Mountains of the Lord: What the Tooth of Time Taught Me About Coming to Christ

For several years, I worked at Philmont Scout Ranch in northeastern New Mexico. Philmont is made up of 140,000 acres in the Sangre de Cristos mountain range, and there are several peaks over 10,000 feet. The most iconic peak, however, is known as the Tooth of Time, so named because migrants on the Santa Fe Trail knew that when they reached the base of the tooth-shaped mountain, they had a week left until they arrived in Santa Fe. Although it is not the tallest mountain on the Ranch, its distinctive rock face can be identified from miles away.

Today, the wagon ruts of the Santa Fe trail are vacant and overgrown, but the Tooth of Time is still a rite of passage for many of the 25,000 Boy Scouts who visit the ranch every summer. It’s also a rite of passage for the staff, which is why I found myself standing with a good friend at the base of the mountain one beautiful spring morning. Our day packs were filled with the essentials—plenty of water, maps, food, a watch, a first aid kit, and rain gear. The top of the Tooth is reached by either a long, switchbacked trail with no shade, or a nearly vertical trail up the south face that requires a fair bit of clambering over loose rocks and scree. Feeling adventurous, we opted for the latter.

That hike was easily one of the most difficult things I have ever done. There were many points along the way when I was tempted to turn around and go home, but my friend and I pushed forward. There were times when we felt slow and inadequate, but we encouraged each other and eventually made it to the top. The view was breathtaking. We could see as far as Colorado, and the sense of accomplishment made us feel like we were standing on top of the world.

The scriptures are full of stories about mountains. Moses was “caught up to an exceedingly high mountain”[1], where he spoke to God face to face and received one of the greatest visions ever given to mankind. Elijah was on a mountain when he learned a valuable lesson that the voice of the Lord was not in a whirlwind, a fire, or an earthquake, but in the whisper of a still small voice.[2] Nephi went to the mountain to inquire of the Lord how to build his boat.[3] The brother of Jared climbed a mountain shortly before he saw the finger of the premortal Christ.[4] Peter, James, and John received the Priesthood upon the Mount of Transfiguration.[5] Even the Savior Himself spent a large amount of time in the mountains—the scriptures tell us that He lived on the Mount of Olives.[6]

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many wonderful things happen on mountains. Mountains lift us both physically and spiritually, and the experience of climbing a mountain can teach us much about the Gospel. To illustrate this, let me share with you five things my hike up the Tooth of Time has taught me about coming unto Christ.

My favorite view of the tooth
My favorite view of the Tooth

First, like the Tooth of Time, the life of Jesus Christ provides a singular landmark on our journey back home to our Heavenly Father. Despite being surrounded by the worldly grandeur and glory of man-made philosophies, Christ’s simple and perfect example is instantly recognizable. If we fix our sights on Him and follow that example, we can have the confidence that we are headed in the right direction and the assurance that we will reach our destination in the kingdom of God.

Second, the rules at Philmont prohibit the act of hiking solo so that all hikers are safe and accounted for. I found that having a friend along made the hike not only more enjoyable, but also possible—without her there to encourage me when the trail became difficult, I might not have reached the top. Similarly, we are not expected to traverse this life alone. God blesses us with eternal families, ward and stake membership, the visiting and home teaching programs, and missionary opportunities so that all of His children can be spiritually safe and accounted for. These blessed relationships can not only make life more enjoyable, but they provide encouragement when things become difficult. Without these relationships, it can be hard to motivate ourselves to continue in the path of righteousness, but with them, we can all return to our Heavenly Father together. As Linda K. Burton said, “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee, and we’ll ascend together.”[7]

Emily's Own Tooth of Time
Emily’s Own Tooth of Time

Third, when we started our hike, we took essential equipment and supplies. This ensured that we would be prepared to handle any emergency that might threaten to keep us from reaching the top. In the Church, we have a handful of essentials that we like to call the Standard Mormon Answers. You know what they are—go to church, read your scriptures, fast, pray, attend the temple, etc. But as much as we giggle about these during Sunday School, they are absolutely essential to our eternal journey. They keep us safe, help us to learn more about Jesus Christ and our relationship with Him, open the doors to personal revelation, and give us the tools and testimony we need to withstand any temptation or trial that may threaten to keep us from reaching our eternal destination.

President Ezra Taft Benson taught,

“Once one is convinced, through the Book of Mormon, that Jesus is the Christ, then he must take the next step; he must come unto Christ. Learning the precepts found in what the Prophet Joseph Smith called the most correct book on earth, the Book of Mormon, is but the first step. Abiding by those precepts found in the “keystone” of our religion gets a man nearer to God than through any other book (see History of the Church, 4:461). Can we not see why we should be reading this book daily and practicing its precepts at all times?… We have an increasing number who have been convinced, through the Book of Mormon, that Jesus is the Christ. Now we need an increasing number who will use the Book of Mormon to become committed to Christ. We need to be convinced and committed.” [8]

Elder Neil L. Anderson said, “How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes. Why did the Savior say to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not”? 12 Because there is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.”[9]

Storm over the Tooth

Fourth, the peak of the Tooth of Time can be reached by more than one path, but these trails converge so that only one path makes the final run to the top. Every journey through life is different and every experience is unique, but in the end, Christ is the only way. As Nephi teaches us,

“And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved. Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter…. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.”[10]

Fifth, when things became especially difficult, it helped to know that others had taken the trail before and successfully reached the top. We have the scriptures and the lives of modern Prophets and Apostles to show us that others have successfully followed the trail back to our Heavenly Father. Ephesians 4:11-14 says,

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;”

Tooth and Stockade
Tooth and Stockade

But there comes a point where the accomplishments of others aren’t enough to get you to the top—you have to do it on your own faith, and you have to choose to do it. This hike up the Tooth was not the only time I attempted to scale this particular peak. On another attempt, I had reached a certain point and felt unable to go further. I had all of the essentials, I was hiking with a buddy, and we were taking the exact same trail. However, I had previously injured my knee, and although it had been given time to heal, it became an excuse for giving up when I lacked the willpower and desire to push through a particularly steep and challenging section of trail.

I will always regret that decision.

Elder Anderson said, “The future of your faith is not by chance, but by choice…. Your faith is either growing stronger or becoming weaker. Faith is a principle of power, important not only in this life but also in our progression beyond the veil.” [11]

Thankfully, the Atonement of Jesus Christ means that we don’t just get one opportunity to climb our spiritual mountains. The Lord is incredibly patient with us. His heart breaks when we turn away from Him, but He stands with open arms to receive us the second we return. His example shines across the wilderness, beckoning us to return to the trail head and try again. Alma 5:33 teaches us that “he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.”

We must learn to endure to the end even and especially when things get difficult. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught,

“There is a lesson in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision which virtually every Latter-day Saint has had occasion to experience, or one day soon will. It is the plain and very sobering truth that before great moments, certainly before great spiritual moments, there can come adversity, opposition, and darkness. Life has some of those moments for us, and occasionally they come just as we are approaching an important decision or a significant step in our lives.”[12]

When my friend and I reached the top of the Tooth of Time, nothing could have prepared us for the view. We had seen pictures taken by friends who had made the same journey, but no photo compares to actually seeing it for yourself. The last section of the trail is the most difficult, and the sense of accomplishment for overcoming that simply cannot be matched.

Success!!

So it is with life. Challenges precede miracles and blessings, but if we remain true and faithful to our testimonies, the reward is salvation through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We simply cannot fathom the magnitude of His sacrifice, nor can we fully comprehend the blessing of that redemption until we have experienced it for ourselves.

Omni 1:26 states, “And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.”

I know that as we strive to come unto Christ, He will guide us along the way and bless us with the tools we need to be successful. May we all do our part to strengthen our faith, increase our testimonies, and endure to the end. So that we can receive this, the greatest blessing of all.

Given as a talk in Sacrament Meeting on Dec. 13, 2015.

[1] Moses 1:1

[2] 1 Kings 19:10-13

[3] 1 Nephi 17:7-10

[4] Ether 3:1, 6-9

[5] New Testament Student Manual

[6] Luke 21:37

[7] We’ll Ascend Together, Linda K. Burton, Oct 2015 General Conference

[8] Come Unto Christ, President Ezra Taft Benson, Oct 1987 General Conference

[9] Faith Is Not by Chance, but by Choice, Elder Neil L. Anderson, October 2015 General Conference

[10] 2 Nephi 31:16-21

[11] Faith Is Not by Chance, but by Choice, Elder Neil L. Anderson, October 2015 General Conference

[12] “Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence”, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Ensign, March 2000

2 Comments

    1. Can I just say YOU ARE AMAZING and I am grateful for the privilege of being your mother! I love you.

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