Monday, April 14, 2014

Volunteered by the Lord, eh?

I got this email from a friend the other day.

I’m in the middle of making some very important personal decisions and I need some help. This morning as I was praying to know what I could do today to move closer to determining the answers, I felt to send this email specifically to this group. So, no pressure or anything, but God volunteered you. ;-)
Obviously the decisions are mine to make. What I’m seeking from you is your perspectives and experiences, specifically as it relates to some ideas I’ve been pondering for the last few days. On my mind has been the idea of “best” as it relates to Elder Oaks’ talk about good, better, and best. I know that too often in my life I’ve chosen to occupy my life with a lot of really good, even great stuff, and I produce a lot of good, even great results. However, during General Conference, I felt the Spirit urging me to leave behind the good and the great to focus on the best—what is for my best good; what will provide the best opportunities to develop my faith in Christ and have the best and most intimate relationship with Him; what will best increase my capacity to participate in the Lord’s work; and what will yield the best opportunities to serve and receive the best blessings for me and for others? Bishop Stevenson’s urging to utilize the “4 minutes” we have in this life put into perspective the urgency to no longer settle for what’s great or even the penultimate best (or as my BFF Julie said once “almost the best, second only to the best” – haha) because I don’t have any more time to waste on good and better.
As I’ve been evaluating choices I need to make and opportunities presented, my key objective is to identify the best ones and pursue them—except that I’m having some trouble distinguishing best from some really, really good, “I could do this and bring a lot of good to people” options. My brain is brilliant and can make a “best” case for almost all of the options I’m considering, which is all the more confusing because I can’t possibly pursue all of them simultaneously. There’s something I’m missing, some “best” identifier that will help me distinguish the best from all of the rest. But I can’t seem to figure that out.
How do you identify what’s best and what’s just really, really great?
What does best look like, feel like, sound like, taste like, smell like, etc to you?
How would you expect the fruits of best to differ from the fruits of really great (or even from penultimate best)?
What other qualifiers do you use to identify best from among the goop of great and good?
Any and all insights will be welcomed, appreciated, and seriously considered. I highly value your opinions. You may respond to the group email or email me separately, or talk to me in person—whatever you prefer. Thank you in advance for your help.
No pressure.
Right. Three days later this is the response that I came up with.  I'm still not sure that I've completely processed my thoughts and the more I think about it the more I understand how books are written. But here it is...for better or worse.
Volunteered by the Lord, eh?  So I've now been thinking about this for 3 days.  Maybe you felt inspired to ask me so I'd have to think about it.  I don't know.  I do have a few thoughts though.  Do with them what you will. 
4 minutes.  Good. Better. Best.
I think I get caught up in the "best" and forget about the "good".
A couple of stories:
1)  Once upon a time I drove to Ephraim by myself.  I was tired.  One of my "stay awake while driving" tactics in the car is to eat, so I planned on taking healthy snacks to keep myself awake.  I don't like carrots, but they are healthy so I tried to trick myself into eating them.  I did.  I ate an entire pound of carrots in 2 hours on my way to Ephraim.  Yay me.  I ate my veggies.  My mom was so proud.  I was so proud.  I ate my carrots!!!
2)  My freshman year our Relief Society presidency gave us a booklet and a challenge "40 Days Closer to Christ".  We read the Book of Mormon as an apartment in 40 days. All six of us did it together.  Not going to lie, it was not always a pleasant experience.  Sometimes it was late at night, sometimes we were cranky, but we did it together.  I've tried (not always successfully) to recreate that personally a few times over the years. I've never had the same experience.
 
Okay. How do these apply?
Sometimes I feel like the "best" things are some grandiose gesture.  I mean, that is the definition of best, isn't it?  the biggest?  the highest quality?  the most advantageous? The word "best" is a superlative.  It's supposed to be awesome, right? I'm not so sure. I ate a pound of carrots once.  What good did that do me?  I can say I did it.  Nutritionally, meh. Maybe it helped some, but probably not as much as I would like to think it did.  My body absorbed all it needed and rejected the rest.  I still needed to eat my veggies the next day, and the day after, and the day after that.  Eating a pound of carrots in 2 hours didn't really help my nutritional needs for that week.  It would have been better if I had taken my 1/2 cup to cup of carrots and saved the rest for when I needed them.  Am I making sense?  Let's talk about the Book of Mormon.  Have you heard about the Translation challenge?  Read the Book of Mormon in the time it took to translate the book?  It started April 7th. It's approximately 6 pages a day or something like that.  Does to Lord require a grand gesture that we read the Book of Mormon in the time it took to translate it, or in 40 days, or in a month? I don't think so.  I think he just wants us to read the Book of Mormon.  He wants us to learn from it.  To cherish it. 
Today in Sunday School we talked about Moses and manna.  The children of Israel had to learn to trust the Lord.  He would provide for them. Every. Day. If they tried to take more than they needed for that one day, it spoiled. He knew what they needed.  He knows best.  

Now.  How does this define "the best" or the "penultimate best" or "the goop of good"?  It doesn't.  Sorry.  I do believe though, that if we are living as the Lord directs us through the promptings of the Spirit we will find it.  It's the small "good" things that allow us to draw close to the Spirit.  If at the end of the day we can look at our day and say that we have done all we can do to draw close to the Lord and do as he has asked, I think it's a successful day and probably the best it could have been.  While the Lord demands perfection, He doesn't demand that we do it alone.  Our best requires His help and that's okay. He actually planned it that way.