The best way to honor the pioneers goes beyond making and hearing speeches, marching in parades or attending fireworks celebrations, said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on July 13.
“The best way we can show our gratitude is by incorporating into our own lives the faithfulness to God’s commandments, the compassion and love for our fellowmen, the industry, optimism and joy the pioneers demonstrated so well in their own lives,” he said.
Speaking during the annual Pioneer Days Devotional in Ogden, Utah, President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, addressed the topic “All Is Well.”
A capacity crowd of more than 11,500 gathered in the Dee Events Center on the campus of Weber State University for the program, which also included remarks by Weber State University President Charles A. Wight and patriotic music from the Ogden Institute Resound Choir.
President Uchtdorf began his address by speaking not only of the pioneer heritage he and his wife, Harriet, claim as their own, but also of their German heritage.
President Uchtdorf said more than a century and a half has passed since the first Mormon pioneers made the 1,300-mile trek from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Salt Lake Valley.
“What they and those who followed them did was very difficult and dangerous. I doubt that many of those who set foot on that journey really understood what they were getting into or that they looked forward to the daily effort it eventually required. They knew it was going to be hard — that there was a possibility they or someone they loved would not finish the journey. And yet they came.”
As a result, he said, the Church, the nation and even the world are richer because of the pioneers.
President Uchtdorf said the pioneers who came to the area acted with faith and courage. “They believed that God had a plan for them and a place prepared where they could worship God and live their religion in peace,” he said. “It is no wonder that 160 years later we still commemorate their achievement with songs, speeches, parades, fireworks, commemorative treks, pins, balloons, banners and T-shirts.”
He said that even though his ancestors were not numbered among those who trekked to the Salt Lake Valley, “their example has influenced my life for good.”
“I treasure the foundation they established for the restored gospel. I honor what they did, what they became and what they gave to us as a result of their sacrifice.”
Whether we descended from the pioneers or not, it is wise to remember that the glory of their sacrifice belongs to them, he explained. “Our generation will need to stand on our own achievements, not on those of previous generations.“
President Uchtdorf said, in the life to come, he will be eager to meet the “legendary giants who gave so much to found these cities here in the valleys of the mountains.”
“I think they will be pleased by our interest in them,” he said. “I think they will be humbled by our admiration. But I also believe that they will be far more concerned not about what they did, but about what we did as a result of their sacrifice.
“I have a feeling they will be pleased far more by our performance than by applause, praise or parades. They will want to know if we gained anything from the hard-won lessons they learned through tribulation and trial. They will want to know if their sacrifice and endurance made a difference to us and our children.”
President Uchtdorf spoke of three pioneer attributes that inspire him: compassion, work and optimism.
• Compassion. The pioneers looked out for one another, he said. “They cared for each other irrespective of their social, economic or political background. Even when it slowed their progress, even when it caused inconvenience, even when it meant personal sacrifice and toil, they helped each other.”
The pioneers not only looked after those in their company, but they considered those who came after them — “they planted crops for the wagon trains that followed to harvest, whoever those harvesters might be," he said. "They included people of all walks of life.”
Today, examples of self-interest and self-indulgence are abundant, he said. “The pioneers serve as a good reminder of why we must break away from the temptation to isolate ourselves and, instead, reach out to help each other. We must have compassion and love for one another.”
• Work. The pioneers knew the value of work, said President Uchtdorf.
“It is difficult to imagine how hard these great souls worked. Walking was one of the easiest things they did. They all had to pull together to supply and provide food, repair wagons, tend to the animals, minister to the sick and feeble, seek and collect water and protect themselves from the pressing dangers of the elements and the many hazards of the wilderness.”
But the pioneers did not work only because they had to, he said. “In the process, their labors enlarged their character and broadened their understanding. Work diminished their natural tendencies toward self-love and magnified their understanding of their divine nature. It heightened their compassion for others. In the labors of each day, they discovered and solidified an inner strength and profound spiritual depth.”
• Optimism. President Uchtdorf called it a great irony that “we are blessed with so much, and yet we can be so unhappy.”
“The wonders of prosperity and technology overwhelm us and shower us with security, entertainment, instant gratification and convenience. And yet all around us, we see so much unhappiness.
“The pioneers, those wonderful souls who sacrificed so much, went without and hungered for even the most basic of necessities to survive. The pioneers understood something about happiness. They understood that happiness doesn’t come as a result of luck or accident. It most certainly doesn’t come from having all of our wishes come true. Happiness doesn’t come from external circumstance. It comes from the inside, regardless of what is happening around us.”
President Uchtdorf said the pioneers had their trials, just as people today have trials.
“We sometimes look back on what the pioneers had to endure and with a sigh of relief say, ‘Thank goodness I didn’t live in that time. I couldn’t have survived.’
“But I wonder if those courageous pioneers, had they been able to see us today might not have voiced the very same concern. Of course times and circumstances are different today. They had their challenges — we have ours. They had their successes — we have ours. But as the circumstances may have changed, the principles for respectfully and successfully living together as a caring and prospering community under God have not changed. They remain the same.”
There is much to be learned from the pioneers, he said.
“From the pioneers we can learn to have faith and trust God; we can learn to be compassionate to others; we can learn that work and industry not only bless us temporally but spiritually; and that happiness is available to us no matter our circumstances.”
During his remarks, President Wight also addressed pioneer courage and resolve.
The WSU president said he has seen many modern-day pioneers on the Weber State University campus — pioneers in their fields of study or students pioneering to get an education despite trials and uncertainly.
“The best way to honor the pioneers of yesteryear is to embrace their spirit,” he said, asking those in the audience to realize the pioneering spirit inside each of them.