Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles currently represents the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve in supervising the growth and establishment of the Church in Africa. Elder Bednar’s teachings significantly influence me as a member of the Area Presidency, as well as me personally.
Elder Bednar continually emphasizes the importance of keeping things simple. After he dedicated the country of Gabon for the preaching of the gospel, he met with a small group of pioneers. They would be instrumental in establishing the Church in that country of approximately 1.7 million people. His advice to them was straightforward: “If you start right and keep it simple, you will stay right” (meeting in Gabon, Nov. 5, 2013).
I have repeated that message many times in many situations. However, when I try to apply it in my own life, I find that it can be a very complex process to keep things simple. Perhaps it is human nature to overcomplicate things. We can be particularly susceptible to this as members of the Church. When trying to accomplish objectives or solve problems, we tend to add more activities, more initiatives, more guidelines, more programs—more busyness. In reality, the most effective way to achieve worthwhile goals is to keep things simple and follow the basic inspired principles revealed by God. Sometimes “less” is “more.”
I admire one man’s determination to keep things simple in spite of people who tried to overcomplicate his life. Cliff Young was a 61-year-old farmer who won the world’s toughest endurance race by relying on tried-and-true methods and by keeping things simple. Cliff and his family had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. They were farmers who couldn’t afford tractors or horses. When storms rolled in, Cliff had to go out and round up the sheep on foot. He said, “Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I’d always catch them” (elitefeet.com/ the-legend-of-cliff-young).
When Cliff heard about the 5-day, 543.7-mile (875 km) ultra-marathon race between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, he felt he could run the race. The day of the race, he presented himself at the registration table wearing overalls and work boots, amidst many world-class athletes half his age dressed in specialized athletic gear and shoes.
Many people thought Cliff’s training methods were crazy. Some people were concerned about his health and safety, and they didn’t think Cliff should participate in the race. Cliff ran with an unusual shuffle that elicited ridicule from onlookers. But Cliff ignored the doubters and ran the race. Initially he trailed all of the other runners. However, when others slept for 5 to 6 hours per day, Cliff shuffled onward without sleep. He drew strength from pretending that he was searching for sheep and trying to outrun a storm. Each day he progressed, and he eventually won the race by 10 hours, setting a new course record.
Other ultra-marathon runners began adopting Cliff’s unusual running style and it became known as the “Young-shuffle.” In addition, most runners now follow Cliff’s example and no longer sleep during the race. (See “The Race of Life,” Church News, Oct. 30, 2010).
Similar to how Cliff adhered to his tried-and-true methods in spite of what was happening around him, it is important for each of us to keep our lives grounded in what is most important—the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can’t let the things of men or the things of the world distract us from our core beliefs. We must stay focused on the things that bring peace, joy, and success in life.
I invite each of us to evaluate whether there are things that may be overcomplicating our lives and distracting us from the things that are most important. It may be time to reestablish priorities, get rid of the things that encroach upon our time, and get back to the basics. Perhaps it is time to simplify our lives.
If our lives are not focused on these truths, what can we do to change? We can apply simple gospel principles. We can exercise faith and pray, study the scriptures, keep the Sabbath day holy, and worship God. We can repent and do our best to obey the commandments and follow the counsel of our prophets. We can faithfully fulfil our callings in the Church. We can focus our time and energy on becoming more like our Savior.
Though these are simple concepts, they can provide a framework for prioritizing our lives. And as we focus on the most important things in life, we can receive profound blessings. We are reminded repeatedly in the Book of Mormon, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land” (Alma 36:1). We are also taught, “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
It may be challenging to simplify our lives, but it is not impossible. Heavenly Father can guide us and bless our efforts as we look to Him with faith and commitment and set aside the things of the world. We can receive strength through Jesus Christ and His Atonement. He has suffered all things and understands our challenges. I know we can receive help on a daily basis to start right, keep it simple, and stay right.