Hymn text by Will L. Thompson, 1847-1909. View the full text of this hymn.

“Put your shoulder to the wheel” never meant much to me until I pulled a handcart for the first time.

My home stake organized a pioneer trek for the youth when I was about 15, complete with handcarts and mandatory pioneer garb. We hauled our own food and a few belongings apiece, while some of the leaders followed behind with a water tank and trailer-full of porta-potties (sacrificing authenticity for a little sanitation, something that made me profoundly grateful).

The first couple of hours were dusty and a little thirsty, but pleasant. I realized early on the point of a bonnet was to keep your nose-skin from searing off, and the dust in my sneakers slowly caked around my socks as the day got hotter and more sweaty, but things were still good.

Then we reached a hill. The stretch wasn’t too long, maybe only 200 yards, but it was 200 yards of a 45-degree grade with fine, red dirt six inches deep and interspersed with gravel of assorted sizes.

After a few minutes of gawking at the trail, we put our shoulders to the wheel. We didn’t have a very heavy load, but it took six of us to keep our handcart from sliding back down the hill in the soft dirt, pulling and pushing and jamming our bodies against the backside of the box. By the time we reached the top we were sweating even more and my skirt was daubed with a fist-sized gob of axle grease where I’d  bumped the wheel.

Even though this was a neat, faith promoting experience, it isn’t necessary to have a physical pioneer experience to truly appreciate what it means to “put your shoulder to the wheel.” I know those of us with pioneer ancestors–folks who lost life and limb and loved ones to migrate to Zion–always shake our heads and say, “Oh, I couldn’t have done what they did.”

But we do. The Lord’s law of sacrifice is still in place and so we continue to give.  The pioneers I know personally are first-generation converts who have sacrificed social status, lost good jobs, even were cut off from their own families for the gospel. And yet they ”push ev’ry worthy work along.”

Every day we keep fighting an addiction, every day we stay true to a spouse, every day we bite our tongue against the bitter words that may arise, every time we give someone the benefit of the doubt, every time we serve the needy or give up our money or our time to help someone out of a hole they’re in, that’s a sanctifying sacrifice.

That, to me, is putting your shoulder to the wheel.

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