Christ gave His chosen Twelve Disciples in both continents a rare opportunity. One by one, he asked them "What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?" Eleven of the Jewish Disciples and nine of the Nephite Disciples asked for the same thing:
We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, wherein thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom.
But John and three unnamed Nephites requested to remain on the earth and serve the Lord long after their natural lifespans. I used to wonder why the disciples were not unanimous in asking for that blessing. After all, who wouldn't want to be a missionary forever?
Weariness in well-doing
Before my mission, I used to think that I would never get "weary" of preaching the Gospel. When I left on my mission, I had one goal in mind: to never ever lose my "greenie fire." I wanted to return to the apartment at the end of each day fatigued, but just as dedicated and zealous as I was on my first day in the MTC.
But that was before the three thousandth door was shut in my face.
As I faced rejection after rejection, I became more and more discouraged. I started to feel like I was getting nowhere. I still tried to be stalwart and zealously obedient my whole mission (much to the chagrin of some companions). But as time wore on, my goal shifted. I was less focused on baptizing all of Colorado, and more just trying to stay motivated and obedient so I could finish my mission and honestly say I truly gave it my all.
By the end of my mission, I understood the 20 disciples who asked for a speedy return to the Father's kingdom much more than I could understand the 4 who wanted to stay on earth and keep up the work for another few millennia. I finally began to understand why Paul had to exhort the Galatian and the Thessolonian Saints to "be not weary in well-doing." I understood why God had to God had to repeat the same command in our day. It's not that righteous saints get weary of well-doing– we get weary in well-doing. We get weary of the rejection. We get weary of the lack of visible success.
Consider the 4 disciples who remained and what they experienced. John the Beloved had helped Christ establish Christ's Church only to watch is=t drift into complete apostasy within only a few decades. The Nephite disciples had it a little easier– their period of righteousness lasted a few hundred years. But then their entire civilization reached perdition-levels of wickedness and wiped themselves off the map in a gruesome war. Both the Nephite and Jewish disciples then had to wade through nearly two millennia where the priesthood was taken from the earth and the plan of salvation was completely unknown to the earth.
The Nephite disciples were promised that they would feel no earthly pain or sorrow after their transfiguration. But they were also explicitly promised that they would feel "sorrow for the sins of the world." Considering all the destruction and death and apostasy that they have witnessed so far, I can only imagine how immense that sorrow must be. I almost wonder if they ever think of asking God if they can change their answers.
Nephi, the unwearying one
What's the secret to surviving such constant rejection, heartache, and sorrow? For that, we look to the prophet Nephi about two decades before the birth of the Savior. At about 30 BC, Nephi went to the Lamanites to preach the Gospel. He had a lot of success there. As a result of his preaching, almost all the Lamanites joined the Church. They gave the Nephites back the lands they had conquered from them and both nations entered into an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity.
He didn't come home and get comfortable after that mission, either. He left the Lamanites to the south and went far up north to visit the Nephites who had migrated away from the land of Zarahemla. Unfortunately, these Nephites in the North "rejected all his words," and kicked him out of the land. What a letdown! Nephi had just experienced great success among what was supposed to be the most hardened people, only to be utterly rejected by a group of his own people!
Unfortunately, this was not the end of Nephi's disappointment. When he returned home to the Nephite capital of Zarahemla, he found that the government had been taken over by secret combinations yet again.
After two missions, you would think the guy would get a break. But Nephi didn't ask for a reprieve– he immediately got to work. He poured out his soul to God for his people, gathered a crowd at his tower, and preached to them. He showed them a sign by revealing the assassination of their newest chief judge. He was arrested for conspiracy, and then set free when his prophecy was validated a day or two later by a miracle. The people were astounded by this miracle and started fighting with each other over whether to classify Nephi as a prophet or as a god. Their dispute was so heated and so interesting that the crowd left Nephi's place to go argue about it elsewhere, leaving Nephi completely (maybe finally)alone.
Remember, Nephi had just returned home from a 7-year mission at this point. He had just been released from jail a few hours before. He was surely tired to the point of exhaustion. He deserved a break. Nephi started to return home to ponder and digest all that had happened. But he was interrupted again– this time by the voice of the Lord:
Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word… because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever.
That phrase, "unwearyingness," caught my attention. What a great description for that dogged prophet! Nephi was given the sealing power and commanded to go again and warn the people. True to character, Nephi immediately abandoned the plans for his well-deserved break and went right back to work:
And behold, now it came to pass that when the Lord had spoken these words unto Nephi, he did stop and did not go unto his own house, but did return unto the multitudes who were scattered about upon the face of the land, and began to declare unto them the word of the Lord.
– v 12
Not only did Nephi get right to work, but he worked so hard and so fast, that the Spirit had to carry him from place to place so he could communicate with literally everyone in the land.
The unwearyingness of God's leaders
This unwearyingness demonstrated by Nephi reminded me of an account I heard Elder Hales share regarding another Prophet of God, Pres. Kimball:
In February 1977, we were scheduled to hold meetings in La Paz, Bolivia, which is twelve thousand feet above sea level. [Doctors] advised us that President Kimball should have four to six hours' rest to acclimate his heart and blood pressure to the high altitude. President Kimball is very tightly scheduled during area conferences, and this allows little time for rest. (In reality, the doctors accompanied the General Authorities so that we could keep up with President Kimball.)
I talked with President Tanner and President Romney to seek their assistance in getting President Kimball to rest in La Paz before the start of the area conference. They only smiled and said, "You can try."
Detailed plans were presented to the First Presidency for area conferences in Mexico, Central and South America. I saw President Kimball make two small red check marks next to La Paz, Bolivia, where there were two meetings that he was not scheduled to attend. "What are these meetings? Why am I not attending?" he asked. There was a pause; then I replied, "That's a rest period, President Kimball." And he remarked, "Are you tired, Elder Hales?"
We arrived in La Paz, and the first meeting was a cultural event. He would not rest. My head ached; it felt as though it would explode in adjusting to the altitude, and we breathed oxygen to attempt to speed up our being acclimated to the twelve-thousand-foot altitude; but President Kimball took no oxygen. He greeted, embraced, and shook hands with two thousand Saints.
After the last meeting, he invited one thousand more of his beloved Lamanites, who had come down from the Altiplano, to come shake his hand. They came and embraced him and shook his hand vigorously. He wanted to show his love for the Lamanites.
Dr. Wilkinson was concerned with the President's vigorous activity at twelve thousand feet and approached him. He asked President Kimball if it would be possible for him to stop soon. President Kimball said, "If you knew what I knew, you wouldn't ask me that question." President Kimball is driven by the knowledge that we are preparing for the second coming of Jesus Christ. He knows that it is his responsibility, along with those who are chosen to work with him, to take the message to all nations in their own tongue and language.
President Kimball told the General Authorities, "I am not afraid of death. What I am afraid of is that I will meet the Savior and he will say, 'You could have done better.'"
Can you feel the dedication and urgency of a prophet's voice to move the kingdom forward? "Are you tired, Elder Hales?" has a way of ringing in my ears when I rest for a moment. If we knew what President Kimball knows, then we, too, would work with all our heart, might, mind, and strength.
When we tried to save his strength, he'd say, "I know you are trying to save me. But I don't want to be saved; I want to be exalted." He then would tell us that the Lord would sustain him as the prophet, and we should not slow the Church down because of him.
Pres. Packer noted Pres. Kimball's unwearyingness in 2008 when he quoted Pres. Kimball as saying, "my life is like my shoes– to be worn out in service." Pres. Packer then proceeded to give us a rare glimpse into the difficult life of being a General Authority:
That applies to all members of the Twelve. We also wear ourselves out in service of the Lord, and we do so willingly. It is not an easy life for us or our families.
In particular, he mentioned the unwearyingness of the selfless wives of priesthood leaders:
It is not possible in words to describe the contribution, the service, the sacrifice given by the wives of priesthood leaders all across the world.
Developing unwearyingness in our own lives
How can we develop such "unwearyingness" even in the face of rejection, persecution, or adversity? How can we keep cheerfully climbing and climbing when it seems we are not gaining any altitude? How can we not just endure, but endure it well?
The simple answer is: we can't. At least, not by ourselves. Pres. Eyring told priesthood leaders:
There will be times when you will feel overwhelmed. One of the ways you will be attacked is with the feeling that you are inadequate. Well, you are inadequate to answer a call to represent God with only your own powers. But you have access to more than your natural capacities, and you do not work alone.
I believe that the promise in the Word of Wisdom applies to more than just physical health. As we do all we can to magnify our responsibilities and to call down the blessings of the Lord, we will be able to spiritually "run and not be weary" and to "walk and not faint" in our various duties. This applies outside our Church callings as well. We will find unwearyingness in our most important callings: husband, father, wife, and mother.
The past several years since my mission have been difficult at times. There were several years in my life where I was working full-time as a software engineer while taking a full-time load of university classes and serving in a branch presidency. Of course, those years were when my wife and I decided to buy a house and have our first kid, too.
Balancing all that was difficult. Many people who watched me asked how I could manage to keep all those plates spinning. When they asked me that, I would answer that I honestly didn't know. The math and the hours never added up. I often didn't even consider the load until someone pointed it out to me. But somehow, it all worked out.
The unwearying Nephi was carried by the Spirit from place to place faster than a human can travel. In a way, I guess God was carrying me, too. And He carries all of us when we are trying our best to make it work. Maybe that's what unwearyingness really is:
Do [your] duty; that is best; Leave unto [the] Lord the rest!