A Sense of Perspective


An eternal perspective gives us more than eyesight—it allows us to look within ourselves and understand what is truly important.

I looked forward to the beginning of school with pleasure. Summer had been great fun, but it was time to get back on our regular schedule and establish some order in our lives.

There would be some new experiences this year as we would be participating in an integration program in my children’s school. I had served on the steering committee that helped plan this new program.

So imagine my dismay upon arriving on campus that first day of school to discover that the plans were to be altered. Our school, which was to have grades 2, 4, and 6 only, suddenly had all six grades with no provision to teach or house them. Teachers were quickly scanning hastily revised class assignments, and children were milling around unsure of where to go.

I was in a turmoil. As children went off to makeshift classes and administrators began to prepare more permanent arrangements, I fussed. Anyone who crossed my path during the next several days, at school or at home, had to listen to my frustrations and concerns.

But finally I began to settle down, and when I did I saw that my reaction had been out of proportion. I had lost my sense of perspective. Our goal had been to keep our home life harmonious and as calm as possible, especially in view of all the social changes we were facing in the world. But my attitude was defeating that purpose. This realization was a beginning, and I quickly worked to restore a measure of good sense.

I would like to be able to say that we have lived happily ever after. Instead, we continue the struggle as new crises and challenges confront us. We continue trying to establish eternal perspective—that is, looking beyond the immediate problem, keeping principles and priorities straight, and separating wheat from chaff. Developing such a perspective has become a life’s quest.

In trying to understand what an eternal perspective is and how to cultivate one, I have learned to rely on five “senses” other than the usual five physical senses. I call these a sense of humor, a sense of time, a sense of faith, a sense of vision, and a sense of love.

The first, a sense of humor, is frequently undervalued, but I have found it essential to survival. Apparently so have others.

Norman Cousins wrote an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, later lengthened into a book, describing his battle with a potentially deadly disease. Since medical science offered little hope for a cure, he formulated his own treatment. Having read that laughter can have subtle effects on body chemistry, he left the hospital and prescribed for himself large doses of vitamin C and humor. He watched hour after hour of old comedy classics. He recovered and credited laughter as his cure.

Humor helps us maintain perspective. This involves seeing the amusing side of even the bleakest situation. One writer defined comedy as “tragedy plus time,” which is another way of saying that things look differently from a clearer perspective.

I keep a cartoon taped to my refrigerator. It shows a woman worn down by the day’s activities answering the door. There stands a man carrying a medical kit, saying, “Hello, I’m from the Red Cross. I understand you’re having a dinner which is an absolute disaster.”

I think that’s funny, and you probably would too if you had a chance to enjoy one of our “disastrous” dinners: the phone rings at least twice; one child is rushing through his meal because of a pressing appointment with the Scouts; another is excused from the table for being rude, and in leaving woefully catalogues the various injustices visited upon him that day; father is full of fascinating plans for a new satellite design, but he must compete with an earnest discussion between the youngest child and myself on the benefits to be derived from eating green beans. At times such as these I find I can either get tense and upset, or remember the spirit of that cartoon, exercise my sense of humor, and wait patiently to be rescued. Humor can relieve tension, give insight, and help us see things in their proper and hopefully more eternal perspective.

Just as the senses of taste and smell are intertwined until it becomes difficult to tell which one is doing the sensing, so are the senses I call a sense of time and a sense of faith. A sense of time requires patience, long-suffering, and a discipline and control that comes from within rather than being imposed from without. Faith is the positive motivating force which gives purpose and direction to the sense of time.

President Hugh B. Brown once observed that he never could set his watch to the Lord’s timetable. I suspect most of us have that problem, too often operating according to day-to-day expediencies.

We get a glimpse of the Lord’s timetable in the Doctrine and Covenants where he comforts the Prophet Joseph Smith, imprisoned many months in Liberty Jail: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.” (D&C 121:7.)

The Prophet’s adversity undoubtedly seemed longer than a moment to him. From my even more limited perspective, my afflictions surely do. But when I want to rail against fate or apparent injustices, I recall that I too have been admonished to “endure it well.” (D&C 121:8.) The Lord’s perspective is wider and loftier than ours. The scriptures say he knows “the end from the beginning.” (Abr. 2:8.) We do not. But we can, to the best of our mortal ability, try with faith and courage to see a wider and higher view. In so doing we will have greater opportunity to commune with the spirit of goodness and light and love which comes from our Savior.

These senses of time and faith can stretch as wide as eternity, but they may also be as small as a minute. In other words, sometimes what we need to focus on and develop an appreciation of is the present: what is happening just now. Recently one of my friends died from cancer. In the weeks just prior to her death, we visited and she helped me to understand this idea of enjoying the good in each moment. She told me that when she was out in her yard, working or just enjoying the view, she could disregard the pain and forget for a while that anything was wrong. She had learned to enjoy and savor those moments of present which we too often ignore. Others who have been near to death also testify that indeed the sky is bluer and the sound of laughter sweeter.

Having developed this sense of time and faith, we are better able to avoid becoming caught up “in the thick of thin things,” as one writer described it. We can distinguish meaningful, purposeful activity from mere busyness.

A sense of vision involves more than eyesight. It requires awe, involvement, optimism, purpose, enthusiasm, creativity, and appreciation of beauty. At first these words may not seem to be related. But when I think of the people of vision I have known, these are the qualities they share.

Joseph Smith said of the Latter-day Saints, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” (A of F 1:13.) The question is, why do we seek after these things? I think it is for the effect these experiences can have on us.

We take our children to the Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts for young people. It would be hard to say who enjoys these concerts the most—probably the parents. Usually the program ends with a rousing number such as the “Washington Post March” or “Rhapsody in Blue,” and we find ourselves leaving the music center invigorated and enthusiastic. Even the Saturday chores we return to become less mundane because of our experiences with such virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy things.

The fields of choice are purposely left open so that we can select according to our interests and talents. Where there is vision, life flourishes. There is beauty to be appreciated everywhere, creative experiences to be savored, learning and thinking and growing to be enjoyed. To the degree that we understand the possibilities we gain an eternal perspective.

Finally is the sense of love. And in its perfected form, love is charity, the pure love of Christ. It is the redeeming, reforming, life-giving love that our Savior has for us. It is such a potent, positive, compelling love that we are drawn toward it and respond, as children respond to us when we are kind, tolerant, and long-suffering, with a reciprocating love of our own. We are enlightened and expanded in our understanding through this love, which we can reflect to others.

We can see the potential power of this divine love in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” Charity will cast out any negative quality: resentment, envy, greed. All flee in the face of perfect love. But John specifically mentions fear. What happens when we are afraid? We prepare to defend ourselves. All of the body’s and the mind’s mechanisms close down and become very focalized. “Flight-or-fight” decisions are made. This may be appropriate behavior when we are truly endangered, but so much of our fear is learned, and sometimes we fear excessively or inappropriately. It is this fear that perfect love casts out. The Savior promises us, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.) Unhampered by fear, apprehension, or anxiety, we can expand our perspective through love.

Humor, time, faith, vision, and love—these have been given to all of us to use and to develop. As we do so, our perspective broadens, and life comes into a truer focus.

Let’s Talk about It

After reading “A Sense of Perspective” individually or as a family, you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a gospel study period:

1. What is an eternal perspective? How can such a perspective help us live more purposeful lives?

2. Discuss what the author means by a sense of humor, of time, of faith, of vision, of love. How is each of these “senses” related to an eternal perspective?

3. The author mentions D&C 121:7–8 as an example of insight into a sense of time. Can you think of other scriptures that suggest the value of developing an eternal perspective? Does the cross-referencing in the new LDS editions of the standard works lead you to helpful entries in the Index, Topical Guide, or Bible Dictionary?

4. The author suggests that “much of our fear is learned.” How does fear restrict our perspective in our relationships with others? What effect can pure love have in these relationships?

Carol B. Olsen, mother of three, serves as inservice leader in the Los Angeles California Granada Hills Stake Relief Society.