‘Where did the years go?’

A university student, upon meeting an acclaimed author many years ago, praised his works, commenting that she had gained much from his books.

After acknowledging the compliment, the noted author and college professor remained quiet several moments. Then he said, “I wish I had written one less book and taken my children fishing more often.”

The student, impressed by the scholarly works of the author and seeing life seemingly as an almost endless expanse of time stretching into the future, did not fully understand the significance behind the author’s words.

Decades later — having reached the age the author was when they had that conversation and realizing just how swiftly fly the years — the significance has become clear.

The family is more important than writing books. … or just about any other pursuit. Granted, there are times when a parent has little or no choice in how he or she must spend some hours of the day. There are demands of job and even Church or community. However, when possible, priority ought to be given to the family.

The Old Testament speaks of locusts that ate every “green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt” (Exodus 10:15). In an address during the October 1970 general conference, President Spencer W. Kimball, then acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve and Church president from 1973-85, spoke of “lost weekends and wasted years” as time that “the locust hath eaten.”

Will parents look back on the span for rearing their children as “lost weekends and wasted years,” as time that “the locust hath eaten”?

“Time passes quickly,” President Thomas S. Monson said in an address during the October 2000 general conference. “Many parents say that it seems like yesterday that their children were born. Now those children are grown, perhaps with children of their own. ‘Where did the years go?’ they ask. We cannot call back time that is past, we cannot stop time that now is, and we cannot experience the future in our present state. Time is a gift, a treasure not to be put aside for the future but to be used wisely in the present.”

Who cannot identify with Tevye and Golde as, in a scene from the popular musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” they witness the marriage of one of their daughters? Lyrics from the musical express their wonderment:

(Tevye) Is this the little girl I carried,

Is this the little boy at play?

(Golde) I don’t remember growing older,

When did they?

(Tevye) When did she get to be a beauty,

When did he grow so tall?

(Golde) Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small? …

(Chorus) Sunrise, sunset. …

Swiftly flow the days.

Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,

Blossoming as we gaze. …

The song goes on, telling of the passing of time, and concludes with the chorus:

Sunrise, sunset, …

Swiftly fly the years,

One season following another,

Laden with happiness,

And tears.

— (“Fiddler on the Roof,” playwright Joseph Stein; lyricist, Sheldon Harnick.)

In the early 1980s, before the three-hour block of meetings was instituted, a woman spent a Sunday afternoon preparing for a talk she was to give in sacrament meeting that evening. A single sister, she had two nieces whom she dearly loved. One of the little girls came to her house to show off a new dress. The aunt complimented the dress but the little girl hung around. It became obvious the child wanted to talk, but the aunt told her she was busy.

“For the life of me, I can’t remember what I said in that sacrament meeting talk, but I cannot forget the look of disappointment on that child’s face when I told her I was too busy to talk to her,” the aunt said. “Now I would give anything for the chance to spend some time with that little girl.”

Over the years, Church leaders have emphasized that the family comes first. Among the most recent reminders was the 2011 Worldwide Leadership Training Broadcast, held Feb. 12. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve asked leaders to note that the first chapter of Handbook 2 is “The Families and the Church in God’s Plan.”

“Family is first,” Elder Oaks said. “We must be careful that our members are not kept so busy with Church programs, procedures, buildings and budgets that they have little time for the spiritual things stressed in this chapter on families.”

The university student mentioned above no longer sees the future as some endless expanse of time. Too soon has come the realization that time passes swiftly and, through personal and observed experiences, sees that often a lot of emphasis is placed upon the things that matter the least. Perhaps, in a manner of speaking, we ought to write one less book and go fishing with our families.