by Joyce DiPastena
While I was praying one day this week, reflecting on the passing of President Gordon B. Hinckley and thanking Heavenly Father for the opportunity to have known this wonderful and outstanding leader, I found my mind drifting with gratitude not only for President Hinckley, but for all the great prophets I have had the privilege to “know” in my lifetime.
David O. McKay was the prophet of my childhood, but aside from recognizing his picture on the Primary table week after week and knowing that his name was the answer to our Primary president’s question, “Who’s our prophet?”, I didn’t know anything more than his name and picture until many years later.
Joseph Fielding Smith was the prophet of my early youth. My mother would tell me stories about him, but beyond her words and pictures once again, I never heard him speak and didn’t feel like I knew him, either.
Then came Harold B. Lee…came and went so quickly, that once more, it was only through my mother’s words that I learned anything of the man.
Thus, President Spencer W. Kimball was the first prophet that, thanks to the evolving wonders of modern technology, I came to know beyond a frozen picture and other people’s words. By radio, TV, and ultimately a stake satellite dish, I finally heard and saw a prophet in action. And truly, President Kimball was a man of action!
“Lengthen your stride.” “Do it.” “Do it now!” Much of the foundation that President Hinckley has built on was laid (at least, in my memory) during the tenure of President Kimball. The creation of the Quorums of the Seventies. (Presdient Hinckley filled them.) The extension of the priesthood to all worthy members of the Church. (President Hinckley built temples in Africa.) And speaking of temples, after a long interlude between temple building, President Kimball set in motion a new temple building program involving smaller temples…not as small as President Hinckley pursued, but surely a step towards that future, and an exciting time of new temple growth in the 1980s. He called for an unprecedented number of new missionaries to carry the gospel to the world. And while the size of the Church was smaller then, President Kimball, too, was a “man of the people” who loved to travel the world to meet the members of the Church. He was not a young man, and he had many health problems, but he remained a “man on the go”. I still vividly recall a talk in general conference given by one of the Seventies who had traveled with him on one of his journeys. At the request of one of President Kimball’s doctors, the Seventy encouraged President Kimball to try to take things a little easier, to slow down just a bit. He said President Kimball stopped, turned to him, and said, “Elder ? (can’t remember his name, sorry), if you knew what I knew, you wouldn’t ask me to slow down.” When illness finally overtook him towards the end of his presidency, I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder if this was the only way the Lord could find to make President Kimball finally slow down and rest?”
I remember President Ezra Taft Benson’s “classic” talks on reading the Book of Mormon and bewaring of pride. But I also remember his love for the members of the Church, and his recognition that within that membership were distinct groups with distinct sets of needs. I remember over a series of general conferences, he focused one talk to the women of the Church (I presume he spoke to the men in the general priesthood meeting); another talk to the youth of the Church; a talk aimed at singles in the Church; and even a talk especially aimed at the children. And to this day, of all the testimonies he bore while a prophet, the memory that still gives me chills to recall is the one that he bore at the press conference following President Kimball’s death, when he was introduced as the new President of the Church. I can still hear the way his voice trembled…yes, undoubtedly from age, but more from force of conviction as he declared boldly to all the world: “I love this work with all my heart.” At that moment, I knew without shadow of doubt that “the work” was true, and his testimony burned into my heart.
President Howard W. Hunter was prophet such a short time. I often feel just a wee bit cheated that he wasn’t allowed to serve longer, for I loved this humble servant of the Lord. He challenged us all to make the temple the great symbol of our membership of the Church. To qualify for a temple recommend, even if we thought we’d never be close enough to a temple to use it. (What a prophetic challenge, given the temple growth that followed under President Hinckley!) But I also hear his voice urging us to be kinder, more gentle, more forgiving, more tolerant with one another. And when speaking of the Savior, I remember him saying, “We need to know Him better than we know Him.” On days when I struggle with a sense of self-worth and wonder “Why would God love me?”, even—perhaps especially—when I see so much evidence around me that He does—I can hear again these words of the prophet, and I know the answer is, “I need to know the Savior better than I do.”
If you are like me, you have spent a weekend richly filled in memories of President Hinckley. I have no need to remind you of them here. But on this day, I say not only:
“I thank thee, O God, for a prophet…”, but, “I thank thee, O God, for all the prophets who have guided me in these latter-days.”