Don’t let distractions keep you from living a joyful life.
When our children were small, my wife Mary and I decided to follow a tradition which my father taught when I was a child. He would meet with each child individually to help us set goals. Then he would teach us how church, school, and extracurricular activities would help us achieve those goals. He had three rules:
We needed to have worthwhile goals.
We could change our goals at any time.
Whatever goal we chose, we had to diligently work towards it.
When our son, Larry, was five years old, I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to be a doctor like Uncle Joe. Larry had experienced a serious operation and had acquired great respect for doctors, especially his Uncle Joe. I told Larry how all the worthwhile things he was doing would help prepare him to be a doctor.
Several months later, I asked him again what he would like to be. This time he said he wanted to be an airline pilot. Changing the goal was fine, so I explained how his various activities would help him achieve his new goal.
Almost as an afterthought I said, “Larry, last time we talked you wanted to be a doctor. What changed your mind?” He answered, “I still like the idea of being a doctor, but Uncle Joe works on Saturday mornings, and I don’t want to miss Saturday-morning cartoons.” Since that time our family has labeled a distraction from a worthwhile goal as a Saturday-morning cartoon.
What are some of the Saturday-morning cartoons that distract us from attaining the joy that we desire?
Some want to be married in the temple but only date those who would not qualify for a recommend. Others want to have family prayer but allow little matters to build into discord that make it harder for the family to kneel together. Still others want to be involved in Aaronic Priesthood or Young Women, seminary, Sunday School, or even just in personal scripture study but are so distracted by the constant parade of TV programs, peer pressures, and social or recreational activities that they don’t make time in their lives to fully include the gospel.
If we examine the reasons we don’t do what we ought to do, we find that the list of Saturday-morning cartoons is almost endless.
But the Lord Jesus Christ warned us about such distractions. Speaking of those who will not inherit a kingdom of glory, he said, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33).
The greatest gift to all mankind is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If we are to rejoice in this gift, we need to avoid the Saturday-morning cartoons of life which divert our focus from the Savior and the celestial goal for which we strive.
In addition to attaining saving ordinances and following the living prophet, we need to live in accordance with certain fundamental spiritual principles, such as prayer, scripture study, righteous living, and service to others. It is well understood that if we engage in sinful conduct, we must repent. Doing these things consistently will keep us from getting off course.
Some allow themselves to magnify small areas of imperfection so as to drive out happiness. Some have allowed their own perceptions of imperfection to cloud the reality of their lives. An objective outsider observing them would conclude that they should be joyful. But they do not feel to rejoice.
It is as if they have been invited to visit a beautiful garden. But instead of celebrating the visual feast, they see only the few wilted flowers and weeds. In the same way, in real life such people are unduly critical of themselves and of others. They have become accustomed to exaggerating small imperfections and underestimating great blessings and have lost the capacity to rejoice.
The Savior mildly cautioned Martha about this approach when she complained that her sister Mary was spending too much time listening to the Savior instead of serving temporal needs (see Luke 10:41). The Savior indicated that Mary was focused on what really mattered.
Another distraction that can destroy joy is comparing our talents and blessings with others. The growth in our own talents is the best measure of personal progress. In recent years the concept of “personal best” has become widely accepted. This has great merit. Remember we often judge others at their best and ourselves at our worst.
In the parable of the talents, the servants who received five talents and two talents were praised by the Lord for increasing their talents and told “enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” The servant who was rebuked was the servant who buried the talent given him. (See Matt. 25:14–30.)
Comparing blessings is almost certain to drive out joy. We cannot be grateful and envious at the same time. If we want to have the Spirit of the Lord and experience joy and happiness, we should be constantly grateful.
We are often unaware of the distractions which push us in a material direction and keep us from a Christ-centered focus. In essence we let celestial goals get sidetracked by telestial distractions. We must avoid the Saturday-morning cartoons of life. Then we will be able to rejoice in the Atonement of the Savior and through Christlike living prepare to be with him and with our Heavenly Father again.