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If your life were a book of scripture, what lesson would it offer?Not long ago I was at a social gathering and saw one man ask another, “So what’s your story?” as if the second fellow could simply summarize his life. What was he going to say—“Rags to riches, my friend, became a success despite all odds.” Or “Gave in to alcoholism and lost my family.” Or “Wasted a lot of time, but trying to get my priorities straight now.”
Seriously, none of us should ever feel compelled to summarize our entire life in a sentence or two. We couldn’t give a full, accurate portrayal anyway. We are all too multi-faceted for that. And yet… look at our scriptures. We are given glimpses of major and minor characters all the time, people whose lives serve to teach us something, often just one small lesson, one small glimpse of their vast life.
Think of a little boy, about four years old. He’s outside playing with some rocks and sticks, learning about the physical world around him, maybe thinking of his family and friends. His mother calls, “Moroni, time to come in, now.” Whoa—that Moroni? It had to happen. Even the greatest leaders of all time had a childhood, had parents, had everyday moments. And we can rest assured not one of them thought, at that tender age, that their story would later be studied by millions, that their choices would impact history and eternity. And yet here they now stand, bigger than life to us, examples of something amazing.
It would be hard, if not impossible, to choose a topic and not find a scripture that offers illumination about our concern. Somewhere in the pages of holy writ is a story that addresses our every question, with a real-life individual who made a choice of some kind. Dozens of snapshots of lives long ago stand as bookmarks for us, guides to wisdom as we confront life’s challenges. How deeply we cherish the ones, like Moroni, who stand as beacons of valiance and faithfulness.
But we also read stories of failure to obey, failure to cling to the Savior and his teachings. We read these examples and cringe as consequences unfold for the unwise. We hope we will learn and not repeat those same errors.
But then sometimes we do. We fall prey to temptation. We ignore those in need. We fill with pride. We become selfish. We neglect our duties. We cave in and join the popular crowd. We persecute the righteous because they’re making us look bad. We laugh at the ark. We try to hide in a whale. We turn back and become a pillar of salt. We criticize the church. All of these stories are meant to prick our hearts and remind us that we can do better, that we need not leave our stories on that same table.
And then we find the heroes, the men and women whose lives—even in a quick glimpse—fill us with hope: People who stepped up and summoned courage, who gave their lives over to God’s will, people who demonstrated that even mortals can triumph, and triumph grandly. These are the ones we want to be like, the people we hope to emulate, the people we all say we want to meet in the hereafter.
So let’s look at our lives and all we’ve been through. Think of your biggest, most dramatic events so far. If a scribe were to examine your life to date, what passage would jump out—a hard lesson learned? A disaster still awaiting attention? A beautiful culmination of sacrifice and generosity? Would it be a story like Job’s, of perseverance despite hardship? Or would it bring regret at having given up, and turned from God? Maybe yours would be the story of devotion to the poor, inspiration to children, protection of the innocent. Or maybe it would be refusal to forgive, and the withered heart that results. Each of us gets many chances in life to embrace greatness or to shrink in bitterness.
Though our own lives may never become scripture studied by millions, they do become examples studied by many. Just as we know snippets about ancestors in our Family History, your posterity will someday refer to their great-great-great you. And what will be the signal event that makes you memorable? Will you be known as the woman who couldn’t mend fences with her neighbor? The man who borrowed a tool and never returned it? The teacher who punished a student unfairly? Sometimes these regrettable flashes become the tales told for generations.
But there’s also the opportunity here to leave a golden luster. What will be the beautiful, perhaps quiet, steadfast thing you did that a future descendant will study? How will your triumph over a setback bring them a sense of determination to prevail? Through our journals and relationships we can carve out a better legacy, a life of helpful examples. By recording our struggles and how we met them, by testifying of our faith, by loving and forgiving, by offering the lessons we’ve learned as our years have stacked up, we can become tangible models of doing our best.
There is great power in storytelling. It penetrates our hearts and teaches us in ways no other experience can. And this ability to impact upcoming generations rests in our hands. When our lives—as they all do—fill with spots of both colors, perhaps one of the greatest messages we can leave behind is boundless gratitude for Christ’s forgiveness and his infinite atonement. If all we could stand for was that, I think we’d stand pretty tall.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.