12 February 2014

On the Essential

I listened to Elder Richard G. Scott's talk "Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer" this morning on the way to work. I've always thought of him as a gentle, soothing soul (and thus have had a hard time staying awake through his talks). He is both, but he also doesn't cut any punches—kind of a rare combination.

This is what I found interesting in this talk:

"We knew that we would be tested here…. Part of that testing here is to have so many seemingly interesting things to do that we can forget the main purposes for being here. Satan works very hard so that the essential things won't happen…Be wise and don't let good things crowd out those that are essential."

He's right. So many distractions. And not all bad. But we enjoy more leisure and (thus) openness to distraction than has any other era — so, part of our purpose here involves learning to prioritize. In so doing, we identify, deal with or even eliminate those distractions that keep us from the purposes for which we were placed here. (I know someone who likes to say that if we all lived in an agrarian society, this would be so much easier to do! So true...)

I understand why my parents encouraged us to work hard — that lowers distraction. But they also valued the wise use of free time, especially with regard to media/technology. And, listening to this passage from Elder Scott, I now appreciate why:

"Study the things you do in your discretionary time, that time you are free to control. Do you find that it is centered in those things that are of highest priority and of greatest importance? Or do you unconsciously, consistently fill it with trivia and activities that are not of enduring value nor help you accomplish the purpose for which you came to earth? Think of the long view of life, not just what's going to happen today or tomorrow. Don't give up what you most want in life for something you think you want now… "

Not quite comfortable, right? Some people have too much free time; others, like me, are so bad at managing what they have that they fill it with tasks so they don't have to think about it. Leisure time is something I'm pretty good at avoiding, because if I have it I sit down and stare into space and wonder…what should I be doing? Either that or I get on my computer and try to will a new story out of someone else's random blog. And before I know it, I've spent a half hour clicking emptily away.

I have some work to do in that area …

Elder Scott's not saying we can't have fun and relax, unwind. Leisure time, too, is essential. Without it, talents can't be honed, stress can't be relieved, perspective can't be broadened, introspection and the peace of deep breathing can't be entertained. Indeed, I don't think peace can be attained at all without discretionary time. But, as Elder Scott coined it, it's discretionary time. An interesting concept.

His next words get at the gist of what purpose even our discretionary time can/should ultimately fulfill:

"The essential things must be accomplished during your testing period on earth. They must have first priority. They must not be sacrificed for lesser things, even though they are good and worthwhile accomplishments. After this life, you will be restored to that which you have here allowed yourself to become."

A good reminder this morning. And a tall order. But it doesn't need to take place all at once. It starts with awareness, progresses to desire, then effort, culminating in results. Little by little, line upon line, true improvement most often comes. It is often in the incremental that the material is etched into one's mind the most. We're students, after all. Students in a serious subject, but students with a merciful Master teacher.

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