When I write about my church, it’s usually to analyze some aspect of belief or to defend it from critics. But today I just want to celebrate the beauty and joy of the kind of life practiced in the Mormon church.
For months now I’ve often looked back from the end of a day and thought of just how amazing it was. It’s crazy how many days make me laugh and smile and think, how many days have a little bit of me helping someone else and someone else helping me, how many days see me witnessing and participating in the best and hardest moments in an ever growing number of lives. This isn’t meant to say that any other way of life is worse than this or bad at all; this post is for me to simply say that the practice of Mormon discipleship is a truly wonderful way to live.
For numerous specific anecdotes of exactly what I’m talking about in the daily lives of ordinary Latter-day Saints, please check out the series of posts tagged “on the sweetness of Mormon life” over at the excellent Junior Ganymede blog. Dip into any of those slices of homemade gourmet living and you’ll find your heart filled with a rich light.
The most recent entry:
An old cowboy bears his testimony. he is being released from the bishopric. It is his 3rd bishopric. He cries when he speaks. He say’s he’ll miss the friendship. His successor is a dirt contractor who “grew up rough.”
The first speaker says he’d been working at the temple a few days back. The Temple President came and pulled him from his duties. Unusual. “We need help in the baptistry.” There was only a father and son. Also unusual. They ran a session of baptisms for the dead and then confirmations for the dead, with just the Temple President and the speaker and the father and the son. Very unusual. The father was fighting back tears.
After, the Temple President explained. The son had turned 12 that weekend. A day or two later, the man received his 7-day notice that he was ordered to Afghanistan for one year. The temple had made special arrangements so he could do his son’s 1st baptisms for the dead.
Or you could refer to this summary from the end of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option for a remarkable parallel to the kind of life I have in mind:
Last week I finished reading Everything That Remains, a memoir by the Minimalists. It was great stuff–one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Here are some of my favorite parts:
Time management is tricky, but when the daily decisions about my time are grounded in values, I get the most out of each day. I’ve learned to ask myself three questions about life’s decisions, big or small, and when I act on the answers, I never regret it.
1. Does it pass the Bus Test?
When I have options to choose from and I’m flummoxed as to which way to go, I ask myself, “If I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, which option would I regret NOT doing as my life flashes before my eyes?” Then I go for the one that I’d want to remember in that final moment.
I suppose it would also work by asking what memory you want to have when you’re 100 years old.
2. Is this the very best thing I could be doing right now?
Sometimes life has clear-cut times and places that are set aside and better than any alternative. Any Sunday morning at 11:00 AM, for example, the very best place I could be is in church. Rarely could anything outrank that. (I did make my family miss church seven years ago, for example, to attend my brother’s wedding, an even high priority.)
It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.
What is most beautiful is least acknowledged.
What is worth dying for is barely noticed.
–Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise
I don’t remember individual tweets, blog posts, or status updates for very long. I do remember individual novels, vacations, and relationships.
Time and detail matter. They have depth, and weight, and life.
And yet, I also feel the cumulative substance of the more ephemeral experiences in which I habitually engage: meals, sunsets, church meetings, and exercise, for example.
But even after years of overindulgence, reading tweets, blog posts, and status updates have very little cumulative substance.
A ton of feathers may weigh the same as a ton of bricks, but years of sunsets outweigh years of tweets.
I want to read the complete works of Charles Dickens. I want to spend years exploring and gardening the same patch of homeland. I want to be married to the same woman forever.
These are the kinds of things that take a lot of time and involve deep detail. They do matter because they have matter.
(Inspired by Katrina Kenison’s introductory essay to The Best American Short Stories 2006. Copied from my journal entry, 1.24.2015)
Three examples from my experience as a teacher:
1. A young man struggles with his work at school because his divorced mother has a hard time getting him to school. His father tries to facilitate contact with the teachers and get his work made up, but it’s just too overwhelming. Despite the student loving his school and wanting to thrive there, he ends up having to switch schools in the middle of the year.
2. A young woman is very successful at school, until her mother starts hitting her in fights. The student has to move in with her aunt and, like the young man above, switch schools in the middle of the year, losing a leadership position at the school she’d attended for years.
3. A young woman has difficulty focusing on maintaining her grades while her mother has to move their family frequently to avoid her father, a drug user who, since getting out of jail, is harassing them.
Cherry-picked worst-case scenarios from over the years to make a point? I wish. I saw all three of these things happen in just the last two months.
Family structure and stability are so crucial to success. That’s common sense, and it’s also supported by mountains of research. Still, we don’t talk about it anymore because it might be inconvenient for some adults, or hurt our feelings, or be politically incorrect. And kids just keep paying the price for it…
I want to ask every progressive in America, especially those now in or seeking political office, to commit to the following ten-point statement:
I will not at any time endorse or participate in any social movement or advocate any legislative change that promotes:
• Legalizing incestuous relationships
• Legalizing polygamous relationships
• Legalizing sexual relationships with, or depictions of, minors under the current age of consent
• Granting animals any new legal rights currently reserved for humans
• Granting governments any new power, outside of taxation, to arbitrarily seize money held in accounts and investments of private citizens
• Continue reading
In general, when facing decisions in life, choose the most difficult option. It will usually be the best one.
I had a project due in my high school classes last week, and several students didn’t have it ready, with excuses like, “I was busy. I have stressful stuff going on. I have other classes, too, you know.”
At one point, I gently asked the class at large, “Is there anybody here who doesn’t have stressful stuff going on, and a busy schedule? Anybody have no problems in life, and hours of free time every day?” Of course not. “So why is it that everybody else gets their job done? Because they choose not to let problems get in the way. Because we all make our priorities.”
The difference is commitment, investment, and internal motivation.
This mantra is a phrase from Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home. I found the book decent enough (the part that stuck with me the most was the advice to clean our houses with the goal of clear horizontal surfaces in mind–that really is what we think of as clean, isn’t it?), but the best part of it wasn’t part of it at all.
It was Laura Vanderkam’s review of it on her blog last August. Her post, “Don’t keep it simple,” includes such wisdom as this:
But here’s a different question: what are you saving your energy for? There’s another image in Happier at Home of someone saving her expensive truffle oil for a special occasion, only to see it go bad in the bottle. Children won’t get to repeat a childhood. Someday, sooner than we’d all like, the friends who could come over for dinner will not be available to do so. The years pass by and the somedays become no longer. So spend out now.
Yes. Every Autumn I fall into a work coma, where the new school year dominates my time and energy, and everything else suffers. It’s productive, but miserable.
This year, I’ve been trying to “choose the bigger life.” I’ve only had middling success. Still, I have dedicated a little more time to worthwhile things, and making work time more focused, and I’ll keep working on it. The results are worth it.
Last Friday I jotted down some notes after work, to help make the best of my weekend. They’re worth recording. The idea was to reflect on what activities are most fulfilling to me in the long run–what makes me feel best in the hours and days afterwards, and provides the best memories–and which ones end up being a waste of time.
Making a list like this is highly recommended.
TIME WELL SPENT
- reading books and magazines
- playing outside the house with my kids
- writing (journaling, sometimes blogging)
- exercise (jogging and yoga are longtime favorites)
- talking to my wife about our day/week / whatever
- cleaning / organizing the house
- temple work
- scripture / gospel study
- taking a bath
- alas, grading papers
NOT SO MUCH
- idle online surfing (including Facebook)
- some blogging, especially @ politics
- most TV
- anything that doesn’t measure up to standards endorsed by my church
- eating junk food / fast food
Our political impulses might be boiled down to these two competing priorities: freedom vs. charity. Our devotion to freedom is to guarantee the unimpeded right to pursue our own lives as we see fit. Our dedication to charity is to foster the well-being of our communities as much as possible.
The problem is that to absolutely favor freedom is to leave those in need of charity out in the cold, but to exclusively prefer charity is to infringe on the autonomy of others’ freedom.
However, consider this:
When freedom is the priority, private charity can and will still thrive.
When charity is the priority, private freedom always gets circumscribed.
There is a difference between policy and principle. People of bright minds and good faith can disagree about policies, but principles are usually pretty universal. Nobody is really anti-liberty, or anti-charity, but between policy and principle is priority, and that affects how the latter is realized as the former. That’s where people on the political spectrum differ. Focusing on foundational principles, though, will help us build on common ground.
A good example might be what seem to be the most disparate groups in American politics today: the Democratic Party and the Tea Party. Since the emergence of the Tea Party about three years ago, liberals and their friends in the media have often and openly vilified these conservatives, and largely acted kinder towards the mainstream Republicans that they had previously contested with in the court of public opinion. Maybe it’s an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing.
This is unfortunate. The Tea Party and many liberals have something in common here. Why does the Tea Party exist? Because they feel that the mainstream Republican Party has failed them. (Consider how many mainstream Republicans have jumped on the anti-Tea Party propaganda bandwagon so the kids at the cool table will like them.) They needed a homemade outlet to protest the betrayal of conservative ideals in exchange for political success.
So some of their principles might include empowering citizens in their right to petition for redress, and calling for an end to waste and corruption by those in power, by demanding accountability from leaders. Aren’t these things good people of all political stripes can get behind? Yes, we can and should debate each other vigorously about fiscal policy, and all kinds of policy, but can we at least recognize when there are underlying principles that we share?
As an elementary school student, a teacher once told me, very politely and apologetically, that I couldn’t have something reasonable that I wanted in class because that would mean that other students would be entitled to the same thing, which would be bad for the class. I’ve long since forgotten exactly what the situation was, but I remember the lesson–sometimes, things which might be justified must be denied because of the precedent that would be set.
In high school, a science teacher once scheduled an activity important to the class at the same time that another important activity was scheduled for a popular student club. Students couldn’t do both, yet both activities were good and valuable, and many students went into a tizzy, asking the teacher to change the day and time of his activity. He declined, explaining that the real world does not rearrange itself so that people can get to do every worthwhile thing they want to do–priorities must be set, and sacrifices must be made.
He was absolutely right. That was a crucial life lesson.