The way, the gate and the arrow.
By Ken Shelton
I confess: I have not always walked the straight and narrow way, opened straightway the church gate, or flown the line of the Straight Arrow . . . more like “Captain” Jack Sparrow.
Regrettably, I was rarely in Primary, never in Seminary, not a Boy Scout, Sunday School student or scripture reader. Nor was I inspired much by parent/family/community values and examples (those were mixed messages at best). I was more of an “out” than model scout.
So, for my deliverance from several close calls with serious sin, sinister intent, and spiritual and physical death, I credit the ministry of guardian angels and the Holy Spirit.
Just last week I was asked by Bill Poole, a non-Mormon friend from Florida and author of the book, Journey to NewLand, A Road Map for Transformational Change, about the virtue of Mormon youth. He doubted that we are as good as advertised. “You can have laws of chastity and fidelity,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean everybody obeys them.”
“You’re right,” I said. “Individually and collectively, we are not perfect, but we have a remarkably good track record, given today’s temptations.”
Vision of God’s Love for Virtue
This conversation reminds me of a “vision” that I had once in Florida on a lovely mid-November evening when I paused by a pool to reflect on the state of youth today. I was standing near Disney World’s “Pleasure Island,” night clubs designed to attract young men and women.
First, I recalled one of employees, Melody—a young woman from Orlando, Florida, who spent her high school days as a Bishop’s daughter before coming to BYU, graduating in English, and marrying a returned missionary. I could sense still, in the Orlando atmosphere, the goodness of her family and her influence for good on her friends.
Next, I sensed the righteous influence that my wife, Pam, had on her many friends in Fullerton, California, before she came to BYU and graduated in English, and married me. Her spirit still permeates the environment, still exerts its righteous influence.
Then I saw (in my mind’s eye) my neighbor Susan Tanner (the General Young Women’s president of the Church) as she visited worldwide with a half million female teens. I could feel God’s love for each of them and sense the influence for good these young women would have as they became wives, mothers, grandmothers and goddesses.
Before me on this Florida night, I could see rings and waves of water and light. It all blended into this kaleidoscopic vision of the exponential expansion of their circles of influence, culminating in fireworks with all the bright colors, formations, interactions and transactions that would follow them throughout their days.
Beyond sensing God’s immense love of modesty, chastity, fidelity and all forms of virtue in Mormon women and men of all ages, I could see that their virtue would enhance society not just from Florida to California but throughout the entire universe.
One Narrow Escape
Yes, guardian angels are busy, but we still have our agency and can make poor choices. Here I cite one instance from my youth when I was protected.
After graduating from Provo High School, I worked the summer in Zion National Park and often hiked “the Narrows”, the canyon area where the walls narrow and the Virgin River runs through it. One day I escorted an attractive young woman from Florida (not of the Mormon faith) up a side canyon of the Narrows. We reached an impasse at a picturesque point with a 10-foot beach of sand and waterfall.
I said, “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. We may be the first people to ever stand at this spot.”
She smiled and then hugged me, kissed me, and started removing her shirt.
She was likely no virgin, but this river scene was every young man’s dream!
I said, looking up (not at her), “Can’t you sense that we stand on holy ground?”
That laser-like question stopped her, really stunned her, as if by taser.
Two years later, while serving as a missionary branch president in Argentina, I received a surprise letter from this girl. In it she mentioned this incident and said that while she desired to do more, she did not dare because when she looked at my face, my eyes were bright with light. She knew that I was right. We stood on holy ground because the Spirit made it Holy.
She said in her letter that she was greatly influenced by this experience and treasured it because it caused her to set a higher standard for men she would date or marry.
Two years after my mission, when I was newly wed to Pam, this past girlfriend made the long trip from Florida to Utah to introduce me to her husband, a good Christian man who treated her with great respect. We enjoyed the visit immensely.
Why I Chose the Narrow Way
When I shared this story with Bill Poole, he wondered aloud, “How can any young man respond as you did in that situation?” Not by will-power alone! Here’s my explanation.
First, for me, Zion Canyon was a Natural Temple. Some places are still Eden-like, unspoiled and unpolluted, pure and undefiled. The Narrows, especially, is Nature’s Temple.
Second, during that summer I had the early morning discipline of jogging 2.5 miles up a trail to (what I call) Inspiration Point, to gain a panoramic view of Zion Canyon, experience the sunrise, and feel the glory, power, and majesty of God and Christ, and their creation.
Third, from an early age, I was shaped by hard and honest work and play. I did responsible work for wages and paid for all my expenses and education. For my disciplined study, practice and play I was elected by peers and coaches to be co-captain of Provo High football, wrestling and track teams; elected by peers to represent all boys in the school on student council and at Boys’ State; and named top all-round athlete-scholar of PHS, class of 1965. I knew things had to be earned, money and honey were hard to come by, wins and pins did not come easily, and shirts-off shortcuts don’t solve long-term problems.
Fourth, I had great respect for my body, not in “temple of God” terms but in terms of my personal sense of mission. At age 14, I had my own “first vision,” a revelation of my “calling” to be a conduit for light and truth—confirmed later, at age 20, in a patriarchal blessing. And I had a keen sense of how I might “blow it,” expressly via sexual sin.
Fifth, I had the “benefit” of witnessing the self-debilitating and self-destructive behaviors of two older brothers (and a younger sister) who became sexually active as teenagers and got into all sorts of mischief. While I have not always been valiant in my response to temptation, I have escaped serious sins, with the aid of ministering angels and the Holy Spirit.
Bottom line, I never won anything worthwhile easily. And to me, as a teenager, Church seemed to be about rewarding kids for silly or symbolic easy wins (badges and pins and awards) and programming them or chaperoning them to protect them from sins. I wanted to face tough competition “on the field” in real life and earn a win. I was ready and willing at age 8, the age of accountability, to own the consequences of my choices and actions.
I testify that the Spirit of Christ informs the conscience of all human beings and infuses all life, even the earth itself, with light and truth. When in tune with its Melody, every Susan and Pam, Bill and Ken, every girl and boy, will fare far better. Thus, in our Journey to New Land, I cordially invite one and all to take Christ’s Hand, exercise faith in Him, follow his Way, repent (transformational change), and enter through the Narrow Gate, to immerse and cleanse in the Pool of Baptism, receive the Spirit, and then be the Straight Arrow of Bright Light and Right.