The High Cost of Inactivity


The stewardess moved us to the front of the plane where we sat seat-edged waiting for the heavy oval door of the plane to swing open. Our plane from the East was late, late enough to make it almost impossible to make our connection in Denver.

As soon as the door swung open we dashed down the ramp, jogging full speed toward the plane that would take us home. With only seconds to spare we boarded and promptly taxied to the runway.

Unfortunately, our luggage did not make the same connections and had to be shipped on a later plane. “As long as your luggage has your name on it, it will catch up with you,” the baggage master assured us.

And it did.

This is not unlike life itself. Whatever bears our name will eventually catch up with us. Words, deeds, or children—if they bear our name, they eventually come home as our own. Perhaps the same may be said of things we have left undone, if the responsibility was in our name.

Jim was an avid sportsman. It limited him terribly to interrupt his sports-filled weekends to attend priesthood meeting, Sunday School, and sacrament meeting. “I know I should make it,” he said, “but when we leave for the hills right after work Friday evening, it isn’t always possible to get back for Sundays.”

At first their camper pulled into their driveway early Sunday morning, followed by a rush to get to priesthood meeting. Gradually they settled for Sunday School only, which allowed them an additional hour and a half to return home from the hills.

By the end of the summer their camper made its tired appearance late Sunday evening and Jim, Beth, and their family were no longer seen in church. At first they reported that they had sought out a church in the area of their camping. This practice, however, soon changed to holding “their own church” among themselves. Lately nothing more has been said about church at all.

Both Jim and Beth have given up the teaching jobs they had in the ward because “we can’t seem to get there often enough, and we hate to keep asking for substitutes.” As their home teachers, we noted that their home evening had also been completely overlooked. “Just too many things going on,” they said.

Perhaps as partial justification for their Sunday absences, Jim and Beth began to criticize the Church and many of its activities. For the first time I heard them find fault with the Sunday School presidency and some of the teachers. And it was disturbing to watch their ten-, twelve-, and fourteen-year-olds nod as their parents belittled the Church.

Another family: Bob and Edna have always stressed education in their family. But Primary somehow runs a poor second to music lessons. Sunday School is talked down because the brother teaching the class speaks with an uncultured accent. Grammatical errors in Church talks are promptly pointed out to the family. Anyone who doesn’t have a college degree, including the bishop, is automatically second rate in their estimation. Small wonder that their children were soon finding fault with everything and everybody in the Church.

Although Edna was unusually talented as a storyteller and writer, the ward newspaper has always been beneath her ability. She might have rendered a fine contribution to the Saints with her talent, but she has yet to accept an assignment in the ward.

We have known Bob and Edna for over twenty years. Their children are now grown and have moved away. One of these children has requested and been granted excommunication from the Church, and the others have simply dropped out. Yet both Bob and Edna come from pioneer stock, from people who would have given their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Then there is Judd. Judd also came from stalwarts in the Church. He married in the temple. Financially he has achieved far more than most of his contemporaries. But with success in business have come contacts and associates who do not believe as he has been taught.

Sunday after Sunday now finds Jeanine, his wife, sitting alone in church with their children, while Judd is out golfing with his friends. Judd has now taken up most of the habits of his friends, habits that prevent him from exercising his priesthood and going to the temple.

“I support Jeanine and allow her to work in the Church,” Judd said, “but I’m just too busy right now.” This was in answer to the bishop’s request that he work with the Scouts of the ward. “Besides,” he continued, “I wouldn’t be setting a good example for the kids.”

“What about the example you are setting for your own children? Where do they fit in this picture, Judd?” the bishop asked.

Judd passed this off with, “You’re right. I should do something about it.”

But he didn’t.

The greatest regret of a smoker may not be that he develops a lung cancer or that he shortens his life with a premature heart attack; it may be his eventual realization that he inadvertently has told his children (by his example) that smoking is all right. He has literally taught them to smoke by his own personal condonation of smoking.

Likewise, the true cost of inactivity may not lie so much in what a man loses for his own soul as in the fact that he has given his children, by example, encouragement to inactivity. It is difficult to convince a child that his father, whom he loves, could possibly do anything wrong—even if his father tells him it isn’t right.

A great stone mountain on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia, bears the figures of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, carved in granite. It is the pride of the entire South.

Yet when the head of General Robert E. Lee was first sculpted in the mountain, it had to be redone because it was definitely out of proportion. It was embarrassing to the master sculptor. But he discovered that he and his helpers had simply been too close to the mountain to have proper perspective and sense of proportion.

Sometimes we are so close to this magnificent gospel that we lose perspective and inadvertently carve our own lives out of proportion. We place emphasis on the wrong things and in the wrong places. We lose sight of what really is important. And we too often overlook the effect this distortion has on the lives of those around us.

Judd would enjoy the Church more “if it didn’t cramp my Sunday golf.” He would like the Church better if it were “more liberal about smoking and drinking and a few other things,” he said.

Bob and Edna, on the other hand, remind me of a carpet remnant sale that my wife and I attended. There were some terrific bargains. Carpet was being offered at almost give-away prices.

Unfortunately, we discovered that this was, as advertised, a “remnant” sale. The goods were leftovers, and in nearly all cases, were too small or such odd shapes that they did not meet our needs. At any price, they were useless as far as we were concerned.

Bob and Edna would have been happy to serve the Lord if it had been convenient for them—after they took care of their own needs. Whatever was left, the Lord could have, if it then suited his needs. But they weren’t willing to offer their all. They weren’t willing to dedicate their complete lives to the Lord or his purposes.

Where are the children of these families? Where will they be ten or more years from now?

Chances are that—like the luggage bearing our label—our seeds of apathy, neglect, or even criticism of the gospel will eventually catch up with us. Truly, the cost of inactivity is more than anyone can afford to pay.

[illustration] Illustrated by Howard Post

Lindsay R. Curtis, an obstetrician-gynecologist, is in the presidency of the California Oakland Mission.