In an address to BYU students in November 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley told students to rise to the high ground of excellence, and said, “Don’t muff the ball. Be excellent.” This week, I saw a connection to that idea as I was listening to his 2004 address to the young women of the Church, in which he also talks about not dropping the ball and invites them to walk the high, if sometimes lonely, road. Given his recent death, I find his comments urging them forward, knowing that many will depend upon them, particularly poignant.
Many years ago I told a story in conference that I think I will repeat. It is a story about a baseball player. I realize that some of you in various parts of the world do not know much about baseball. You do not even care about it. But this story brings with it a tremendous lesson.
The event occurred in 1912. The World Series was being played, and this was the final game to determine the winner of the series. The score was 2-1 in favor of the New York Giants, who were in the field. The Boston Red Sox were at bat. The man at bat knocked a high, arching fly. Two New York players ran for it. Fred Snodgrass in center field signaled to his associate that he would take it. He came squarely under the ball, which fell into his glove. But he did not hold it there. The ball went right through his grasp and fell to the ground. A howl went up in the stands. The fans could not believe that Snodgrass had dropped the ball. He had caught hundreds of fly balls before. But now, at this most crucial moment, he had failed to hold the ball, and the Red Sox went on to win the world championship.
In October, 2007, Elder L. Tom Perry gave a wonderful devotional at BYU. Here are a couple of quotes from his talk:
If you want the extreme example of planning, you must turn to the scriptures. See how carefully the Lord has laid out His plan to guide His children to their eternal destiny. Perhaps the example of His careful planning would motivate us to give more energy to spending sufficient time to plan what we want to accomplish in our lives.
His comment made me want to do just as he asked: plan more regarding those things I should accomplish.
Here is another quote that fits nicely with the other quotes at this site encouraging us to avoid mediocrity and strive for perfection:
We are living in the remarkable age of the dispensation of the fulness of times when the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in its fulness.
You are children of promise. I hope that you do not plan to be just common but plan to excel. There is no place in this world for mediocrity; we need to strive for perfection. You can obtain perfection in so many areas as you seek and work toward the goals you have established. You have a rich heritage; do not be afraid to think and act according to gospel principles and enjoy its blessings as you fulfill on earth the full measure of your creation as a child of God.
I hope today as you leave this devotional assembly that you will spend more time looking at yourself. God bless you that you may have the desire to go forward and seek your own salvation under this great plan the Lord has given to us.
Elder L. Tom Perry, “The Great Plan of Our God,” BYU Devotional, 30 October 2007
Our prophets and leaders have continually encouraged us to be our best. Here’s another quote on this subject:
“Find a purpose in life so big it will challenge every capacity to be at your best.”
David O. Mckay
This reminds me of President Monson’s encouragement: “I plead with you to tax your talent…”, as well as other quotes in the category “Excellence.”
Here are three quotes about giving ourselves to God, and receiving in return His blessings.
“If you give anything for the building up of the Kingdom of God, give the best you have. What is the best thing you have to devote to the Kingdom of God? It is the talents God has given you. … Let us devote every qualification we are in possession of to the building up of God’s kingdom, and you will accomplish the whole of it.”
Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 445.
“Yes, men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life to God will find he has eternal life….
“Give God your best, and his best will come back to you.”
Ezra Taft Benson, “Jesus Christ–Gifts and Expectations,” BYU Devotional, 10 December 1974
“Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop I, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 167.
“…try a little harder to be a little better.”
Gordon B. Hinckley, “We Have a Work to Do,” Ensign, May 1995, 87
I love these remarks given by President Gordon B. Hinckely at the inauguration of President Cecil O. Samuelson, President of BYU:
There is a sign on the gate of this campus that reads: “Enter to learn; go forth to serve.” I invite you, every one of you, to make that your motto. Mediocrity will never do. You are capable of something better. Give it your very best. You will never again have such an opportunity. Pray about it. Work at it. Make it happen. Drink in the great knowledge here to be obtained from this dedicated faculty. Qualify yourselves for the work of the world that lies ahead. It will largely compensate you in terms of what it thinks you are worth. Walk the high road of charity, respect, and love for others and particularly those who are less fortunate. Be happy. Look for the sunlight in life. Reach for the stars.
Remarks at the Inauguration of President Cecil O. Samuelson, 9 September 2003
Henry B. Eyring named three enemies of learning in a 1984 essay:
I’ve learned as student and teacher to recognize three main enemies of learning. They are attitudes in the student: self-doubt, indifference, and pride. If you doubt your capacity to learn, you are right to doubt. If you don’t care whether or not you learn, you won’t. And if you want to learn without correction from someone else, you have chosen the harder way. But if you believe you can learn, if learning rivets your attention, and if you take counsel easily, then you can learn. And you can create for yourself excellence in education.
“Excellence in Education,” by Henry B. Eyring, from Excellence, Deseret Book, 1984, p. 19.
I love this quote from President Hinckley given at a November 1998 BYU devotional titled The Quest for Excellence:
I speak to you this morning not only about a little more effort, a little more self-discipline, a little more consecrated effort in the direction of excellence in your studies. I speak of it also in terms of your lives.
This is the great day of preparation for each of you. It is the time of beginning for something that will go on for as long as you live. I plead with you: Don’t be a scrub! Rise to the high ground of excellence. You can do it. You may not be a genius. You may be lacking in some skills. But you can do better than you are now doing. You are students at BYU. Most of you are members of this great Church whose influence is now felt all over the world. You are people with a present and with a future. Don’t muff the ball. Be excellent.
I have been intrigued by the idea that we should “not take counsel from our fears,” and have some sources for this quote, through I am sure I do not have them all. The first is from President Thomas S. Monson, given at a 7 September 2003 CES Fireside:
There are all sorts of people who are willing to alibi or to make excuse for a failure. During World War II, a vital decision was made by one of the great leaders of the Allied military, Viscount Slim from Great Britain. He made this statement after a defeat occurred in a battle for Khartoum in 1940 against the Italians: “I could find plenty of excuses for failure, but only one reason—myself. When two courses of action were open to me I had not chosen, as a good commander should, the bolder. I had taken counsel of my fears” (William Slim, Unofficial History (1959), 148). My young brothers and sisters, don’t take counsel of your fears. Don’t say to yourselves, “I’m not wise enough, or I can’t apply myself sufficiently well to study this difficult subject or in this difficult field, so I shall choose the easier way.” I plead with you to tax your talent, and our Heavenly Father will make you equal to those decisions. In this life, where we have opportunities to strive and to achieve, I bear witness that on occasion we need to make a second effort—and a third effort, and a fourth effort, and as many degrees of effort as may be required to accomplish what we strive to achieve. There is much importance attached to our three questions: What will be my faith? Whom shall I marry? What will be my life’s work? I am so grateful that we need not make those decisions without eternal help. We can have the guidance and the direction of our Heavenly Father if we strive to receive it.
From President James E. Faust, spoken in a 7 May 2006 CES Fireside at the University of Utah: Continue reading