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Boyd Matheson: What President Nelson's life teaches about the power of not looking back

When asked if it was difficult to leave behind his medical career when called to be an Apostle, President Russell M. Nelson didn’t hesitate in his response.

“I walked through the door into a new room and closed the other door behind me,” the president of the Church said as he visited with members in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Life is filled with doors. How we approach them can determine our destiny.

Doors of every kind, filled with opportunities and challenges, are part of mortality. Choosing a college, picking a profession, deciding who to marry, moving to a new city, changing careers, starting a new business, ending a bad relationship, accepting a new calling — all of these are examples of important doors in our lives.

President Nelson dismissed his interpreter while speaking to Peruvian Latter-day Saints. This is what happened next.

We should always approach such doors with respect for the significance of the choice — but never with fear and trepidation. Some doors cannot be anticipated and feel as though they have been dropped in front of us from out of thin air. Other doors can been seen for miles in the distance. Either way, how we approach doors matters.

It is also important to recognize that it is never a good idea to hang around doors. Lingering is a trap which creates uncertainty and ultimately leads to poor choices. When presented with a door, we need to assess, decide and then move!

If your assessment of the door is that it is not right for you, get going! We miss many new opportunity-filled doors by waiting around to see if our feelings about the current door will somehow change.

“Get through the door and keep going.”

If it is right, get through the door and keep going. It is also dangerous to hang around just inside a new door. Looking back, hesitating and lingering just inside can result in slipping back to the other side of the door.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “The more hesitation the less inspiration.” With less inspiration, we are less likely to act and move forward.

Lot’s wife wanted to hang around the door, perhaps hoping that they wouldn’t have to leave Sodom and Gomorrah and could go back to the old neighborhood.

Like President Nelson, Peter “straightway” left his fishing nets, walked into a new room to be a fisher of men and closed the door behind him. President Nelson left touching hearts in the operating room to touching hearts of people around the world.

Russell M. Nelson explains a surgical procedure to a nurse. Photo: LDS Church
Russell M. Nelson explains a surgical procedure to a nurse. Photo: LDS Church Photo: LDS Church

President Nelson has also proven deftly gifted at opening many “effectual doors.”

President Ezra Taft Benson became prophet in November of 1985, and in the first meeting of the new First Presidency with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Benson gave specific instructions to then-Elder Russell M. Nelson. “Elder Nelson," he said, "you are to open the countries of Eastern Europe for the preaching of the gospel.”

That was 1985. During that period of the Cold War, not only was the city of Berlin divided by a wall, but all of Eastern Europe was under the oppressive yoke of communism. Many churches were closed, and religious worship was strictly limited.

President Nelson recently recalled: “I had spent much of my professional life opening hearts to perform life-saving operations, but I had no experience that would lead me to believe I could open countries for the preaching of the gospel. And yet, a prophet had given me an assignment, so I set out to do what seemed utterly impossible.

“From the outset, obstacles were placed in my way. I arrived in most countries not knowing where to go. Even when I was able to find the name of an appropriate government official, it was not unusual for a meeting to be canceled at the last minute or to be postponed. In one country, when an appointment was delayed for two days, a number of temptations were intentionally placed in my way to test me — including traps for the exchange of money on the black market, and other illicit activities. On another occasion, a meeting was opened with the demand that I depart immediately!

President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, stand with attendees Augustine Escobar and Lilieth Rojas during the dedication of the Concepción Chile Temple on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018.
President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, stand with attendees Augustine Escobar and Lilieth Rojas during the dedication of the Concepción Chile Temple on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“But the Lord is able to do His own work, and I was privileged to watch the unfolding of one miracle after another — always and only after I had brought my best thinking, my most fervent prayers and my most courageous efforts to the task. The Lord likes effort. Then He blesses our best efforts.

"Recognition for the Church was granted by some of those countries before the Berlin Wall came down. Others came later. In the year 1992, I was able to report to President Benson that the Church was now established in every country in Eastern Europe!”

Last weekend in Concepcion, Chile, President Nelson was able to turn keys and open doors for people, on both sides of the veil, who long for the blessings and saving ordinances of the temple. His example of opening doors and moving through them, without looking back, is worth emulating as we navigate our own doors on our individual journeys.

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