This is an instantly recognizable hymn for most members of the LDS Church. It has a simple, catchy melody and simple, easily-remembered theme (the BUM BUM BUM progression really solidifies the words “choose the right”), and, along with “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” might be one of the most-played hymns in the book by beginners.
The message is a familiar one. As children, we have the message “choose the right” drilled into our heads from a young age. There’s easily-recognizable imagery to go with the message, and children are given rings to help them remember. Many Latter-day Saints choose to wear those rings well into adulthood to give them a constant reminder to always choose the right.
On the surface, this seems like a hymn that further reinforces that theme. When a choice is placed before us, we can look at our finger and see that familiar shield. We can hear the BUM BUM BUM of the first three notes of the hymn and remember that we need to choose the right. And that’s certainly what this hymn is designed to do. It’s a potent earworm that lodges itself in our brains, just as many of the other instructional Primary songs seem to do. But there’s a lot more that this hymn can teach us than simply choosing the right. Consider the first two lines:
Choose the right when a choice is placed before you.
In the right the Holy Spirit guides.
“In the right the Holy Spirit guides.” As we choose the right, the Holy Ghost can more effectively guide us to make right choices. It’s an almost tautological statement, but that’s the way it works. Making right choices fills us with an influence that inspires us to make more right choices. The light of the Holy Ghost will be “forever shining o’er [us]” as we continue to make choices that allow Him to remain with us. The inverse is just as applicable; if we make poor choices, we limit the ability of the Holy Ghost to remain with us, making us less able to feel His influence and more susceptible to making poor choices.
Not only does the continued influence of the Holy Ghost make it easier for us to choose the right, but constantly making right choices while under that influence helps to train us to make those choices more readily. The old saw is true; it’s easier to make a decision about a difficult issue beforehand than it is to make it in the moment. In the second verse, we sing that choosing the right will “let no spirit of digression overcome [us] in the evil hour.” If we’re already choosing the right, we won’t be led astray by any spirit of temptation when a thorny choice is placed before us. We’ve already chosen the right, and thus the Holy Ghost is already there with us, helping to chase away distractions and temptations. Even if we haven’t already made the choice for the issue we’re facing, the companionship of the Holy Ghost can make those choices simple through His guidance. We can be safe through inspiration’s power.
So we choose the right. There is peace in righteous doing, and there is safety for the soul. We invite the Holy Ghost into our lives, whether we’ve been safely on the right path for years or whether we’re just returning to it. The Spirit helps to guide us on that path through the light of inspiration. And in its light, we choose the right, and even if only by helping us to draw nearer to the Spirit (although we know we can and will receive so much more), God will bless us evermore.