In a bayou flowing past my parents’ home in Louisiana, my father built a house for wood ducks and positioned it on an eight-foot pole. From the back porch we could watch the freshly hatched ducklings launch themselves from the door of their little home. The mother duck circled below in the water, watching and calling as duckling after duckling jumped off the edge and plummeted straight into the water.
It wasn’t always a pretty sight — baby ducks falling out of the duck house and landing unceremoniously in the small stream. It wasn’t entirely safe either, because once in the water, the ducklings had to evade predators. Nevertheless, their focus and desire was to get to the mother and that required leaving the nest. They embarked from the house and immediately began moving through the bayou, purposefully following the mother duck.
The 2015 Mutual theme is Doctrine and Covenants 4:2, “Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.” Inherent in this scripture is the admonition to serve to the last day. Earnest, whole-souled, forward motion is required for such service.
When we decide to serve, do we continue with allegiance past the planning stage? The ducklings, driven by instinct, commit to their way of life by leaping into the bayou. Our commitment, on the other hand, as spirit sons and daughters of God is made thoughtfully as we take upon us sacred covenants that draw us close to our Heavenly Father and put upon us responsibilities that we promise to fulfill.
Think of some of the people in Lehi’s dream who eagerly grasped the iron rod and moved toward the tree of life, but before they arrived at their goal they relaxed their grip and finally dropped their hands from the rod as they wandered off.
Do we recognize when our grip loosens on our commitment? Most important, do we sense when, or if, our hold on gospel truth slips? If our determination to follow the living prophet wanes, after we have embarked on a path of obedience and service, we can lose our connection to truth and swim in dangerous waters. I see several dangers that lurk near our path to the glorious tree of life and back to our Heavenly Father.
One is the pervasive temptation to get casual in our daily gospel living.
The wood ducklings instinctively understand that in order to survive they must not get casual in their daily living and must look steadily to their leader. They leave the nest within 24 to 36 hours after hatching. Once they are on the ground or in the water, they must stay close to their parents and follow their example. Occasionally, we would see some of the young ducks swim away from the parent. Hawks circled, dove and snatched up the ducklings before they could return to the protection of the family group.
Are we, like the ducklings, following experienced leaders or are we putting ourselves in danger by being too casual in our daily gospel living? An honest assessment of ourselves is a healthy thing! Are we putting all our heart into loving and serving God? Is He first in our affection and is our desire to always please Him? Who in our immediate sphere needs our service? Asking Heavenly Father how we can serve will bring direction.
Another danger is to look beyond the mark, to look past the tree of life and think that we have a special calling to achieve more than is required by our covenants. I have seen this happen in the ducklings’ choices! A few of them would paddle ahead of the family group, often to their demise. When this attitude is found in humans, pride is at its center. Are we enticed by “new truths” that we haven’t heard about in general conference? Are we intrigued by someone who takes a different stand than the prophets’ on such things as how to seek God or administer the laws of the kingdom? Such “wolves in sheep’s clothing” do exist and we must be firmly determined to continue on the strait way and give them no heed. Such people walk the forbidden ways in Lehi’s dream and would lead us away from the truth.
A third danger is to turn back to our sinful ways after we have once left them behind. We may put our hand “to the plow” and then be tempted to step off the path of righteousness and return to former habits. Using the analogy of the ducklings, once they have leaped from the nest, they cannot go back because they cannot actually fly for 8 to 10 more weeks. Once they are on the ground or water, they are committed to stay there until they are mature.
We can avoid these dangers by faithfully living the gospel; namely, following the living prophet, studying the scriptures, praying daily, partaking of the sacrament with intent, serving others and worshipping in the temple. It is ongoing work, but it is also joyful, hopeful work, replete with blessings.
We can learn several lessons from the wood ducks:
1. There is safety in following a trusted leader — don’t get casual.
2. Stay with the group — don’t look beyond the mark.
3. Be committed — don’t turn back.
As we carry on in the service of God, we will see that the grace of Jesus Christ carries us.