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Have I Done Enough?

Being a missionary was the most taxing experience of my life. Getting up every day at 6:30 a.m. and working until 9:00 p.m. for two years wore me out like nothing I have since endured. By the end, my body was groaning that it could handle only so much more.

But with the exhaustion I felt at the close of each day came an exquisite satisfaction: I had given my all and could not in good conscience feel that I hadn’t done enough. Although I had many shortcomings as a missionary, that exhaustion became a shield for me from any remorse I might have felt for not having worked just a little harder, when deep down I always knew I could have.

Life is different nowadays. I can sleep until I am better-rested, work in what fields I please, enjoy free evenings of relaxation, and take part in lots of different activities I like (sports, hobbies, movies, other media, reading, etc.). But whenever I take time to just take it easy, even now several years after my mission, there is sometimes to go along with my pleasure an accompanying twinge of guilt deep inside for what I could be doing instead of taking a short reprise.

Many people feel this sense of remorse over time that could be more efficiently spent, some even going so far as to rip themselves to emotional shreds for every precious second wasted. There are those who sadly live their lives to the disparaging anthem, “whatever I do, it is never enough; it is never truly my best, and I will always fall short.”

For those who are Christian, this can be seen in part as a consequence of Christ’s exhortation for us to strive for perfection. As latter-day apostle Neil A. Maxwell taught, “In a Kingdom where perfection is an eventual expectation . . . feelings of inadequacy are common” (Notwithstanding My Weakness, October 1976). With all that the Lord tells us we ought to do, how can we ever feel like any day’s work is enough? That is the question I want to try and understand a little better in what I write here today.

Desiring For More

While Jesus was preaching on the coasts of Judea, a young man came to him asking what he needed to do to gain eternal life. Jesus first points him toward some of the ten commandments, to which the young man states, “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” The Savior replies, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come andfollow me” (Matthew 19:20-1).

The Savior ultimately turns him away, the boy grieving in his heart because he was unwilling to give up his wealth. I’ve heard much inferred about what faults the boy had, some of which being derived from the Savior’s aside to his disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (v. 24). Yet, there are some good attributes of the boy that often go ignored in this story:

  • He kept the commandments–at least from his own supposition

  • He knew to seek out the Savior as his teacher

  • He desired to know what more he could do

These are fantastic things, indications that the young man had in fact led a good life, and yet, he somehow refused to be willing to take that final step and give up all he had, in essence what had been asked of the Savior’s apostles.

My question is, should those of us critical of our own use of time be so quick to assume that the Lord expects this of us today; that is, should we give up everything we enjoy to do what we consider to be his will? Sure, we could relax one evening and watch that soccer match-up everyone’s been talking about all week, but wouldn’t Heavenly Father rather we use that time doing something better, like volunteering at the local homeless shelter? The new Mission Impossible also just came out; we could go see it after the game, yet wouldn’t it be even better if we instead visited someone lonely or in need?

I could go on, but you get the idea. There’s always more you can do. Even among your current pastimes and hobbies are things that surely could be replaced with something better or more wholesome. But what should you do? One possible answer, as I will explain, is to do the good that you truly desire in the here and now, and let your spirit as a disciple grow over a lifetime, not over a single day.

Working With Our Own Desires

After the Savior’s resurrection, he rebukes Peter for denying him three times on the eve of his crucifixion. Peter, perhaps already not feeling great about himself, looks back at John the Beloved and asks, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” The Savior is quick to reply, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (John 21:21-2).

It is important to consider more deeply the Savior’s words to Peter. In short, he is telling him to not worry about what his expectations or plans are for John, but to only worry about himself, about following his Savior and Master.

A similar story in the Book of Mormon sheds a little more light on what the Lord might be saying to Peter. In the company of his twelve chief disciples, the Savior asks, “What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?” (3 Nephi 28:1). Nine of the disciples ask, “after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, wherein thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom” (v. 2). The Savior grants their wish, replying, “Blessed are ye because ye have desired this thing” (v. 3).

The other three disciples have a different wish and cower because they are afraid to ask for it. Yet Jesus interprets there hearts, reassuring, “I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry . . . Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men” (v. 5-6).

Consider the Savior’s praise “more blessed are ye” to these last three disciples. He’s basically telling them that their wish was better than the wish of the nine. Yet remember what he said concerning John to Peter: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.”

There is no account of Peter or the nine disciples wanting to change their desires upon hearing what greater thing others wished from the Lord. The nine desired something good, and although the three disciples had apparently desired something better, there was no rebuke of the first nine by the Savior for wanting something perhaps lesser.

From this line of thought I would like to forward a simple principle: it is okay to not always strive for the best with every moment of our lives. We should of course endeavor to resist evil, but most things in this world we share are not so black and white. A sporting event, a movie, or a subscription to a fashion magazine might not be the most edifying choices, but they aren’t inherently condemning, and can even do much good for our souls if we take them in a proper spirit.

In sum, there is not necessarily something wrong in desiring things our perfectionist minds might consider lesser, if we truly enjoy those things and mean well in them.

What Is My Enough?

We are strongly encouraged by the Lord to push ourselves and avoid complacency. That is why the he warns us that the devil will try to “lull [us] away into carnal security, that [we] will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth [our] souls, and leadeth [us] away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21).

Rather, we are encouraged to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:27). Paul further says, “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

But then the Nephite prophet King Benjamin reminds us, “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. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order” (Mosiah 4:27).

We’re supposed to move forward, not backwards; the scriptures make that clear. We shouldn’t equate not running faster than we have strength with there being some point at which we are allowed to say, “I’m as much of a disciple as I need to be, I can stop now.”

Yet we are each different, with distinct interests and desires that make us individually unique. As such, we each have a unique relationship with Heavenly Father. Were we to look at what others are doing with their lives, what more we could do when we see those kind souls who indeed omit the soccer game as they reverently head to the homeless shelter, would the Savior not respond, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.”

The feelings of doubt and insecurity as to what is enough are very real for many of God’s children, and these feelings can make us feel guilty, as though we ought to be condemned for every good thing we don’t do. Yet, the scriptures teach that such feelings are not from God: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-3). In another verse, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

God is not the author of confusion, neither of doubt nor fear. When something in the world fills us with hate of ourselves, with self-doubt and fear, that feeling does not come from above, nor would God try to motivate us to do good by making us feel worthless and unlovable. Indeed, he would have us do good not out of obligation, as though we should despise ourselves if we aren’t constantly doing good, but because we want to.

So perhaps we will watch the soccer game, and then go to the movies afterwards. And not feeling godly sorrow for enjoying those things, we then go to church on Sunday feeling comfortable, feeling that God does in fact love us and is happy we enjoyed our time. That does not mean we are bad, nor does it mean we are finished with our race toward eternal life.

It could be that in a few years we will through our diligence in striving to become more Christlike forgo the movie after the game. Maybe we’ll go so far as to put the movie off until the following week so that we can do something better with the rest of our time. And still a few more years later, perhaps we will after deep reflection on Christ’s great example determine that we don’t want to go to the game. We can instead do something better and catch the highlights. And still even more years later, maybe we won’t care about the game at all because we fall in love with some other pastime, some other activity that does even more good.

Or maybe we will always go to the game, but through time learn how to make the most of it and truly let it edify us. All paths of discipleship head upwards, yet each of us walks one unique to ourselves, our Savior the only one to have tread it before us. On that path, we have our own desires, the things we enjoy as a part of this temporal world we share.

The Lord will change our hearts and many of our desires over time as we follow him, but for this day I ask, how can we learn to wholeheartedly follow our hearts as they are changed if we never learn to follow them here and now? If we can’t allow ourselves to enjoy this day before us in good conscience, then how will we enjoy the days that come when our hearts are more truly knit in the Lord’s better light?

There is a time and a season for all things, and that includes our own spiritual maturation. As Paul taught the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). We are all spiritual children, shadows of what we could be as we fall well short of the example the Savior set. There are no shortcuts on the journey each of us must make to live up to what the Lord expects of us, the perfection that Elder Maxwell was referring to.

So what is enough then for this day of our life?

Perhaps it is simply doing that which our hearts enjoy, what feels truly right with the spirit of God each of us has been gifted; not looking at others or ourselves with the self-doubt that we are so often bombarded with, but accepting only God as our judge. As we kneel at the alter of the Savior’s tutelage, our desires will change when our hearts turn to him, and we will become more like him over time. That journey is long, and much about us will become better as we go. Yet wherever we are, we should make sure that we enjoy life.

It only gets better from here.

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