We all love the Olympics, and swell with pride when an athlete from our home country stands for our national anthem with a gold medal around their neck. It’s thrilling to watch the events, too, and to marvel at the skills that almost stretch credibility. As Latter-day Saints we believe in seeking out and appreciating such excellence.
So, while it applies to the gospel insofar as we like to challenge ourselves and reach praiseworthy goals, the idea of competition does not apply to our spiritual growth.
I was speaking at a recent baptism, to welcome a new sister into our ward’s Relief Society. In my comments, I said, “You’re going to hear a lot of people talk about things that will overwhelm you. You’ll hear women quote scripture, mention various church leaders, and even use phrases you’ve never heard before.” Her eyes grew round and she laughed, clearly having already experienced this.
“But just remember,” I said. “It’s not a race.”
I went on to explain that a testimony of the restoration of Christ’s original church is something the tiniest child can have. It is not granted solely to the scholars, or to those who have been members the longest. It is something granted to the sincere in heart, who listen to promptings from the Holy Ghost. And that can be anybody.
It’s easy for investigators and new members to feel they are far behind, swirling in a sea of new terminology, new scriptures, new stories. But these do not come with a deadline, and shouldn’t be viewed with stress. We need to take a deep, relaxing breath, and simply head in the right direction.
It’s also not appropriate for them to feel a sense of competition, to “cram” for Sunday school class, lest they not know something. In fact, none of us should be engaged in competitive feelings with those around us-to have as many children, to stitch as many quilts, to can as much fruit, to read as many Hugh Nibley books, to find as many ancestors. This is one arena where we should all be on the same team, rooting for one another and helping every member along our path home. When we raise our hands to sustain each other in our callings, we’re committing to help them succeed.
A seminary teacher recently told me they were asked not to divide the room into teams and have competitive games anymore. Why? Because the Spirit leaves the room when you do. Suddenly you’ve introduced an element of enmity, of wanting to outdo and beat “the other guys.” And think about the times you’ve felt competitive with neighbors or friends-it isn’t grounded in love, is it?
There will always be members who seem “ahead” of us in some regard. But God looks upon our hearts, and no one need worry that they are behind in loving the Lord and appreciating His atonement.
This isn’t to disparage those who have accumulated vast gospel knowledge. I salute those who have dedicated themselves to such study, and who have all the answers and know all the history. We are blessed to learn from those with hard-won wisdom. I loved my 20 years of adult institute classes, but I still can’t hold a candle to some of the amazing scholars in this church, people who read Hebrew and Greek, people who astound me.
As years unfold, knowledge is gained. And the deeper our understanding, the greater our joy. But this doesn’t mean newcomers are any less converted. A gospel scholar can be a terrible home teacher, while his just-baptized neighbor can be the picture of Christian service. Your testimony isn’t about how much you know, it’s about how dedicated your heart is to the Lord.
So we’ll never see someone stand on a podium and have a gold medal placed around his neck for knowing the names of every last general authority, or for having memorized the entire Book of Mormon. It’s cool if someone can do that. But it’s not essential. It’s not a race.
You can find Hilton’s new book, “Wishes for an LDS Child”
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MaryannNovember 30, 2018
Thank you for your insightful comments, Joni, especially about the dangers of competition. As a seminary teacher, I saw a lot of negative feelings emerge from "Scripture Chases." Rather than giving praise to those who could turn pages more quickly, I often wished the kids could just use the opportunity to tell us what the scripture meant to them personally, rather than being involved in a race.
Walter February 6, 2014
Well, I know that to be a member of the Church is not a race and God is not worry about who is more versed in scripture or whatever we consider important, but I know that a healthy competition makes us to give an extra effort in our tasks. And the one to be beaten is our own self. There is a place and a time to compete and to manifest a good spirit in it. Searching for excellence in our lives needs that spirit making us better each day.