At the 2016 Philmont encampment, a former Young Men president told of once following an impression to buy a load of large rocks. When a truck dumped the pile into a corner of his yard, he hired a young man in his ward who was struggling with issues at home, and who the leader worried was vulnerable to bad friends and bad decisions.
Over the course of many Saturdays, he and this young man moved the large rocks, a wheel barrow at a time, to the other side of his large yard. Once moved, he became dissatisfied with the new location, and determined to move them to the back yard, first to one side, and then later to the other.
The rocks then needed to be organized, requiring more Saturdays and more time to talk and teach. Years later, after his mission and during his service as a young priesthood leader himself, when the young man would be asked where his testimony had come from, he would comically respond, “from a pile of rocks.” He had come to understand that his testimony was nurtured through a relationship built over time and motivated by love.
Often, the most important events in the lives of young people center in having wise and faithful examples who mentor them and are willing to “be with them.” To the priesthood leader, this means to spend quality time to allow relationships to build and teaching opportunities to emerge.
The simplest way to effectively influence Aaronic Priesthood youth might come down to three simple principles:
Be with them, connect them to Heaven, and let them lead. Our ability to accomplish the latter two objectives depends on how well we do the first.
The Savior was the exemplar of this — and all — things. He taught and nurtured His apostles by spending time with them — time that He filled with teaching opportunities. After a full day of teaching people of Galilee, He sent His Apostles across the lake in their boat while he went to a private place to tend to what must have been important matters. Late in the night, He made time for His apostles as He walked through stormy waters to “be with them.” We know from recorded scripture the result of His extraordinary example and effort: miracles occurred and individual testimonies were instilled within them. Once aboard the ship, they spoke the learnings of their hearts, “saying, Of a truth, thou art the Son of God.”
The Savior’s commitment to saving each of us individually through His personal time and attention is welded into sacred covenant by the words of the sacrament prayer. There we learn that the object of someone’s faithfulness in keeping His commandments is that, “they may have his Spirit to be with them” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79, emphasis added). The Lord’s promise is to be with us throughout all of our lives and struggles.
It is the testimony of myriad Scout and Young Men leaders that the time they spend emulating the Lord’s devotion to “be with them” inevitably yields stronger youth and more fulfilled leaders. It should be no surprise that when active adult men are asked when along the span of their lives their testimonies were created, their most frequent answer tends to be that it was at a time when they had leaders who they came to know truly loved them, in part — and maybe most important — because they had been willing to “be with them” during those years when they were struggling with life’s most important questions.
Just as with the disciples who walked with the Savior along the dusty road to Emmaus as He took time with them to explain those things that were confusing to them, it is often the case that as young people come to think back over those times spent with righteous priesthood leaders, often doing hard things, and discussing important matters, many find themselves quietly concluding, “did not our heart burn within us?” (Luke 24:32).
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles underscored the importance of spending the time necessary to develop the kinds of relationships that truly matter. “Let us remember that our children and grandchildren [and, he might have added, those young people the Lord has placed in our way] measure our love by how much devoted time we give them. Above all, don’t lose patience and don’t give up” (October 2016 general conference).
The stewardship that rests upon us to faithfully mentor and be role models has been a part of joyful gospel living from the earliest of times. Ancient King David speaks to us still today: “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). Such a worthy end requires uncompromising time together with those of the rising generation we hope to save.