We’re putting this in the “Just for Recent Converts” section because most LDS members who’ve been around a long time know these stories. There’s just something about a story of misbehavior from a prophet’s childhood that sticks in one’s memory. It sure gives modern LDS parents hope to know that an apostle was once a little boy who had to learn not steal, be selfish, or light things on fire— just like lots of other little boys and girls who are navigating their own childhood challenges right now.
Our first story was shared by President Thomas S. Monson in general conference in 2013. By then the Internet was in full swing, and this story was instantly famous among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Monson’s delivery was quite humorous, but with a serious point to make about obedience.
When I was growing up, each summer from early July until early September, my family stayed at our cabin at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon in Utah.
One of my best friends during those carefree days in the canyon was Danny Larsen, whose family also owned a cabin at Vivian Park. Each day he and I roamed this boy’s paradise, fishing in the stream and the river, collecting rocks and other treasures, hiking, climbing, and simply enjoying each minute of each hour of each day.
One morning Danny and I decided we wanted to have a campfire that evening with all our canyon friends. We just needed to clear an area in a nearby field where we could all gather. The June grass which covered the field had become dry and prickly, making the field unsuitable for our purposes. We began to pull at the tall grass, planning to clear a large, circular area. We tugged and yanked with all our might, but all we could get were small handfuls of the stubborn weeds. We knew this task would take the entire day, and already our energy and enthusiasm were waning.
And then what I thought was the perfect solution came into my eight-year-old mind. I said to Danny, “All we need is to set these weeds on fire. We’ll just burn a circle in the weeds!” He readily agreed, and I ran to our cabin to get a few matches.
Lest any of you think that at the tender age of eight we were permitted to use matches, I want to make it clear that both Danny and I were forbidden to use them without adult supervision. Both of us had been warned repeatedly of the dangers of fire. However, I knew where my family kept the matches, and we needed to clear that field. Without so much as a second thought, I ran to our cabin and grabbed a few matchsticks, making certain no one was watching. I hid them quickly in one of my pockets.
Back to Danny I ran, excited that in my pocket I had the solution to our problem. I recall thinking that the fire would burn only as far as we wanted and then would somehow magically extinguish itself.
I struck a match on a rock and set the parched June grass ablaze. It ignited as though it had been drenched in gasoline. At first Danny and I were thrilled as we watched the weeds disappear, but it soon became apparent that the fire was not about to go out on its own. We panicked as we realized there was nothing we could do to stop it. The menacing flames began to follow the wild grass up the mountainside, endangering the pine trees and everything else in their path.
Finally we had no option but to run for help. Soon all available men and women at Vivian Park were dashing back and forth with wet burlap bags, beating at the flames in an attempt to extinguish them. After several hours the last remaining embers were smothered. The ages-old pine trees had been saved, as were the homes the flames would eventually have reached.
Danny and I learned several difficult but important lessons that day—not the least of which was the importance of obedience.
There are rules and laws to help ensure our physical safety. Likewise, the Lord has provided guidelines and commandments to help ensure our spiritual safety so that we might successfully navigate this often-treacherous mortal existence and return eventually to our Heavenly Father.1
In the next story that President Monson told during general conference in 2002, his boyhood love for dogs overwhelms his planning and consideration of others.
Sometimes we fathers forget that once we, too, were boys, and boys at times can be vexing to parents.
I recall how much, as a youngster, I liked dogs. One day I took my wagon and placed a wooden orange crate in it and went looking for dogs. At that time dogs were everywhere to be found: at school, walking along the sidewalks, or exploring vacant lots, of which there were many. As I would find a dog and capture it, I placed it in the crate, took it home, locked it in the coal shed, and turned the latch on the door. That day I think I brought home six dogs of varying sizes and made them my prisoners after this fashion. I had no idea what I would do with all those dogs, so I didn’t reveal my deed to anyone.
Dad came home from work and, as was his custom, took the coal bucket and went to the coal shed to fill it. Can you imagine his shock and utter consternation as he opened the door and immediately faced six dogs, all attempting to escape at once? As I recall, Dad flushed a little bit, and then he calmed down and quietly told me, “Tommy, coal sheds are for coal. Other people’s dogs rightfully belong to them.” By observing him, I learned a lesson in patience and calmness.2
President Monson told this next sweet story long before he became President of the Church in 2008. As a new convert, you may not be aware of how young President Monson was when he was called to be an apostle. He was only 36 years old, which was rare even for that time. By the time he told this story in general conference in 1977, he had been an apostle for over a decade. The story has been shared repeatedly in Church magazines through the years. May we remember that for a boy or girl who’s only 10 years old, this is what Jericho Road looks like to them. May we all be as patient and wise as little Tommy’s mother.
May I relate to you my first journey along a personal Jericho Road. In about my tenth year, as Christmas approached, I yearned as only a boy can yearn for an electric train. My desire was not to receive the economical and everywhere-to-be-found wind-up model train, but rather one that operated through the miracle of electricity.
The times were those of economic depression, yet Mother and Dad, through some sacrifice, I am sure, presented to me on Christmas morning a beautiful electric train. For hours I operated the transformer, watching the engine first pull its cars forward, then push them backward around the track.
Mother entered the living room and said to me that she had purchased a wind-up train for Widow Hansen’s boy, Mark, who lived down the lane. I asked if I could see the train. The engine was short and blocky—not long and sleek like the expensive model I had received.
However, I did take notice of an oil tanker car which was part of his inexpensive set. My train had no such car, and pangs of envy began to be felt. I put up such a fuss that Mother succumbed to my pleadings and handed me the oil tanker car. She said, “If you need it more than Mark, you take it.” I put it with my train set and felt pleased with the result.
Mother and I took the remaining cars and the engine down to Mark Hansen. The young boy was a year or two older than I. He had never anticipated such a gift and was thrilled beyond words. He wound the key in his engine, it not being electric like mine, and was overjoyed as the engine and two cars, plus a caboose, went around the track.
Mother wisely asked, “What do you think of Mark’s train, Tommy?”
I felt a keen sense of guilt and became very much aware of my selfishness. I said to Mother, “Wait just a moment—I’ll be right back.”
As swiftly as my legs could carry me, I ran to our home, picked up the oil tanker car plus an additional car of my own, ran back down the lane to the Hansen home, and said joyfully to Mark, “We forgot to bring two cars which belong to your train.”
Mark coupled the two extra cars to his set. I watched the engine make its labored way around the track and felt a supreme joy difficult to describe and impossible to forget.
Mother and I left the Hansen home and slowly walked up the street. She, who with her hand in God’s had entered into the valley of the shadow of death to bring me, her son, across the bridge of life, now took me by the hand and together we returned homeward by way of our private Jericho Road.3