I have been thinking so much lately about the question, “am I doing enough?” Weeks ago Josh and I were talking about the recent deaths in Portland. In case you didn’t hear about it, there was a man on a train platform harassing two teenage girls. One was black and the other Muslim (and wearing a hijab). Three other men stepped in to defend the girls. The man who was harassing the girls stabbed the other three men, killing two and critically injuring the third. One of the men who died was a 53 year old Army veteran, the other a 23 year old college graduate. Before his death, the 23 year old man, who was being aided on the platform, said, “Tell everyone on this train I love them”. (If you would like to read a more touching and in-depth article, you can here.)
Every time I think about this tragedy and the love that these men had for the strangers around them, I’m deeply touched. I feel deep in my heart their pure and true love. These men were defending others, who were very different from them, without selfishness or worry. They knew what it meant to stand up for and love others and they showed that in the ultimate way.
This has kind of been my issue lately. In our church, we believe that there are certain ordinances that must be performed to reach the highest kingdom in the afterlife. Plus, you must live worthily on Earth in order to live in the presence of God after death. I know I am totally guilty of going through the checklist of things to do for exaltation, and I am fairly positive I’m not the only one who does this. Baptism? ✓ Temple Ordinances ✓ Reading scriptures? ✓ Praying? ✓ Being a generally good person? ✓ I’m all set. But then I hear about things like the Portland stabbings and I know that there is more I could be doing. Why do some members of my church (myself included at times) think they deserve to go to heaven? I would gladly give my spot to one of those men, who clearly have more love than I do. And wasn’t the message of Christ (the person we are trying to be like) a message of love? Why do we think that doing our little checklist is enough?
My husband recently taught a lesson similar to this in Elder’s Quorum, and he got the standard comments that probably would come to mind first, so let me just get some of this out of the way before I’m totally written off. I know that not everyone is called upon to give up their lives for others. I know that we believe that those who have passed away will have the opportunity to receive the gospel in the next life. I know that we are all trying to do our best in this life.
But are we really doing our best? I mean, REALLY?
This question is super personal because everyone has a different “best”. I think Daniel Tiger sums it up pretty well when he sings, “Do your best. Your best is the best for you.” I can tell you that right now in my life, I am not doing as much as I want to be doing. I want to be the kind of person that stands up for people who are being oppressed and abused. I want to give willingly to the poor every chance I get. I want to serve in my community. I want to learn so much about the world and think deeply. I want to be a great mother and wife. I think doing those things will get me closer to being my best, but I am nowhere near that yet. I want to be able to stand before God and say, without hesitation, that I gave it my all and learned to love all people as my brothers and sisters. That would be my best.
So I ask again, are we REALLY doing our best?
I know it’s comforting to think that if the world ended today that we would be saved by doing our checklist, which it is good to be doing those things, and honestly we would probably be fine by just doing those things. But how would you feel knowing that you could have done more? That you were so focused on the actions of the gospel (reading scriptures, praying, attending church etc.) that you forgot the principles taught through the gospel (charity, love, service, etc.)?
Last week I was talking with my mom, and she was telling me about an experience she had at the temple. She was in one of the rooms and the lights weren’t coming on. Everyone was looking around and trying to figure out what was going on. My mom thought it was bright enough in the room with just the light from the windows and she couldn’t figure out why they even needed to turn the lights on. Finally, someone fixed the malfunction and the lights came on. With the lights on, the room was much brighter. It was easier to see everything and the room was completely lit up. She realized that, while the light from the outside was probably good enough, the room wasn’t totally bright until the lights came on. She likened that to our lives. Sometimes we can feel that we have enough light in our lives until one day we go a step further. Maybe we do more meaningful service, or we stand up for others around us, or we find ways to give to the poor. When we do more, we can receive greater light, and when we do, we can realize how much more light we can have. That is so cool to me.
I also LOVED Elder Renlund’s talk from this past General Conference (which you can read here). It was about loving others despite our differences or sins. In that talk he quoted a story from the bible about a Pharisee and a publican. Each went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” While the publican, who stood afar off and “smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus then concluded, “I tell you, this man [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the other [the Pharisee]: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
I realized while writing this, though, that “doing” is not quite the right word for what I have been feeling. So I have decided to change the initial question to “am I being enough?” I want to set a goal for myself to be less like the Pharisee. Not feeling that I deserve exaltation because I happen to have received the ordinances necessary for salvation, but because I am truly (and humbly) my best self. I want to have a “lights fully on” kind of life. I am fortunate enough to have the gospel and I should be motivated by that to bring so much good into the world. And I never want to wonder if I could be doing more. I want to earn my place in heaven. I want to know that I am enough.