“Our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement. Our task is to become our best selves. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final.” (Thomas S. Monson, “The Will Within”)
Looking back, I am quite embarrassed to admit that as a 19-year-old just about to go on my mission I thought I had pretty much conquered all the trials and challenges God could throw at me. I remember thinking that when I left on my mission I was in the best spiritual condition of my life and I was certain that there wasn’t anything that could possibly come in my life that I couldn’t handle—nearly perfectly.
I had no idea! I could never have imagined the stretching and growing I would need to still experience. My fear now is that 20 years from now I will look back at this time and shake my head in wonder at all the stretching and growing I still have to go through!
The key is that growth can never stop. As soon as it does, pride sets in and then we are in real spiritual trouble.
There is an interesting set of verses in Alma that show the difference between those that grow and those that get stopped in pride.
Yea, he saw great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted.
Now this was a great cause for lamentations among the people, while others were abasing themselves, succoring those who stood in need of their succor, such as imparting their substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions, for Christ’s sake, who should come according to the spirit of prophecy;
Looking forward to that day, thus retaining a remission of their sins; being filled with great joy because of the resurrection of the dead, according to the will and power and deliverance of Jesus Christ from the bands of death. (Alma 4:12-14)
When you look at the end of these verses you see that the second group was “filled with great joy.” I want that! A deeper study of these verses tells us how to get it.
Those that had this joy continued to serve others and grow in service no matter how small. The scriptures don’t say that they did some big, earthshattering act of service and then stopped. Rather they did small things consistently over time.
Can we learn from that pattern?
Are we hoping that some big act from our past will keep us emotionally satisfied and happy well into the future? Are we waiting for some big event before we start to serve or reach out to someone? If so, we are missing the lesson on how we find true joy.
The excitement of a single big event wears off. Even the joy that came from something as significant as a mission can’t sustain us for the rest of our lives if we don’t continue to feed our souls with more experiences that bring similar joy.
On the other hand, those that were lifted up in pride seemed to think that maybe they had done enough. They turned their backs on the poor and wouldn’t give anything to those in need. They seemed to have lost sight of the fact that service we have done yesterday won’t sustain us long into the future. To continue to experience joy, we must keep feeding our souls with the actions that bring us spiritual fulfillment.
Nothing big, just small acts of service, done consistently over time.
Paul taught the same thing when he wrote late in his life to the Philippians. He said:
This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded. (Philippians 3:13-15)
No matter if we have great things in our past or terrible, the way to perfection (according to Paul) and joy (according to Alma) is to look forward.
Looking forward in faith. Looking forward in hope and service to others. Small acts of service done consistently over time move us forward to perfection and joy.
Let’s all look forward this week. Press forward as Saints of God in our love and service to others.