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Setting goals: Advice from Elder John A. Widtsoe still relevant more than a century later

Published: Monday, Jan. 2 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Members of the BYU Board of Trustees on commencement day 1933. From (L to R)  BYU President, Dr. Franklin S. Harris, Church President, Heber J. Grant, Church counselor Anthony W. Ivins, Senator and Member of the Council of Twelve, Reed Smoot, David O. McKay, later President of the Church and John A. Widtsoe, both members of the Council of Twelve.   Deseret News Archives (Deseret News Archives) Members of the BYU Board of Trustees on commencement day 1933. From (L to R) BYU President, Dr. Franklin S. Harris, Church President, Heber J. Grant, Church counselor Anthony W. Ivins, Senator and Member of the Council of Twelve, Reed Smoot, David O. McKay, later President of the Church and John A. Widtsoe, both members of the Council of Twelve. Deseret News Archives (Deseret News Archives)

Every year millions of people resolve to do a little better than the previous year. Gyms are frequented more often, fresh fruit and vegetables are purchased and even scripture study increases. But sometimes those good intentions may result in resting treadmills, spoiled food and dusty books.

It has been said that a goal not written is just a wish. Perhaps the lack of planning is one reason that resolutions are not kept. Life, some say, just gets in the way and many become discouraged when their New Year's resolutions become memories. But life is what you make of it, and a life centered on Jesus Christ will result in a life of achievements.

"Realizing that happiness in life is only obtained by having a pure heart, a clear conscience; and fearing the Lord and keeping his commandments I lay down the following regulations by which I shall try to conduct my life hereafter; to which end may the Lord Almighty, my Creator, help me."

These are the words of 19-year-old John A. Widtsoe, who would later become an apostle. More than 100 years ago, he penned 17 resolves that served him well throughout his life. These regulations are still relevant today as we plan our lives and use our time wisely.

John Andreas Widtsoe was born in Norway in 1872 to John A. Widtsoe and Anna Karine Gaarden. After the death of her husband in 1878, Anna Widtsoe moved young John and her newborn baby boy to Trondheim to be near relatives.

It was there that Anna joined the LDS Church and in 1884, she and her sons migrated to Logan, Utah. At the age of 17, John enrolled at Brigham Young College in Logan and he graduated in 1891. On Jan. 1 of that year, he wrote the following on lined paper:

"Resolved:

"1st. That religion, the science of sciences, be made my chief concernment throughout life.

"2nd. That I will daily pray to God in secret.

"3rd. That I will daily reflect upon God and his attributes and try to become like him.

"4th. That I will receive Light, Wisdom or Knowledge, wherever or however it may be offered.

"5th. That I never be ashamed to acknowledge my principles, beliefs and religion when I once become fully convinced of their correctness.

"6th. That I never lose one moment of time but improve it.

"7th. That I maintain strict temperance in eating and drinking.

"8th. That I never do anything that I would not do were it the last hour of my life.

"9th. That I daily read the word of God, that I may learn his will and that I may be comforted, strengthened and encouraged by so doing.

"10th. That in any narrations I speak nothing but the pure and simple verity.

"11th. That I always do that which I think is my duty and for the best good for my fellow beings.

"12th. That I live with all my might while I do live, that I may not die a living death.

"13th. That I never by word or manner try to force my opinions on others but that I simply state them and offer my arguments against others!

"14th. That I seek to overcome the habit of being quick tempered, loud speaking, impatient motions and whatever might offend my fellowmen and hurt me.

"15th. That I never for a moment forget my duty towards my mother, she who has made me who I am and who will make what I will become, she who has spent the better portion of her life in my behalf and to whom I owe all the honor, respect, and affection that I can give; also that I always remember my duties toward my brother and all my friends and relations.

"16th. That I complete every task which I begin; also that I carefully consider my purpose and its results before taking upon me any duty.

"17th. That I always remember that the men and women I meet are my brothers and sisters and that I look to the beam in my own eye before attempting to remove the mote in my fellow's eye."

Widtsoe's duty to his mother was well deserved. Anna mortgaged her property and took out loans to send her son to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. In three years, he finished the four-year curriculum and graduated summa cum laude. Widtsoe returned to Logan and accepted a job as a professor at Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University).

In 1898, Widtsoe married Leah Eudora Dunford. They moved to Germany, where Widtsoe earned a Ph.D. from the University of Goettingen. He again returned to Logan and built up the agriculture research department at the Agricultural College. His work on scientific dry farming and irrigation practices were used in arid regions throughout the world.

He served as president of the college from 1907 to 1916 and later as president of the University of Utah from 1916 to 1921. Elder John A. Widtsoe was ordained an apostle in 1921 and served in that capacity until his death in 1952.

"I hope it will be said of me I have tried to live unselfishly, to serve God and my fellow man, and use my time and talents industriously for the advancement of the human good," Elder Widtsoe expressed toward the end of his life.

His life served as an example to others, and his work has made an impact on people throughout the world. Elder Widtsoe's story is included in the institute manual "The Gospel and the Productive Life." The teacher manual states, "Many people struggle with setting goals and managing their time effectively." It then listed three principles to help improve lives and better serve others.

1. Setting worthwhile goals gives direction to our lives.

2. We should set goals in a number of different areas.

3. Managing our time gives us control over our lives so we can serve more effectively.

In his October 1974 general conference address, President Ezra Taft Benson, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve, said: "Every accountable child of God needs to set goals, short- and long-range goals. A man who is pressing forward to accomplish worthy goals can soon put despondency under his feet, and once a goal is accomplished, others can be set up. Some will be continuing goals. Each week when we partake of the sacrament we commit ourselves to the goals of taking upon ourselves the name of Christ, of always remembering him and keeping his commandments.

"Of Jesus' preparation for his mission, the scripture states that he 'increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.' (Luke 2:52.) This encompasses four main areas for goals: spiritual, mental, physical, and social. 'Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be?' asked the Master, and he answered, 'Verily I say unto you, even as I am.' (3 Ne. 27:27.) Now there is a lifetime goal — to walk in his steps, to perfect ourselves in every virtue as he has done, to seek his face, and to work to make our calling and election sure."

Elder Widtsoe wrote the words to the hymn "Lead Me Into Life Eternal." In it we can find his commitment to God and his resolution to let Christ and the gospel be his "chief concernment throughout life."

"Father, all my heart I give thee;

"All my service shall be thine."

As we begin 2012, it's important to remember that "a goal is an anticipated accomplishment."

With a list of goals and a determination to accomplish them, we, like Elder Widtsoe at age 19, plan to succeed.

EMAIL: calexander@desnews.com

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