Is God’s Love Conditional?

I don’t typically get upset at church. Uplifted? Edified? Bored? Sure. But it’s rare that something is said in a church meeting that gets me really riled. And yet for the past two weeks, in two separate congregations, the same thought has been expressed (in different words), and it immediately drew a very sharp reaction from me, mainly because it’s so antithetical to everything I believe about religion.

Last Sunday, it was basically the idea that once we have sinned, God never quite loves us the same way He used to. We have permanently changed our relationship to God. This is the same tired analogy of repentance, which likens us each to a fresh, clean board. When we sin, we drive a nail into that board, and when we repent, we remove the nail. But the hole the nail made is forever part of who and what we are now.

I objected (fairly loudly) when this came up in Sunday School last week. Repentance allows us to be forgiven and our sins to be forgotten. I provided scriptural evidence of this. (D&C 58:42 “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more,” for example.) But the person who was arguing against this wouldn’t budge.

Then yesterday, a similar argument was made in the middle of priesthood class. God’s love is conditional, according to this line of thought. He loves us more the more we do the things He has asked us to do. Thus, He loves a righteous person more than He loves a sinner.

Once again, I disagreed vehemently. This time, I didn’t let the issue drop (until we ran out of time and class was over). God loves all of us unconditionally. We may choose to separate ourselves from that love by our actions and our beliefs, but that love is still there, waiting for us to return to Him and accept it once again.

But the teacher doubled down on his statement. He reiterated: God’s love is conditional, and this is something President David O. McKay was very specific about.

I left the meeting in a fair bit of a huff, and I was certainly going to go do some research to prove that statement wrong. So when I got home, the first thing I did was rush to the internet to do some research. The first statement I came across wasn’t from President McKay. It was from President Nelson, given about fifteen years ago:

While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional. The word does not appear in the scriptures. On the other hand, many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional.

Even more recently, Elder Christofferson spoke about God’s love, citing President Nelson’s remarks and continuing,

One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is “unconditional.” While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture. Rather, His love is described in scripture as “great and wonderful love,” “perfect love,” “redeeming love,” and “everlasting love.” These are better terms because the word unconditional can convey mistaken impressions about divine love, such as, God tolerates and excuses anything we do because His love is unconditional, or God makes no demands upon us because His love is unconditional, or all are saved in the heavenly kingdom of God because His love is unconditional.

Those two statements took a fair bit of wind out of my sails, replacing them with confusion. At first glance, it appears I was completely off base. Was the teacher in that priesthood lesson right, after all? Does God play favorites? He loves those who obey him more than those who do not?

Those quotes I just gave might be flashy, and they might generate a fair bit of support for the “Conditional Love” side of things, but as I read the articles they come from more closely (see here and here), I saw that they simply said in different words what I had been arguing in the first place.

See this quote from Elder Nelson:

Does this mean the Lord does not love the sinner? Of course not. Divine love is infinite and universal. The Savior loves both saints and sinners. The Apostle John affirmed, “We love him, because he first loved us.” And Nephi, upon seeing in vision the Lord’s mortal ministry, declared: “The world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” We know the expansiveness of the Redeemer’s love because He died that all who die might live again.

Or this one from Elder Christofferson:

God will always love us, but He cannot save us in our sins.

As I read the talks, it appeared Elder Nelson and Elder Christofferson were conflating the love God has for us with the blessings He would like to give us. In order to avoid giving anyone the impression that people can do whatever they want and still be blessed the same as anyone else, they stated that God’s love is dependent on our obedience to His commandments.

But you don’t base doctrine on sound bytes. You need to take quotes in their context to truly understand them. Otherwise, church talks would only need to be about one minute long.

I’ll restate my own take on this: I believe God’s love for us is always there, no matter what we do. We may choose to turn away from that love, and when we do, we place a limit on the blessings God might have given us, but we are the cause of those blessings being withheld, not some sort of cosmic favoritism. If we would just turn back to God, He will always be there, loving us just as much as ever.

Perhaps some of you are wondering what the big deal is. After all, isn’t the end result the same? Keep the commandments and be blessed. Don’t keep them, and don’t be blessed?

To me, it all comes down to John 13:34: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

We are commanded to love each other in the same way Christ loves us. If you begin to believe that love is conditional, you allow yourself the leeway to love people more or less based on your own personal preferences or moral code. It becomes much easier to dismiss people as “sinners” unworthy of your love and care and consideration, and I believe that’s antithetical to the entire message of the Gospel.

Worse yet, we are also commanded to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” If our love for others is conditional, then our love for ourselves becomes conditional as well. Our own self worth can be destroyed based on decisions or mistakes we’ve made. Again, this goes against every teaching I’ve ever read or studied in the Gospel.

I don’t mean we can go out and do whatever we want and not feel bad about it. Rather, complete repentance is always possible. Sure, you can start diving into the doctrinal deep end about Sons of Perdition or what have you, but to keep things simple: you can never screw up so much that you are out of the range of God’s love. You can always come back.

I’ve seen “religious” people in the news who judge others based on their skin, orientation, beliefs, gender, or any other reason. I’ve seen children shunned from their families. Made to feel worthless. I believe a fair bit of this stems from the thought that we can love people based on their behaviors and actions, which in turn is supported by the “God’s love is conditional” mentality.

I think there’s a balance there between remembering we are held accountable for our actions, and remembering God always will love us. The talks by Elder Christofferson and President Nelson swing to one side of that balance, and my argument swings to the other, though I think if you read both in their entirety, you’ll see we’re all actually making the same argument.

God does not love me more than He loves you, no matter what you or I might have done.

I’ll just leave this post with my personal favorite scripture, which perhaps also shows why this line of reasoning is important to me. Romans 8:35-39:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

On Turning 40

I’m not typically someone who gets upset with birthdays. In fact, I usually look forward to them. It’s like leveling up in video games, but in real life! Except in video games, when you gain a significant level (like, say, 40), it’s typically accompanied by a whole new range of abilities.

So far, the closest thing I can see to “new abilities” that I’ve gained is the ability to have aches in parts of my body that never ached before. Or for my eyesight to be getting worse. Though I’m getting better at falling asleep in random places, and that’s pretty close to a super power, so maybe that’s what I have to look forward to.

In any case, this birthday hasn’t quite left me as unruffled as the others. Turning 40 feels different. It’s pretty much impossible to pass myself off as one of the young crowd now. I’m 40. Younger than some, for sure, but not even close to anyone in their 20s still. (Though as always, the age that seemed “old” back when I was younger never feels “old” when I get there myself.)

I’ve been shorter tempered for the last few weeks. Broodier. Some of that might be because I’ve been very busy, but each time, I ask myself if it’s because of the age I’m turning. I haven’t been able to immediately dismiss the idea as preposterous, which shows there must be at least a bit of truth to it. Ah well. It happens.

Thanks in advance to everyone for the well wishes. If nothing else, Facebook does a great job of making you feel remembered on your birthday.

I’m having some friends over in the evening. My mom’s up from Pennsylvania, and we’ll go out and do something fun tomorrow. If you want to get me anything for my birthday, leave a nice review of one of my books on Amazon or Goodreads (assuming you actually liked it), or don’t leave one (assuming you didn’t like it). I’m up in Bangor at a library meeting during the day. The illustrious, exciting life of a 40 year old librarian.

Thanks to all of you who keep track of the blog and my life in general. I do appreciate you.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

YouTube TV Review

This month, I finally did it. I inched my way back into the world of live TV by signing up for YouTube TV. The main reason? I wanted to watch BYU games more easily, and this was the simplest way to do it.

I didn’t just jump into YouTube TV, however. I took some time to figure out which live TV service would work the best for me. I considered a number of different ones: YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV, Cable, and Satellite. It took some time to slog through all the different features to find out which would work the best for me, but in the end, YouTube TV won out, and I’ve been very happy with it. What gave it the edge?

First off, I love being able to cancel or pause the subscription at any time. Cable and satellite come with physical alterations to my house, and to get the good deals, they usually come with longterm contracts. Back when I had satellite nine years ago, I had the basic subscription to Dish, which was costing me $50/month. These days that basic package looks like it’s more like $60, but I knew either way that I had no interest in signing up with another physical service. Not unless it was cost prohibitive to go with one of the streaming ones, which it wasn’t.

YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, and Sling TV all have fairly evenly matched offerings. This article was helpful in breaking them down. In the end, YouTube just won out because

  • It’s the same price as the others: $40/month. (Sling has a $25/month offer, but it’s limited in channels I’d want)
  • It offers all my local channels. (I live in a remote enough area that there are a number of channels I could never get over the air with an antenna.)
  • It has a ton of channels for live sports included in the normal package.
  • It has unlimited DVR storage (though you only keep recordings for 9 months. Whatever.)
  • It has a solid stream I can rely on. (Not always a guarantee when my internet is 13mbps.)
  • It lets you pause your subscription for up to 6 months at a time, even letting you keep your DVR recordings there for when you unpause.
  • It works great with my AppleTV.

So that was enough to get me to pull the trigger and commit. (Though since I didn’t have to sign any longterm contract, “commitment” just means I paid for one month and can stop whenever I’d like.)

Now that I’ve used it for a few weeks, I’m very happy with the service. For one thing, I can tell it what sports teams I like to watch, and it will automatically record all their games. When BYU plays at 10pm at night, this DVR ability is very handy. You can skip through commercials very easily, and it automatically records the whole game, even if the game goes long. The picture is clear, even at my slower-than-many internet speed. (Apologies to friends who have even slower speeds. I feel your pain.)

I even watched the Emmys Monday evening. It was so nice to just be able to turn the AppleTV on and get the live show. No need to drive to friend’s house!

Bottom line: if you’re paying for internet anyway, and your TV package is $40 or more per month, I would seriously look into switching to YouTube TV. I’d guess you’d want at least 7mbps internet speed for it to really work, but they’ll let you try it out for a while for free, so you could do that first to make sure it works.

When the BYU football season is over, will I pause my subscription for a while? That remains to be seen. There is, after all, BYU basketball season. But in any case, I’m happy with the service so far and can readily recommend it to others.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Becoming a Local

It’s fair week here in town again. This was our 12th year being here for the fair. This time around, Tomas didn’t come with us. He was off at a Franklin Fiddlers practice during the evening, so the stars just didn’t align. The girls had a great time eating fair food and riding rides, as usual. (They also cleaned up in the competitions again. DC won over $30 in prizes, winning multiple first places in arts & crafts and flower arrangement.)

Of course, there’s only so much I can blog about the same event over and over. (I mean, I *could* blog about it over and over, but it’s the same experience year after year, and that’s not quite as fun when you’re not the one actually eating the fresh cut fries and the donuts.)

Instead, I thought I’d remark on a strange feeling I had last night as we were talking to the parents of one of DC’s friends. Suddenly I found myself in the position of having been to the fair many more times than who I was speaking with.

Not that I haven’t been in that situation before, but it’s almost always been in cases where I’m introducing someone to the fair. This felt different. I was talking to just another local, and I’d lived in town almost three times as long as they had. That’s not a usual feeling for me. Growing up, I was seldom in an area longer than a couple of years. Even in high school (the last place we moved), I was there for just five years before heading off to college. Once in college, I was always moving areas, so it never felt like I was one of the long-term residents.

Not that I really feel like one here, either. Maine is very big on making distinctions between locals (people born and raised in Maine) and people “from away.” If you moved here from somewhere else, you’re always going to be “from away.” I think that’s something that other places have largely given up on just because so many people move around elsewhere. Here in Maine, there are many people whose entire families just stay put.

So I’m often reminded I’m from away, and not really a Mainer. But personally, living somewhere for 11 years is the longest I’ve lived in one spot. Twice as long, really. It was a noticeably strange feeling to suddenly realize I’d been here that long.

I liked it.

I like having been around long enough that I saw lots of people I recognized at the fair. Long enough that when a problem comes up, I know multiple people I can turn to for specialized help in solving it.

I’m sure many of you have years of experience being one of the locals, but it’s still new to me. How long do you personally feel like you need to live in a place before you feel like you’re a local to that area? I still don’t feel entirely like a local (and doubt I ever will), but I at least feel more local than some, if that makes sense.

How about you?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Sunday Talk: Teaching in the Home

Another month, another talk. This month’s topic was Elder Devin G. Durrant’s talk “Teaching in the Home.” Here’s the full text of what I said to the Belfast Branch yesterday in church.

When I hear the phrase “teaching in the home,” my first instinct is to think of the times I’ve purposefully taught my kids something one on one. Whether it’s discussing their homework habits or discussing the gospel during Family Home Evening. I’d call this the “Leave It to Beaver” approach, but something tells me that reference won’t work for nearly as many people as I’d like. Instead, let’s just say it’s the traditional method. Parents have the knowledge, and the kids all gather round to figure things out in an easy to understand format.

As an adult, I’m sure that’s how many of us wish it would happen. Some of us might even fool ourselves into believing it actually works like that. And many times, I think it does. I’ve helped my son through several of his math classes that way, and it’s how I spent time helping my daughter bolster her reading skills. But when I think back on my time growing up and what I learned from my parents, I can only come up with a handful of times where it was me sitting there with them purposefully instructing me in some area.

It’s not that we didn’t have those opportunities. I remember having Family Home Evening sporadically. Often it was on Sundays, since our family schedule was too chaotic to reliably have Monday evenings free. We’d have a lesson on some gospel aspect, but I remember almost none of those occasions. Sorry Mom and Dad.

In his talk this past general conference, Brother Devin G. Durrant, First Counselor in the General Sunday School Presidency, titled his remarks,“Teaching in the Home: A Joyful and Sacred Responsibility.” The moment he identified his topic, I had a fair idea of what areas he would touch on. Family Home Evening. Scripture Study. Family Prayer. And indeed he addressed each in turn, starting by saying “Let’s begin with family home evening, which was a high priority in the faith-filled home where I was raised. I don’t remember specific lessons taught at family home evening, but I do remember that we never missed a week. I knew what was important to my parents.”

My children won’t be able to say we never missed a week of Family Home Evening, but I hope they’ll be able to confidently state they knew what was important to my wife and me. President Hinckley counseled, “If you have any doubt about the virtue of family home evening, try it. Gather your children about you, teach them, bear testimony to them, read the scriptures together and have a good time together.”

That’s great advice. Advice I’m doing well in some areas and where I could improve in others. Sometimes I feel like my talks are intended mainly to help others, but now and then it feels like I’m working through them primarily to help myself, this time in particular. I can’t say my family has been following the conventional mode of Gospel teaching in the home. Instead, we’ve stutter stepped through a lot of false starts and short lived efforts. As I wrote this talk, I wanted to explore that more fully. Why have I never fully embraced the “read scriptures and pray every day as a family” program of the church?

Some of it might come from the way I was raised. We learn by example, and while I was born in the church and raised by righteous parents, scripture study and family prayer weren’t the cornerstones of our upbringing. Instead, the lessons I really remember are the ones that were immediately applicable. Things taught in the moment.

This makes sense to me, speaking as a college librarian. I’m often asked to teach students how to use the library to find research materials. From experience, the times when the students have actual projects they’re working on are much better environments for learning than the times when I’m just teaching them so they know how to do it at some point in the future.

When I was growing up, driving was the same way. I never really paid any attention to how I got where I was going. I was too busy burying my nose in a book or a Gameboy game to really bother with simple things like directions. This has come back to bite me later in life. Even though I lived there for five years of school and multiple summers and vacations thereafter, I’m still notoriously bad at finding my way around my hometown in Pennsylvania. This doesn’t matter as much now that we have Google Maps, but prior to the advent of the GPS, Denisa and I were traveling home from Europe one year. Our plane had been delayed, and we arrived at Newark airport around ten at night. A taxi service picked us up at the airport to take us to my parent’s house, where the plan was to visit for a few more days.

The one trick? Our driver, a very nice man from Haiti, assumed I knew where I was going. The hour and a half drive took more like three as I squinted at the street signs and did my best to try to remember which of them led home. It was a long evening. One I obviously still remember. And it illustrates the difference between being taught something ahead of time and learning it right when you need it. I’d been told how to get home in advance, but I’d never really had to do it in practice. Not from Newark Airport, at least. Unfortunately, since I was jet-lagged and exhausted, I still don’t really know how to make that trip. Think of how much better it would have gone if I’d paid attention to how to get home ahead of time.

Of course, the trick is that often we don’t know what we need to know before we need to know it. Just ask the students who sit through my library lectures. I know for a fact they’ll all need to know the things I’m teaching them, but they are far from convinced, and so they sit there, slumped over in their chairs and wishing I’d stop talking as soon as possible, no matter how much I try to spice up the lesson.

So to best be able to teach our children, it helps to know what we want to teach, and then look for areas to teach those principles in a way that’s immediately useful. At a time when they can understand why what we’re saying will help them here and now. To succeed in that, I’ve found it mostly comes down to making time for your children when they need it. Helping them with homework when they’re struggling. Listening to their worries after school and actually paying attention to any subtext that might be there without brushing it off.

Then again, we don’t always teach for the here and now. Sometimes we’re prepping our children for things that won’t come up for years to come. There are ways to handle that as well, though often that means using the saying “repetition is the mother of all learning” as our guiding light.

“Plow the ground all the way to the fence.” I heard that phrase so. Many. times growing up. It seemed like every job was simply an excuse for my dad to sit me down after I was finished with it and show me all the places I hadn’t done everything I was supposed to do. This was in Eastern Pennsylvania, and one of my least favorite chores was yard work. Especially raking. Some of this might have to do with the fact that I once raked up a live three foot long snake, and nothing quite erases the shock and terror you feel when you’re out grudgingly raking up leaves and you send a huge snake hurtling through the air straight to your face.

But again, this was Eastern Pennsylvania, and our property was covered with oak trees. They’re beautiful things, but they put out more leaves than they have any right to, and I still swear to this day that when the time comes to drop those leaves, they multiply somehow on the way down. The constant wind on our property didn’t make matters any easier. You could go around and clear off every single one of those leaves, and five minutes later there’d be a whole army back to replace them.

And yet I was still told to “plow the ground all the way to the fence.” Dad had grown up on a farm. The phrase comes from the tendency of some people to turn a plow early, skipping the parts right by the fence, which are often the hardest to get to. When you’re trying to get as much of a crop as possible and every bit counts, skipping the parts by the fence shouldn’t be an option, but people still do it, because it’s hard. Dad wanted me to complete a job I started.

If you were to ask my wife today about whether or not that lesson stuck with me, I tend to think she’d say I still don’t quite understand the definition of a “clean room.” Then again, if you were to ask my children, I think they’d say that, while they prefer my definition to my wife’s, they still think I’m expecting too much. Let’s be honest, though. If my dad had been focused on training me to become the neatest person in the world and a first class leaf raker, he failed quite spectacularly. But it wasn’t really about raking leaves.

I’m a very goal-oriented person these days. I write fantasy novels in my spare time. I’ve published three of them, have a fourth coming out next year, and I’m currently working on the first draft of my eighteenth book. That’s not something I could have done if I hadn’t learned how to plow the ground all the way to the fence. Starting a novel is a fairly simple process, but when you get about a third of the way into it, that lovely beginning that seemed so easy at first suddenly becomes much more difficult. It’s very tempting to abandon that project to jump over to a different one that is far more appealing. That’s when you need to tuck your head down and keep plowing. Likewise, I followed that advice as I finished my undergraduate degree and went on to finish two additional graduate programs. I’ve learned that if I want to get something done, I can do it with hard work and persistence.

But we never had a “hard work and persistence” Family Home Evening. It was more of a Family Home Life lesson. Lessons in that vein aren’t taught in an afternoon. They’re taught over time, through example. I might have first encountered them while raking leaves, but they were confirmed and reinforced as I watched my teacher practice what he preached as he worked long hours day after day to make sure jobs were completed.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson counseled: “We have many avenues for teaching the … rising generation, and we should devote our best thinking and effort to taking full advantage of them. Above all, we must continue to encourage and help parents be better and more consistent teachers … especially by example.”

I’ve heard some in the church wonder how we can keep the rising generation close to the Gospel. There seems to have been quite a few areas where the church has been buffeted lately from outside influences, from the question of gay marriage to women’s rights and beyond. The way some in the church have responded to those influences has left some of the younger members confused and bewildered. I have sat in meetings and read articles that debate why this is happening and what can be done to stop it. Often the proposed solutions involve new programs strengthening existing ones.

In the end, I believe the best solution is to be found in the same source the Church has emphasized for so long: the family. In a family, parents can teach children how to be compassionate followers of Jesus Christ, first with each other, and then with others. I actually think sometimes it’s much more difficult to be understanding, patient, and kind to our immediate family members, compared to people we see less frequently. It’s easier to snap at people who are stuck with us whether they like it or not. Easier for the natural man to rear his ugly head. For the Id to reign supreme. If you can learn how to be respectful to your family, you’re a long way down the road to being respectful to others.

In an ideal situation, all the Gospel principles are taught in a family environment. Children learn about love, mercy, paying tithing, praying for guidance, the Word of Wisdom, healthy living, fasting, and more as they watch their parents apply all those principles day in and day out. They learn how to balance being in the world but not of it, and how to put the theory of the Gospel to work every day.

At the same time, I recognize that this ideal family environment doesn’t exist for all members. In my mind, many of the church auxiliaries (Primary, Young Mens, or Young Womens, for example) exist to help bolster members in these more tenuous environments. Those groups play important functions in the lives of many, but it’s important to remember they are a means to an end, and not the end in and of itself.

What does this mean? It means having a successful Young Men’s program doesn’t mean our Young Men will succeed. Having a thriving Primary with tons of activities doesn’t always equate to children growing up strong in the Gospel. I think each of us knows these things in theory, but when it’s our calling and our responsibility, we sometimes become so laser focused on succeeding and magnifying things that we lose sight of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

I’m reminded of an art project I saw during my freshman year at BYU. I came across one of my friends in the lobby of the Morris Center, standing by a photocopy machine, with sheets of paper scattered around her. The sheets were covered in nonsensical pictures. Giant blurry things that didn’t look like anything at all other than perhaps ink blots.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Art,” she said, as if it were obvious. And when I asked for clarification, she explained that she’d started with a picture from a book, and she was copying it a hundred times on as big of a magnification as the copier would allow, logging the results in order. I studied them, interested. She probably could have stopped after five or six times, honestly. At that point, the picture had already lost all meaning. Everything from then on was just copying abstractions, turning them into slightly different abstractions.

Do our callings ever become like that? Do we ever focus so hard on doing the best for ourselves that we lose track of why we’re supposed to be doing the job in the first place? Remember, brothers and sisters, that there’s a limit to effective magnification. Bigger is certainly not always better, and sometimes restraint is the best choice you can make. Plow the ground all the way to the fence, but stop plowing before you kill your horse.

What does this mean in practice? It means that sometimes we need to let other families’ agency take precedence over our desire to have a successful calling or program. Again I turn to an example I encountered growing up. My family lived about a half hour away from the ward building. Both my parents worked, and my older brother and I both had jobs as well. That was in addition to marching band, jazz band, dixie band, drama, county band, district band, and the school newspaper, to say nothing of our social lives. Navigating our schedule was a trip into dangerous waters.

That did not deter my ward leaders from trying to remind us often how important it was for us to attend our weekly youth meetings. If I could have gotten frequent flyer miles for all the guilt trips I was sent on growing up over the years over that one topic, I’d have racked up quite the stash. My family and I had looked at what we could do and what we couldn’t. We’d come to a decision, and that decision was hardly ever respected. Perhaps I wasn’t privy to all the discussions and facets of that pressure, but I know it has affected my views of Scouting and the youth program of the church to this day.

Those members might have felt they were magnifying their callings, .I’m sure they were acting out of concern and love for me and my siblings. But those magnification settings had been set far too high. They hurt much more than they helped.

I compare that to another teacher I had growing up. Same ward. He was my teachers advisor, as I recall. He taught us every week. They were mostly interesting lessons. He didn’t do really anything outside of class for us, though he took an interest in our lives and what we were doing. He also remembered my birthday one year, making the big trek out to our house to deliver me a birthday present. He didn’t need to do that. It was a simple, kind gesture, and I still remember it all these years later. It made me feel noticed and loved. The magnification there was just right for me.

What’s the right amount for every situation? That’s going to depend on the specifics. Magnification is a lot like eyeglass prescriptions in that way. Each person needs individual attention, or it doesn’t work nearly as well. Thankfully, we have the Spirit to help us navigate through that minefield. That, and open, honest communication with all the parties involved will do wonders. It shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, but simply asking what someone prefers or how they can be helped is often the best first step to providing that tailor made magnification.

But what does all of this have to do with my original topic? In case you’ve forgotten what it is, I started off on a discussion of effective teaching in the home, and now I’ve somehow wandered into a tangent on how to magnify your church calling.

Except it’s not a tangent. Not really. Because the same tailor made approach also applies to parenting, something I’m reminded of on almost a daily basis as my wife and I do our best to raise our kids. The approach that worked wonders with one of them falls flat on its face with another. Teaching and parenting require individual attention. Sometimes it feels to me as if each child is his or her own airplane, and to figure out how to get that airplane to fly, you need to learn a whole new control scheme.

If there is one piece of advice that’s held true for each of my children (beyond following spiritual promptings), it’s the importance of keeping an open, honest flow of communication present. Of putting relationships before lessons. It’s impossible to teach someone who won’t listen, and it’s hard to listen to someone who does nothing but nag. And so I’ve learned to do different things with different kids, depending on what they prefer.

Then again, this doesn’t have to be that complex, either. We can always improve our performance, even on the basic, simple answers. And when I take a look at how I’m doing on those basics, I can get depressed quite quickly.

My family holds Family Home Evening most weeks. We almost always do “Family Business,” where we break down the week for each family member, making sure we’re all on the same page about our schedules and what we have going on. We sometimes have a lesson. We sometimes discuss items that are coming up in our family that need better attention or need to be changed. This has included things like chores, behavior, and bedtimes. We occasionally have treats or activities.

Family prayer is another area where we often fall short. We pray together over meals and at Family Home Evening, but that’s about it. We don’t measure up on scripture study, either. I’ve come up with some scripture study programs and challenges over the years, but they never seem to stick.

So basically, I feel like I’m doing a decent job at teaching by example, and failing to one degree or another in each of the other major teaching areas Brother Durrant touches on in his talk. It’s tempting to throw my hands up in despair and just stop trying. I can’t match up to even the basic ideals. Why bother anymore?

We must remember that perfection is a process. We grow line upon line, as guided by the Spirit. If I want to improve the teaching we’re doing in the home, I can pray to Heavenly Father and ask for guidance and assistance. I know that guidance will come. Sometimes it comes by soft promptings to choose one path over another. Sometimes it comes by being assigned to speak on a subject in Sacrament Meeting. But it always comes if we will listen.

My wife and I have already had a few discussions on how we can improve. Revitalize Family Home Evening. Restart family scripture study. Reinforce family prayer. A big key to success in enduring to the end is always continuing to pick yourself up and try again, confident that next time you’ll do better.

I’m not sure which of these efforts will work better this time, or if any of them will. What I do know is that as we pray and ask God for guidance and help, we will be successful. This is something that became very apparent on my mission. It didn’t take long for me to realize there were many more talented people out there who could be sharing the Gospel every day. People with life experiences and knowledge to answer any question with doctrine. But they weren’t the people out there each day. I was. As I turned to God and asked Him to help me accomplish the task in front of me, I was able to do so much more than I could have on my own.

That promise and that aid doesn’t stop in the mission field. It’s there waiting for us every day, and all we have to do is ask for it, and then make sure we listen to find out what’s next for us to do. I always try to keep in mind that as we strive to do our best, God makes up the difference between what we can do and what’s necessary.

I’ve already said I want to do better with scripture study and family prayer, but I don’t feel too bad about the fact that I haven’t been doing them better until now. Why not? Because I know I’ve been praying and asking God for help and guidance as I’ve raised my children, and the answers I’ve received and followed have not been to stress scripture study and family prayer more. Instead, they’ve been smaller things. Reading with my daughter every night to bolster her confidence. Helping my son with his algebra homework, no matter how tired I am.

I’ve been following the Spirit, and that sometimes leads us to answers that aren’t the cookie cutter Sunday School ones. Not that those aren’t important. They are. But the biggest guiding principle should always be the Spirit. Teaching children can be one of the toughest jobs we get in life, but we don’t have to do it alone. I bear testimony of this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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