In Mormondom, we have a maxim that has become so much a part of our culture that we forget its origin. The saying is, “The most important commandment is the one you’re having the most difficulty keeping today.” This is actually a quote from President Harold B. Lee, 42 years ago, and continues, “If it’s one of dishonesty, if it’s one of unchastity, if it’s one of falsifying, not telling the truth, today is the day for you to work on that until you’ve been able to conquer that weakness. Then you start on the next one that’s most difficult for you to keep.” (Church News, May 5, 1973, p. 3) It’s a wonderful reminder to take personal inventory and work on whatever flaw is our greatest, and concentrate on overcoming it. And, just as President Lee said, it will vary from person to person.
And we have far more commandments than just the standard Ten. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said that Christ admonished us to “be of good cheer” so often, that he views it as a commandment (and one frequently broken by many). We’ve also been told to pay our tithes, attend church, save our kindred dead, visit the temple often, spread the gospel, obey the Word of Wisdom, sustain our leaders, store emergency essentials, accept callings—we could compile quite a list of directives that are basically commandments.
(Anticipating mail, I might interject here that splitting hairs about what is something we have to do, versus something we’ve simply been advised to do, is not actually the best way to practice obedience, and thereby to find happiness. Clinging to our own will and ignoring the counsel of our leaders keeps us from giving our whole hearts to the Lord, and finding the joy that comes with unqualified devotion. We shouldn’t have to make everything a canonized addition to the Standard Works, to recognize inspired counsel and follow it.)
Two excellent talks, with links at the end of the article, well worth your time in viewing, are one on the subject of remembering, by Elder Henry B. Eyring, and one about being perfect, by Elder Russell M. Nelson. Both address these commandments with excellent—and comforting!—words for all of us.
Another commandment that’s actually essential to our salvation, yet not mentioned in the Ten, is to forgive. Christ told us we must forgive one another, and retained ultimate judgment for Himself. In fact, if we wish to be forgiven of our own sins, we know we have to conquer this. Yet most of us struggle to set aside betrayals and wrongs that have wounded us over the years. Fortunately, there is tremendous freedom and peace for those who truly forgive—an immediate reward for a very difficult endeavor.
But in contemplating the one commandment most often broken by Latter-day Saints, indeed by all Christians and all humanity, I have to think it’s the one Christ said was most important. Remember, in Matthew 22, when Christ was asked which commandment was greatest? And when Jesus answered, he lumped two of them together, saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Indeed, if we can just manage to keep those two admonitions—love God and our fellowman– everything else will fall into place. As we look around today, we see escalating strife and division. We see foaming anger about the upcoming elections. We see political factions pitted against each other and hurling accusations. We see more “us versus them” mentality than ever before. Yes, we know good and evil forces will polarize in the last days, and we watch that unfold every day. But we need not join the anger and the bitterness. We can choose to love those with whom we disagree, and we can reach out to build bridges, instead of walls. We can “friend” instead of “unfriend.” Our smallest efforts can make a difference, and touch a heart.
If you’ve caught yourself feeling negative, judgmental, or even hateful towards others, let this be your moment to step back and take inventory. See what you can do this very day to show love to your neighbors, and love of God. Mend hurt feelings within your family. Apologize to those you’ve offended. Give someone else the benefit of the doubt, and don’t let grudges poison your life any longer. Forget your own troubles for an hour, and serve someone else who’s suffering. Even if you just try one little idea for one little moment, peace will rush into the space that used to contain resentment.
If you feel righteous anger for social or political causes, be pro-active and work to make change. Have enthusiasm instead of enmity. Be persuasive instead of punitive. Let love of God, and love of fellowman be the standard against which you measure your opinions and efforts. You will gather more followers to your cause, have more energy for the battle, and receive inspiration for your pure intentions. This kind of love is hard to maintain 24-7. But it topped Christ’s list, so I think it should top ours, too.
Russell M. Nelson: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1995/10/perfection-pending?lang=eng
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.