Last night after a long stretch of meetings I got in my car and headed over to a townhouse in a nearby neighborhood. When I got there I was greeted by a small group of teenagers preparing to say goodbye to the 18-year-old young man I had come to see.
This would the last night he’d spend at home for two years.
After visiting for a few minutes I gave the young man a hug and shared with him how I felt about his decision to sacrifice 24 months of his life to serve others. I invest a great deal of myself in these young men. Witnessing them decide to go is gratifying. Saying goodbye is incredibly difficult.
This morning this young man’s parents, sisters, and some close friends took him to the Phoenix airport. They helped him check in his suitcases and walked with him to the deepest spot in the terminal that security would allow them to go with him. There they waited until the last possible moment before his flight departed before they said their tearful goodbyes.
It is at that moment that most young men and women in the LDS culture face The Longest Walk of their lives.
As they turn to head into the security line and eventually make their way down the concourse to their gate they leave behind those they love, the place they call home, their hobbies, their jobs, their possessions, their schooling, and every comfort of life.
These are the hardest steps they have ever taken.
No friends or family will accompany them on this journey.
They must do it alone.
Nothing is scarier. Nothing is more intimidating. Nothing is harder.
These young people are, literally and symbolically, turning and walking away from everything and everyone they have ever known.
The Longest Walk is the rawest emotional experience of these teenagers’ lives.
It takes every ounce of faith they can possibly muster to move their feet and continue to walk.
And yet in every step the transformation deepens.
The focus on self fades.
The dependency on deity grows.
The discovery of courage previously untapped is made.
The distractions of the world dissolve.
There is no moment in these young people’s lives when they feel weaker than when they begin The Long Walk.
There is no experience that could make them stronger than those steps.
I am grateful for my decision many years ago to make The Longest Walk. It changed me. Forever.
There have been other Long Walks since then in my life.
I am certain others await me.
I have come to realize these Walks are in many ways the defining moments of this mortal experience.
I do not believe we were sent to Earth to sit and be comfortable. We are here to be refined.
The transformations our maker desires in each of us happen when we have the faith, courage, and commitment to take The Longest Walks.