“How would you change,” our Sunday School teacher asked, “if you knew Christ was coming next year?”
Wow, I thought, I’d really get busy. I’d inventory my year’s supply and update it. I’d read the scriptures until I really knew them and spend more time fellowshipping my neighbors. I’d go to the temple twice as often. I’d make my home a haven, free from confusion and contention. I’d be ready!
Then a wave of despair hit me. Who was I kidding? Take more time to be good? I was going just as hard as I could and having trouble being adequate.
Dr. Martin Nalder, a psychiatrist, once stated that LDS people strive for perfection—our ultimate goal—but constantly feel guilty, since we never seem to measure up. (BYU Education Week, West Covina, Calif., 1967.) Time often limits us to a choice between two worthy efforts, and either choice leaves us feeling guilty because we neglect the other.
What is the answer, then? Should we lower our goals? Should we demand less of ourselves? Todd Britsch wrote:
With my short arms, it would be mad
To reach out for a star.
But who, after seeing one clear night,
Could satisfy himself with paper lanterns?
Is it possible to reach for the stars and not feel guilty for not reaching them immediately? How can we lengthen our stride without running faster than we have strength? Here are some ideas that may help.
1. Believe you can. Often children complain, “But Mom, it’s hard.” When Joyce Nelson, a mother I admire, hears this she says, “Yes, it is hard. But you can do hard things.”
A lovely singer, Barbara Young, was called to be Relief Society chorister. There was only one problem—Barbara couldn’t lead music. In fact, she couldn’t even read music. But instead of refusing, she took lessons. The first few weeks, all the hymns we sang in Relief Society were 3/4 time. Soon, however, we expanded to 4/4 time, then to hymns beginning on an upbeat. Now, not even the time change in “Come, Come, Ye Saints” throws her. She believed she could, and she did.
2. Start with small steps. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philip. 4:13.) Our Heavenly Father and his Son support our efforts to improve ourselves and to increase our abilities, no matter how small they initially may be.
For many years I desired to have my time better organized. Periodically I would draw up elaborate schedules to plan my days, weeks, and months. I could only keep the schedule for a week or two, then I would fall back into old habits. I came to believe I was just not an organized person.
A fireside changed my outlook. We were taught to be the person we wanted to be for just one hour a day. For me, the most important time to be organized was from the time I got up until the time my children and husband left the house in the morning. That much I could manage. When that step became a habit, I worked on being organized for one hour before my husband returned from work.
Slowly, one step at a time, we can become the person we really want to be.
3. Look at your past. Often, we look at ourselves and feel we are lacking. But through the years we have grown and progressed, and we need to remind ourselves of that periodically. When Birte Dewey, stake Primary president, feels that she is standing still, she says, “Okay, let’s check it out.” She looks back several years, and seeing her improvement helps her keep trying.
“I used to be intolerant of teenagers,” she says. “Now I love them and glory in their achievements. That’s a happy improvement. Earlier, I would have resented giving large amounts of money to the building fund. Now I give only a fleeting thought to my unremodeled kitchen.
“It’s more important to me to recognize my strengths than to dwell on my frailties,” she explained to me. “Looking back helps me do that.”
4. Don’t compare yourself to others. Ours is not a gospel of comparisons. We don’t know another’s situation, their past, or their advantages. While we are envying them, they may be admiring us.
A friend told me one day how much she wished she were like me. “You have so many talents. You can write, sing, speak with confidence in front of an audience.” I laughed. I was feeling inferior because my front room was messy and I knew her house was spotless. My children were wildly showing off while hers were sitting quietly.
The only person we can compare ourselves to is the person we were and the person we want to become.
5. Realize there is a time for all things. When I was a counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency—with six children—I felt bad about never doing any community work. Now that I’m a Primary teacher, I have time to be a room mother at school, work for the March of Dimes, and campaign for an election. Each period of my life offers different opportunities.
Carol Frye, a Mother Education teacher, said, “We seem to want to incorporate every quality and talent we see in others into our own lives. It is silly to think we can attain the virtues we desire right now. We have a lifetime to do all that we should. It doesn’t all have to happen next week!”
6. Build faith and testimony. This is the most important step of all. Getting closer to God will allow his spirit to guide us to the proper priorities for our time and efforts.
A young bishop, striving to live a more righteous life, began to pray more meaningfully, to really study the scriptures, and to magnify his calling. As he did these things, he found priorities were revealed to him and he was able to understand what the Lord wanted him to do in his daily life. He felt that he was doing the things, day by day, that would help him return to our Heavenly Father.
When we are spiritually in tune, we know what the Lord wants us to do right now in our lives. With his help, we can do more than we believed possible.
King Benjamin told his people that they did not have to run faster than they had strength. (See Mosiah 4:27.) But he did not say they should stop moving. Neither can we, for as we diligently stretch and reach and try, as we seek the Lord’s Spirit and grace, we will become the Saint we want to be.