As Latter-day Saints, a lot is expected of us. But, as King Benjamin reminded his people, everything should be “done in wisdom and order.” The Lord doesn’t expect us to “run faster than [we have] strength” — counsel each of us should remember as we prioritize what is most important in our lives.
I think I will feel a little awkward giving this particular talk after hearing those testimonies about the temple. Brother Zimmerman suggested I could prepare a talk about temple work or family history, and my response guilt and laughter because … I don’t go to the temple. I know: it’s right across the river. But I don’t go.
There was a time in my life when I did. I joined the Church in San Antonio. At the time, the closest temple was in Dallas, about a six-hour drive away. I went to the Dallas temple once before I left and was traveling around for a while. When I got back to San Antonio, the Houston temple was almost finished. I was in a young single adult ward at the time. Every other month we would meet at 5.00 and drive three hours to Houston for a 9.00 baptism session. Then everyone who was endowed would go to an 11.00 endowment session; the rest of us would wait outside. Then we would all drive back and be in San Antonio by 5.00 — and since we were 22, we still had energy to go to a movie or whatever. Once I was endowed, I would go by myself or with friends during the months that we didn’t have a ward temple trip. So there was a time in my life when I was pretty dedicated to temple attendance.
But that time is over. This is me being honest. I don’t go. I could. I have a valid temple recommend. But I don’t have time or energy. It seems all my time and energy are spent on feeding, housing, and clothing my family, as well as occasionally having a chance to enjoy my family’s company.
I do, sometimes, after everyone has gone to bed and I have some quiet time, work on family history. I really enjoy that. I like it intellectually, I’m interested in learning who these people were, and I love to see these old documents with my great-great-whoever’s name written on them. I like feeling that connection with them, and I have sent names to the temple. Sometimes I do the work myself.
But in terms of my actually going to the temple — I go probably once a year, maybe twice.
Now, I know someone is probably thinking of what you could tell me. I know: “You just have to schedule it.” “You have to make time.” Don’t. Just don’t tell me those things. See, this is not necessarily a problem that I want someone to fix right now. Believe it or not, I actually have way bigger problems than not going to the temple — if you want to help, feel free to ask about those! Temple attendance is just not a priority for me right now.
That brings me to the actual subject of my talk: priorities.
A few years ago, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, gave a talk in which he said: “Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia — even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.” Later on he said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”1
A few years earlier, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve gave a talk called “Good, Better, Best”2 in which he talked about the choices we make and how to prioritize. He made the point that we really aren’t choosing between good and bad very often; we’re usually choosing between good and better. None of us comes home from work and thinks, “Hmm, should I play with my kids or go rob a bank?” Instead, it’s more like, “Should I play with my kids or go do my home or visiting teaching?” We have to choose between good and better. But the problem is, it’s not always clear which is “good” and which is “better.” Between those two, playing with kids or doing visiting teaching, I think I know which is better — but maybe I’m wrong.
I’m a big believer in simplicity. There’s this voluntary simplicity movement that seems to be mostly focused on material simplicity, which I also believe in, but task simplicity or to-do list simplicity seems to get less airtime.
I was thinking about all the things we could be doing — should be doing! I made a list of things that we hear in general conference, and it is by no means a complete list. If we did all those things, we would:
- Go to the temple.
- Do family history.
- Enjoy wholesome recreational activities with our families.
- Eat dinner together every night.
- Go on dates with our spouses.
- Have family prayer and scripture study.
- Serve our neighbors.
- Volunteer in our community.
- Help refugees.
- Do our home and visiting teaching.
- Pay our tithing.
- Be involved in government.
- Share the gospel.
- Invite friends to church activities (which means we have to go, too).
- Sing with our families.
- Have food storage.
- Have 72-hour kits.
- Get a good education.
- Be valuable employees.
- Have worthwhile personal scripture study and deep, reflective, sincere prayer.
- Visit the sick and afflicted.
- Spend time outside.
- Care for God’s creation.
- Arrive ten minutes early for sacrament meeting and sit quietly and prayerfully listening to the prelude music.
- Attend all our Sunday meetings.
- Attend all our training meetings.
- Listen intently to general conference.
- Read and reread all the conference talks.
- Compile our own history in journals or scrapbooks or both.
- Magnify our callings.
- Prepare object lessons.
- Read the lessons before class ….
These are all things that I have done, but I certainly don’t do them all now — nor has there ever been a time that I could hold all those balls in the air. I’m not convinced most of us can. Maybe there is someone, but I doubt it.
In Mosiah 4, King Benjamin has been telling his people about all the things they’re supposed to be doing:
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you — that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God — I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
And 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 4:26–27)
We can’t do it all. The pared-down version — the bare minimum, universal requirements — are in the temple recommend interview. That’s the bare minimum, so we should do more, and in fact, we need to do more — having faith in Jesus Christ requires us to do certain things like scripture study and prayer, even though those aren’t in the recommend interview.
But determining what the “more” should be is the trick, and it requires constant reevaluation. For example, I used to read the Book of Mormon on the subway on my way to school every day. Then I stopped, because I started taking Fiona to school, and I would rather use that time to talk to her and listen to her. Maybe I should still be reading the Book of Mormon on the subway to set an example — but I don’t think so. On the other hand, she can read now, so maybe I should bring two copies, and we could read together and talk about what we read.
Right now, there’s not much space for more in my life, but I shouldn’t assume it will always be that way. My situation will change, and I may need to switch out the “extras” that I focus on.
In 2 Nephi we read: “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well — and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21).
One of the ways he does this is by convincing us to do good things instead of better or best things, or distracting us so we don’t notice it’s time to change up our priorities.
To be clear, I’m not saying “don’t go to the temple” or “don’t bother with family history.” If you are able to do those things where you are right now in life, without sacrificing more important things, then I’m calling on you to do it! I always say I’m glad there are people who like accounting, because somebody needs to do it and it’s not going to be me. Similarly, I’m glad there are people who can go to the temple every month or every week, because right now I just can’t. If you don’t have little kids who need constant care, if you aren’t working two jobs, if you aren’t suffering from a health problem that keeps you from going, then please go to the temple. In a few years, when something changes and you can’t go as often anymore, my kids will be older and I’ll be able to go. We’ll switch places.
My point is, “to every thing there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). What’s “better” or “best” isn’t the same for everyone, at every stage of life. Please remember this when guilt sets in, and also remember to reevaluate so that you do focus on the “betters” and “bests” that are most important for where you are right now. I know that Heavenly Father loves us all, even when we’re not doing all the things he wants us to do, and I know he’ll help us do the things that are most important.
This text is adapted from a talk Susan gave in the sacrament meeting of the Astoria Ward, Woodside New York Stake, on 12 March 2017.