"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
April 17, 2008
Forsaking treasures of the world -- and heart
by Orson Scott Card

The story of the rich young man in Matthew 19 is not a parable. He was a real person, who came to Jesus to ask what he needed to do to have eternal life.

Jesus recited to him many of the ten commandments, and added, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

"I've done all these things from my youth up; what do I still lack?"

Perhaps I'm too cynical about human nature, but I suspect the young man was hoping Jesus would look into his heart and say, "You have arrived; your soul is pure; you will be saved in the kingdom of heaven." But that's not how Jesus answered him.

"If you would be perfect, go and sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me. Your treasure will then be in heaven."

The young man couldn't do it, because, says the scripture, "he had great possessions" (Matt. 19:22).

I've heard it said that this commandment applied only to this particular young man because he so loved his high position in society; Jesus asked of him the sacrifice that would be hardest for him.

I've also heard people say that it is enough to be willing to give up everything and follow Christ -- "I've given everything to the Lord in my heart, and if he ever asks me for it, it's his!"

Both these views are, at least partly, wrong -- mere excuses for us not to do what Jesus said would get us eternal life.

Peter pointed out to Jesus that he and the apostles had literally forsaken everything and were following him.

And Christ answered by promising that anyone who forsakes property or family for his name's sake will "receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt. 19:29).

Yet we're not supposed to abandon our families and stop earning a living. On the contrary, we Mormons support our families, trying to follow Christ while living in the world.

Still, there are Saints who do leave everything behind and follow Christ. We call them "fulltime missionaries." And it isn't wealth alone that can hold us back from making that utter commitment to the Savior.

When I was 19, I had no intention of going on a mission. I was busily involved in the drama program at BYU, writing and directing plays, acting (when someone was desperate enough to cast me in a role), writing poetry and fiction ... and hanging around the Harris Fine Arts Center playing my guitar while my friends and I sang songs by Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen and Peter Paul and Mary.

How could I give that up just to go act like a door-to-door gospel salesman, getting rejected by strangers, while being subject to a mission president and missionary leaders and forced to stick to a schedule not of my making?

I simply couldn't bear the thought of giving up control over my own life. I wasn't rich, but I had plans.

Besides, the plays I was writing were all scripture- or church-history-based, and were aimed at the Mormon audience. I was serving the Lord in my own way, wasn't I?

Like the people who say they have given up all their possessions "in their hearts," I would have said, "Well sure, if the Lord actually asked me to go, I'd set aside all my plans and do it."

But the Lord doesn't ask us individually. He tells us what's expected and it's our job to find a way to do it.

The whole year I was 19, and not on a mission, I threw myself into my work. During the summer I had my first professional acting gig at the Sundance Summer Theatre. I was looking forward to going after the role of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady that fall. I had as many plans as ever.

And then, as I turned 20, I realized: I didn't care about any of my plans. They suddenly felt empty. Useless.

One semester away from graduation, I went to the bishop and we put in my papers.

I didn't have a revelation telling me to go. The Lord had simply shown me that the things I was doing instead of a mission were a waste of my time.

I wasn't a great missionary. As I had expected, my personality didn't fit well within the mission system. I'm not docile by nature, and I don't respond well to attempts at taming me.

But by the end of my mission, with the right mission president, with the right companions, having learned the right lessons, I was actually somewhat useful to the Lord.

The Lord may not give us an individual, itemized list of things that are keeping us captive. But giving everything up to follow Jesus -- even if it's only for a few years at a time -- is a good way of learning to be free.

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More by Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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