People are finishers. It’s human nature. We all like to complete a task, check off a box, wrap up an assignment, be done. But that same desire to see something to its completion can lead us to complacency, and a false sense that we’re through when we’re not.
In ward councils around the world, leaders are often asked how the flock is doing in terms of “next ordinance.” Who’s preparing for baptism, who’s next to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, who’s getting ready to go to the temple?
Some church leaders do the same thing in their families—they look at their children and grandchildren and evaluate how they can help the next youngster preparing for baptism. Who’s next to receive a testimony? Prepare for a mission? Be sealed in the temple?
And once we’ve seen a person through to the temple endowment and sealing—even ourselves—there’s a sense of finality, a quiet little “whew!” that can enter our thoughts. But we have not reached the finish line. Just as we are not “done” as parents when our children marry in the temple (though many are surprised to discover this), we are not “done” until we have endured to the end. Valiantly. Earnestly.
Picture yourself climbing a ladder. There’s a top rung, after which you cannot go any further. But in the gospel, the rungs extend upward, through the clouds, and out of sight. There is no limit to how far we can grow. This is because spiritual refinement isn’t measured the way mortal achievements are, with little boxes to check, diplomas and raises to receive, and a band striking up the “now you are done” music.
It’s like service—there isn’t a finite amount of time we are asked to “put in.” It’s an attitude that should permeate our actions every day we’re alive. Charity and compassion have no boundaries. Reaching out to help those around us is an ongoing goal without a concluding chapter.
Missionary work is the same. There isn’t a set number of people to invite, after which you can put your feet up and quit. It’s a forever thing. Likewise, searching one’s family history should be a lifelong quest– and is never finished– even if you traced one thread back to Adam. There are infinite branches and twigs, and then branches and twigs off of those—all of whom bear the names of children God wants back. And he’s counting on us to gather them. No genealogy expert in your family has “done all yours.” There is always more to do.
Preparedness is similar, an ongoing effort to store emergency supplies, fresh water, food, fuel, and so on. You can’t really check off that box and ignore it, as these items need to be maintained on a regular basis.
Some of the ladder rungs we most wish to ignore are the ones that require us to stretch in ways that are uncomfortable at first—addressing our weaknesses, forgiving others. Intellectually we all know we’ll feel better if we do it, but the process requires humility and sacrifice, things the Adversary tells us are too painful to embrace. And yet, unless we work on our personal shortcomings, we can only climb so high. Giving up grudges, sins, and bad habits will inch us upward, but many of us procrastinate because it seems easier to stop climbing and rest.
I don’t point out all these escalating rungs to be the harbinger of discouragement, or to say, “See? You thought you were doing great, but look how far behind you really are.” (I see them stretching far above my head as well, believe me.) Rather, I say it to motivate us all not to give up, but to “gird up our loins” and fight the good fight. When we know what’s still out there to accomplish, we can make specific plans for how to proceed. It’s falsely assuming that we’ve already reached the goal that’s dangerous, and can rob us of the enthusiasm to continue growing and serving.
Checking off boxes is a wonderful thing. I’m a list-maker who relishes crossing off tasks. But we need to remember that measurable duties are only a part of the picture. It’s the forever stuff that will actually get us home again.
Hilton’s LDS Nursery Rhymes is hot off the presses and can be purchased at the BYU Store, or at this link. You can find her other books here. She is also the “YouTube Mom” and shares short videos about easy household tips and life skills at this channel. And be sure to read her blog.
Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.