Get a Life

From an address given at a Church Educational System fireside, 3 January 1993, at the Marriott Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

Get a Life

President Elaine L. Jack

Just before the children of Israel crossed into the promised land, Moses, their leader of forty years, gave them a final charge. He taught them essential knowledge about life, knowing full well he would not accompany his people into their new homeland. Moses told his people the most important things they needed to know if they were to live happily and return to their Heavenly Father.

Near the end of his lecture, he laid out their choices very clearly. He said these significant words: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

“That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days” (Deut. 30:19–20).

I repeat Moses’ words and ask you to choose life, to understand with your heart and your head that the Lord is indeed “thy life and the length of thy days.”

To “choose life” is only possible when we understand we have the power to do it. In the book of Moses we read about Enoch’s discussion with the Lord. At one point Enoch recorded, “the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept: …

“And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?

“And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever; …

“How is it thou canst weep?

“The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

“And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood” (Moses 7:28–33).

Many and varied circumstances exist in our individual lives which govern our views of the world. But agency is still there, given to all. Your ability to choose can be one of your greatest blessings, if you learn to use it well.

A woman came into my office a few months ago. She was in tears as she described the challenges of living in these days. Her husband was in school and working, but he wasn’t as satisfied with his job as he thought he could be. Her children were healthy and prospering, but they didn’t have all the things she wanted to give them. Her house was comfortable, but it wasn’t as large as she had dreamed it would be at this point in her life. Her friends were supportive, but they didn’t give her as much time and attention as she wished they would. Her in-laws loved her, but her mother-in-law couldn’t help her with the children as often as this young mother thought she should.

Another woman wrote me that she had lost hope of ever finding a man she could marry. She described in detail her failed relationships and efforts to find a husband. She talked about her diminished feelings of self-worth and her questions about whether or not the Lord really loved her, as she’d been taught in church all her life. She has a good job, good health, good friends, good family. Yet she spoke of her life in dismal terms and referred to herself as a second-class citizen in the Church.

Fully realizing that I do not walk in either woman’s shoes, I still want to give this bit of counsel: Get a life. We are sons and daughters of God. We have the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to rise, not wallow. Brothers and sisters, let’s get a life.

To get a life is to build on the good bedrock of our own experiences and testimony. Nephi made his choice young. He chose life; and despite the remarkable series of trials that came into his own life, he did not waver. He knew where he was going spiritually, so he could hold on even while he was lost in a desert wilderness.

To get a life is to be strong. The two women I just referred to are leading good lives, but they have lost heart for the tasks that are theirs. President Hinckley’s stirring message at the October 1992 general conference priesthood session is instructive to all of us. He said, “Be strong” and talked about how we can do that through self-discipline, standing for the right, showing mercy, practicing simple honesty, and having personal faith. Personal faith requires strength and is a source of strength at the same time. As Nephi explained about his family’s experiences in the wilderness, the Lord will nourish and strengthen us, giving us the means to accomplish the things he commands us (see 1 Ne. 17:3).

Personal faith is a reality you need in your life. It is a source of strength and comfort and resolution under the happiest and most trying moments of your life. If you want to get a life, get a testimony. Yours may be a life of little or lots of money, considerable or conservative success, a married life or a single life. In every circumstance choose to be strong so that, like Nephi, you can weather the thousands of circumstances that will be part of mortality.

To get a life is to rejoice in the dailiness of living. Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina about Levin, a Russian landowner. One day he chose to mow hay with the peasants who worked his fields. At first all he could think of were the developing blisters on his hands and the constant aching of his bent back. The rows seemed longer and longer as he worked through them. He feared he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the others. Tolstoy wrote that just as Levin was about to give in, “another row, and yet another row, followed—long rows and short rows, with good grass and with poor grass. Levin lost all sense of time, and could not have told whether it was late or early now. A change began to come over his work, which gave him immense satisfaction. In the midst of his toil there were moments during which he forgot what he was doing, and it came all easy to him” (Constance Garnett, trans., New York: Doubleday, 1946, p. 229). There is a kind of magic in getting into a task so thoroughly that we relish the process itself. Maybe that’s why some of us take so much satisfaction from full jars of fruit in a storage room. Others may find it in completing a term paper or overhauling a motorcycle or cleaning a neighbor’s garage. The tasks give us the opportunity to throw ourselves into work that brings joy.

To get a life is to be grateful. When we see most clearly, we see the Lord’s hand in everything. The truly grateful, like Nephi, dwell on the goodness of life, even while acknowledging there may be more adversity than there are words to write it. Perhaps the biggest difference between Nephi and his elder brothers was Nephi’s unwavering ability to graduate through all kinds of spiritual levels as he increased in gratitude and faith, while Laman and Lemuel never progressed past murmuring, withholding, and rebellion. Low-level pursuits indeed.

Each of us has only so much energy and time in a day. Nephi put his resources into activities reflecting his faith and thanksgiving. Laman and Lemuel sowed their energies in the barren fields of discontent, disaffection, and disbelief. Their lack of gratitude led to a great deal of mortal trouble for Nephi and endless eternal trouble for them.

In my experience I’ve learned that the people who are spiritually mature are people who are truly grateful. I’ve felt humbled to meet people whose very lives as well as their words express their gratitude for the blessings of life and truth. In the Philippines a young mother was thankful for a small, old-fashioned sewing machine which allowed her to earn the extra money she needed so that their family of eight children could travel to the Manila temple to be sealed together.

Thousands of Saints are leading a rich life, whether they are living in a mansion in Jakarta or in a home with a leaking roof. In one home with a leaking roof, a sister expressed gratitude that two daughters had done extremely well in final tests which qualified them to be midwives, yet explained to me that sometimes she has to “wear an umbrella” in the kitchen when it rains.

Sometimes I fear we have expectations that the good life is the life being led by someone else. The truth is that the good life is the life you have, for it is the only one you can lead. I believe Nephi understood that, and therefore he could with full heart thank the Lord in the midst of trials which were often life-threatening. To thank the Lord for His blessings to us is to understand how good life is, even when it seems unpleasant, unsuccessful, or just plain hard.

To get a life is to think about and do for others. During 1992, Relief Society women throughout the world joined together in service projects in their own communities. A sister from Peru wrote that the women of her Relief Society had helped a family whose mother died. The sister said, “We felt fellowshipped and strengthened spiritually, and we were happy to have been able to imitate our Lord, Jesus Christ, by serving our needy brothers and sisters.”

Women in the Apia Samoa East Stake told us: “We … decided to approach the government to ask if it was all right for the stake Relief Society sisters to plant some flowers around the town clock. We chose the town clock because it is right in the middle of the town and we felt it would be just the right place to have a beautiful garden. Its flowers would bear the theme of the Relief Society, ‘Charity Never Faileth.’ The government was thrilled. … They thanked us wholeheartedly and then they asked us if there was any way we could paint the twenty-foot clock tower as well. We told them … we would see what we could do. … The stake did not have money, which did not worry us a bit. We only wanted them to approve it, as we had a strong feeling and belief that if it was the will of the Lord, things would work out. … Paints and equipment were donated, professional painters offered themselves and their time, and the priesthood of our … stake also helped out with the work. The sisters of the eight units of our stake worked in scraping the old paint off, scrubbing and cleaning the clock tower, and of course in planting the flowers. We will be taking turns in maintaining the gardens there for the whole year. Again, the sisters were generous and willing.”

I love these stories. Can you imagine the good that has been done in more than a hundred nations by thousands of Relief Society sisters? Can you imagine the blessings that have come into the lives of those women? If you do not learn to do for others, yours will be a dull life.

To get a life is to remain open to new ideas. Not long ago I heard the story of a man who was leaving a long career in one industry. Still a relatively young man, he had to get another job to support his family. The transition would be rough because he’d never worked anywhere other than at his first job. At the meeting of a community group of which he was a member, a subject related to this long-time job came up. He leaned back in his chair and immediately began to tell the group how things were in that industry, all the problems currently in the marketplace, and why he was right. After a rather lengthy oration, he critiqued the ideas being proposed and basically left the group without hope anything could be done.

When the meeting adjourned, one committee member said to another: “I think our friend will have a hard time getting another job. The ability to pontificate is not very marketable these days.” How true! It’s easy to use old knowledge and experiences to shoot down current or future possibilities. It’s easy to say, “Well, in my mission field it was done like this,” or “In my last job we did it like that.”

It’s a lot harder and a lot wiser to use what we know as the basis of creating something new and better. The Lord commanded Nephi, “Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.” Nephi responded, “Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?” (1 Ne. 17:8–9.)

Probably Nephi had some knowledge of tool making and possibly building of some kind. I doubt he knew much about ships. But he was willing to apply what he knew to a new situation. His brothers, on the other hand, had no desire to enter into this new, unknown domain. Instead, they did what people often do when they’re afraid, unsure, unskilled or lazy: they criticized and demeaned Nephi. Nephi noted, “And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters.

“And thus my brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship” (1 Ne. 17:17–18). You recall that it took divine intervention before Laman and Lemuel would get to work.

Lack of belief is a convenient excuse for not undertaking new projects. New tasks can be very frightening, but they are good for us, too. They force us out of our current comfort zones. Sometimes we need to leave our spiritual comfort zone, too. The hard work we do spiritually will benefit us in many ways, just as the hard work we do intellectually and professionally will have lifelong value.

To get a life is to respect others. There are many times in our working relationships when we would do well to check our egos at the door along with our coats. Time spent in Church callings is one of those times. We all serve along with others. We work in presidencies and bishoprics or as a member of the corps of teachers in Sunday School or in the auxiliaries or quorums. We serve two by two as home teachers, visiting teachers, or missionary companions. Presidents serve with counselors or advisers. All of this togetherness is for a good purpose. These working relationships teach us to work together. We have the benefit of others’ ideas and spiritual insights. We join as brothers and sisters in synergistic relationships that benefit those who serve and those we serve. These working relationships may not always be easy.

In the Church we are not building a kingdom, we are building the kingdom. We do this only when we are unified and truly working together. An early Church leader, George Q. Cannon, remarked: “We are not the people of God when we are not united. Union is one of the fruits of the Spirit” (Gospel Truth, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987, p. 165). When we fail to work as a unified unit in our Church positions, we prevent the Lord from blessing us as He could. When was the last time you asked those with whom you serve, “How can I help?” “What do you need?”

We will realize great growth in sincerely asking those questions often—and then acting on the responses we get. These questions suggest humility and the ability to listen, to learn, to collect feedback from others. They help us realize that we know we are not the center of the universe but rather we are each an important worker in the Lord’s kingdom, a kingdom that is eternal in scope and significance. We are valuable, each of us, and because we are, we should treat each other with respect.

To get a life is to be kind. Few things are as healing as simple kindnesses—a gentle touch, a pat on the arm, an encouraging word, patient silence, a probing question when something is obviously wrong, a withholding of judgment until all the facts are known. If we are sincere about being followers of Christ, if we really mean it when we partake of the sacrament on Sunday or attend a temple session, we will be kind.

We owe each other kindness. Kindness can be shown in so many small ways. The scriptures say clearly that we must be kind about our dealings with one another. Kindness doesn’t mean we have to be submissive to others, but kindness does require of us that we measure our own responses against a righteous standard. We must be submissive to the Spirit of the Lord. Sometimes kindness means we should keep quiet or leave a situation. Sometimes kindness requires us to remain and try to make things right.

Ask yourself before you act or speak, “Is what I am about to do or say kind?” If it is, proceed confidently. If it isn’t, frame another response.

To get a life is to love life. Two friends were talking. The one was outlining her many worries and concerns. Her friend listened carefully, then asked, “Which of these problems can you do anything about right now, and which problems are just recreational anxiety?”

The next time you consider spending some time in recreational anxiety, consider these words about our Savior: “And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Ne. 19:9). This is Nephi speaking again. He reminds us that our Savior suffered willingly because of His love for us. There is nothing we experience that our Lord does not understand.

I know this to be true. At times when I feel overwhelmed or alone, unsure or defeated, I remember that we have a Savior who understands and loves me. His atonement was personal; it was for me. He knows. He understands.

When Moses gave his last great exhortation, he knew what conditions lay before his people. He told them, “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid … : for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deut. 31:6). He knew the Israelites were not going into a new land alone. Unfailing help was with them, for the Lord was with them. Moses could therefore suggest with confidence that they be strong and of a good courage. For he knew there was a sure base for their strength and courage.

We go through mortality with the same promise the people of Moses had. The Lord is with us and will not forsake us. When we are overwhelmed with unnecessary anxiety, we will need to remember courage, for the Lord knows and understands, and He loves us. Six years ago Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a General Authority for thirty-nine years, lay on his deathbed. His wife, Amelia, held his hand and asked, “‘Bruce, do you have a message for me?’ Though weak and expiring, he responded in a firm voice with his last words, ‘Carry on’” (Marvin J. Ashton, Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 36).

To carry on—what a grand message. What a way to live and love life. The choices Moses laid out are the choices. You’re wonderful. Get a life by choosing the Lord, “for he is thy life.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[photo] “To get a life is to rejoice in the dailiness of living”—even in tasks that demand hard work, such as bottling fruit.

[illustration] Nephi’s Vision, by Clark Kelley Price

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson