The theme for our talks today was taken from the talk Three Choices, by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin. I thought the title alone sounded really interesting. Then I started reading the talk and in the first few lines Elder Wirthlin says:
I would like to offer my own self-improvement program. It consists of three steps that have been useful to me.
It was like music to my ears, I love self-improvement programs and just three steps, how awesome is that?! Elder Wirthlin goes on to share a story about a young man who found himself homeless and with many addictions. The young man not liking the way his life was going seeks out the help of a bishop. This bishop guides this young man with three basic choices. The first choice the bishop shares is repentance. The second choice is priorities and the third is choosing the right. I chose to focus on the second choice which the bishop presented this way:
“[Y]ou’ll most likely have a rough time if you think you can make yourself perfect all at once. What you must learn is to choose your priorities. You have to put first things first.”
In most cases, growth comes slowly—one step at a time. We understand this when it comes to mastering a musical instrument, becoming an accomplished athlete, or flying a jet aircraft. Yet, we often can scarcely forgive ourselves when we don’t make the progress we expect in all areas of our own lives.
I am not particularly a patient person and, especially, that last line really reminded me of myself, how he says, “we can scarcely forgive ourselves when we don’t make the progress we expect.” As I mentioned at the beginning of my talk I have a thing for self-improvement programs. I have read, I have studied and I have listened to various programs over and over. One of the consistent things in self-improvement programs is learning how to accept and love yourself. For me it was learning how to love myself for who I really am and understanding my value as a child of God.
I have shared before how I received a very clear message in the temple one day that my Heavenly Father and Savior love me. I wish I could say that I after that amazing experience I immediately loved myself as well, but I didn’t. I really had to work at it. One of the things I did was to quantify, or give myself a number on how much I loved myself. The idea was to get to, what one self-improvement book called, the Tipping Point. The Tipping Point is 51 which seemed like a more realistic number to me than 100. Each day I would ask myself how much I loved myself and then write down the first number that popped into my head. When I started doing this the number was 12 which is pretty sad, but that is where I was. It took me years to reach the tipping point of 51. Sometimes I would get stuck at numbers for many weeks and I would have to pray and think of ways to do things that would help me improve that number. It was very exciting for me when I reached the goal of 51. I continued keeping track of that number until I was somewhere in the 80’s and then I didn’t feel the need to keep track any more.
The reason that I tell you this story is because in this process of learning to love myself I did have to learn to put first things first. I had to pay attention to my priorities, but then I also had to act on those priorities. Elder Wirthlin said it this way:
We become masters of our lives in the same way—by focusing on first things first. We all have a pretty good idea of the most important decisions we need to make—decisions that will improve our lives and bring us greater happiness and peace. That is where we should start. That is where we should place our greatest effort.
In asking ourselves where we should start, I think the scriptures is a great place. One of my favorite scriptures is 3 Nephi 13:33 which says:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these thing shall be added unto you.
What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God first? Awhile back, I was thinking about this scripture and I decided to try an experiment focusing on the word “first” in that scripture. When I started my week, I start with Sunday and church first. When I made appointments, I made my Visiting Teaching appointments first. When I paid my bills, I paid my tithing first. Before I did anything else in the morning I prayed first and so on. It was a wonderful experience and I still do many of those things first, but I have let many other things creep in and take first spot. This is where looking at our priorities come in.
In one of my self-improvements books, the author had you write down in order your priorities and then she had you keep track of the hours you spent during the week on different things then compare your hours with your list of priorities to see if your time and priorities actually align. I did this exercise and, unfortunately, my time was not reflecting my true priorities and I had to refocus. But herein lies the problem, you cannot stay on track with your priorities by listing them once and then not looking at them on a consistent basis. This is what the bishop in Elder Worthlin’s talk does:
Each night before I go to bed, I take out a small card and write a list of the things I need to do the next day in order of their priority. When I arrive at the office in the morning, I check my card and put all my efforts into the first item on the list. When I accomplish that item, I move on to the second and so on. Some days, I finish every item on my list. On other days, some tasks are not completed. I don’t become discouraged, however, because I’m focusing my energies on the things that matter most.
After sharing this skill with the young man, he too began to do the same thing, Each night before [he] went to bed, he made a list of the most important things he needed to accomplish the next day.
I appreciated how Elder Wirthlin said that the young man’s list was made of the “most important things.” I am sure those lists included many other things than just work. I wouldn’t be surprised if that bishop’s list included prayer, scripture study, items for his calling as well as his work tasks.
Those that know me know that I love a To Do List, I even got a new to do list app that dings when I check off an item when I have accomplished it. Jim was just asking me the other day what all the dinging was about and I told him about my new app. A few days before that when Kate Arrasmith was over we were being all excited about all the dings as I checked items off my list. What I have come to learn over the years is that my priorities are more than a list, more than things to check off, they are things that I do because I am healthier physically, mentally and spiritually when I accomplish the most important things on my list. Author Nancy R. Gunn from an Ensign article in June of 1980, had this to say:
One of my most difficult struggles as a wife and mother is finding time for all my commitments. But a class I attended recently has helped. The instructor used Section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the revelation given to Emma Smith, to explain a woman’s priorities. Our first responsibility, found in verse two, is to our Heavenly Father as his daughter. We should develop those talents and inclinations that will aid us in our goal of exaltation—we should be “faithful and walk in the paths of virtue before [him].”
I know that putting our relationship with our Heavenly Father first shouldn’t seem like a hard thing to do, but sometimes it is. I have a word that I use that reminds me daily to put the most important things first. The word that I use is “breathe.” Many years ago I was starting to have a lot of anxiety and I would constantly be telling myself, “breathe, Renae, breathe” because with the anxiety I didn’t feel like I could breathe. Then one day I had a full-blown panic attack and I really felt like I couldn’t breathe, so breathing is obviously a priority for me.
Years before the anxiety had started the word “breathe” had popped into my head with an acronym. The most important things in my day come back to this acronym and on the days when I am feeling better, when my unease, anxiety and depression are at bay are the days when I do this first. I’d like to share a little of this acronym with you, such as the first letter, the letter b, stands for be still. This comes from another one of my favorite scriptures, D&C 101:16:
Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.
To fulfill the Be Still category I pray and write in my journal. When I don’t take the time daily to communicate with my Heavenly Father and my own soul I struggle more. The letters go on and I won’t share them all with you, but I call these by Breathe Strategies. It takes me about an hour in the morning to accomplish these strategies and when I do them first in my day, I am more open to my family, friends and the things that my Heavenly Father would have me do. When I do not, as happened this past week, I feel out of sorts and disconnected with my Heavenly Father, those around me and myself.
As the author Nancy Gunn goes on in her article, the counsel to Emma Smith continues with her priorities as second her husband, third her children and her family duties and fourth her church calling.
Elder Wirthlin says:
[C]hoose your priorities. Let your family come first. Hold worthwhile family home evenings. Let the time that you spend with your families be consistent with how important they are. Cherish and nurture family members and never allow busy schedules and frustrations to drive a wedge between you and your loved ones. Strive each day to be more obedient to the Lord’s commandments.
We have never been great at Family Home Evening and family scripture study, we have been more of a hit and miss with that, but I know that we have taken every moment we could to teach our children. When we were driving in the car, a moment at dinner, just before bed and more. Before Taylor left on her mission we got really good at both of these. We started family home evening every week with all the kids including fiancées, who are now their spouses, as well as my mother-in-law comes over and joins us week. During dinner every night while we ate one of us would read a scripture and then we would discuss it until dinner was done. I know we were really trying to help Taylor be more prepared for her mission but it was also a really great experience for all of us.
I want to focus a little on a something the bishop in Elder Worthlin’s story said about his to do list, he said that he puts all his efforts into the first item on [his] list. I don’t know about anyone else, but it is very easy for me to get distracted and eventually I do get everything done, but the key point on this was that he puts all his efforts into the first thing. This reminded me of the scripture in D&C 4:2 which says:
Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.
If we were to put together the ideas of first things first and all our efforts into the first can you imagine the strength and commitment we would have to our Heavenly Father and His kingdom. In Mosiah 7:33 it says:
But if he will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage.
I have a friend who shared with me how she puts the idea of full purpose of heart into practice with her prayers. She prays for 15 minutes imagining herself in her temple dress talking face-to-face with Heavenly Father. From time to time I have tried doing this, and unfortunately, I’m still not very good at it. I was told in a blessing not too long ago to talk to my Heavenly Father in conversation as I do with my husband.
Before I go on, as I mentioned I can easily get distracted with other things to do so I have started using a timer app that I love. I set times for different activities and the app alarm goes off and then tells me which activity is next. This really helps me stay on task and do the most important things first. I decided to use this app with my prayer so I could spend more time praying, stay focused as I pray and to put more time into my prayer. So as I prayed I tried to imagine myself having a conversation with my Heavenly Father and as I prayed things popped into my head. Normally, I would later forget these things, but this time I followed the counsel given in my blessing, if I was talking to Jim and he shared advice with me I would stop and write it down so I wouldn’t forget, so I did this with my prayer. I shared my thoughts and concerns with my Heavenly Father and as things came into my head I took heed of the counsel and wrote it down and then continued on in my prayer. It was a wonderful prayer and I really felt like I was closer to my Heavenly Father. I felt like I had put all my efforts into my communication with him.
So to sum up my thoughts on this talk it really comes down to this:
· Know what your priorities are and find a way to remind yourself of them daily
· Seek ye first the kingdom of God by putting first things first
· Follow those priorities with a full purpose of heart by putting all your effort into the first thing and then the next and so on