This little seven line poem may be the most important thing Shakespeare ever wrote:
What win I if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy?
Who buys a minute’s myrth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who would the vine destroy?
Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
Would with the scepter straight be stricken down?
I think we must be wary about what we want, because we will probably get it. A well-known proverb reminds us that “If we do not change directions, we are likely to wind up where we are headed.”
These ideas from Shakespeare and others revolve around the idea of determining what we really want out of life, and what we are willing to give for it.
We might ask of Amnon (2 Samuel 13), “Was your moment of passion and pleasure with your half-sister Tamar worth your life and your return to the presence of God?” Or, “David, what about your time in bed with Bathsheba?” Or Judas: “What will you purchase with your thirty pieces of silver that will offset what you paid for it?” “Reuben, was Bilhah worth the price you paid?”
This is one of the questions of the ages: What win I if I gain the thing I seek? This danger of getting not only what you wanted, but other terrifying things that you did not want must have been what Alma had in mind when he wrote, “I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me . . . for I know that [the Lord] granteth unto men according to their desire . . .” (Alma 29:3,4).
I put cake icing on a cardboard box once for a class I was teaching about this principle. I made it look like a lovely chocolate cake. Then I took it to class and auctioned it off to the highest bidder. I explained that I was willing to accept any bid of service or money. The interest of class members was intense. Because “the cake” looked so good, many of the students were willing to mortgage themselves and their time to have it. I’ll give $5.00!” “I’ll help my mom around the house for three hours!” “I’ll clean up all around the seminary building this Saturday!”
I finally awarded the bid and handed the winner a knife and a napkin. He made his initial incision and, when he realized what he had won, tried to wiggle out of the agreement. I would not let him. “I showed you the prize. You made the deal. Your offer was unconditional and so was mine. What win I if I gain the thing I seek?
This is, of course, the way Lucifer works. Never mind about the long-term consequences of your choices. Go for the dream, the breath of joy, the myrth, the toy, the grape, the crown. With Satan it is all smoke and mirrors. He never wants us to see the cheap cardboard inside the thin shell of chocolate icing. He never wants us to see the long-range consequences of our bad choices. Many times we do not care to see them either.
It must have been because of our willingness to fall for this routine that the Lord said in D&C 43:34, “Let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds.” We must learn to look past the next corner or the next hour or the next thrill. We must learn to weigh our wishes and wants on the scales of their eternal implications. Esau might have been an expert on this matter. I wonder how he felt when he was full of red pottage (see Genesis 25:25-34) and Jacob was immersed in the blessings of the birthright.
There are fleeting joys and bright toys enough out there to attract our eyes continuously. But at what price? Who sells eternity to get a toy? I heard a great religious leader say once, “No one who has died in his or her sins ever looked back on life and said, “It was worth it.” No one who ever traded one sweet grape for the entire vine with its annual abundance ever looked back from the eternal worlds and felt grateful for having made a good choice.