Choice and Commitment

Choice and Commitment

Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults

January 12, 2020

I thank my Heavenly Father for the privilege to be with you all tonight. And I want to thank my wife and endorse her remarks. And a special thank you to this marvelous choir. They are one more proof of the value of Institute. I love Institute. I hope all of you who have the opportunity are not only enrolled, but attending and actively participating in Institute. It’s one of the best things we do in the Church. The number that the choir sang a moment ago, some of you may know, is a hymn that was written by President Russell M. Nelson. The words are his, and the feeling and the expression reaches my heart as I trust it does yours. And I express to you his love and his greeting. May I also include a word of appreciation to President Astrid Tuminez and the administration and staff of Utah Valley University for their gracious hospitality on this occasion.

Several years ago, Elder L. Tom Perry and I were on an assignment together in New York City. While there we visited an historic synagogue in Brooklyn. The synagogue was a stately building in a neighborhood that had been, and probably still was, one of the more upscale sections of the borough. The woman who served as rabbi of the Jewish Reform congregation there greeted us cordially and showed us through the historic building. In its prime, it had been an elegant structure, but now it was clearly in need of significant repairs. The rabbi told us that her congregation had declined in numbers and that funds to maintain the synagogue and its programs, including a day school, were inadequate.

As we chatted further, she noted that generally speaking, young adults were committed to their Jewish heritage, but for whatever reason, they were reluctant to join and become committed members of the synagogue. Despite that, they routinely scheduled the building for social activities. It was something of a gathering place for them, and periodically they would often make donations to help cover the costs of using the facilities, but few were willing to become members of the congregation that worshipped there.

Elder Perry and I discussed with the rabbi why this might be so. She noted from her conversations with many of these young adults, most of them single, that they didn’t put a high priority on religion in their lives. Others simply didn’t want to make a commitment to this or any synagogue. Elder Perry wondered if it was a manifestation of the famous (or infamous) “FOMO”—fear of missing out—that if they committed to this, they might miss out on something else.

And this is essentially the subject I would like to talk to you about this evening—choice and commitment.

Let’s observe starting out that “fear of missing out” is, up to a point, a quite rational feeling. Insofar as possible, we all want to experience the best things and reach for the best options in any aspect of life. But to delay seemingly forever making a choice or commitment because it might mean missing out on something else, possibly better, is not rational. Every choice forecloses other possibilities: if you choose to go to work or to school in the morning, you can’t stream a movie on Netflix at the same time (or can you?); if you go to school and major in civil engineering, you will miss majoring in history, or art, or biology, or anything else (unless you never leave school); if you travel to Victoria Falls in Africa now, you cannot travel anywhere else at that same moment, and may miss other places you might want to visit; if you choose to serve a mission, you give up many social activities for that time; and so it goes. But unless you make a choice and commit to a certain direction, your life will be pretty erratic, and in the end, you will in fact miss out on most of the very best things.

As my wife observes from time to time, “You can’t have everything—where would you put it?” We can’t have everything that it would be nice to have, and we can’t do everything that it would be nice or interesting to do. Even if you restrict your choices only to things that are “of good report or praiseworthy,”1 you still cannot have or experience everything. There is simply not enough time, means, or space in any one life in mortality. And so, we must commit to particular choices knowing that by so doing, we necessarily forgo others, good though they may be. We should also bear in mind that unduly delaying a choice can itself constitute a choice.

Marriage is a prime example. By choosing one partner, we forgo all others. The Lord says, “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.”2 Because of the finality of the choice, some resist a commitment to someone they are very fond of, someone they love and with whom they could progress happily and eternally, worried that there may be an even more perfect soulmate somewhere that they wouldn’t want to miss. I remember one such young man years ago in my acquaintance who rejected a wonderful potential partner because he thought she had too many dental fillings. My reaction was you want a perfection that does not exist, and by the way, have you stopped to think that you are nowhere near being a perfect choice yourself?

This is a gathering of young adults. And for most of you, the emphasis is on adult. You have or are pursuing adult responsibilities, adult achievements, and adult contributions, as opposed to delaying adulthood and pursuing the perpetual party. Ten years ago, author and scholar Charles Murray spoke about the meaning of “a life well-lived.” He said, “I’m talking about the kinds of things that we look back upon when we reach old age and let us decide that we can be proud of who we have been and what we have done.”3

Murray recalled speaking to an audience in Zurich about the deep satisfactions that come from a life well-lived. He said, “After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase ‘a life well-lived’ did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling. It was fascinating,” said Murray, “to hear it said to my face, but not surprising. … That mentality goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.”4

At the end of his remarks, Murray made this perceptive statement: “Age-old human wisdom has understood that a life well-lived requires engagement with those around us.”5 True adults understand this. They recognize that personal pleasure never works as the focus of life and cannot suffice as the purpose of life. This truth underlies the two great commandments: to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.6 As Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”7 The gospel covenant,8 with its promise of eternal life, rests on these two great commandments in the priority order given: first and second. Loyalty to these two great commandments defines a life well-lived and what it means to be an adult.

In the end, there is no neutral, uncommitted path to follow, at least when it comes to things of eternal consequence. Alma made this point when he taught that Christ, the Good Shepherd, calls us to follow Him in the path of discipleship and happiness:

“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; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.

“And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this?”9

Alma is teaching the reality that there are only two options, and that Christ is the only good alternative. If you are not choosing Christ, you are automatically following a false god, an erroneous path leading to eventual and even eternal disappointment, to say the least. So, unless you follow the Savior, you are rejecting Him.10

Knowing this, we should feel no reluctance to commit to the Lord and seek to become one with Him. As He prayed at the Last Supper for His apostles and all who would believe on their words, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”11 Isn’t that where we want to be? Why then hesitate in becoming fully and unreservedly committed? Why hold back in taking His yoke upon us, knowing that his “yoke is easy, and [his] burden is light”?12

Fear of Failure

Answering my own question, I can see that despite the logic and despite the pleadings of the Spirit as it strives with us, there are a couple of reasons that one might still feel some reluctance. One is a concern about our ability to keep such a far-reaching commitment. Can we really follow through, and would we be better off not committing if we might fail?

This is an understandable concern, but in response I would note that in a very important sense, you have already crossed that bridge. When in the premortal world you chose to accept the plan of salvation and exaltation, prepared by the Father and championed by the Son, you chose Christ. Your physical birth is testament to the fact that you already committed. You kept your “first estate,”13 and now the question is will you keep that commitment in this “second estate” and “have glory added upon [your] heads for ever and ever”?14 We should not be afraid to reaffirm our premortal commitment, especially when we consider how miserable the alternative is.

And we need not live in fear of failure. We are not alone. We are not without help. Anyone who truly does commit to Christ, to full discipleship, cannot fail. If we are bound to Him who descended below all things, who overcame all things, and who now has all power, we cannot fail.15 Our Heavenly Father and Savior are not simply disinterested observers curious to see if things will work out for us or not. Can you imagine them looking down from heaven saying, “Look at Sam. He messed up last time he faced a situation like this, and two-bits says he’ll do it again,” or “Hey, look. Sandra’s friends have put her in a real bind. It’s going to be interesting to see if she can work her way out of this one.” Of course, that’s ridiculous. They are actively involved on our side, providing constant help, guidance, and resources, and would probably give us more if we would accept it.

I said earlier that when we honor the covenants that bind us to Christ and His power, we cannot fail. That is true in the end, but I acknowledge that at times, all of us experience failures—our own mistakes and sins, and the impact that the mistakes and sins of others sometimes have on us. But with the gifts of repentance and forgiveness, all of these failures and failings are at best temporary. None of them can deprive us of eternal life without our acquiescence. Why? Because when we do what we can to recover, we have access to the grace of Christ to resolve and repair anything that we cannot. Remember, the atoning power or grace of Christ not only takes away the guilt of sin and error, but it also sanctifies and makes us holy beings, capable of living in the presence of God.16

Now, I’m not saying that all this is easy. You know as well as I do that life is full of struggles and some very hard things, even tragedies. And being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ is much easier said than done. It was far from easy for Jesus to be a disciple of His Father and to drink His “bitter cup.”17 But He did it, and He knows how to help us successfully walk the path of discipleship. In addition, the Savior has the power and the willingness to help. He will stay with us with as much help as we need and as long as it takes. He says, “Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.”18 Fear of failure is no reason not to make a full and complete commitment to Christ. Just keep repenting and doing your best to be good—that will be enough.

Sacrifice

I can think of one other reason that a person might be reluctant to answer the call of the Good Shepherd and join His fold: fear of the sacrifice that may be entailed. You all remember the young man who asked Jesus, in all sincerity, “What lack I yet?” to qualify for eternal life.19 Mark tells us that “Jesus beholding him loved him” [I think that’s significant], “and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”20 You remember the response: “And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.”21

I hope that on reflection, this rich young man had a change of heart and later accepted the Savior’s invitation. In any case, we all recognize that committing to Christ will involve sacrifice. One thing to be sacrificed will be the “fear of missing out” because we know we will in fact miss out on many things. So many options in life are incompatible with discipleship, and even many good things may be foreclosed by the demands that discipleship makes on our time and resources for things that are better or best.

The earnest young adult that asked the Savior, “What lack I yet?” is dead. Whatever riches he had probably don’t exist anymore, and in any case, he does not have them, nor does he have any use for them. As much a sacrifice as it may have seemed to him at the time, did he have a better option than accepting the Master’s invitation? Could anything he had or might have acquired with his riches compare with what the Lord was ultimately offering him? We know that anything the Savior asks of us, including our very lives, is trivial in comparison to exaltation. We can’t even imagine: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”22

Rather than fear the sacrifices of discipleship, we should welcome the opportunity to grow in spiritual power, to experience deeper joy, and to find, each of us, real meaning in our life. Sacrifice, especially sacrifice in the cause of Christ, denotes seriousness—we truly are going to keep the two great commandments to love God and neighbor. Sacrifice means that we really will do some good in the world.

Loving our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son with heart, might, mind, and strength confirms to our souls what and who we are. That gives us a kind of security that enables us to stop focusing just on ourselves and to look outward, to see others truly—their needs and the reality they face, with a desire to understand and help them. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite saw the wounded traveler on the side of the road, but they didn’t really see him. Only the Samaritan truly saw the wounded stranger, and as a result “he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds.”23 So many feel persistent loneliness. Surely our sacrifices can make a difference.

Commitment

The overarching commitment that guarantees joy here and hereafter is the commitment to God our Eternal Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Omni we find this eloquent plea:

“I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.”24

The story is told of a father who put his little boy to bed, and as he left the bedroom heard a thud. Going back, he saw his son on the floor and asked how he had fallen out of bed. The boy replied, “I didn’t get all the way in.” Be sure in your commitment to God you get all the way in.

You are part of the body of Christ.25 You belong. Be all in, giving and receiving freely. Truly see those around you and be seen so that yours will be a life well-lived, a life of ministering, blessing, and satisfaction. A life blessed and sanctified by the Savior who has overcome all things and by whose grace you will also overcome all things.

Last summer’s Pioneer Day concert by the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square featured the very talented Norwegian singer Sissel. The audience, myself included, was deeply moved by her reverent rendition of a song titled “Slow Down” that called to mind the scripture from Psalms, “Be still, and know that I am God.”26

I would like to play the video recording of Sissel singing on that occasion, and as you listen, I ask you to ponder the message that we can have complete trust in God and in His wondrous love and willingness to bless and sustain us come what may. And ponder the sacredness of committing your life and yourself to Him come what may.

In the midst of my confusion

In the time of desperate need

When I am thinking not too clearly

A gentle voice does intercede

Slow down, slow down, be still

Be still and wait, on the Spirit of the Lord

Slow down and hear His voice

And know that He is God

In the time of tribulation

When I’m feeling so unsure

When things are pressing in about me

Comes a gentle voice so still, so pure

Slow down, slow down, be still, my child

Be still and wait, on the Spirit of the Lord

Slow down and hear His voice

And know that He is God

And know that He is God27

Slow down. Make up your mind and settle it in your heart that you choose God. Find the quiet time when you can kneel down in a private place and say to your Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, that you are His, that you are committed, body and soul, to Him, His Son, and the gospel path. Then follow where He leads, now and for the rest of your life. Don’t hesitate or hold back any longer but get on with your purpose and mission in life. Mortality is so short. Make this time count so that your eternity will be one of joy, not regret. Do you not feel the Spirit telling you that this is right? And go forward with confidence.

I promise you that the Lord’s reward for your giving all will be all that He has to give, “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.”28 The reality of His resurrection is proof that He has all power, that He can deliver what He has promised, and that He does deliver. He is life, and He is come that we might have life and “have it more abundantly”.29 I tell you as one who knows that Jesus Christ is the resurrected Redeemer. That fact makes all the difference in the world and in eternity. I offer you His blessing and my witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.