In 1988, after graduating from university studies, my wife and I moved our small family to Los Angeles. Everything seemed bright and exciting, and we felt like we were beginning a new life with a real adult job. I had graduated with a finance degree and I was excited to begin my new career in the investment business. After a few months, and as things settled in, I became more and more confident in my new responsibilities. One morning, I had scheduled an important review meeting with one of my clients, a successful cardiologist. When I arrived, I was told that he was visiting with a patient and was not available. I became frustrated as the wait became longer and longer. I was full of self-importance, and began murmuring that I wasn't just a patient, but was there on important business in regard to my client's financial future. Finally, my doctor client came rushing in. He was out of breath and apologized for being late, explaining that he had been working with a patient who had been severely hemorrhaging. Because of the patient's religious orientation, he could not give him a blood transfusion. He explained that the patient was now stabilized and that essentially, he had just saved his life. He then asked what I had for him. I was completely deflated and humbled. What just a few minutes before had seemed so important, now seemed trivial. I gave him the investment presentation. On the drive home, I began to question my chosen profession. I began to question why I was spending my time talking with individuals about their "filthy lucre" when others were spending their time saving lives? I was not convinced that I really wanted to spend the rest of my life trying to build people's wealth. Over the next few months, I painfully evaluated my life, asking our Heavenly Father for direction and guidance on what my career path should be. I wondered if I should do something more meaningful with my life. I considered the alternative possibility of pursuing a career as a doctor or as a teacher.
One day, while driving on the freeway, the windows of revelation opened, and I was taught. I was reminded that I had been entrusted with two primary responsibilities. To nurture the family God had blessed me with and to serve as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I was taught clearly that His disciples, His servants, are needed as investment managers, accountants, construction supervisors, plumbers and in many other professions. I understood that there would be individuals in each of these areas that needed the association of a witness of Christ and His gospel. I was reminded that my identity was as a son of God, who had been given a valuable gift of an eternal perspective and that I had a responsibility to share that gift with others. Accordingly, the primary purpose of my life was not to be an investment portfolio manager. I realized I could lead a purposeful life as a disciple of Christ in any profession.
This reminder, this slight change in perspective, helped to form a lifetime of purpose for me.
I discovered that it is very easy to lose this focus and perspective. Some individuals begin associating their identity with their profession. When asked what they "do", they immediately default to what they do... to make money. Others seem to entirely lack direction. They step on the "moving walkway" of life. Letting life live them rather than living their life with purpose and direction.
It reminds me of how children are when they first begin to play soccer. At first, the primary motivation is to just kick the ball. Their heads are down and focused on the ball. They run into others, stand in a large circle, and swing away with their feet, and at times even kick the ball the wrong direction. Scoring is less of an issue, kicking the ball is primary. If we are not careful, we can live our lives the same way, endlessly kicking the ball of life without purpose or direction.
In George Bernard Shaw's words: "This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no 'brief candle' to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations."
So, then the question becomes "What are some simple things that we can do to live a purposeful life, to essentially resist kicking the ball without purpose?"
I would like to share some ideas in this regard.
I believe it is essential to deeply understand who we are as children of God.
The adversary of joy desires to separate God from His children. A tool in his arsenal is to influence us to identify us as something other than a child of God. This begins at an early age. We allow others to place labels on us, and accordingly we begin to define ourselves in roles consistent with these labels. We begin to play the part. We become cowboys, preps, nerds, gamers or athletes. If we are not careful, these labels can extend to our tendencies and weaknesses. Couch potatoes or alcoholics. Behaviors consistent with those labels then follow. We see an example of this early in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. "And he (Adam) said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."
Satan wanted Adam and Eve to feel not only that they had done something bad...or guilty, but to feel that they were bad, shameful of who they were. He wanted them to feel less than worthy to be in God's presence and therefore to feel fear, to hide, and to separate themselves from their Father in Heaven.
As children of God, we have inherited divine characteristics that can be nurtured and developed within us in marvelous ways. As we follow God and keep our covenants, we have been promised eternal life with a fullness of joy. This joy comes as we connect our lives with Him. A healthy connection with family and community follows.
Elder L. Whitney Clayton taught “Our connection with heaven is the most valuable blessing we have and the most important one we can secure. It strengthens every other worthy connection in our lives.” (Senior President of the Presidency of the Seventy Apr. 21, 2016 • Commencement)
It is by divine design that the first principal taught by full-time missionaries in the first lesson is that we are children of a loving Father in Heaven. Once we truly begin to understand this relationship, faith-building actions such as prayer, scripture study, and making and keeping sacred covenants becomes much more natural. By then repeating these simple acts regularly and continually in our lives, we draw closer to our Father and our understanding of who we truly are deepens. With a true and deep understanding of our role as God's children, comes purpose and direction in our mortal journey. This can and should be a vision for all of us.
Elder Tad R. Callister taught: “Why is it so critical to have a correct vision of this divine destiny of godliness of which the scriptures and other witnesses so clearly testify? Because with increased vision comes increased motivation.”
Second, we must continue to understand and to be reminded of God's plan for His children, essentially to be spiritually reminded of God's bigger picture for us.
Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral in London after a historic fire had leveled most of the city in 1666.
During the rebuilding process, Wren famously observed three bricklayers. Wren asked each bricklayer the same question: “What are you doing?’
The initial bricklayer he approached responded with “I’m working.” The second said, “I’m building a wall.” The response of the third bricklayer was different. “I’m building a cathedral to The Almighty,” he said.
Without a true understanding of God's plan for us, we can become consumed with daily urgencies. Over time this can lead to our becoming weary and disillusioned.
The life of the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, illustrates this point. Leo Tolstoy had a rocky youth. His parents died when he was about 13. Educated by his older brothers in the ways of alcohol, gambling, and promiscuity, Leo was less than diligent in his studies. At the age of 22, he began to feel that his life lacked real purpose, and he wrote in his journal, “I am living like a beast.” Two years later he wrote, “I am 24 years old and I still have done nothing.” Tolstoy’s dissatisfaction motivated him to begin a lifelong quest to find, mostly through trial and error, the purpose of his life—the why. Before he died at the age of 82, he concluded in his journal, “‘The whole meaning and joy of life,’ … lay in the search for perfection and understanding God’s will”
With a firm, spiritually implanted vision of God's will and plan for us, we can then set our course and maintain perspective. This is a beautiful blessing of the restored gospel and the knowledge it brings. Rather than a life of drudgery, our lives become one of exhilarating purpose. We can be more clearly able to feel the joy that God intended us to experience.
President Russel M. Nelson taught: “When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation,… and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy. Every day that you and I choose to live celestial laws, every day that we keep our covenants and help others to do the same, joy will be ours.” Russell M. Nelson, Joy and Spiritual Survival, October 2016
I have found that purposeful participation in the sacrament each week can be one of the most influential elements in maintaining a perspective of God's plan.
Sister McCune and I were called in 2012 to preside over the Utah Provo Mission. At the time, the Provo Mission encompassed over 160 stakes. We attended a few stake conferences, often visiting more than one stake each weekend. In addition, during the first few months of the mission, special Priesthood Leadership Conferences were held in the area. During these conferences, we were often blessed to participate with members of the Twelve. You can imagine the blessing of participating each week with wonderful saints in a stake conference setting and the marvelous experience of regularly being with members of the Twelve. Yet, during this time period, Sister McCune and I noticed that we had begun to struggle spiritually. We visited at length. We confirmed our worthiness, our love of the Savior, and our desire to serve Him full-time. We continued to struggle for some weeks until we had a Sunday during the holidays when we did not have a conference. As we participated in our own ward's meeting and partook of the sacrament, we both had a profound spiritual experience. We realized what had occurred. As wonderful as it was to serve a full-time mission and participate with our leaders, it paled in comparison to the renewal of our covenants with the Savior Jesus Christ through the sacred personal ordinance of the sacrament. This was a reminder that the sacrament is the one ordinance we repeat for us, each individually covenanting that we are willing to take the Savior's name upon us, to remember Him, and to keep His commandments. In turn, we are promised that we will always have His Spirit to be with us.
If we are to maintain purpose, it is essential that we keep the Savior at the center of our lives.
President Russell M. Nelson taught “Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy…How then, can we claim joy? We can start by “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” “in every thought.” We can give thanks for Him in our prayers and by keeping covenants we’ve made with Him and our Heavenly Father…As our Savior becomes more and more real to us and as we plead for His joy to be given to us, our joy will increase” (President Russell M. Nelson, Joy and Spiritual Survival, October 2016)
In a rapidly changing and confusing world, intent focus on Jesus Christ and His role as our Savior and Redeemer provides us with perspective and purpose. He is Light and He is Truth. "Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body? Alma 5:15 "Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ... Alma 5:38 "And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. Mosiah 15:8"
Our lives, our progression, our purpose, only has true meaning because of Him, His life, His truths, and His infinite sacrifice for us, through which our lives gain eternal significance.
Fourth, a diligent and consistent focus on the small and simple things, will help us to maintain purpose in our life.
In President Eyring's words “My experience has taught me this about how people and organizations improve: the best place to look is for small changes we could make in things we do often. There is power in steadiness and repetition…consistent obedience will bring great improvement.” (President Eyring, The Lord Will Multiply The Harvest)
Our challenge is that when we see a wonderful family or a financially successful person or a spiritual giant, we don’t see all the small and simple acts that produce them. We watch elite athletes, but we don’t see the years of daily training that made them champions. We go to the store and buy a loaf of bread, but we don’t see the planting of the seed and the careful cultivating and harvesting. We look at President Nelson and see his great energy, we see our other leaders' spiritual strength and goodness, but what we don’t see are the simple, daily disciplines repeated over and over again. These things are easy to do, but they are also easy not to do—especially because the results are not instantaneous. One of the great challenges of our day, a day in which everything seems immediate and at our fingertips, is that true development of character takes time and consistent, daily effort.
A scriptural example is the great hero Moroni. His strength and leadership came not because of extensive gym time, but because of spiritual understanding that came through diligent study of the gospel. "And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man, he was a man of a perfect understanding;...Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people..." Alma 48:11,12
What made Moroni great was everything that he did when no one was looking.
Let me provide a more secular example. In order to turn around the trajectory and miserable performance of professional cycling in Great Britain, the governing British Cycling Organization hired Dave Brailsford as its new performance director. At the time, professional cyclists in Great Britain had endured nearly one hundred years of mediocrity. Since 1908, British riders had won just a single gold medal at the Olympic Games, and they had fared even worse in cycling’s biggest race, the Tour de France. In 110 years, no British cyclist had ever won the event. What made him different from previous coaches was his relentless commitment to a strategy that he referred to as “the aggregation of marginal gains,” which was the philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. Brailsford said, “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”
Brailsford and his coaches began by making small adjustments you might expect from a professional cycling team. They redesigned the bike seats to make them more comfortable and rubbed alcohol on the tires for a better grip. They asked riders to wear electrically heated overshorts to maintain ideal muscle temperature while riding and used biofeedback sensors to monitor how each athlete responded to a particular workout. The team tested various fabrics in a wind tunnel and had their outdoor riders switch to indoor racing suits, which proved to be lighter and more aerodynamic. But they didn’t stop there. Brailsford and his team continued to find 1 percent improvements in overlooked and unexpected areas. They tested different types of massage gels to see which one led to the fastest muscle recovery. They hired a surgeon to teach each rider the best way to wash their hands to reduce the chances of catching a cold. They determined the type of pillow and mattress that led to the best night’s sleep for each rider. They even painted the inside of the team truck white, which helped them spot little bits of dust that would normally slip by unnoticed but could degrade the performance of the finely tuned bikes.
As these and hundreds of other small improvements accumulated, the results came faster than anyone could have imagined.
Britain won seven out of 10 track cycling gold medals in Beijing in 2008 and then matched this performance again in London in 2012. British cycling has now remarkably also recorded winners of the Tour de France.
In words taught to Joseph Smith in the Liberty Jail, we read "Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things. You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves." Doctrine and Covenants Section 123:15-16
After his discourse on small and simple things and referring to the scriptures, Alma in teaching his son Helaman taught of the marvelous but simple act of looking into the Liahona. He spoke of the importance of consistency and the exercise of faith daily.
He then shared this vitally important principle with his son. "For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever." Alma 37:44, 46 In order to keep our life purposeful, we must learn to avoid distractions.
I think we can all easily identify with obviously detrimental and negative distractions. I would like to discuss for a moment those distractions that do not seem obvious. These seemingly harmless distractions will lead to less than purposeful life. To explain further, I would like to use an element from Lehi's and Nephi's vision of the Tree of Life. "And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations, and the pride of the children of man....." 1 Nephi 12:18
Let's look at this term "vain imaginations" for a moment. We all can understand that vain means excessive pride. According to the dictionary, "vain" also means “Marked by futility or ineffectualness; unsuccessful, useless, having no real value: idle, worthless.”
Now let's look at the term imagination. The act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality, a creation of the mind, fanciful or empty assumption. Combining these two terms then leads us to the conclusion that vain imaginations are things perpetuated by the world that form a mental image of things that are not real and have no real value. Actions like comparing, unrighteous competition, and bullying are all forms of vain imaginations.
You could say that anything that does not lead one to do good or really anything that distracts us in our role as children of God is a vain imagination. These distractions, although interesting or attractive in the moment, lead to paths full of disappointment, even eventually to disillusionment and a lack of joy. May we all avoid the clarion call of vain imaginations and focus on the Savior Jesus Christ and His gospel.
May I now summarize these simple ideas of how we can live a life full of purpose.
1. Understanding our role as one of God's children on the earth
2. Understanding God's plan for us, His children
3. Centering our lives on Christ
4. Focusing on the small and simple things
5. Avoiding distractions, vain imaginations of the world
In closing, I would like to share this poem by Jessie Rittenhouse:
I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store;
For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have paid.
Jessie B. Rittenhouse (1869 – 1948)
May we see our lives the way that our Father in Heaven sees our lives. I pray that we might live our lives with purpose.
I witness that God lives. Jesus Christ is our Savior, our Redeemer, our Advocate with the Father.
In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.