I’ve been writing biographies of people in early Mormon history recently. As I’ve written about the same time period and the same events from the points of view of many different people, I’ve become aware of just how important attitude is. The right attitude can change not just your life, but the lives of those around you. The wrong attitude can harm you, but it can have a devastating impact on the lives of others as well.
Let’s look at two early Mormon leaders, Ezra Booth and Levi. W. Hancock. I’ve written about Booth here before, so let’s start with him.
Ezra Booth became a Mormon after seeing Joseph Smith perform a miracle. Now, miracles are wonderful things, but they aren’t enough of a foundation for a testimony. Real testimony requires prayer and study and faith, and Ezra Booth didn’t apparently take the trouble to do any of that. A proper attitude will ensure you take all the necessary steps.
In those first days of the church, men often set out on missions soon after they were baptized and Booth was no exception. This should have been an exciting privilege, but instead he started out in a bad mood. He was angry that the Church wouldn’t pay for luxurious transportation. They were a new church and simply didn’t have the money. Booth couldn’t afford to pay for his own transportation, so he had to walk, as did most missionaries at the time.
The more he walked, the madder he got. Instead of thinking about how wonderful it was that God had entrusted him with teaching people about Jesus Christ, he spent his whole journey grousing in his mind. He complained because there weren’t more miracles. He fussed because there weren’t huge numbers of Mormons in Missouri, where he was going. (He’d misunderstood a prophecy about large conversions, thinking it had already happened.) He decided the prophet was too undignified because he played with the children sometimes. Then he decided it wasn’t fair that only the prophet could receive revelation.
Eventually, he seemed to have forgotten he was supposed to be sharing the gospel and so he spent his time attacking the church instead. Word of his behavior reached the church and when he returned home, he was, naturally, excommunicated. This made him even more angry and he started a promotional campaign designed to destroy the church. He comfortably lied about church beliefs and the behavior of leaders. This led to increased mob violence, and in one instance, led to the death of Joseph Smith’s infant son, who had been ill the day a mob broke into the home and kidnapped Joseph Smith, and left the door open. The cold killed the sick child. Others were attacked, tarred and feathered, or even killed because the mobs believed the propaganda spread by Booth.
And all this happened because Ezra Booth chose to have a bad attitude about having to walk to Missouri.
Now, contrast this with the experiences of Levi W. Hancock, who also joined the church in the early days. He was also sent on a mission to Missouri—also on foot. He set out cheerfully and used the walk to preach and convert as he went. Hancock’s foot became badly infected and he was forced to stay with a family along the way while his companion traveled on. He finished the trip to Missouri on his own after he recovered, but continued to have health problems. He was a little cranky, too, but because his health issues were keeping him from doing the Lord’s work as much as he wanted to do it.
He moved a number of times due to persecution, some of which had been caused by Booth. Instead of complaining about this, however, he donated money to help the poor make the necessary moves. He took every opportunity to serve the church. Levi W. Hancock became a Mormon apostle and spent his life serving God and his fellow man.
Two men, both asked to walk to Missouri, had very different endings. Booth lived a miserable life focused on hate and anger that led to great suffering and even death among others. Hancock lived a happy life of service. The only real difference—their attitude toward their challenges in life.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.