The Painful Price of Disobedience: A Cowboy’s Perspective

David Walls’ “What I Learned as a Cowboy” is a painful and moving story in the March New Era, the Church’s magazine for teenagers.

David recounts a lesson he learned at age 12 when he and his friends in southern Utah wanted to go on a horseback adventure that would involve camping. He begged his mother for permission to take her horse on this outing, and she gave in, but made him promise to follow the basic rules for caring for one’s horse.

We arrived at our campsite at dusk and started to prepare for the night. I remembered the instructions given to me by my parents. They had taught me how to tie up my horse to a strong live tree; how to leave the rope just loose enough for him to feed from the ground, but not so loose that the horse might step over the rope. I also remembered them telling me, “Never eat your dinner until your animals have been fed.”

Everyone took care of his own horse before turning his attention to his own needs–everyone, that is, except one. In haste to fix his dinner, my friend Billy tied his horse to a small dead tree and hurried off to the campfire. By the time we finished our duties, it was dark. Billy finished his dinner and then turned his attention to his horse. When he approached his horse in the dark, the horse spooked. Billy then made the fatal mistake of striking a match too close to the horse’s face. The horse reared back and pulled the dead tree from the ground. The tree, attached to the rope, hit the horse, which sent him off on a dead run. I will never forget the sound of that horse running into the darkness and the crashing of the tree he dragged behind him. The noise continued for 10 to 15 seconds, and then there was silence . . . followed by a loud crash.

One of the adults had run after the horse and was first to reach him. We grabbed our flashlights and followed. After searching in the dark, we found the horse at the bottom of a 50-foot cliff. As long as I live, I will clearly remember watching that horse die.

We were a group of solemn boys as we worked our way up the cliff and returned to camp that night. Each one quickly and quietly bedded down. All that could be heard throughout the night was Billy’s sobbing and the rustling of nervous horses that seemed to sense what had happened. It was a very long night.

That experience became a life-changing moment. As I lay in my bed gazing at the millions of stars in the heavens, the events of the day passed through my mind. I began thinking about the advice my parents had given me as I was growing up. Suddenly it all began to make sense. I had come to a point in my life where I was responsible for my actions. The decisions I was making now not only affected me but those around me. I began to see that the results of my disobedience could be disastrous, especially to those who depended on me. My mother had entrusted me with her treasured horse. How grateful I was that I had been obedient to her instructions.

I think this experience is worth pondering. We all know of the grace and mercy of our Savior, and how we can be forgiven of our sins when we disobey. But what pain and sorrow we can cause to others by our mistakes. So many of the commandments are there to help us avoid hurting others and ourselves, though the disobedient rarely understand what sorrow and harm they cause and what opportunities may be missed. Promiscuity, adultery, and moral sins in general are this way – the guilty rarely understand how much damage they are doing.

The guidelines of the Gospel really do help us live happier lives and help us to do good rather than evil to those around us. When we understand this, we will understand why the scriptures teach that charity, the pure love of Jesus Christ, is the greatest gift of all, one that we must seek with all the energy of our heart (Moroni 7). Without it, we truly are nothing – no matter how obedient we think we are. True obedience must lead us not just to following God’s law, but also to charity and a cautious, generous walk in life, that we may avoid causing harm and instead do much good.

Remember, disobedience so frequently results in others being hurt (or perhaps prevents us from being able to help others that we might have helped), whether it’s a loved one, a neighbor, a stranger, or beloved animal like Billy’s horse.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

5 thoughts on “The Painful Price of Disobedience: A Cowboy’s Perspective

  1. I’m trying to find a quote, I think a GA said it. It’s about service and says something about the Lord knowing our needs, but it’s usually though another person that our needs are met and that is why it is vital that we serve one another…anyone know the exact quote and who said it??

  2. President Spencer W. Kimball said it.

    The xact quote is: “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom. The people of the Church need each other’s strength, support, and leadership. … So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane [ordinary] help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds!”
    Here is a link to the March 1981 New Era article in which he talked to the youth about service to others.

    This quote also appears in the December 1974 Ensign article “Small Acts of Service.”

    Hope that helps.

    -MS Saint

  3. Nice post Jeff.

    I always view prophetic warnings to us at conference as this type of a situation, where someone higher up the mountain is pointing out the perils that will befall us as we follow them up.

    It is all the more relevant with prophetic involvement in California at the moment. To many, and admittedly myself, it is not apparent why the church gets involved in something that involves free choice. But we raise our hand to sustain them, even when we don’t understand or agree with them. Otherwise, our support would be hollow.

    The first presidency is like a scout leader here telling billy to tie the horse up correctly, but billy, in his infinite wisdom, doesn’t seem think that it matters which tree. Where do we find ourselves when obedience comes into play to something we may not undertand or don’t agree with?

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