Most human beings hate repetition. Like the humorous sign, “Department of Redundancy Department,” we are quick to point out wasted time and the tedium of repeated tasks. We sigh when we have to explain something again, we jump to the end of a long social media post, we give up when we don’t master something right away, we get bored easily.
This craving for novelty and freshness can be a good thing—it inspires poets and inventors—but it can block our spiritual growth.
Nearly everything that lifts our souls has an element of repetition. Gaining a testimony may require repeated prayers as we plea for answers. Sometimes we pray for years for this and other righteous desires.
We read our scriptures, then when we’re finished we start all over again. Even the daily ritual of reading at a set time can be as regular as the sunrise.
We are to attend Sacrament meeting. Week after week. We are to repent. Week after week. We are to attend the temple. Time after time, as often as we’re able. Most of our callings require repetition as well.
Marriage and parenting involve a ton of repetition. Especially as we teach our children tasks, attitudes, love, and information, most of it needs practice.
And practice reminds me of talents and skills that we can only develop with uncounted hours of repetition. Proficiency in music, sports, science, art, cooking—really any field—requires diligent attention and tolerance of repetition.
Sometimes we are thrust into long relationships with family members or co-workers who try our patience. Again and again.
And all of it is wonderful. Here’s why: The most important, Godly traits that we can acquire take work. They take practice. They take persistence and “stick-to-it-iveness.”
What could possibly eclipse a testimony in importance? Absolutely nothing. So it’s worth whatever effort you must exert, and for however long. Repetition is just a built in part of the process as we develop faith and a closeness with the Holy Ghost. Sometimes it takes years to learn how to hear His voice. But it’s worth it. Elder David A. Bednar says, “Repetition is a vehicle through which the Holy Ghost can enlighten our minds, influence our hearts, and enlarge our understanding.”
Consistent daily scripture study is a whole different animal than reading weekly or on occasion. There is something powerful that distills upon us when we make that effort to stick to a daily plan. Ask anyone who has put it to the test, and they’ll tell you it’s true.
Attending church and temple services, serving in callings—all of these bring us closer to God, and fill our hearts with more love for our fellowman. Even if we hear a message more than once, we need to be there (and maybe that message was spoken again because we needed to hear it). As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Prophets have always taught by repetition; it is a law of learning. You will hear repetition in themes and doctrines in general conference. Let me reassure you: this is not due to a lack of creativity or imagination. “
Tolerance of sameness or of repeated tasks is essential in parenting and marriage. Being unwilling to do this is actually a sign of immaturity. When we feel fatigued by what seems like endless replication we need to widen our view to include the hereafter and realize the things we’re doing will have eternal impact. It takes repetition to mold us into better people.
Not only that, but what if we look at repetition as meditations we can enjoy? What if we stop racing and start savoring? A good friend of mine recently said that rituals are like learning another language. I love that idea.
As we develop our talents and skills, we see the hand of the Lord helping us. We give him credit, rather than take it all for ourselves. We grow in confidence and gratitude. We bless the lives of others because we were patient with the process.
We learn patience, forgiveness, altruism, and tolerance from the difficult people in our lives. Think of the most difficult relationship you have. Take time to ponder what it could be teaching you, and how you can rejoice that you have multiple opportunities to get on board and try again. Life is full of do-over tests.
I’m not saying it’s easy. But it develops discipline and that makes life easy. Or at least, easier. Thomas Huxley once said, “The most valuable result of all education is to make you do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned. And however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.”
Think of the habits you have deliberately developed to help you overcome temptation. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” A habit doesn’t result from one attempt, but from many.
Our scriptures are filled with examples of repetition. In fact, many complain of this. However, the Hebrews understood the vital element this is in learning. They intentionally repeat things, often three times, to emphasize the thing’s importance. It’s also a literary style we can enjoy as we find another example of authenticity.
Last, consider the fact that the angel Moroni visited Joseph Smith four times, to deliver nearly identical messages. When we encounter something familiar, instead of brushing it off as something we’ve heard before, we are wise to look for deeper meanings, and honestly evaluate whether we have embraced the lesson therein. And, when we find ourselves struggling to master something, let’s not give up quickly (boy, have I been guilty of that) but let’s summon the discipline to try yet again.
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.