Our Savior often taught with parables. These short stories drew spiritual parallels with common tasks or activities to which people could relate. President Packer described a parable as, “….a true-to-life example used to teach a principle or a doctrine that is invisible or intangible.”(1) A recent true-to-life example that I experienced helped me better understand the purpose of life. This experience was stake youth pioneer trek. Every four years, our stake holds these treks, and several adults throughout the stake are asked to help in various capacities. For the most recent stake trek, my wife and I were asked to serve and go along. I felt I had a reasonable expectation of what the venture would be like, but what I didn’t realize is that, for me, this experience would turn into a true-life parable.
On the last night of trek our stake presidency held a fireside. When our stake president shared his thoughts, he mentioned that the next day we would be headed home. He described how we might be anxious and excited to get clean, sleep in our beds, and see our families, and how good all those things will be. Then, he commented that returning home to our Heavenly Father would feel a billion-million times better than that. At that moment, the parallels between youth pioneer trek and our Earthly experience flooded my mind. At that moment, trek, for me, turned into a parable. And the need for a direct purpose for life sunk into my heart. In other words, life really isn’t just an aimless passing of time without purpose or direction. There is purpose to why we are here, and there is sense to how our Earthly life has been established.
A broad summary of our trek experience could be described like this: We met early morning on the first day to depart to the church ranch where trek would take place. Once we arrived at the ranch, we parked our vehicles, gathered our families, filled our handcarts and set off for our first campsite. Each morning, we set off for a new campsite until finally on the last day we returned to our vehicles and drove home. Each day brought new experiences along the way, including spiritual experiences, physical hardship, pioneer games, meals, family and inter-family interactions, and tender moments and memories.
So, if I could write out a parable of our experience on youth pioneer trek it would probably end up something like the following (please note that the term “man” in the parable also could be interpreted as “woman” as well):
“The intent of life can be likened unto a man who, with his family, was asked by a Wiseman to leave the comforts of his current surroundings and travel in the wilderness only to return home in due time. If the man chose to travel, the Wiseman promised fulfilling opportunity and growth, and an increase in comfort upon returning home. But the man was hesitant, fearing the uncertainty of the wilderness and clinging to the current comforts of his home. Nevertheless, trusting the Wiseman, the man gathered his family and a few of his belongings and headed into the wilderness. Now, there was one appointed as a trail leader who was to lead the man during the time of travel. The trail leader explained that his path was not the easy one and that hardships would undoubtedly ensue, but ultimately he would show man the way back home. And so, while man traveled, the weather turned burdensome, shelters became difficult to construct, sores and blisters afflicted man’s skin, and irritating insects tormented man. Nevertheless, man remembered the promise of the Wiseman and chose to continue traveling with the trail leader that he may return home. Now, upon the conclusion of man’s travel in the wilderness, having experienced pain and joy, hardship and peace, and frustration and love, but also having followed the trail leader to the end, man returned home with an increase in stature, gladness in his heart for having chosen to travel, and with an abundant appreciation for the comforts that home provided.”
So, just like each of us was asked by our stake president to attend trek and were led by our trail boss to show us the way to return home, we were asked by our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to come to Earth and follow the prophet to return safely to our Heavenly home. During our time on Earth, along with the joys, would also come hardships, but the promise exists that if we will follow the prophet, we will experience fulfilling opportunity and growth, and an increased level of comfort is waiting for us once we return home to our Father in Heaven. In the end, we will be glad that we made the choice to travel.
Trek brought to mind the story of Lehi and his family: “And it came to pass that [Lehi] departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.”(2) Lehi was commanded to leave the comforts of his home and depart into the wilderness. I now have a greater appreciation for how hard that must have been for him and his family, but Lehi made the choice to travel. What a great example.
Now, there are some in the world who would suggest that there is no defining purpose to life and that there is no need for a purpose to life – that we are here to simply live then die with no continuation afterwards. But I disagree. In the parable of the trekker, we understand that there was a home that was left and returned to. In other words a starting point and a destination that are one in the same. But without the faith and belief that there is a home that we came from and are returning to then is one just left wandering aimlessly around the wilderness? Perhaps, so. And if one wanders in the wilderness, especially for too long, the odds of survival, I fear, are unfortunately slim. But, there is a purpose, and there is a destination, and there is no need to wander aimlessly.
On our youth trek, the kids in our family knew one speed for pulling the handcart – fast. I might even venture to say that if they entered their handcart in the Indy 500 they’d have a good chance of placing in the top three. But despite their frequent desires to go faster than that which the company was traveling, with a little guidance and understanding they ultimately knew that if they hurried pass the trail boss who was leading them, they risked eventually ending up lost. Similarly if they chose to fall too far behind they could also lose their way. This can be likened to the need to follow the prophet with a sense of exactness and perseverance knowing that he is setting the proper pace for us spiritually. Doing more or less than the prophet asks, can lead to us become spiritually lost. Our Savior taught this concept in relation to the doctrine of the Gospel while among the Nephites in the Americas following His resurrection: “And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine … is not built upon my rock.”(3) As much as the kids on trek wanted to set the pace of the handcarts, in the end, they knew it was better to let the trail boss do the pace setting.
As a final note, perhaps an obvious difference between our Earthy existence and the parable of the trekker is that in the parable of the trekker there is memory of home life during that time. How would our perspective of trek have changed had we not had memory of our home life? What if we went only with a promise that we could return to a home which existed and would be worth working towards? How would that have changed the trek experience? I know, personally, there were moments during trek where I longed for my Earthly home for various reasons, but for the most part when I forgot about home and immersed myself in the current events of trek, I could better focus on personal growth, building my testimony, serving those around me, and generally enjoying my current experiences. Perhaps then, for these same reasons, while we are living our Earthly life, we need to have no memory of our Heavenly home.
Like in the parable of the trekker, I had my hesitations and concerns about going, but I knew that in the end it would be worth it. It was something I knew I should do. And, I knew that it was important to trust my stake president and follow his call to go. I’m glad that I went. Undoubtedly, I’m glad that I went. I’m appreciative to the fantastic trek family that made it all worth it and with whom I could share the trek experience. I know that our Earthly life has a purpose, and I know that if we will follow the pace of our prophet we will make it back home. Let us not wander aimlessly, but with exactness and perseverance in following our prophet. If we do, I know that, in the end, each of us will be glad that we made the choice to travel.
- 1 Nephi 2:4
- 3 Nephi 11:40