Priorities and Balance

Eternal Marriage Student Manual, (2003), 276–82


Search your hearts and courageously assess the priorities in your life.

—Elder M. Russell Ballard

Selected Teachings

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“The highest challenge we have in mortality is to use our free agency well, making right choices in the interplay of time and talents. Time is one of the blessings we are given. Generally speaking, it is we who let ourselves get fragmented too much. It is the result of not establishing (and then persisting in) certain priorities in our life. I am not denying the reality of the challenge you put, but neither do I think it is unmanageable” (Deposition of a Disciple, 68).

“Does all this mean that in letting go of the world, it will be easy to set priorities? No! It is often harder, for now we choose, not between task A, which is a tainted task, and B, which is good; but now we must allot time and talent between C, which is important and good, and D, which is good and important” (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, 19).

“Just as the Lord was able to summarize His priorities so succinctly that it is his ‘work and … glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39), so we, too, will need to be able to manage our time and talents in such a way that we, too, know our real priorities and focus on them. When we are settled in our hearts on that which really matters, then our talent and time as well as our treasure will be thus deployed!” (We Will Prove Them Herewith, 66–67).

Spiritual Priorities

President Spencer W. Kimball

“I am impressed that our various Church programs are like keys on the keyboard of a piano. Some of the keys are used much more often than others, but all of them are needed from time to time to produce harmony and balance in our lives. So often, therefore, what we are doing in our various talks and meetings is to remind ourselves of the need for balance, the need for fresh emphasis here or there, and the need to do the things that matter most without leaving the other things undone” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 70; or Ensign, May 1976, 46).

President Ezra Taft Benson

“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims of our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 13; or Ensign, May 1988, 4).

“To be successful, we must have the Spirit of the Lord. We have been taught that the Spirit will not dwell in unclean tabernacles. Therefore, one of our first priorities is to make sure our own personal lives are in order” (Come unto Christ, 92).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“Our priorities determine what we seek in life. ‘Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness’ (JST, Matthew 6:38), Jesus taught his disciples. As we read in modern revelation: ‘Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.’ (D&C 6:7.)” (Pure in Heart, 6).

Elder M. Russell Ballard

“Sometimes we need a personal crisis to reinforce in our minds what we really value and cherish. The scriptures are filled with examples of people facing crises before learning how to better serve God and others. Perhaps if you, too, search your hearts and courageously assess the priorities in your life, you may discover, as I did, that you need a better balance among your priorities” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 14–15; or Ensign, May 1987, 13).

Family Priorities

President Spencer W. Kimball

“The Lord says in definite terms: ‘Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else.’ (D&C 42:22.)

“The words none else eliminate everyone and everything. The spouse then becomes preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 310–11).

President Ezra Taft Benson

“The question is sometimes asked by younger priesthood holders, ‘Where do I place my greatest priorities—to the Church, to my family, or to my profession?’ I have answered that question by emphasizing that heads of families have four major responsibilities. Certainly the first is to the home and family. There should be no question about this. A man may succeed in business or his Church calling, but if he fails in his home he will face eternity in disappointment. … Home is the place where the Lord intended a father’s greatest influence to be felt” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 509–10).

Elder John A. Widtsoe

“The Church is composed of homes. Church and home cannot be separated. Neither one comes first. They are one” (Evidences and Reconciliations, 318).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“Given the gravity of current conditions, would parents be willing to give up just one outside thing, giving that time and talent instead to the family? Parents and grandparents, please scrutinize your schedules and priorities in order to ensure that life’s prime relationships get more prime time. Even consecrated and devoted Brigham Young was once told by the Lord, ‘Take especial care of your family’ (D&C 126:3). Sometimes it is the most conscientious who need this message the most!” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1994, 121; or Ensign, May 1994, 90).

A Letter to Church Members from the First Presidency

Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, James E. Faust

Church News, 27 Feb. 1999, 3

We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform.

We urge bishops and other Church officers to do all they can to assist parents in seeing that they have time and help, where needed, as they nurture their families and bring them up in the way of the Lord. Wherever possible, Sunday meetings, other than those under the three-hour schedule and perhaps council meetings on early Sunday mornings or firesides later in the evening, should be avoided so that parents may be with their children. As we strengthen families, we will strengthen the entire Church.

Faithfully your brethren,
The First Presidency

Parents in Zion

President Boyd K. Packer

President Boyd K. Packer

Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In Conference Report, Oct. 1998, 27–30; or Ensign, Nov. 1998, 22

Parents in Zion

In 1831 the Lord gave a revelation to parents in Zion.1 It is about parents that I wish to speak.

I have served in the Quorum of the Twelve for 28 years, and 9 years as an Assistant to the Twelve. Put together, that makes 37 years—exactly half my life.

But I have another calling which I have held even longer. I am a parent—a father and a grandfather. It took years to earn the grandfather title—another 20 years the title of great-grandfather. These titles—father, grandfather, mother, grandmother—carry responsibility and an authority which comes in part from experience. Experience is a compelling teacher.

Balancing Family and Church

My calling in the priesthood defines my position in the Church; the title grandfather, my position in the family. I want to talk about both of them together.

Parenthood stands among the most important activities to which Latter-day Saints may devote themselves. Many members face conflicts as they struggle to balance their responsibility as parents together with faithful activity in the Church.

There are things vital to the well-being of a family which can be found only by going to church. There is the priesthood, which empowers a man to lead and bless his wife and children, and covenants which bind them together forever.

The Church was commanded to “meet together often”2 and told, “When ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other.”3 Alma the Elder and Alma the Younger gave the same instruction to their people.4

We are commanded to “turn the heart[s] of the fathers to the children, and the heart[s] of the children to their fathers.”5

The Lord addressed Joseph Smith Jr. by name and said, “You have not kept the commandments, and must needs stand rebuked.”6 He had failed to teach his children. That is the only time the word rebuke is used in correcting him.

His counselor Frederick G. Williams was under the same condemnation: “You have not taught your children light and truth.”7 Sidney Rigdon was told the same thing, as was Bishop Newel K. Whitney,8 and the Lord added, “What I say unto one I say unto all.”9

There are things vital to the well-being of a family which can be found only by going to church.

Church’s Inspired Guidance for Families

We have watched the standards of morality sink ever lower until now they are in a free-fall. At the same time we have seen an outpouring of inspired guidance for parents and for families.

The whole of the curriculum and all of the activities of the Church have been restructured and correlated with the home:

  • Ward teaching became home teaching.

  • Family home evening was reestablished.

  • Genealogy was renamed family history and set to collect records of all the families.

  • And then the historic proclamation on the family was issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles.

  • The family became, and remains, a prevailing theme in meetings, conferences, and councils.

  • All as a prelude to an unprecedented era of building temples wherein the authority to seal families together forever is exercised.

Can you see the spirit of inspiration resting upon the servants of the Lord and upon parents? Can we understand the challenge and the assault now leveled at the family?

Use Care in Scheduling Activities

In providing out-of-home activities for the family, we must use care; otherwise, we could be like a father determined to provide everything for his family. He devotes every energy to that end and succeeds; only then does he discover that what they needed most—to be together as a family—has been neglected. And he reaps sorrow in place of contentment.

How easy it is, in our desire to provide schedules of programs and activities, to overlook the responsibilities of the parent and the essential need for families to have time together.

We must be careful lest programs and activities of the Church become too heavy for some families to carry. The principles of the gospel, where understood and applied, strengthen and protect both individuals and families. Devotion to the family and devotion to the Church are not different and separate things.

Keep Family and Church in Perspective

I recently saw a woman respond when it was said of another, “Since she had the new baby, she isn’t doing anything in the Church.” You could almost see a baby in her arms as she protested with emotion: “She is doing something in the Church. She gave that baby life. She nurtures and teaches it. She is doing the most important thing that she can do in the Church.”

How would you respond to this question: “Because of their handicapped child, she is confined to the home and he works two jobs to meet the extra expenses. They seldom attend—can we count them as active in the Church?”

And have you ever heard a woman say, “My husband is a very good father, but he’s never been a bishop or a stake president or done anything important in the Church.” In response to that, a father vigorously said, “What is more important in the Church than being a good father?”

Faithful attendance at church, together with careful attention to the needs of the family, is a near-perfect combination. In church we are taught the great plan of happiness.10 At home we apply what we have learned. Every call, every service in the Church brings experience and valuable insights which carry over into family life.

Would our perspective be more clear if we could, for a moment, look upon parenthood as a calling in the Church? Actually, it is so much more than that; but if we could look at it that way for a moment, we could reach a better balance in the way we schedule families.

Do Not Burden Families Unnecessarily

I do not want anyone to use what I say to excuse them in turning down an inspired call from the Lord. I do want to encourage leaders to carefully consider the home lest they issue calls or schedule activities which place an unnecessary burden on parents and families.

Recently I read a letter from a young couple whose callings in the Church frequently require them to hire a sitter for their small children in order for them to attend their meetings. It has become very difficult for both of them to be home with their children at the same time. Can you see something out of balance there?

Every time you schedule a youngster, you schedule a family—particularly the mother.

Consider the mother who, in addition to her own Church calling and that of her husband, must get her children ready and run from one activity to another. Some mothers become discouraged—even depressed. I receive letters using the word guilt because they cannot do it all.

Attending church is, or should be, a respite from the pressures of everyday life. It should bring peace and contentment. If it brings pressure and discouragement, then something is out of balance.

And the Church is not the only responsibility parents have. Other agencies have a very legitimate reason to call upon the resources of the family—schools, employers, community—all need to be balanced in.

Recently a mother told me her family had moved from a rural, scattered ward where, of necessity, activities were consolidated into one weekday night. It was wonderful. They had time for their family. I can see them sitting around the table together.

They moved west into a larger ward where members were closer to the chapel. She said, “Now our family is scheduled Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday night. It is very hard on our family.”

Remember, when you schedule a youngster, you schedule a family—particularly the mother.

Most families try very hard; but some, when burdened with problems of health and finance, simply become exhausted trying to keep up, and eventually they withdraw into inactivity. They do not see that they are moving from the one best source of light and truth, of help with their family, into the shadows where danger and heartbreak await.

I must touch upon what must surely be the most difficult problem to solve. Some youngsters receive very little teaching and support at home. There is no question but that we must provide for them. But if we provide a constant schedule of out-of-home activities sufficient to compensate for the loss in those homes, it may make it difficult for attentive parents to have time to be with and teach their own children. Only prayer and inspiration can lead us to find this difficult balance.

Importance of Learning at Home

We often hear, “We must provide frequent and exciting activities lest our youth will go to less wholesome places.” Some of them will. But I have the conviction that if we teach parents to be responsible and allow them sufficient time, over the long course their children will be at home.

There, at home, they can learn what cannot be effectively taught in either Church or school. At home they can learn to work and to take responsibility. They learn what to do when they have children of their own.

For example, in the Church children are taught the principle of tithing, but it is at home that the principle is applied. At home even young children can be shown how to figure a tithe and how it is paid.

One time President and Sister Harold B. Lee were in our home. Sister Lee put a handful of pennies on a table before our young son. She had him slide the shiny ones to one side and said, “These are your tithing; these belong to the Lord. The others are yours to keep.” He thoughtfully looked from one pile to the other and then said, “Don’t you have any more dirty ones?” That was when the real teaching moment began!

Use the Ward Council to Establish Balance

The ward council is the perfect place to establish the balance between home and Church. Here the brethren of the priesthood, themselves fathers, and sisters of the auxiliaries, themselves mothers, can, with inspired insight, coordinate the work of the organizations, each of which serves different members of the family.

Members of the council can compare what each organization is providing for each member and how much time and money are required. They can unite rather than divide families and provide watch care over single parents, the childless, the unmarried, the elderly, the handicapped—and provide much more than just activities for the children and young people.

The ward council has resources often overlooked. For instance, grandparents, while not filling callings, can help young families who are finding their way along the same path they once walked.

The Lord warned parents, “Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, … that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.”11

The ward council is ideal for our present need. Here the home and the family can be anchored in place, and the Church can support rather than supplant the parents. Fathers and mothers will understand both their obligation to teach their children and the blessings provided by the Church.

Most Important Things Learned at Home

As the world grows ever more threatening, the powers of heaven draw ever closer to families and parents.

I have studied much in the scriptures and have taught from them. I have read much from what the prophets and apostles have spoken. They have had a profound influence upon me as a man and as a father.

But most of what I know about how our Father in Heaven really feels about us, His children, I have learned from the way I feel about my wife and my children and their children. This I have learned at home. I have learned it from my parents and from my wife’s parents, from my beloved wife and from my children, and I can therefore testify of a loving Heavenly Father and of a redeeming Lord. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Keeping Life’s Demands in Balance

Elder M. Russell Ballard

Elder M. Russell Ballard

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 15–18; or Ensign, May 1987, 14–16

A periodic review of the covenants we have made with the Lord will help us with our priorities and with balance in our lives. This review will help us see where we need to repent and change our lives to ensure that we are worthy of the promises that accompany our covenants and sacred ordinances. Working out our own salvation requires good planning and a deliberate, valiant effort.

I have a few suggestions that I hope will be valuable to those of you concerned with balancing life’s demands. These suggestions are very basic; their concepts can easily be overlooked if you are not careful. You will need a strong commitment and personal discipline to incorporate them into your life.

Use an Eternal Perspective to Set Priorities

First, think about your life and set your priorities. Find some quiet time regularly to think deeply about where you are going and what you will need to do to get there. Jesus, our exemplar, often “withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed” (Luke 5:16). We need to do the same thing occasionally to rejuvenate ourselves spiritually as the Savior did. Write down the tasks you would like to accomplish each day. Keep foremost in mind the sacred covenants you have made with the Lord as you write down your daily schedules.

Set Reasonable Short-Term Goals

Second, set short-term goals that you can reach. Set goals that are well balanced—not too many nor too few, and not too high nor too low. Write down your attainable goals and work on them according to their importance. Pray for divine guidance in your goal setting.

You recall that Alma said he would like to be an angel so he could “speak with the trump of God, … to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” (Alma 29:1). He then said, “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me. …

“… Why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:3, 6).

Become Financially Responsible and Secure

Third, everyone faces financial challenges in life. Through wise budgeting, control your real needs and measure them carefully against your many wants in life. Far too many individuals and families have incurred too much debt. Be careful of the many attractive offers to borrow money. It is much easier to borrow money than it is to pay it back. There are no shortcuts to financial security. There are no get-rich-quick schemes that work. Perhaps no one needs the principle of balance in their lives more than those who are driven toward accumulating “things” in this world.

Do not trust your money to others without a thorough evaluation of any proposed investment. Our people have lost far too much money by trusting their assets to others. In my judgment, we never will have balance in our lives unless our finances are securely under control.

The prophet Jacob said to his people: “Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness” (2 Nephi 9:51).

Brothers and sisters, remember to always pay a full tithing.

Build Close Relationships with Family and Friends

Fourth, stay close to your spouse, children, relatives, and friends. They will help you keep a balance in your life. In a recent study by the Church, adults in the United States were asked to identify a time when they were very happy and to describe the experience. They were also asked to describe a time when they were very unhappy. For most people, one thing that had made them the most happy or the most sad was their personal relationships with others. Much less important were their personal health, employment, money, and other material things. Build relationships with your family and friends through open and honest communication.

A good marriage and good family relationships can be maintained through gentle, loving, thoughtful communication. Remember that often a glance, a wink, a nod, or a touch will say more than words. A sense of humor and good listening are also vital parts of good communication.

Study the Scriptures

Fifth, study the scriptures. They offer one of the best sources we have to keep in touch with the Spirit of the Lord. One of the ways I have gained my sure knowledge that Jesus is the Christ is through my study of the scriptures. President Ezra Taft Benson has called upon members of the Church to make the study of the Book of Mormon a daily habit and a lifetime pursuit. The Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy is good counsel for each of us. He wrote, “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15–16).

Rest, Exercise, and Relax

Sixth, many people, including me, have difficulty finding the time for sufficient rest, exercise, and relaxation. We must schedule time on our daily calendars for these activities if we are to enjoy a healthy and balanced life. Good physical appearance enhances our dignity and self-respect.

“Teach One Another the Gospel”

Seventh, the prophets have taught repeatedly that families should teach one another the gospel, preferably in a weekly family home evening. This family practice, if we are not very careful, can slowly drift away from us. We must not lose this special opportunity to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77), which will lead families to eternal life.

Satan is always working to destroy our testimonies, but he will not have the power to tempt or disturb us beyond our strength to resist when we are studying the gospel and living its commandments.

Pray Often

My last suggestion is to pray often as individuals and as families. Parents need to exercise the discipline required to lead out and motivate children to join together for regular family prayers. Our youth can know the right decisions to make each day through constant, sincere prayer.

The prophet Alma summarized the importance of prayer in these words: “But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering” (Alma 13:28). When I am in tune spiritually, I find that I can balance everything in my life much more easily.

Do All Things in Wisdom and Order

I realize, brothers and sisters, that other suggestions could be added to these. However, I believe that when we focus on a few basic objectives, we are more likely to be able to manage the many demands that life makes on us. Remember, too much of anything in life can throw us off-balance. At the same time, too little of the important things can do the same thing. King Benjamin counseled “that all these things are done in wisdom and order” (Mosiah 4:27).

Often the lack of clear direction and goals can waste away our time and energy and contribute to imbalance in our lives. A life that gets out of balance is much like a car tire that is out of balance. It will make the operation of the car rough and unsafe. Tires in perfect balance can give a smooth and comfortable ride. So it is with life. The ride through mortality can be smoother for us when we strive to stay in balance. Our main goal should be to seek “immortality and eternal life” (Moses 1:39). With this as our goal, why not eliminate from our lives the things that clamor for and consume our thoughts, feelings, and energies without contributing to our reaching that goal?

Help Rather than Hinder

Just a word to Church leaders: Be very careful that what you ask from members will help them attain eternal life. For Church members to be able to balance their lives, Church leaders must be sure they do not require so much from members that they have no time to accomplish their personal and family goals.

Do Your Best Each Day

Not long ago, one of my children said, “Dad, sometimes I wonder if I will ever make it.” The answer I gave to her is the same as I would give to you if you have had similar feelings. Just do the very best you can each day. Do the basic things and, before you realize it, your life will be full of spiritual understanding that will confirm to you that your Heavenly Father loves you. When a person knows this, then life will be full of purpose and meaning, making balance easier to maintain.

Live every day with joy in your heart, brothers and sisters. I humbly testify that life can be wonderful, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.