Whenever I find myself feeling overwhelmed by the length or depth of church meetings, I take a deep breath and think about an experience from my college days.
My modern-dance teacher frequently gave us one exercise that never failed to exasperate me. Each dancer was to choose four points in the gym and four methods of moving. When the teacher called out “Three,” I headed for my number three point, the heater, using my number three movement, leaping. The other students were rolling, spinning, running—whatever—in other directions. Before I had reached even the halfway point, the teacher shouted, “Four” and I changed to my number four goal, the blackboard, using my number four action, spinning.
Everyone was changing directions simultaneously, and we were getting in each other’s way. Even worse, whenever we met or collided with someone, we had to stop and “communicate” something without talking—by bowing, dancing, pantomiming a fight, or flirting. Then we could move on towards our goal.
But I never recall reaching a goal. No matter how fast I moved, people were always in my way and the teacher constantly called for a new direction.
No matter how high I leaped, how carefully I pointed my toes, how precisely I spun, I knew that the teacher couldn’t be appreciating the performance fully because there was so much confusion.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the only part she had been watching were those collisions and interruptions in the middle. Dance is a form of communication, and she had been watching to see if we were learning to communicate through our dancing skills.
Those dreaded encounters were really all that mattered! And we had hurried through them with no thought at all, except to race on towards our goal.
As I thought about all the running, leaping, and sweating, I marveled that I could have been so involved and yet missed the whole point. How was it possible?
It happened because I had mistaken the means for an end. The whole elaborate exercise had been set up for the purpose of causing those reactions. They were my true opportunities to succeed in that class; but since I perceived them only as interruptions, they were utterly wasted. As that idea grew, I started to understand the “meeting” part of meetings. I remembered experiences of church service when I’d behaved in exactly the same manner. While trying to accomplish something “important,” I had formed feelings of resentment for people who got in my way.
When I was called to teach the sixteen-year-old Sunday School class, I vowed I would be a great teacher. I prepared thoroughly, fasted and prayed, and made an armful of visual aids. I came prepared to teach.
But the class on Sunday morning was negative and irreverent. Stunned and angry, I prepared more extensively and made more visual aids. The class responded with resentment. I didn’t know what else to do. Eventually, I gave up the class in defeat.
Now I know that, again, I had mistaken the means for an end. My goal was delivering beautiful lessons. I didn’t even think of the students except as interruptions in my plan. I did not really love them. I didn’t even know them. I only performed for them and hoped for their applause.
Our church callings cause us to bump into people who are going different directions, using different methods than our own. Do we consider others as merely obstacles to our own progress? Or can we see them as the purpose of the whole exercise? I’m gradually learning that the purpose is growth—and that growing is not necessarily efficient.
The Lord already knows whether I have sufficient talent to put on the biggest drama production the ward has ever seen. After all, he blessed me with my talents to begin with. Now he is watching to see if I am developing some more important qualities.
Can I, for example, risk my reputation as a play producer by giving a large part to the child who needs it rather than to the one who will add glory to the production?
Can I forgive the costume mistress who “got tired of sewing” and left me with forty yards of fabric and eight costumeless dancers?
Can I love the teenagers who chew gum through all the rehearsals and say their lines in a monotone?
And do I have any charity for the basketball coach who had strong feelings when he discovered that my play practice would exclude his team from the gym?
In short, am I learning to live the commandments day by day? Am I using the opportunities I have to practice giving, loving, forgiving, and having charity? Or am I only trying to get one event over with and start on another one with little thought for the purpose behind them?
This does not mean that striving for excellence in plays, programs, and meetings is not important; but only that it must not be done at the expense of developing Christlike people.
Excellence in human relations is not reached without a great deal of practice. Programs and meetings, jobs and callings, committees and assignments—all provide that most important “reaction” time. As an end in itself, the Relief Society party may not be any more important than my number four blackboard. But on the way to it, there are numerous opportunities for practicing gospel living. The Lord has told us his purpose:
“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) How shall man gain eternal life? By keeping the commandments. How shall he learn to keep the commandments? By practice. And where shall he get all that practice? It’s in the meeting of each other—at Church, on assignments, as visiting and home teachers, in telephone conversations, in helping, working, and sharing. All of these are occasions for interaction in which we learn loving, leading, and forgiving.
After you have read “Different Directions, Different Methods” individually or as a family, you may wish to discuss the following questions:
1. The article discusses a mistake we sometimes make in confusing means with their ends. Can you recall some experiences in your own life when this has happened?
2. What personal evaluative or attitudinal safeguards can we impose on ourselves to help us focus on the true purpose of our activities in life?
3. In your life, where are you now experiencing interactions with others that provide opportunities for your learning to love, lead, and forgive? What can you do to see that the most significant type of growth for you really occurs?
4. How does the Holy Ghost help us focus on the important issues of life and make the most of them?