“Stresses in our lives come regardless of our circumstances. We must deal with them the best we can. But we should not let them get in the way of what is most important—and what is most important almost always involves the people around us.”
– Thomas S. Monson, “Finding Joy in the Journey,” October 2008
Today was one of those days when you are blessed to remember what “the things that matter most in life” are, and subsequently realize, with much chagrin, that you are not living in a way that gives them much priority. I have this experience every so often and it tends to follow a familiar pattern that looks something like this:
- Remembering one’s priorities
- Realizing the gap between one’s priorities and the reality of one’s lifestyle
- Feeling remorse for not giving one’s priorities proper attention/focus
- Seeking to repent and change one’s current lifestyle to better align with one’s priorities
- A few days or weeks of progress towards better focusing on one’s priorities
- Slowly (sometimes suddenly) losing the motivation/willpower to work as hard on one’s priorities
- Returning to one’s old lifestyle that puts priorities on the backburner
- An indefinite period of time when one is plateauing at best, rapidly declining at worst
- Remembering one’s priorities
I have always found Alma’s words to the people at Zarahemla – members of the church who had all experienced conversion at one point, yet drifted in their commitment – to be most poignant in this regard:
“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26, emphasis added)
On the days like today when I remember and reflect on my priorities, Alma’s words here, invariably, come ringing to my ears. If you have experienced a change of heart . . . can you feel so now?
Reflection on Alma’s words brings me to something I learned earlier this year while studying the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. In the course of my study I came across an interesting footnote about the word remember: “Remembering, [the Hebrew word] ‘zakhar,’ is often a verb of action rather than simply thought” (The Jewish Study Bible, pp. 315). This footnote significantly augmented my understanding of what the scriptures mean when they call us to remember (a word which, as I understand it, is the most frequently repeated word in the entire canon of LDS scripture). Alma is calling us to remember so that we might do something – and, one might presume, something lasting. Quite naturally, we find him preaching about the need for repentance only a few verses later: “Behold, [the Lord] sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you” (Alma 5:33).
As grateful and humbled as I am to have these opportunities to remember, there is a cynical part of me that can’t help but lament, “This is just the beginning of a cycle I have experienced countless times before; why should this time be any different? I am damned to live in the loop ad infinitum.” When remembering leads to action (i.e., repentance), how can we ensure that it is lasting, and not something that lasts for merely a few days, weeks, or months?
Remembering “the things that matter most in life” is a blessing. Taking the extra step to ensure that this act is more than “simply [a] thought” is the challenging, albeit essential, part. Even more challenging is the process of sustaining progressive action, which is where the cycle tends to perpetuate itself in my model outlined above. I have yet to find a satisfying solution to the problem that we might call “enduring to the end.” Is the cycle inevitable, or is it possible to always live in a way in which one’s actions are continually and consistently aligned with one’s priorities? Clearly no one will be perfect in this regard, but I assume there are those who fare better than others, and not just by chance. I wish to learn from them.
Today I remembered for a moment what it was like to “sing the song of redeeming love.” But the heart is fickle and tomorrow is a new day with no guarantees. The day after that comes the return to the daily grind of work, the routine of suburban living. The noise and the distractions will follow suit. Will I be able to hear it then?