Unless we know what matters most to us, we will spend much of our life doing things that don’t matter to us as much as the things we neglect. To use our agency wisely, we have to know what we want out of life. One question I often as myself when faced with a choice to make is this: Is what I’m getting worth more than what I’m giving up?” This question reminds me that each time I choose something, I am giving up the other options. The challenge is to choose the option that gives me what I really want from life—not right this moment, but for eternity.
For instance, I am sometimes asked by church members struggling with the gospel, “Do you think God will really keep me out of the Celestial Kingdom over a cup of coffee?” The church teaches us that coffee is one of the several things God has asked us to avoid. The answer to this question, of course, is, “Are you willing to give up your right to spend eternity in God’s presence for a mere cup of coffee?” It’s important to ask the right question when settling priorities. When deciding what to drink with my breakfast, I can see I have two choices (at least.) If I’m a coffee drinker and a member of the church, or someone who wants to become a member, I will ask myself, “Which do I want most for eternity: Coffee, or God?” Put that way, the choice seems obvious. A cup of coffee this morning is not worth more to me than the opportunity to live with God someday. While it might bring momentary pleasure, it will deny me the eternal joy I’m seeking.
While the questioner might have felt she had the question the right way around, she was simply organizing it to meet her own short-sighted desires. God always knows what is best for us, and one reason we are here is to develop self-control and to set priorities. Just as we teach our young children to forego a candy bar this week so he can save faster for the bicycle he wants, God wants us to learn to put aside immediate pleasures in favor of eternal ones.
When faced with a choice, evaluate the short-term and long-term consequences. When we find ourselves choosing the short-term pleasures even when we know the gospel has taught us otherwise, we can see this as a warning that it is time to evaluate and strengthen our testimonies.
For those who are not Mormons, and are held back from converting due to an unwillingness to give up certain habits, the first step is to pray and find out if the lifestyle choice you’ve made has God’s approval. If it’s something you’re strongly attached to, it can be a challenge (and even an act of courage) to go to God humbly, and completely ready to receive His advice without imposing your own will on it. This is, however, the only way to find the strength and conviction needed to make choices and changes.
Once you know God’s will on the subject, spend time putting it into context of your personal goals and your eternal goals. Is the party you want to attend more important than the test you need to study for in terms of your personal goals? Is the friend whose company you enjoy but who is always baiting you to lower your standards important enough to risk giving in to him at a weak moment?
Is that cup of coffee worth the price of Heaven?
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.