(Looking back, I also remember spending a lot of time watching movies and goofing off with my friends, but back then I thought I was really busy.)
I'd always been committed to the principle of spending time every day in prayer and scripture study, but it's easier said than done for a person like me when the items on my to-do list outnumber the hours in the day.
By trial and error, I learned a lesson in college that was very profound to me at the time: when I read my scriptures first, everything else just works out.
The lesson in Relief Society today featured some great quotes from a past prophet of our church, Ezra Taft Benson. I didn't become a Mormon until 6 years after he died, but he was an eloquent speaker who didn't mince words, so I'm familiar with a lot of the things he said, anyway.
One familiar quote was: "When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives."
I'd definitely seen how putting God first in my life in college made everything just work out somehow, but I'd never given much though to the other part of President Benson's promise before today. That if something didn't fall into place, it would simply "drop out of our lives."
That's a troubling prospect.
Oh, there are plenty of things I wouldn't mind dropping out of my life: stomach flu, missing socks, unidentified stains in the carpet, wet hair clogging the drain, etc.
Then again, there are plenty of things I don't want to let go of.
If God wanted me to let one of those things drop out of my life, would I?
Most Mormons could probably retell the story of the currant bush, sort of a modern-day parable told by another past leader of our church, Elder Hugh B. Brown:
I was living up in Canada. I had purchased a farm. It was run-down. I went out one morning and saw a currant bush. It had grown up over six feet high. It was going all to wood. There were no blossoms and no currants. I was raised on a fruit farm in Salt Lake before we went to Canada, and I knew what ought to happen to that currant bush. So I got some pruning shears and went after it, and I cut it down, and pruned it, and clipped it back until there was nothing left but a little clump of stumps.
When he finished pruning the currant bush, he saw droplets of liquid on the cut stems, like the currant bush was crying, "How could you do this to me?"
From the bush's perspective, it seemed like things were going really well! It was making such spectacular growth, and then Elder Brown came along and practically chopped the thing down.
How could the currant bush have known that Elder Brown was really doing this for its own good?
|Currant bush. |
(I didn't know what one looked like before Googling it, either.)
We know that part of the reason we're here is for God to change us and transform us, and sometimes that involves some pruning. As Christians we're not too upset about the idea of getting rid of selfishness, pride, and greed. Those are bad things, anyway.
The hard part is that sometimes, like the currant bush, we really like the branches that are getting chopped off.
It's not that they're even bad branches, necessarily. It's just not the direction in which God wants us to grow, so off they go.
Choosing between evil and good all the time would be easy, so it's unfortunate that more of my decisions don't fall along the lines of: should I rob a bank or go to church today? Real choices tend to be much trickier.
There are so many good things competing for our time that sometimes, even good things need to be eliminated to make room for the best things.
I'm kind of a wimp, so I actually prefer it when that pruning is just done for me. If I get turned down for a writing position I'd really hoped to get, for example, I feel a little deflated, one branch lighter, but what's done is done and I keep moving.
The thing that's much harder is when God Himself hands me the clippers and deep down, I know which limb needs to go. It could be starting to do something I've been avoiding, or it could be taking a break from something I love. At those times, it's my choice.
Although it's heartbreaking to prune one of my favorite branches, it can also be a rare opportunity to give God a gift: my free will.
Everything else I have is all just on loan from God. Even my life, He could take back anytime He wants. But He'll never interfere with my agency. In a way, it's the only gift I have to give.
The act of being pruned, especially when you're the one doing the pruning, is hard and sad work. Even worse, it may not be until decades later that you look back and see how it possibly could have been for your own good!
If we're willing to do the pruning God asks us to do, we'll for sure end up looking a lot different than we'd planned.
We'll also see for ourselves something else that President Benson promised: "Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can."