I MUST CONFESS IT, come clean, get it off my chest.

Since 1956 I have harbored a guilt regarding a selfish and irresponsible act that has had dire consequences for the whole world. I realize that every righteous reader will be dumbfounded by my egregious selfishness, while sinners (none of whom read this newspaper, anyway) will shrug their shoulders and continue on their self-destructive course.

Yes, I admit it — I am personally responsible for the sad state of the world. But for my selfishness, we would now be basking in the Millennium. I am very sorry for putting the world in this terrible fix. Let me explain:

At some point in our ongoing serious discussions of the gospel-according-to-LDS-missionaries-in-Linz-Austria-during-late-summer-1956, my wonderful senior companion, Elder Gary O'Brien, looked me in the soul and confided that in his inspired opinion the Savior would be returning in the very near future. In fact, he pronounced, "He will probably return to earth before you (Elder Cracroft) complete your mission" — that is, before Jan. 14, 1959!

I was stunned by this solemn prophecy by my revered mentor/hero/companion, who spoke having indisputable authority "and not as the scribes." Until that moment I had thought of Christ's return as a nebulous future event, like Death, Marriage or the End of my Mission — things that would occur Someday.

Now, suddenly, someday was here, and I was threatened by the immanence of the Second Coming of the Lord sometime in the next 2 1/2 years. I believed and I was scared, but I resolved to accept my fate in a manly and stoical way.

Not wanting to alarm my fellow missionaries, I said nothing about it to anyone but the Lord. For a couple of weeks, I prayed fervently that I would be prepared against his advent; that I might be deemed worthy to abide his coming; that his appearance, like "a thief in the night," would be painless and would catch me anxiously engaged in doing his will as a noble and valiant missionary. My lurking discomfort was, of course, that I had genuine doubts about my qualifications on any of these fronts, so I pled for grace.

Then, after a few nights on my knees, after long missionary workdays, I began to qualify my prayers. I soon began to utter the selfish words which have changed the course of human and ecclesiastical history: "Come, O thou king of kings," I said, kneeling on the stone-hard floor of our austere bedroom at Leonfeldnerstrassse 47, "but not until I have returned home, graduated, married and had children. Then thou canst come — in due time."

I so prayed for several nights, gradually expanding the length of time I humbly requested that he should keep his distance, urging that he delay his second advent until I was a long-in-tooth, children-on-lap grandfather. But I felt uncomfortable about negotiating with the Lord. I began to feel like Abraham haggling with the Lord about the fate of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.

After several days of so praying, I finally prevailed with the Lord — at least, I gradually stopped praying about the Second Coming and turned to more pressing missionary business, like beseeching the Lord to bless Herr Kelchner and Frau Plattner with testimonies of the Restoration.

That was 52 years ago. My prayers were answered. The Lord delayed his coming. And I'm to blame that this whole mortal mess wasn't straightened out years ago. I apologize to all of you. But, get ready, because I'm at it again: "Come, O thou king of kings," I pray, "and hurry! (But keep an eye out for my grandchildren)."

So you see, it isn't all President Bush's fault, after all. It's mine.

Richard H. Cracroft is a former dean of the College of Humanities at Brigham Young University. He served as a missionary in the Swiss-Austrian Mission, 1956-59, and was president of the Switzerland Zurich Mission, 1986-89.