Mormons (the nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) believe that life has a purpose. We are here, among other reasons, to find God again (having lived with Him before He came to Earth), to commit ourselves to live as God and Jesus Christ want us to live, and to return home to God. Our commitment to the laws of God is based on our love for Him. The greater our love and faith, the easier obedience becomes.
However, sometimes we get overly focused on this mortal life, forgetting that it is merely a small step in a very long eternal life. If this life was all we had, we might live differently. Our choices might be different and the things that matter so much here might actually be important. However, this life is not all we have, so our choices need to be focused on the eternal scheme of things, rather than on our limited view of what matters in mortality.
I recently reread an old young adult novel called, “My Davy,” by Janet Lambert. It was written in the 1960s, when it was still considered okay for books to have openly stated morals to them. Although the title sounds like that of a romance novel, Davy is actually the older cousin of heroine Parri. He also serves as her mentor through life, the only one who has ever been able to make the headstrong teenager think through her decisions wisely.
Don’t Improvise Life Until You’re Ready
At the end of the book, she is explaining to him what she has learned from some critical decisions she had to make during the book. She tells him that she has been remembering when she was little and was forced to take piano lessons. She passionately hated playing the same boring notes over and over, notes she knew millions of other children had played in exactly the same way. She began to improvise, changing the notes around. She thought they were beautiful new notes, but her teacher told her they created discord. There was a reason they had been written as they had.
Parri’s mother explained to her that beginners had to drill and play the same notes over and over, learning where everything was on the keyboard and how to best move their hands. Once she was sure of herself and knew more about music, she would be ready to improvise—but that would be a long time in coming. Parri refused to wait, and now she was unable to play the piano.
Parri explained to Davy, “Thinking about it this morning, I concluded that daily living is a lot like learning to play the piano. If we practice our exercises faithfully—honesty, truthfulness, reliability and loving kindness…When all those things become automatic to us, we have it made. Then we can improvise.”
I think that too often, in our lives, we want to skip straight to the improvisation without taking the time to learn how things work and what notes sound good together. We don’t know enough about God’s music to understand the consequences of our decisions and our choices are based on short-term goals, not long term goals. Too much improvising too soon means that eventually, we realize we can’t play the piano—or become all that God planned for us to become.
God Wrote the Music for Our Lives
That is not to say there are never trials, but our hearts and our eternal lives are protected by the notes written in the composition God created. We will reach our goal of eternal life with our Father in Heaven.
The problem is that we tend to want to redecorate the musical staff. We’re playing along and decide one note is too hard to reach, so we replace it with one that is easier to play. We decide a portion is too easy, so we jazz it up and make it more exciting. We find a section too constraining, so we alter it. We don’t know the consequences of breaking these rules.
Life isn’t about mortality, really. Mortality is an audition and a rehearsal for eternal life. When we get an opportunity to live with God, we want to be ready. We want to be worthy to be in His presence, to be as much like Him as possible. We want it to be natural to align our will to God’s.
When that is our goal, we don’t improvise randomly. We study the scriptures and the teachings of God’s prophets. We practice the virtues God assigned us. We admit that sometimes the rules and goals don’t make sense to us with our limited vision, but we trust God. We may not understand the rules, but God does. He knows why the rules exist and He knows the consequences and blessings of our choices concerning those rules. We ask ourselves, “In the eternal scheme of things, will this really matter?”
It’s important for us to live the gospel exactly as God and Jesus teach it to us. Searching for loopholes, getting creative in the wrong ways, focusing on ourselves and what we want instead of what God has asked of us, and focusing on now instead of eternity really isn’t worth it in the end. When faced with limitations, I ask myself, “Will this limitation keep me out of God’s presence?” If not, it isn’t worth complaining about. If I find a rule I don’t want to keep, I ask myself if getting to break it is important enough to trade it for eternity. It never is. Eternal life, the opportunity to be with God forever, is more important than any rule I can think of. When I’m just not sure something really is a rule, I pray and ask God. I don’t need to follow along blindly. God set it all up so I could pray and get answers to my questions.
That’s not to say that every Mormon will live an identical life. There are many beginner’s lesson manuals for piano students and they all have different songs, but they all, eventually, lead to being able to play the piano if you practice. In life, God has left many choices up to us. He didn’t give us all the same talents. He lets us choose among a variety of good choices in life—but the choices are not unlimited. We really do have to restrict ourselves to choosing from the good choices, not the world’s favorite choices. We can set our priorities, but they should not be outside the range of God’s priorities.
In everyday life, God might not care whether we decide we’d like to be a teacher or a police officer. Both of those choices might be equally valid for His plan for you. However, we can’t choose to become a bank robber. We can decide we like certain church responsibilities better than others, and He might often give us our favorites, but we can’t demand those that were not given to us to hold. We can decide we want to teach our children music instead of drama, and if God hasn’t specifically called a child to the theater, that will be fine.
Life offers many choices, but those choices need to be cleared with God first. When we align our lives with God’s and practice living the life He chose for us, we are protected. We can improvise, but we need to know which notes sound good together—and those notes are always God’s notes.
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.