Most of us float. Life washes over us, bounces us along, and except for paddling away from danger now and again (and sometimes paddling towards it), we accept what comes.
“Maybe the right guy will come along.” “Maybe our ship will come in.” “Maybe someone will offer me a different job.” We’ve all heard these kinds of comments, and perhaps even agreed that good fortune could be just around the corner. But there’s an implied detachment from the events, as if nothing we can do could impact our fortunes, good or bad.
And, make no mistake, life hands us incredible breaks that are not a speck to our credit, and horrendous trials that had nothing to do with our “deserving” them. Those happenstances are definitely in the mix. But what about the bulk of our life on earth? Have we simply tossed our time into the air, like feathers, and then watched to see where the wind blows them?
In this last General Conference, Elder Carlos A. Godoy spoke of a life-changing moment when a friend asked him, “… if you continue to live as you are living, will the blessings promised in your patriarchal blessing be fulfilled?” It caused Elder Godoy and his wife to re-examine their good lives, and make the sacrifices required for better ones, including the choice to seek additional education and move to the United States.
Think how many people you know whose humdrum, routine lives are not advancing them towards the happiness we all want. They get up, fight traffic, endure another day at work with a boss they somehow tolerate, fight traffic home again, deal with problems at home, gulp down dinner, watch TV, go to bed, and then start all over again.
And there are parts of our existence that cannot be changed, such as the need to earn money for sustenance. But so much of our day is in our keeping! So much can be altered to advance us spiritually and emotionally. Though we all claim not to have any free time, let’s be honest with ourselves: We have more than we admit.
We can choose what we hear on that drive through traffic. We can choose how we unwind after a long day. We choose our friends. We choose the attitude we bring to work. We choose what we eat, what we say, what we read, what we wear. We choose our thoughts. We choose to find time for scripture study and prayer. We choose to spend hours on Facebook or videogames. We choose to smile at strangers we pass, or ignore them. We choose to help those in need, or to look the other way. We choose to ruminate over past hurts, refusing to forgive others. We choose to commit sin. Despite the inherent problems of mortality, most of these things are choices.
I once heard a woman say, “Well, let’s see what today brings,” as if she were helpless to determine her fate, like opening the newspaper and saying, “Well, let’s see what happened overnight.”
Instead, we should wake up with a plan, and see how far we can advance it that day. And maybe it’s a simple plan, like getting along better with one particular person. Or finding a way to bring up the gospel. Or praying without being in a hurry. Or spending extra time with a teenager. Or sending out one resume to improve our employment.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and while we know every life has more value than that, he makes a good point. We should take inventory and live with purpose. We should be trying to improve ourselves, serve others, and make a difference. We cannot do this if we tune out and let life “just happen.” We must grab the wheel and steer it. Yes, we will hit obstacles. But we can also find joy in stronger testimonies and greater understanding of our mission here on earth. We can work with the Savior on shared goals (the only worthwhile kind, after all).
If it’s been awhile since you read your patriarchal blessing, give it another look and see what you can alter in your life to set your course towards the joy Heavenly Father wants for you. If you don’t have a blessing, get one. If nothing else, the fact that we have these amazing communications from God, should tell us that we are supposed to live deliberately, with a plan and a map.
Scientists tell us we’re physically healthier when we feel we have a measure of control over our circumstances. If we feel helpless and blown about, we are automatically discouraged. But by being proactive, we become energized and optimistic. It also makes life easier and more streamlined, because when we measure our choices against our daily goal, it’s easier to lop off the ones that don’t apply. Like Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ admonition in the October 2007 General Conference, we can more easily distinguish between good, better, and best, if we have a purpose.
Children can be taught to do this, as well, as we talk with them about their heart’s desires, and teach them to check their progress each night. Instead of asking, “How was school?” or “Did you have fun today?” we can ask, “Did you find someone to help today?” or ask them to identify moments when they could see the hand of God in their life, as President Henry B. Eyring described in a talk at that same General Conference.
We hear much about breaking habits, but living deliberately is one habit we can all embrace. It will bring simplicity, contentment, focus, purpose, and ultimately great joy as we approach our tasks with spiritual eyes, and include our Heavenly Father in the journey.
Hilton’s LDS Nursery Rhymes is hot off the presses and can be purchased at the BYU Store, or at this link.
You can find her other books here.
She is also the “YouTube Mom” and shares short videos about easy household tips and life skills at this channel.
And be sure to read her blog.
Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.