Some things are obvious. Like a cherry red corvette speeding down the freeway, weaving in and out of traffic; a swollen zit on the end of a teenager’s nose the night of prom; or a bagpipe playing right next to you. There are other things that should be obvious, yet we miss them anyway. I’m still embarrassed to recall one of those:
I was having a domestic goddess moment. For some people, that means successfully pulling off a fabulous dinner party or making the perfect soufflé. For me, it meant I was actually cooking on a Saturday night instead of ordering pizza. Earlier in the day, when I asked my husband what sounded good for dinner on a cold autumn evening, he answered enthusiastically, “Clam chowder!” So, while Brad dug up the necessary potatoes from the garden, I headed to the grocery store, filling my basket with ingredients and checking them carefully off my list: one quart of half and half, three cans of chopped clams, onions, butter, and celery.
Later, after chopping the vegetables and tossing them in a pot to boil, I melted butter in my favorite pan, gradually stirring in flour until the mixture was smooth and beginning to bubble. My mouth watered as I slowly poured in the half and half and increased the heat, continuing to stir until it began to thicken. While adding the creamy mixture to the seasoned vegetables, I decided that instead of calling Brad to come eat in the kitchen—interrupting the football game he was watching after laboring in the yard and pasture all day—I would take dinner to him on a tray.
I was feeling rather virtuous until I tested a spoonful of the chowder and was disheartened by the poor flavor—it tasted like weak potato soup. I attempted to doctor it up, adding a splash of cider vinegar and as much extra salt and pepper as I dared, disappointed that it wasn’t more flavorful after all my efforts. As I delivered the tray of food to my husband, I apologized that the clam chowder seemed to be missing something. Brad jokingly suggested, “Clams?” I gasped as I realized that the three cans of chopped clams I had purchased earlier were still sitting in the pantry, unopened. Mortified, I grabbed the tray and dashed back to the kitchen, my husband’s friendly laughter following in my wake. How could I have forgotten the most obvious ingredient?
I’ve also missed the obvious in my spiritual life on more than one occasion. It’s safe to say I love the gospel. From my earliest days in Junior Sunday school, my recollections of singing spiritual songs and hearing scripture stories are very sweet. There was a spirit associated with gospel teachings and church worship that I was drawn to from the beginning. I learned from my father to love scriptural language. To this day, I love to talk about the gospel, to write songs and articles to help lead people to Jesus Christ and strengthen their testimonies of His beautiful plan. So why is that I’ve sometimes felt like something was missing in my life?
On several occasions over the years, I have noticed that in spite of checking all the boxes on my mental list of spiritual requirements, it seemed that I wasn’t filled with the Holy Spirit in proportion to the time I spent studying the scriptures, praying, and attending church. I repented, paid tithing, lived the Word of Wisdom, and fulfilled my callings. I pondered gospel principles and had spiritual discussions with family and friends. What was I doing wrong?
The answer finally came to me: I was loving the gospel but wasn’t actively living it–not the way the Savior did. The missing ingredient in my spiritual life was to actively livethe gospel I claimed to love so much. Jesus went about doing good. It should have been obvious to me that a follower of Christ would be out among the people serving. I’ve especially struggled with this now that my children are grown and I have more time to study God’s word. It’s nice to sit comfortably at home and read stories about Jesus serving others, but there comes a time when we must lay down the scriptures and go feed the hungry and visit the sick as the Savior did. It is in the application of His teachings that we become like Him.
When we think we have checked off all of the gospel boxes, yet feel like something is missing from our lives, perhaps we should examine the list once more. It’s possible we missed the “love thy neighbor as thyself” box, or the “bear one another’s burdens that they may be light” box. Or maybe the “impart of thy substance…to those who stand in need” box. It could be that those boxes have never even been on our list.
King Benjamin asked, “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served?” (Mosiah 5:13). I had been worshiping the Lord through my time in the scriptures, through prayer, and as I sang hymns and partook of the Sacrament—and those are all essential to my spirit. But I hadn’t been actively serving Him by ministering to His children as I have covenanted to do.
Moroni asked, “Why do ye…suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?” (Mormon 8:39). Good question. For me, at times, the embarrassing answer has been that I was busy at home listening to conference talks, or, ironically, preparing a lesson on serving others. I was slow to understand the saying that “hands that help are holier than lips that pray.”
In the thirty-fourth chapter of Alma, Amulek gives a beautiful discourse on prayer, then follows it with some sobering facts:
“And now…after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need–I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith,” (Alma 34:28, emphasis added).
I close with the rest of my clam chowder story: I grabbed the three forgotten cans of chopped clams from the pantry, hurriedly opened them and emptied the contents–including the juice–into my pot, stirring well. And what do you know? Turns out clams are an essential ingredient for a flavorful clam chowder. My husband was still chuckling when I took the dinner tray to him the second time, but one bite of the steaming clam-chowder-with-actual-clams and the smirk on his face was replaced with a satisfied smile.
This is what actually living the gospel can do for us when we feel that something is missing from our spiritual lives. Loving the gospel is a great start, but living the gospel is how we keep our covenants. As we prayerfully minister to others, volunteer in good causes, comfort those who grieve or struggle, and help to make their burdens light, we find the missing ingredient. We discover that Jesus Christ was not exaggerating when He promised that we find our lives as we lose them in service to others–in service to Him (Matthew 16:25, Matthew 25:40).