You know all the answers to junior Sunday school questions by heart: pray, read the scriptures, keep the commandments, Jesus. There’s a good reason for the repetition: these are the best answers to nearly every problem you will ever face throughout your life.

President Hinckley added what ought to become another answer in your repertoire in his January 2000 Ensign First Presidency message: Ponder. The article outlined the four great responsibilities of life – responsibility to the family, the church, to work, and to yourself. The only thing he mentioned in your great responsibility to yourself was to take the time to ponder.

Of course President Hinckley’s article isn’t the first authoritative reference to pondering. Do you remember what Nephi was doing before he saw the vision of the tree of life? You guessed it!

1 Nephi 11:1 FOR it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.
2 And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?

What he desired was to see the vision his father had seen. What he got was significantly more! Nephi was shown the Savior’s ministry and everything through the end of the world.

If you need any further authority, take the words of the Lord himself, spoken to the Nephites after his crucifixion (3 Nephi 17:3): “Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.” Imagine how much that would clarify your purpose in life and strengthen you in the face of trials!

Now repeat after me: pray, read the scriptures, keep the commandments, Jesus, ponder.

Pondering adds power to your life like you wouldn’t believe! Try it for yourself and you’ll be a believer.

I read President Hinckley’s article on a January afternoon after returning from work, and decided to take his advice. I hiked up into the snowy foothills of the mountains near my home, found a rock with a view to sit on, and went to work. For my first topic of pondering, I chose the atonement – what better? What could be more important to understand and have faith in? In my mind, I prayerfully reviewed the events of the night before Jesus’s crucifixion and let them sink in more deeply and become more real. The Spirit made them sink into my heart and the very next day I noticed that my perspective had in fact changed. The atonement felt more precious to me, I felt greater gratitude, and I became a staunch believer in the value of pondering.

One of the most valuable topics I’ve ever taken a moment to ponder is eternity. At first glance, it seems like just one more gospel principle. It sounds like something that happens later, after our mortal probation. It sounds like a reward for whatever we do in the here and now, before eternity begins.

Not so!

I had flipped open the scriptures to read a verse or two before driving an hour to pick up a friend from the airport. The verses I read were Doctrine & Covenants 43:34: “Hearken ye to these words. Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Treasure these things up in your hearts, and let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds.”

“Okay,” I answered in my mind, “if you say so.” I spent most of my drive pondering eternity. I thought about how long it is. I considered what I might end up doing with it. I wondered how it would feel to not be in such a rush all the time – even though I’m sure I’ll have much more to accomplish in later parts of eternity, I won’t have all the time in the world to do them. I’ll have all the time in the universe!

Well, to make a short story shorter, when I finished pondering eternity, my perspective had once again shifted forever. I didn’t feel so rushed. I didn’t worry so much about all the details I had to accomplish every day. I saw more clearly what was important and more fully trusted that everything else would eventually just fall into place and that all my rush and hurry didn’t necessarily get me where I wanted to go any faster.

I was reminded again of the value of eternity this past weekend. I was talking with a friend about my dilemma between wanting to work hard all the time and finish projects that could get me where I want to be, and balancing my life with more relaxation and play and friends. “I wish life was like a mountain,” I told her. “Then I could reach the top sooner by climbing and hiking faster.” She pointed out the difference between ‘progress’ (things that advance your goals) and ‘maintenance’ (which keeps you in good shape and enhances everything you do) and then she said, “But always keep the big picture in mind. Always think about eternity.”

Oh, yeah! I had forgotten. Remembering the important things motivates me to keep up on my maintenance (reading the scriptures, praying, exercising, etc.), because I see more clearly that I want to spend eternity being happy and healthy, and the rest of eternity starts now.

Pondering isn’t something you can do once and get it over with. It works best when you make it a habit.

After all, how long can you hold onto one train of thought? How many seconds does it take till your mind wanders off, down some random tangential pathway? Find out right now!! Choose a topic to ponder (I recommend eternity if you don’t have something else you’d rather think about), look at your watch, and go! Make a mark on a piece of paper every time you catch your mind wandering and off task. Think for at least two or three minutes, then count up your marks. How did you do? Were you able to focus, or are you another victim of our impatient television-induced short-attention-span generation? Do you need to practice pondering to avoid wandering 40 years in the desert before remembering that you had originally set out to reach the promised land?

Some famous scientist or mathmetician once said “We can solve any problem if we will give it enough thought.” It’s true! Give it a chance!

If you find it difficult to think without your mind wandering, try using something more solid to keep you on task. Write out your thoughts on a piece of paper. If they’re too personal and you don’t want anyone to read them later, keep writing over the same line again and again so all you get is one long pile of lead or ink. If your hand can’t keep up with your mind, type into your computer. You don’t have to save the document if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to turn on the computer!

Three themes you would profit from pondering are 1. Gospel principles 2. Things you’re excited about and want to accomplish and 3. Things that scare you or stress you out and you want to completely avoid. Pondering the first is a powerful tool for conversion. Your faith, hope, gratitude, charity and joy will increase. Pondering the second allows plans to become clear and builds motivation to follow through. It helps your dreams and goals become reality. Pondering the third is a perfectly safe way to face your fears, expand your comfort zone, and eventually enable you to tackle them without so much trepidation.

I once leaned back and stepped over the brink of a thousand foot cliff in Mexico. A large waterfall shot away from the cliff next to me and touched nothing but air all the way to the frothy pool 1/5 of a mile below. I checked my knot again, then relaxed my hold on the rope and let it slip through my rappel device in a controlled descent through this impressive piece of sky.

“This is crazy!” I told myself as I reached the first knot where we had tied the first two of five climbing ropes together. “What am I doing here?” Nevertheless, I clipped an ascender above the knot and worked my way around it. “What am I doing here?” I asked myself again.

Then the most amazing thing happened. A tiny voice inside my head whispered to me, “This is why you came.” That was all it said. “This is why you came.” It was true. My best friend Ben and I had driven hundreds of miles for a week-long vacation mostly with the intention to rappel this waterfall. The voice reassured me and I chose a new attitude. “If I die, I die,” I thought out loud (though of course I had no such intention). “At least I’m going to enjoy myself.”

I then glanced sideways at the falls. The churning whitewater above the falls changed its nature here in space. There was no thundering rumbling of millions of gallons of water pounding continually against rocks and jammed logs. There was only silence and the refreshing white noise of rain drops falling through the sky, a crystal tinkling like tiny waves splashing against a sailboat’s hull.

I looked down and watched how tiny parachutes of water would catch the air and spin, then fall again, all the way to the white and blue pool below. I watched the magnificent river twist away into the dense green jungle. My shoulders relaxed and I took a deep breath of fresh, cool air. “This is why I came,” I whispered to myself, and knowing my purpose, I found peace.

Life is no different. You have already stepped over the brink. You’ve already taken the plunge. You’ve probably sometimes asked yourself “What am I doing here?” or thought “This is crazy!” And you probably know, deep inside, that knowing the answers to the golden questions (“What am I doing here?” and the others) will give you peace and direction through all of life’s thunderous twists and turns. Such understanding will make life a beautiful, wonderous, exciting experience.

There’s a vast difference between being able to answer a junior Sunday school question and thoroughly understanding it within your heart. Knowledge shows you the path, while understanding helps you walk the thin line with greater confidence and ease. Pondering is the simplest, greatest way to bridge that chasm. Give it a try. Think about it.