I took art classes throughout High School, more because my older brothers did than because I have any natural artistic ability. I was never able to tap into the creativity necessary to produce original ideas, but I did discover an important tool, one that allowed me to succeed in my artistic endeavors—references.
Learning to Use a Reference
I usually painted from photographs, against which I constantly compared my own work to match angles, colors and shadows. If I couldn’t quite get it right, I asked my art teacher what I needed to change to match the reference. Did I have the right brush? Was I missing an important technique? Were my colors right?
Having a reference, and the guidance of one much wiser and more experienced than myself, allowed me to create art. My paintings were far from a perfect replication of the original, but they were clearly after the manner of the reference.
The Lord has set this up as an eternal pattern as well. He wants us to use references in order to succeed in all of life’s endeavors.
Nephi repeatedly reminds his reader that he built a ship after the manner the Lord showed him, going to the mount often to learn this model.
After separating from the Lamanites, Nephi and his people had to build a new life. To do so, they used models or references.
In 2 Nephi chapter 5 Nephi describes a few of those models.
- They built swords after the manner of Laban’s sword.
- They built a temple after the manner of Solomon’s temple.
- They built their lives after the manner of happiness.
In their protection and industry, their architecture and worship, and their very lives, they used references. In doing so, they intentionally built after the manner of the finest workmanship of man and God.
Whether we realize it or not, we are building our lives, careers, homes, talents and hobbies after the manner of references.
Perhaps we keep a home just the way our mom did. Perhaps we run a classroom just like a favorite teacher did. Perhaps we plan a birthday party just like an unknown stranger on Pinterest did. Or perhaps we involve our kids in activities just like all our friends do.
Without realizing it, we are always looking around and taking cues about how we should be living our lives.
If we are not aware and intentional, we will build our lives after the manner of the latest trend or idolized friends, and it’s easy to become like a ship tossed to and fro by the winds of the sea without course or direction.
There are many worthwhile references in the world, and we seek after all things that are virtuous and lovely. But we must be careful to follow the specific references God gives us so that we, like Nephi, can say, “I did not build the ship [or my family, or my life, or my faith] after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me.”
Our Eternal Reference
The Lord has given us many references, the greatest of which is His own life.
We are to build our families after the manner of the Proclamation to the World. We are to fulfill callings in the Church after the manner of the Handbook of Instruction. We are to build our faith after the manner modeled in the scriptures and taught by the Prophets.
Most importantly, and all encompassing, to His Nephite disciples Jesus asked, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” He then commanded them to be “even as [He] is.”
The Savior is our greatest and most important reference.
We take upon ourselves His name, but are we truly living our lives after the manner of the Savior? Are we taking time to intentionally compare each thought, action and decision against our divine reference?
If we can’t quite match our lives to our perfect reference, we should be seeking the guidance of the Holy Ghost to teach us what to change. Do we have an incorrect idea? Is there a habit we need to start or one we need to let go? Do we need to reevaluate the balance of activities in our lives?
If we do this, we are given the beautiful promise that “when [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like Him.” We will certainly be imperfect versions of His divinity, but it should be clear that we have lived our lives after the manner of His.