelson gave the following counsel to the students at BYU that includes a thought-provoking question. He said, “In your important race [of life], I would plead for you to begin with the end in mind. To assist you in defining that end, I would ask you this simple question: What would you like said about you at your funeral?” [17] Let that question settle on your mind for just a little bit.

One writer observed that there are two sets of virtues we pursue in life, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are those that further your career and temporal pursuits: your grades, your degree, your work experience. The eulogy virtues are those that are talked about at your funeral. Were you kind and encouraging to others, were you selfless with your time and resources, did you have faith and build faith in others? [18]

To be clear, we want you to leave BYU-Idaho with a great résumé that will prepare you for your life’s work. But, more importantly, we hope that you will become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ. We hope that you will develop those eulogy virtues to prepare you for your eternal destiny. We hope and pray that that end, your eternal destiny, will give you hope and guide your choices in this life.

President Henry B. Eyring taught, “The way is a simple one, clearly marked. It is to keep our eyes and hearts fixed on that which is unchangeable. We must have an eye of faith fixed on eternal life. That life, the greatest of all the gifts of God, is to live in glory forever in families in the presence of our loving Heavenly Father. It takes a focused eye.” [19]

I add my witness of a loving Heavenly Father, who not only wants us to find happiness and joy in this life, but most importantly, wants us to return to live with Him someday, sealed for eternity with those that we love the most. That is the end that we must keep in mind. He made a plan to accomplish that end. At the center of that plan is Jesus Christ. I witness of Him. He is our Savior and Redeemer, the Only Begotten Son, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. And as we ponder this prophetic principle of beginning with the end in mind, may we also remember that Jesus is the High Priest of good things to come. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Notes

[1] Ardeth Greene Kapp, Lead, Guide, and Walk Beside, (Salt Lake City, UT: Shadow Mountain, 1998), 24–25.

[2] “Florence Chadwick,” Wikipedia, May 18, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Chadwick.

[3] R. Scott Lloyd, “President Russell M. Nelson gives first address to members as the 17th President of the Church, selects counselors,” Church News, Jan. 16, 2018.

[4] Russell M. Nelson, “Think Celestial!,” Liahona, November 2023.

[5] Russell M. Nelson, “Begin with the End in Mind,” BYU Speeches, Sept. 30, 1984.

[6] Moses 3:5.

[7] Attributed to Lynn Robbins.

[8] Proverbs 29:18.

[9] Thomas S. Monson, “Choices,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2016.

[10] Henry B. Eyring, “A Steady, Upward Course,” BYU-Idaho Devotional, Sept. 18, 2001.

[11] Alma 5:15.

[12] Mormon 3:22.

[13] See Alma 7:11–13.

[14] Dale G. Renlund, “Infuriating Unfairness,” Liahona, May 2021.

[15] See Genesis 25:30–34.

[16] Nelson, “Think Celestial!.”

[17] Nelson, “Begin with the End in Mind.”

[18] See David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York City: Random House, 2015), XI.

[19] Eyring, “A Steady, Upward Course.”