We are a goal-setting people. We strive to maintain our standards, regardless of society’s lax view of them. We take frequent personal inventory to see how we’re holding to the rod, how we’re making our way home to Heaven. We want to enjoy the best rewards for our exactness in keeping the commandments.
And every one of these aims is righteous. But, in striving for the ultimate peak, some of us forget the value of the journey there.
Author and philosopher Robert M. Pirsig once said, “To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.”
This doesn’t mean that we abandon our pursuit, but that we also rejoice in each step of progress. Sometimes we see the world in a frustration of black and white—either we’re perfect, or all hope is lost.
This all-or-nothing outlook is something the adversary enjoys. It can keep us in a constant state of disappointment. We do not live joyfully when we are constantly seeing ourselves as hopelessly behind, “failing” to hit the mark.
How many of us are perfect? Zero. (I like easy math like this.) We are all trying to inch toward perfection, but only the Savior ever attained it. And we’ve been told we won’t attain it in this lifetime:
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that we won’t learn all the principles of exaltation here in mortality. “But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them.”
President Joseph F. Smith echoed this truth: “We do not look for absolute perfection in man. Mortal man is not capable of being absolutely perfect.”
And Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave…”
In his wonderful talk, Perfection Pending, our Prophet, Russell M. Nelson, said, “men are that they might have joy—not guilt trips!”
Obviously, this doesn’t mean we give up all effort. But we can step back from the panic of not doing enough. Yes, we strive for improvement as we go along. But we can also pause to rejoice in those tiny increments! We can celebrate repentance. We can enjoy the confidence that comes from a sincere heart trying to do right. We can forgive others, and ourselves, when we falter. We can learn to pick ourselves up when we fall, and still make forward progress.
Let’s look at those “sides of the mountains” Pirsig mentioned. How often have you marveled at the beautiful mountains where you live? Each season brings a change, a new beauty to them. But you’re not just looking at the top ridge—you’re seeing the trees and flowers, perhaps snow, and the wildlife on the sides. Let’s do this with ourselves.
People who attain great heights in any field do not do it overnight. Great spiritual growth comes line upon line. Olympic athletes, such as the ones we’ll be watching soon, spent their lifetimes training. Each one would probably tell you they would never have made it if they had expected instant results. Discouragement would have turned them in another direction.
It’s the same with scientists, musicians, artists, everybody. You have to enjoy the bits of learning you acquire along the way.
If you took a helicopter to the top of a mountain, you might enjoy the view, but you would lack all the experience and knowledge gained by those who climbed there. The laughs, the setbacks, the helping of one another, the exhaustion and the overcoming of it, the self-discovery of fortitude, the personal growth—you’d have none of that.
Are there milestones you’re looking forward to? As we apply daily effort we come closer to our goals. But let’s not find ourselves delaying happiness because we don’t have everything this very minute. Too many people think they’ll be happy when I graduate, when I finish my mission, when I get married, when I have children, when I buy a house, when I get that promotion, when I become a millionaire, when I retire… It goes on and on, contentment always just out of reach.
Remember the character of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, who wanted to leave his “crummy town” and see the world? He couldn’t appreciate what was right before him and the good he could do where he was because his ultimate goal was obscuring the present moment.
Goals are good. They set us in the right direction and help us face the right way. But they take time and diligent effort. That struggle has immense value and even a great measure of bliss, if we pause to see the blessing it is.
Let’s plod along—even muddle through, if that’s what it takes—and be grateful for the opportunity. Yes, we may be miles from our ultimate goal, but we are right in the middle of miracles and magic. It’s time to enjoy that journey.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.