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Editors’ Note: The following is a brief excerpt from the book Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball. This is an appropriate read before this momentous weekend of General Conference, where, it is assumed, three new apostles will be called.
On July 8, 1943, when Spencer had gone home for lunch the telephone rang at his office. The operator said, “Salt Lake City is calling for Spencer Kimball.”
The secretary responded, “He isn’t here right now.”
The caller broke in: “I’ll speak to whoever will speak to me. Where is Mr. Kimball?”
She replied, “He’s gone home for lunch, but hasn’t had time to arrive there.”
“This is J. Reuben Clark. How long until he’ll be home?”
“It only takes him five or ten minutes, unless he had another errand. I think you can catch him in ten minutes.”
Spencer describes the events which followed:
It was noon and I was just entering the house for my luncheon at my new home on Relation Street and Eighth Avenue, Safford, Arizona. As I pushed open the door I heard my little 12-year-old son, Eddie, saying, “No, Daddy is not here. Oh, yes. Here he comes,” as I pushed my way into the room.
“Daddy, Salt Lake City is calling.”
I had had many calls from Salt Lake City through the years but today an overpowering feeling came over me that instant that I was to be called to a high position in the Church. Why I should think so, I do not know. If ever that thought had entered my mind in times past, I had quickly thrust it from me as being most unworthy.
It must have taken only a few seconds for me to cross the room to the phone, grasp the receiver and say, “Hello,” but it seemed that an hour’s thinking and retrospection coursed through my mind with lightning rapidity. I realized I had no unfinished business with Salt Lake City. I knew that there were two vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve but I had given it little concern, knowing that the Brethren would take care of it in due time and it was still some ten weeks before the Conference, at which the vacancies would most likely be filled. There was no reason in the world why I should be called. I instantaneously convinced myself that it was impossible, that I was not capable or prepared or worthy, that no one would be called away from the headquarters of the Church and that there was no reason whatever for the feeling that came with the announcement that Salt Lake was on the wire, but I still had that short premonition that an announcement of great portent was coming. Much happened in that short second. I was upbraiding myself for permitting such a thought to enter my mind; I was proving to myself that it was only an ambitious dream, unworthily presumptuous, and that it was impossible, when the clear pleasant voice of President J. Reuben Clark came:
“Spencer, this is Brother Clark. Do you have a chair handy?”
“Yes, Brother Clark,” I answered with a quivering voice.
His words came with strength and power unmistakable.
“The brethren have just chosen you to fill one of the vacancies in the Quorum.”
I heard the words ringing down into my consciousness, but it was unbelievable.
“Oh, Brother Clark! Not me? You don’t mean me? There must be some mistake. I surely couldn’t have heard you right.” This as I sank past the chair to the floor.
“Yes. The Brethren feel that you are the man. How do you feel about it?”
“Oh, Brother Clark! It seems so impossible. I am so weak and small and limited and incapable. Of course, there could be only one answer to any call from the Brethren but-“
A complete panorama came before me of the little, mean, petty things I had done, of the little misunderstandings I had had with people in business and with people in the Church whose feelings I might have hurt. It seemed that every person that had ever been offended because of me stood before me to say, “How could you be an Apostle of the Lord? You are not worthy. You are insignificant. You shouldn’t accept this calling. You can’t do it.” I must have hesitated a long time, for Brother Clark said:
“Are you there?”
Catching my breath I said, “Yes, Brother Clark, but you’ve taken my breath. I am all in a sweat.”
“Well, it is rather warm up here also,” he said good-naturedly, sensing I am sure, the tense emotional strain through which I was passing. It wasn’t the warmth of the summer day and he knew it well.
“Does this mean that I am to sell my home and business and all my belongings and move up to Salt Lake City?” I asked.
“Yes. Ultimately,” he said.
“Do I get a little time to think this thing through?” I asked, almost pleadingly. “My mind is such a blank. I am so confused. By the way, my wife and I are leaving Saturday for Boulder, Colorado, to see our son and his family. Why couldn’t I fly over to Salt Lake and talk it over with you?”
“Alright,” he said. “I will not be here but Brother McKay will be and you could come over. They have overnight service between here and Denver.”
There were other things he said, inquiring about the welfare of the family and other pleasantries, but my mind was going so fast I was only partly conscious of them. As the two receivers, a thousand miles separated, clicked I turned to my wife and the two boys, Andrew 16, and Eddie 12, who had been standing where they were when my first exclamation put wonder in their minds.
“They have called me to become an Apostle,” I announced with an unsteady voice, and there was only silence in their faces-bewilderment.
“Are you sure that you were to be an Apostle?” my wife asked finally.
“No, I am not sure now,” I answered. “It seems that is what he said, but that is so impossible. Perhaps it was to be an Assistant or something else. It couldn’t have been that. I am not sure. I am so bewildered.”
Little was said, but in a daze the four of us found our way to the table where the noonday meal was cooling. Without a word we sat and one of the boys asked the blessing on the food. We took helpings but the food didn’t reach our mouths. I looked off into space and ground my teeth. The boys went outside to their work. I lay down on the floor for a moment of relaxation, as was my custom, but not to relax or rest.
“I must, of course, accept it and do the best I can,” I thought. Then the opposite: “I can’t do it … there is the new home with all its luxuries and comforts to give up. True there are other homes, but this one has embedded into its very structure our hearts and lives. There is the business, my life’s work for all these years. My heart is there also, and it is now so prosperous and fast making us independent. How could I give up that? There is the farm property which we have finally accumulated after these long years of striving. How can we leave that? And our people and friends and dear old Arizona in which we have our roots so firmly embedded.” Then would come the thought: “When the Church calls, we obey.” But the predominant thought was my own limitations and incapacities and weaknesses and I was overcome. The tears came then, an inexhaustible flood. It had been years since I had shed a tear. Scores of funeral sermons I had preached, I had closed eyes in death, I had seen mothers taken from their little ones and yet I had reached the point where I had perfect control of my emotions. But now uncontrollable, I wept and wept. It seemed that all the conflicting thoughts of my mind were trying to wash themselves clear with tears. I was in convulsions of sobbing. My wife was sitting by me on the floor, stroking my hair, trying to quiet me.
Finally came a lull in the storm. I washed my face with cool water and went to the office. Some routine things I was able to do, but I went about in a daze.
The night, but no sleep. Both of us rolled and tossed and wept and walked the floor through the long hours that lengthened themselves out into an eternity. Finally came the dawn and with it some definite things that must be done. What a boon! Things that forced my thoughts from the revolution coming in our lives. Friday the 9th was a hectic day, never-ending. And the night was a repetition of the first. How I prayed through those long dark hours, prayers for forgiveness of my weaknesses and imperfections, prayers for strength to do the right, prayers that the family would all make the necessary adjustments in their feelings, but above all, prayers that I might feel that I was called by the Lord through His Servants and an assurance of acceptance. My wife was my salvation. She comforted me and encouraged me and continued to say there was only one road to follow.
We needed no alarm clock to get us up early this morning for our trip. We had wished all night for 5 o’clock to come so we might get on our way. We started off in the Buick car for El Paso, the four of us (Olive Beth was in San Francisco working and LeVan was in Boulder, Colorado, in a Navy language program). It took us seven hours to make the trip and we had a seven-hour family council meeting. What to do, how it would affect us, the changes that would come to the boys and girl, their schooling, their friends, our life.
Two of the brethren and their wives took my wife and myself to the El Cortes Hotel for dinner and it seemed they insisted on discussing for the whole hour the very topic so worrying me, that of the filling of the vacancies in the Quorum.
“Brother Kimball,” they said, “do you have any idea who will be called?” And I hope I will be forgiven for the answer I gave, for the secret was not yet to be divulged. I swallowed, shifted a bit and said, “No. I can’t tell you.” There was a meeting of the Stake Sunday School Board that evening, followed by another sleepless night.
Sunday was a most busy day. Little time for deep contemplation, but vagrant thoughts continued to get away from the business at hand to worry about the call to the Apostleship. At 10:30 we bade goodbye to the boys who were to return on the train to our home in Safford, and we boarded the train for the North. Our berth was comfortable, but there was little sleep. All night long I was upbraiding myself for not having better prepared myself for the great work, for my weaknesses and imperfections, praying for strength, for an assurance from the Lord that “All was well,” and that I was acceptable to Him. I continued to tell Camilla that I was not sure what I would do, though I knew all the time there was only one course. She continued to encourage me and insisted that acceptance of the call was the only thing. We arrived in Albuquerque early in the morning and had a 14-hour lay-over. We went to restaurants, but the food didn’t taste very good. We went to shows and I don’t know how much she saw, but there was little of the pictures that penetrated my thoughts. We tried to read books but it seemed only pages and pages of words, meaningless words that my eyes were seeing, but my thoughts were hurdling.
We reached Denver on the 13th of July and were met at the station by our son, Spencer LeVan, and his wife and baby. They thought it strange that I should be seeking reservations on a plane to Salt Lake even before I left the railroad station. We dropped no hint of the impending crisis in our lives. We caught the train to Boulder, arriving there in the late evening. By this time we had been through five nights and days; it seemed years since that telephone conversation the previous Thursday. I was weak and tired. I knew I could sleep from sheer exhaustion, but not so, for this night was no exception and very early it was a relief to leave the bed.
It was just breaking day this Wednesday, the 14th of July. No peace had yet come, though I had prayed for it almost unceasingly these six days and nights. I had no plan or destination. I only knew I must get out in the open, apart, away. I dressed quietly and without disturbing the family, I slipped out of the house. I turned toward the hills. I had no objective. I wanted only to be alone. I had begun a fast.
The way was rough, I wandered aimlessly and finally came to the top of the hill. I nearly stepped on a snake coiled on my path. An unexplainable sudden strength sent me into a high jump over his striking head. Could this be symbolic of my other worries and problems? I stopped to rest, thinking that here I was alone, but cows were near and people stirring in the homes below. Over the little ridge was a sloping little valley and on the other side the high mountain rose rapidly and farther up almost precipitously to a high peak far above. Without thought I found my way down and started up again on the other side. The grass was ankle high and the seeds fell into my shoes. The lower reaches had been pastured by cattle when it was wet and it was pitted with deep hoofprints. The rocks on the hillside increased in quantity and size.
My weakness overcame me again. Hot tears came flooding down my cheeks as I made no effort to mop them up. I was accusing myself, and condemning myself and upbraiding myself. I was praying aloud for special blessings from the Lord. I was telling Him that I had not asked for this position, that I was incapable of doing the work, that I was imperfect and weak and human, that I was unworthy of so noble a calling, though I had tried hard and my heart had been right. I knew that I must have been at least partly responsible for offenses and misunderstandings which a few people fancied they had suffered at my hands. I realized that I had been petty and small many times. I did not spare myself. A thousand things passed through my mind. Was I called by revelation? Or, had the Brethren been impressed by the recent contacts in my home and stake when they had visited us, or by the accounts of my work in the flood rehabilitation which reports I knew had been greatly exaggerated in my favor? Had I been called because of my relationship to one of the First Presidency?
If I could only have the assurance that my call had been inspired most of my other worries would be dissipated. I knew if the Lord had revealed to the Brethren that I was to be one of His leaders, that He would forgive all my weaknesses and make me strong. I knew full well that He knew all the imperfections of my life and He knew my heart. And I knew that I must have His acceptance before I could go on. I stumbled up the hill and onto the mountain, as the way became rough. I faltered some as the way became steep. No paths were there to follow; I climbed on and on. Never had I prayed before as I now prayed. What I wanted and felt I must have was an assurance that I was acceptable to the Lord. I told Him that I neither wanted nor was worthy of a vision or appearance of angels or any special manifestation. I wanted only the calm peaceful assurance that my offering was accepted. Never before had I been tortured as I was now being tortured. And the assurance did not come.
I was getting higher and the air was thinner and I was reaching some cliffs and jagged rocky points. I came to a steep slide area and it was almost impossible to make the grade. I stumbled over an old oak stick which I picked up. I broke off one end and it was exactly the right length for a cane. It was rough and a little crooked and worm-eaten in places, but it helped me climb. I stopped to catch my breath in a protected cove behind some large rocks but unsatisfied I continued to climb, up steep jagged rocks made the more difficult of scaling by my tear-filled eyes.
As I rounded a promontory I saw immediately above me the peak of the mountain and on the peak a huge cross with its arms silhouetted against the blue sky beyond. It was just an ordinary cross made of two large heavy limbs of a tree, but in my frame of mind, and coming on it so unexpectedly, it seemed a sacred omen. It seemed to promise that here on this cross, on this peak, I might get the answer for which I had been praying intermittently for six days and nights and constantly and with all the power at my command these hours of final torture. I threw myself on the ground and wept and prayed and pleaded with the Lord to let me know where I stood. I thought of my Father and Mother and my Grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, and my other relatives that had been passed from the earth for long years and wondered what part they had had, if any, in this call, and if they approved of me and felt that I would qualify. I wondered if they had influenced, in any way, the decision that I should be called. I felt strangely near them, nearer than ever in my life.
I mentally beat myself and chastised myself and accused myself. As the sun came up and moved in the sky I moved with it, lying in the sun, and still I received no relief. I sat up on the cliff and strange thoughts came to me: all this anguish and suffering could be ended so easily from this high cliff and then came to my mind the temptations of the Master when he was tempted to cast Himself down-then I was ashamed for having placed myself in a comparable position and trying to be dramatic. I looked out over the beautiful world below, stretching out to the horizon, with its lovely homes, fertile fields and prosperous businesses and I was reminded that I had had a small part of that world and was in a position that I could get more and more of it, and that I was asked to give up a part of it; then I was filled with remorse because I had permitted myself to place myself again in a position comparable, in a small degree, to the position the Saviour found Himself in when He was tempted, and I was filled with remorse because I felt I had cheapened the experiences of the Lord, having compared mine with His. Again I challenged myself and told myself that I was only trying to be dramatic and sorry for myself.
Again I lay on the cool earth. The thought came that I might take cold, but what did it matter now. There was one great desire, to get a testimony of my calling, to know that it was not human and inspired by ulterior motives, kindly as they might be. How I prayed! How I suffered! How I wept! How I struggled!
Was it a dream which came to me? I was weary and I think I went to sleep for a little. It seemed that in a dream I saw my grandfather and became conscious of the great work he had done. I cannot say that it was a vision, but I do know that with this new experience came a calm like the dying wind, the quieting wave after the storm is passed. I got up, walked to the rocky point and sat on the same ledge. My tears were dry, my soul was at peace. A calm feeling of assurance came over me, doubt and questionings subdued. It was as though a great burden had been lifted. I sat in tranquil silence surveying the beautiful valley, thanking the Lord for the satisfaction and the reassuring answer to my prayers. Long I meditated here in peaceful quietude, apart, and I felt nearer my Lord than ever at any time in my life.
I finally looked at my wrist watch and discovered that it would soon be time to leave for Salt Lake. With my cane, which now seemed an important part of my spiritual experience, I went down the mountain, not down the steep difficult precipitous way, but down the other side which was easy and gradual. I had found a path that was easy to follow. I felt I knew my way, now, physically and spiritually and knew where I was going.