Anyone who has made efforts at spiritual and character development will realize that attaining the upper reaches of this four-process continuum, though obviously intensely rewarding, is far from easy.
I had occasion to explain this to an associate of mine who visited with me some years back regarding what he and his wife could do to get back together and have a unified and happy family life.
He told me a long story which involved deep transgression followed by partial repentance, an everpresent and attractive temptation to sin, all mixed with much contention in the marriage, broken communication, occasional separation, spiritual and emotional alienation, strong accusations, and constant self-justification. I counseled him to see his bishop as the first steps to putting his life in order, and this he did. But because I had been his mission president while he was a missionary, he asked me for some general advice. I proceeded to teach him the importance of educating and obeying his conscience as the essential way of returning to the gospel path so that he and his wife might be worthy to receive the blessings they both desired.
Some time later I was visiting with them both about these matters, and the man said to his wife, “You know, honey, we really should do this. It makes a lot of sense. Why don’t we resolve together, here and now, that every night before we retire we will spend some time in reading the scriptures, at least one chapter.” All I could say in response was,
“My friend, you don’t have the foggiest idea of what I am talking about.
Do you know what my son does to get ready to be a pass receiver? Do you know the kind of price he pays every afternoon? the grueling workouts, the punishing practices? All so that he can catch a pass or two in a game. Every day they put him against the number one defense team, and he knows full well that the moment he catches the ball he will be smashed to the ground. One such hit, and my body would be dislocated for life. Do you have any idea the kind of price he has to pay to get ready to sustain those hits, one right after another, day after day after day?“
That, my friend, is the kind of price you have to pay, in the spiritual sense, if you really want to educate your conscience; if you want to some day be living the kind of life you know you must live to be worthy of eternal life; if you want immunity from all these worldly temptations; if you want full forgiveness of past sins. There is simply no quick fix in this area, no cheap grace approach, no easy way to develop this kind of strength and character.
You might as well expect your infant son’s mind to do the work of genius. There is simply no shortcut. The price must be paid.” I quoted the words of Elder John A. Widtsoe, which the apostle offered in a talk at the University of Utah Institute of Religion:
“It is a paradox that men will gladly devote time every day for many years to learn a science or art; yet… will expect to win a knowledge of the gospel, which comprehends all sciences and arts, through perfunctory glances at books or occasional listening to sermons.”
Thomas Paine, the brilliant writer of American Revolution times, put the essence of the matter in these words:
“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods.”
But it can be done, this price-paying, this pulling together of the various processes. A student of mine was successful successful in this way in making corrections in an important area of his life. At one point he said to me, “All my mature life I’ve had trouble with bad thoughts. Even during my mission. Whenever I was asked a question, ‘Are you morally clean?’ I answered yes because I was considering my practices, but I always had some plaguing feelings about my thoughts.” Time went by. Then one day, when we were walking into the final examination, this young man said, “Brother Covey, I can look you in the eye and say I am morally clean, right to my core.” What had he done? For a period of several months he had feasted upon the words of Christ, asked the Lord for a heightened awareness of temptation, turned immediately at the very first onset of that temptation and done worthy things. Faced by temptation, he had returned to his divine purposes and his work. Elder Boyd K. Packer had suggested, “Hum a hymn. Memorize a scripture.” And he did it. And the Holy Ghost purged that other disposition out of his nature.
Source: The Divine Center, Stephen Covey, pg 218-220