I can’t keep up with my Church responsibilities. Goals and priorities don’t work—I’ve got too many number-one priorities. What should I do?
It certainly , stake president of the Afton Wyoming Stake and vice-president of a retail marketing company.can be overwhelming to contemplate all that we must do. But that should not be too surprising. After all, we want to be engaged in helping our Father in Heaven with his work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (See Moses 1:39.) And that is quite an overwhelming task from our mortal perspective. If we are to succeed, we must keep our eyes steadily focused on that one central task, evaluating all our time commitments and obligations in its light.
But this suggestion is perhaps too general to be helpful. Fortunately, President Kimball has identified three very basic responsibilities that define the mission of the Church. Simply stated, they are to (1) preach the gospel to the entire world, (2) do the temple work for those who have died, and (3) work to see that those who have found the gospel take advantage of its blessings. (See Ensign, May 1981, p. 5.)
These three responsibilities are the work of the Lord’s church, and are our work when we accept the responsibilities of Church membership. We can be confident that the Lord’s plans will be accomplished. But, if we are not to be overwhelmed by the grandness of his program, we need to see where we fit into this great plan. In other words, how much of all this is up to us? Here is a checklist of truly number-one priorities:
Ž First, I have a responsibility to discover for myself that God lives and Jesus is the Christ and that they lead us through a living prophet today, and then to live accordingly.
Ž Next, I must help my family discover that same gospel knowledge, and live accordingly.
Ž Third, I must attend to my specific callings in the kingdom, as well as my duty to share the gospel and save the dead.
In other words, it is within the sphere of my personal life, my family life, and my life of service to others that I am expected to do the Lord’s work. Practically speaking, then, how can I be effective in my own small sphere?
Suppose that you’ve been called as a Sunday School teacher. That calling will enable you to make an important contribution in several basic responsibilities. But it could consume too much time if you let it. You probably won’t need to spend eight hours per lesson preparing visual aids, and you probably don’t need a super handout each time. The Lord has made it simpler than that—and harder. The scripture says, “If ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.) The Spirit can help you set priorities for that lesson; and, yes, you may be guided to spend eight hours on visual aids once in a while. Or you may instead be inspired to spend that eight hours on an outing with your children.
Suppose you’ve been called as a bishop. Certainly this calling is directly related to several basic responsibilities. But that doesn’t always mean you must spend three nights every week at the ward meetinghouse. You have other responsibilities. You may decide through prayer and inspiration that three nights is appropriate one week—and the next week you may decide through the same process that your family needs you to be home.
Suppose you’re a mother of four young children; you also have two Church callings to magnify, a garden to care for, canning and sewing to do, personal scripture study and prayer to make part of each day, a desire to help and strengthen a lonely neighbor, a desire to share the gospel with another neighbor, a need to do genealogical research and attend the temple regularly, and on and on. What do you do? A prayerful search may let you know that some responsibilities need to be temporarily limited when children are small.
But when we really desire to serve God, we will find a way. A busy student might use a weekly visit to the laundromat for journal writing. A weekly bus ride might be a focal point for the missionary efforts of an older person whose contacts with others are limited.
Recognize that feeling guilty and overwhelmed can consume as much of our energy as doing something to relieve those feelings. We must seek the direction of the Spirit in deciding how much we reasonably can do to fulfill each of our basic responsibilities, then do those things. After that, we can let go of our guilt feelings, which make us miserable and also less effective. Remember, we are not expected to do everything, only to do as much as we can.
A good exercise may be to write down your checklist of truly number-one responsibilities. You may want to elaborate a little under some of the points, but keep your comments simple. Then, in another column, list your current activities and commitments. Now evaluate that list in light of your checklist. Decide which activities you ought to drop, which you ought to devote less time to.
This process is not easy. I’ve learned that without the Spirit, we may well feel overwhelmed. Only with the help of the Spirit can we hope to make the scores of decisions that face us every day. But I believe it is a truly remarkable blessing to have so much to do in the kingdom that we must humble ourselves before God in order to be successful.
The Lord has promised that he will help us as we work in his kingdom, and that eventually we will have the joy of success. As he tells us in section 6 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Then shall ye have joy in the fruit of your labors. …
“Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.
“Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
“Behold, I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you.
“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
“Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” (D&C 6:31–37.)
These reassuring words from the Savior make me confident that even I can do good. To reinforce this great promise in our hearts, the Lord gave many of these same assurances at other times during the Restoration. One of my favorites is in Doctrine and Covenants section 78:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
“And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.
“And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.
“Wherefore, do the things which I have commanded you, saith your Redeemer. …
“And he that is a faithful and wise steward shall inherit all things.” (D&C 78:17–20, 22; italics added.)
The Lord here promised he will lead us along. In return, we must “receive all things with thankfulness”—including the important priorities he gives us—and do as he bids.
Things can sometimes be difficult. Even prophets have times of discouragement. I love to read 2 Nephi chapter 4 [2 Ne. 4], and Doctrine and Covenants sections 121 and 122 [D&C 121–122]. Nephi and Joseph Smith were great men, but they had real challenges. In response, the Lord lifted them up, reminding them that they had trusted in him and that he would be with them forever and ever.
Remembering my testimony and the times I have enjoyed the Spirit motivates me to seek the Spirit’s guidance as I set priorities. I want to always remember that, when I have trusted in him, when I have not hesitated or been afraid to move ahead as he has counseled through his prophets, I have felt him leading me along—and I have had joy in the fruits of my labors.