Wisdom and Order


Neal A. Maxwell

As precious and special assets of the Lord’s kingdom, Latter-day Saints must recognize the wisdom of preserving their health and strength in order to serve more individuals and to serve them longer. “People fatigue” can overtake us all if we are not wise.

Many persons, in dealing with the pressures of life, have developed their own ways of handling stress and “people fatigue.” I offer some confirmation and encouragement for them to continue pacing themselves. Those who have worked out things reasonably well likely are aligned with scriptural counsel.

Each of us has different strengths and faces different circumstances that call for calibrations that are highly individual. Happily, the Lord really does increase the capacity of the diligent, as He surely did in the case of Joseph Smith and Eliza Snow.

Many things in life act upon us over which we have no control, but there is a zone—of differing size for each of us—in which we can act for ourselves, rather than merely be acted upon (see 2 Ne. 2:26). For example, this zone includes a certain amount of disposable income. What we do within that zone is especially up to us to determine.

Basic scriptures can guide us as we seek to manage ourselves wisely. As King Benjamin counseled, “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).

A revelation was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith at a time when he must have been exceedingly anxious to finish the important and urgent translation of the Book of Mormon:

“Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end” (D&C 10:4).

Thus, the Lord has given us what might be called the “wisdom and order” and “strength and means” tests. Unwisely, we often write checks against our time accounts as we never would dare do, comparably, against our bank accounts. Sometimes we make so many commitments that they become like the vines in the allegory of Jacob, threatening to “overcome the roots,” including the “roots” of family relationships, friendships, and relationships with God.

On my office wall is a quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.” For me, it is a needed reminder. A few years ago, already weary, I foolishly went late one afternoon to two different hospitals to give blessings to three individuals who were dying of cancer. Not only was I worn out, but worse, the last person really didn’t get much from me. Things had not been done in “wisdom and order.” I was running faster than my supply of strength and energy on that occasion. Those blessings would have been better given over two or three days, and I would have had more empathy and energy.

“And he said unto [the Twelve], Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.

“And they departed into a desert place by ship privately” (Mark 6:31–32).

Jesus clearly recognized the weariness of His disciples brought on by their conscientiousness. A renewing retreat can be difficult to arrange. But informal, brief retreats can be fashioned by providing greenbelts of time between busyness, even if these are only a few minutes long.

After one of the Brethren made a report to President Brigham Young, he was anxious to leave so as not to impose. But President Young said, “Please sit a spell with me. I am weary of men and things.” How often do we “sit a spell” with spouse, children, colleagues, or friends? Unhurried time seems to be worth more than the same amount of time spent hectically.

Another case study is usually used pertaining to delegation, but it involves more.

“And Moses’ father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.

“Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone” (Ex. 18:17–18).

We generally see the need for Moses to apply the delegation dimension, and we note how both we and those we serve—including family—can “wear away.” Moses was hearing every case! Worse still, however, this pattern kept him from his real duties, which were to “teach them ordinances and laws, and … shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do” (Ex. 18:20).

The original Twelve were counseled that they were not to “serve tables” (see Acts 6:1–4). Actually, serving tables is easy. It is visible, measurable, and do-able—compared to opening up the nations of the world to missionary work or to keeping wolves out of the flock. But if the Twelve were drawn away from their scriptural and constitutional duties, the whole Church would suffer. Being drawn away can happen to all of us, almost without our knowing it.

“Wisdom and order” recognize that there are seasons in life for certain extra chores. Professional responsibilities and formal callings come and go, but it is always in season to follow Jesus’ commandment: “What manner of men [and women] ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).

We can all try to watch out for Martha-like anxiety, which is genderless. It can also deprive us of special experiences if we are too “cumbered about much serving.” Conscientiousness is not an automatic guarantee that we will choose the “good part” which will not be “taken away” from us (Luke 10:38–42).

Our most precious remembrances are concerned with “the good part.” These will remain with us, while many of our once-pressing anxieties will be long since forgotten.

Brigham Young, in periods when pressures could have filled him with Martha-like anxiety, instead made Mary-like choices:

“In my experience I never did let an opportunity pass of getting with the Prophet Joseph and of hearing him speak in public or in private, so that I might draw understanding from the fountain from which he spoke, that I might have it and bring it forth when it was needed. … In the days of the Prophet Joseph, such moments were more precious to me than all the wealth of the world. No matter how great my poverty—if I had to borrow meal to feed my wife and children, I never let an opportunity pass of learning what the Prophet had to impart” (in Journal of Discourses, 12:269–70).

The yield from President Brigham Young’s having “chosen the good part” by so listening “has not been taken away from” him or from us. Husbands and wives should have one gospel conversation at least once a week—just between themselves. They should “sit a spell,” even though it may last only ten or fifteen minutes.

A growing intellectual excitement over the gospel that so often comes from scriptural study can do much to help counter fatigue and to renew us. So, too, can the joys of quiet, personal Christian service—outside the realm of our formal Church duties.

When we are perplexed and puzzled, and we will be at times, let us ponder Nephi’s example: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne. 11:17). Elder LeGrand Richards once said of worry: “It’s the Lord’s Church[so I] let Him worry about it” (Lucile C. Tate, LeGrand Richards, Beloved Apostle, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 287). Some of us are not that spiritually poised yet!

The Lord knows we “cannot bear all things now” (D&C 50:40). However, His grace is sufficient for us for each of life’s seasons, if we are humble (see Ether 12:27).

John Taylor indicated that in life we cannot be shielded from certain things:

“It is necessary that we should have a knowledge of ourselves … and comprehend our strength, our weakness, our ignorance and intelligence, our wisdom and our folly, that we may know how to appreciate true principles. … It is necessary that we should know our own weaknesses, and the weaknesses of our fellow-men; our own strength, as well as the strength of others … and not to overvalue our own wisdom or strength, nor depreciate it, nor that of others, but put our trust in the living God, and follow after him” (in Journal of Discourses, 1:148).

Many of our daily choices are not intrinsically hard, but we work hard to make them that way. Some choices are matters of preference, not principle. We have a way, at times, of exhausting ourselves and also of drawing down the supply of goodwill while struggling over what are preferences, not principles!

Consider the spiritual poise of Jesus, our Exemplar in all things.

First, as far as I can see, Jesus was never hectically involved. This is all the more marvelous when we realize that so much of His mortal messiahship was crowded into only three very busy years.

Second, Jesus had empathy for others even amid His agony in Gethsemane and on the cross. He restored a severed ear. He made certain that His mother, Mary, would be cared for by the Apostle John. He reassured a suffering thief about tomorrow.

Third, Jesus individualized during what could have seemed to others to be repeated experiences. He personalized his offer of living water to the woman of Samaria (see John 4:7–26). He stood by the jailed Apostle Paul, encouraging him “to be of good cheer” (Acts 23:11). Each of those was an audience of only one!

At the beginning of each year, it would be quite human for us to say resignedly, “Here we go again!” and to fail to personalize. I am so glad Heavenly Father doesn’t have such feelings. Even though His course is “one eternal round” (1 Ne. 10:19; D&C 3:2), as the plan of salvation is executed and re-executed, again and again, in realms beyond our purview, His love is constant and personal. I am so glad that Jesus did not view each healing resignedly as merely one more duty. For Him, such a duty was delight.

Gilbert K. Chesterton concluded that God has never grown tired of making all daisies alike, because God has never grown tired of daisies (see Orthodoxy, Garden City: Image Books, 1959, p. 60). Nor must we grow tired of others.

We must keep ourselves spiritually and otherwise intact. Keeping spiritually intact is vital for various reasons. Among these is the great value of being intact even when things seem somewhat bleak. Imagine, for instance, what the feelings of Jesus’ followers must have been as He was arrested in Gethsemane! Worse still, what was it like to see Him on the cross? Surely those would be the bleakest hours in Christian history!

The Prophet Joseph’s imprisonment in Liberty Jail also would have been a bleak time. His followers had been driven from the state of Missouri, and he appeared to be finished. Even so, the Lord told him that “the ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name” (D&C 122:1). What a stunning declaration! John Taylor said of the time:

“We were driven out of Missouri—we were driven from one place to another in Missouri, before we were driven out altogether; then we were driven from Illinois to this Territory. But what of that? I know some men who thought the work was at an end. I remember a remark made by Sidney Rigdon—I suppose he did not live his religion—I do not think he did—his knees began to shake in Missouri, and on one occasion he said, ‘Brethren, every one of you take your own way, for the work seems as though it had come to an end.’ Brigham Young encouraged the people, and Joseph Smith told them to be firm and maintain their integrity, for God would be with his people and deliver them” (in Journal of Discourses, 11:25–26).

Then came bleak Carthage! It looked as though the work of Joseph was finished! Elder George A. Smith said:

“Some men in their hours of darkness may feel—I’ve heard of men feeling so—that the work is about done, that the enemies of the Church have become so powerful, and bring such vast wealth and energy to bear against them that we are all going to be crushed out pretty soon. I will say to such brethren, it is very bad policy for you, because you think the old ship of Zion is going to sink, to jump overboard” (George A. Smith, 6 Oct. 1874).

Those of little faith mistake local cloud cover for general darkness. Keeping spiritually intact results in our keeping precious perspective by seeing “things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13).

Wisdom and order help us cope with “people fatigue” and commitments beyond our strength and means. Wisdom and order prompt us to “sit a spell” with loved ones and colleagues, allowing us time for life’s extra chores, and remind us that we cannot bear all things now. Wisdom and order help us to separate preferences from principles.

The demands and challenges of our day are great, but wisdom and order help us maintain our perspective. That perspective, in turn, allows us to do all things in “wisdom and order,” that thereby we might “win the prize” (Mosiah 4:27), even exaltation and eternal life with those we have loved and with those we have served.

[photos] Photography by Matthew Reier

[photo] Photo by Mark Lohman/FPG International