Accepting Your Own Sacrifice

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The first time I was called to teach Seminary, I was a young attorney slaving away at the Dallas office of a large law firm. I accepted the assignment (can’t remember if teaching seminary was a calling or assignment at the time—we really need a revelation to sort that one out) with an enthusiasm that was only exceeded by my ignorance of how much time Seminary would require of me.

It was important to me to do the job well, which meant hours of reading, pondering, and preparing outlines. Combined with 60-hour work weeks, commuting, and two small girls at home, I was left with about 4 hours of sleep each night. That worked out just fine for maybe a month, and then my mind and body started asserting themselves. Nothing too bad: Falling asleep in meetings. Falling asleep at lunch. Falling asleep on the freeway. No cause for alarm.

A couple of months into my Church-induced sensory deprivation chamber, I was doing nothing well. My work was slipping. My lessons were a mess. People were honking at me all the time. By trying to do everything, I was accomplishing nothing, and I compounded my problems by beating myself up about it. Like many members of the Church, guilt is one of my strong suits.

Around this time I was in a priesthood meeting, struggling not to nod off (a challenge under the best of circumstances) when a good friend shared a story that contained the best advice I’ve ever received in the Church. He recounted a time when he was given a significant calling that he felt he did not have enough time to do the “right way,” and he was feeling terrible about it. During an interview with a high councilman (I think—ever since I became a High Priest I can’t remember details about anything), that issue came up, and he confessed his woeful inadequacy.

“Well, how much time do you reasonably think you have each week to spend on your calling.” he was asked. My friend thought for a bit and then gave him a number. “Then, why don’t you give that amount of time and feel good about it?”

Wait a second. Feel good about it? That’s not how the Church works. We magnify our callings. We seek first the Kingdom of God. We go the extra mile. We put our shoulder to the wheel, doing our duty with a heart full of song. Even our pioneer children walked, and walked and walked and walked. What kind of madness is doing what you can and feeling good about it?

Never did any story in priesthood come with more power to the heart of a sleepy soul than this did at the time to mine. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed to do what he could and feel good about it, I did. For how to act I did not know….well, you get the picture. I thought about it a lot. Then I decided to do something about it.

I went to the Lord in prayer and offered Him a deal. I would give what time I reasonably had each week to prepare my lessons. If that was an hour for each lesson, I would do it. If it was 15 minutes, I would do it. If it was trying to remember something I’d read the night before while driving to the chapel, I would do it. Just so long as the Lord would make something out of whatever sacrifice I offered. And then I would feel good about the fifteen minutes I prepared rather than feeling guilty about the sixteenth minute that was lost because a diaper needed changing.

For the most part, it actually worked. Not every lesson was great, but that is always the case when you are teaching every day. I found that it was easier to feel the Spirit when I wasn’t drowning him out with my self-recriminations. Sometimes my most rushed preparations turned into wonderful lessons. And most importantly, I brought balance back to my personal Force. Earning a living is important. So is being a dad. So is meeting your obligations at Church. Trying to give all of your time to every important thing in your life just doesn’t work.

What I learned was that the Lord is often willing to accept and honor our sacrifices even when we think they are entirely inadequate. His grace is sufficient to bridge the gap between what we can offer and what needs to be done. Trying to bridge it by our own efforts, running faster than we have strength, isn’t in the game plan. As Elder Eyring has taught, the Lord has the ability to multiply our efforts, and we should not feel guilty about asking Him to do so.

Doing what you can and feeling good about it was wonderful advice, and I’ve tried to share it with anyone that will stand still long enough to hear it. Our callings should be fulfilling, uplifting, and enriching. If we aren’t finding a way to feel good about what we are doing, then we are likely doing something wrong.

Or trying too hard to do something right.

California Native. Texas lawyer. Long-time Mormon. Zen master wannabe. Confident that Mormonism is about more than casseroles and plodding music, and insisting that the Gospel isn't as hard as some people make it.