Quotes of Note- Elder Holland on Boats and Struggling Swimmers

Unfortunately inspired by a personal experience related to me recently, I present a rebuke of sorts  and a call for more Christ-like compassion by Elder Holland.

“When a battered, weary swimmer tries valiantly to get back to shore, after having fought strong winds and rough waves which he should never have challenged in the first place, those of us who might have had better judgment, or perhaps just better luck, ought not to row out to his side, beat him with our oars, and shove his head back underwater. That’s not what boats were made for. But some of us do that to each other.” –A Robe, a Ring, and a Fatted Calf, BYU Devotional, 1984. (Also available in mp3 and other formats)

Holland’s negative inspiration for the boat-model was someone he grew up with, who suffered at the hands of those who might have helped and encouraged him instead.

“one of the added tragedies in transgression is that even if we make the effort to change, to try again, to come back, others often insist upon leaving the old labels with us.

I grew up in the same town with a boy who had no father and precious few of the other blessings of life. The young men in our community found it easy to tease and taunt and bully him. And in the process of it all he made some mistakes, though I cannot believe his mistakes were more serious than those of his Latter-day Saint friends who made life so miserable for him. He began to drink and smoke, and the gospel principles which had never meant much to him now meant even less. He had been cast in a role by LDS friends who should have known better and he began to play the part perfectly. Soon he drank even more, went to school even less, and went to Church not at all. Then one day he was gone. Some said that they thought he had joined the army.

That was about 1959 or so. Fifteen or sixteen years later he came home. At least he tried to come home. He had found the significance of the gospel in his life. He had married a wonderful girl, and they had a beautiful family. But he discovered something upon his return. He had changed, but some of his old friends hadn’t–and they were unwilling to let him escape his past.

This was hard for him and hard for his family. They bought a little home and started a small business, but they struggled both personally and professionally and finally moved away. For reasons that don’t need to be detailed here, the story goes on to a very unhappy ending. He died a year ago at age 44. That’s too young to die these days, and it’s certainly too young to die away from home.”

I don’t have a lot to add to this, except to a few scriptural phrases it evokes for me.

“…beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” (Peter to Jesus, Matt 14:30)

” And now, O God, what shall we say after all this?” (Ezra’s prayer in Ezra 9, my translation here)

It’s an excellent sermon. A Robe, a Ring, and a Fatted Calf




9 comments for “Quotes of Note- Elder Holland on Boats and Struggling Swimmers

  1. Ray
    December 7, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Reminds me of a kid in our ward who the other kids pick on and call “gay” and other derogative terms. Maybe he is gay, I don’t know, but it breaks my heart to think that this kid or any kid cannot feel safe in his own ward. If we can’t be safe in our own ward, protected, loved unconditionally, sheltered from the evils and cruelties of the outside world, then what good is a ward anyway?

  2. Jax
    December 7, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I have this one on my Ipod now and have enjoyed listening to it many times.

    I used to see a group of my high school friends quite regularly. We would get together every 3-4 months and have a party/games with our families. But one particular guy would always bring up the stupid things we did in H.S. “Do you remember doing X,Y,Z? Lucky we weren’t arrested…” Every time he brought it up, and never let any of us forget things that we would never do again and had put behind us through repentence. He wouldn’t/couldn’t let anyone put the past behind them. The first time I heard this talk by Holland I thought of him.

  3. December 7, 2011 at 9:43 am

    I am very good at forgetting who I was. Part of the reason I don’t want to live in my tiny hometown again is that I like who I am now. And it is a little awkward when people I knew in the past come up to me and share an anecdote that I was apparently a part of, but of which I have no recollection. Sorry, friend. I remember you, but I didn’t hold on to that memory of myself.

  4. Steve O
    December 7, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Without having read this exact sermon, it sound a lot like the one Elder Holland gave (also based on the Prodigal Son) in the April 2002 General Conference. That is, perhaps, (or at least until I read this one), my most beloved General Conference sermon of all time.

  5. December 7, 2011 at 11:31 am

    A masterpiece sermon. It moves me every time I read it. It really helped me understand the connection between love and forgiveness.

  6. SP
    December 7, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    I love, love, love this, especially “after having fought strong winds and rough waves *which he should never have challenged in the first place*”. It acknowledges that we can recover from real, deliberately chosen sins, not just accidents and mistakes. Too often, in my experience, people think they can *maybe* be saved from the winds and waves that are no fault of their own, but they can’t be saved from winds and waves that they have deliberately challenged. “I can’t be saved from this–I knew better than to try it,” the thinking goes. Fortunately, the Atonement covers both accidental and willful transgressions of the law.

    This is probably apocryphal, but I once heard there was a bishop who wanted the chapel to reek of cigarette smoke on Sundays. I’d love for that to happen.

  7. Sam Brunson
    December 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Thanks, Ben. It’s interesting how hard it can be to let go of the people we knew/were in the past, especially when we don’t cross paths with them much anymore. That’s actually one thing I like about various online social networks: I live a long way from where I grew up, as do many of my friends from growing up, but I kind of know their current stories. Next time I see them (presumably at my fast-approaching 20th high school reunion!), I’ll have some context for who they are now.

  8. Whizzbang
    December 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Elder Holland had quite the High School experience. Here is another situation he re-tells,

    “In your years people deserve to have true friendships–the real value of which, like our health, may never be realized until we face life without them. I think that my problem was not that I had too few friends but almost too many–maybe more friends than anyone I know. But it is the associations I didn’t have, the friends I didn’t reach that cause me some pain now all these years later.

    Let me cite just one case, which will be guilt enough for tonight. In 1979 we held in St. George our 20-year class reunion for Dixie High School. We had great high school years filled with state football and basketball championships and a host of other “hometown, USA” memories. My life was straight out of Happy Days. I was Richie Cunningham before Ron Howard was Richie Cunningham. We even had our own Fonzie–black leather jacket and all. Anyway, an effort was made to find current addresses for the entire class and get everyone to the reunion.

    In the midst of all that fun, I remember the terribly painful letter written by one very bright–but, in her childhood, somewhat overweight and less than popular–young woman who wrote something like this:

    Congratulations to all of us for having survived long enough to have a 20-year class reunion. I hope everyone has a wonderful time. But don’t reserve a place for me. I have, in fact, spent most of those 20 years trying to forget the painful moments of our school days together. Now that I am nearly over those feelings of loneliness and shattered self-esteem, I cannot bring myself to see all of the class and run the risk of remembering all of that again. Have a good time and forgive me. It is my problem, not yours. Maybe I can come at the 30-year mark.

    (Which, I am very happy to report, she did.) But she was terribly wrong about one thing–it was our problem, and we knew it.

    I have wept for her–my friend–and other friends like her in our youth for whom I and a lot of others obviously were not masters of “the healer’s art.” We simply were not the Savior’s agents or disciples that he intended a group of young people to be. I cannot help but wonder what I might have done to watch out a little more for the ones not included, to make sure the gesture of a friendly word or a listening ear or a little low-cost casual talk and shared time might have reached far enough to include those hanging on the outer edge of the social circle, and in some cases barely hanging on at all.”
    “Come Unto Me”

  9. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    December 9, 2011 at 5:03 am

    The essence of the gospel is not proclaiming how Christ has saved us, the favored, but in loving our neighbors as Christ loves them. Beautiful simple stories.

    I was far from home in milutary service during the planning of most if my high school reunions, but it struck me that the people who planned those events chose venues that were on the expensive side for many of the blue collar people in our class. It seemed to me that the planners were trying to recreate the material and physical competition of a prom, rather than give us time where we could concentrate on conversation with our old friends and make new friends of classmates who were not in our circles before.

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