Have you ever admired someone who seemed carefree? Did you watch how they responded to problems? Did they shrug their shoulders and laugh in the face of doom that would make anyone else shudder? These people laugh off debt, disaster and dread like porcupines attacked by killer balloons. For these rare individuals life seems blissful. Or is it? When carefree secedes from the sacred, it can quickly lead to apathy. After all, not caring is the essence of the word carefree.
When I was an undergrad at Weber State University, I worked for a local bank. My co-worker and friend, Sam, a recently returned missionary, was my no-worry role model. I didn’t get along too well with our supervisor, but Sam had a mysterious hypnotic effect over her. They were best buddies. How did he do it? Here’s how: He would placate her by saying one thing and doing exactly the opposite–all with an infectious smile. Our supervisor never caught on or didn’t mind. Sam’s carefree manner was a real tension diffuser, like soothing music, but I’m not sure it improved the work flow or the bank’s bottom line. A carefree attitude may soothe the nerves, but when carefree turns apathetic it sours discipleship.
I have noted a correlation between casual attitudes and casual Church membership. When we approach the gospel with a casual attitude, we become increasingly content with the sidelines of testimony, service and worship. As Elder Maxwell once noted: “Casual members are usually very busy with the cares and things of the world–much as honorable Amulek once was. Called many times, he would not hear” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 65; see Alma 10:4-6).
Casual worshipers tend to exhibit casual characteristics:
1. They may muster the energy to pray, but they do not pray “with all the energy of heart” (Moro 7:48);
2. They may sing the hymns, but the sacred music does not soar in their souls;
3. They may “open” their scriptures, but they do not allow the doctrine to open them.
4. They may “take” the sacrament, but they do not permit the sacrament to take them nearer to Jesus.
Striking the proper balance between carefree and the necessary angst of discipleship is sometimes daunting. Fretting to the point of paralysis is destructive, but all disciples of Christ, when “anxiously engaged,” should feel a healthy anxiety. Like Enos, greater consecration always brings a “struggling in the spirit” (Enos 1:10). Ironically, disciples who care more about consecration care less for the things of the world. This transformation brings within its ambit a corresponding opposition of scoffs from the neighbors’ “pointing fingers” (1 Ne. 8:27). After all, the iron rod only leads to the tree of life alongside the world’s “great and spacious building” (1 Ne. 8:26). My wise stake president recently counseled a group of priesthood leaders about this healthy anxiety in opposition: “You are promised to be comforted by Jesus, not comfortable” (Russell Richardson, Missionary Meeting, August 15, 2010).
Instructively, the anxious in “anxiously engaged” comes from the Lord’s rebuke of the slothful who must be “compelled in all things.” (see D&C 58:26-27). The Lord knows the difference between eager and anxious. Disciples need not fear the future, but when it comes to increased consecration, a casual attitude is not an attribute of godliness; neither is the busy in busy-ness if all we are is busy.
As King Benjamin noted, casual membership leads to estrangement from Jesus: “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart” (Mosiah 5:13). In striving for greater consecration our cocoons of selfishness are shed as we break free from the natural man. When that happens we are reborn from apathy to empathy–from the spiritual malaise of carefree to Christlike concern for our neighbor. This concern moves us to action without compulsory means–from the inside out...and that kind of charity is anything but casual.