“Keeping Our Balance: Recognizing and Resisting Excesses in Our Efforts to Live the Gospel,” Ensign, June 1983, 11
Late in April 1981 the world’s first space shuttle was fired into orbit and for two days circled the earth, undergoing the first of several experiments to test how well she would perform on her own.
We waited anxiously for Columbia’s re-entry and landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The precision of this landing was remarkable. Traveling 18,000 miles per hour, the space shuttle descended through the atmosphere, slowed to the proper speed, and then landed perfectly on a runway a few hundred yards wide and a few miles long—a mere speck on our planet.
In a sense, our journey from our existence as spirit children of eternal parents, through earthly experiences, and finally back to celestial realms, is like the voyage of the Columbia. While on this journey we need to gain the kind of experience and knowledge that enable us to make it back to God—to perform in a manner that will lead us to our eternal potential. Everything we do here has an impact on how and where we land there.
Sadly, our re-entry into eternal spheres will find many of us missing the mark, some in the telestial world, some in the terrestrial world. But some will touch down in the celestial world. This kind of landing, I think, depends largely on our ability to achieve inspired balance in our lives.
The Columbia performed well because it did not suffer from any major imbalances. Guided by experts, the Columbia happily achieved just the right balance in speed, direction, and timing to enter space, perform flawlessly, and return safely. But as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our guidance is infinitely more sure because it comes from God, the author of our spiritual salvation. In our mortal journey, we have been given the scriptures and the Spirit as guides, and prophets to lead us. As the Lord’s mouthpiece, President Spencer W. Kimball reminds us how to secure our salvation.
As plain and direct as a prophet’s counsel is, however, we sometimes tend to get sidetracked. Some members wish to follow the Prophet when convenient, but ignore him when sacrifice or deeper commitment is required. Some, forgetting the simplicity of the gospel, may over-emphasize one part to the neglect of another. Others may complicate the guidance given them, blurring the plainness of divine directives and losing their sense of spiritual balance. Some even fall prey to rumor, fanaticism, distorted virtues, misplaced values, and shallow religious commitment.
When I was a small boy, my mother read bedtime stories to me. One of my favorites was about “Chicken Little,” who, while exploring his immense world one day, felt something hit him on the head. Frightened, Chicken Little concluded that there was big trouble in the world and widely announced with evident concern the scary news “the sky is falling.”
Chicken Little got the word to Foxie Loxie, Goosie Loosie, Turkey Lurkee, and several others, starting an avalanche of alarm that spread through the barnyard and the surrounding forest. Panic continued to build until the arrival of Hennie Pennie, a wise old hen and the mother of Chicken Little. Knowing what actually had happened, she managed to calm the animals, assuring everyone that Chicken Little had been hit with an acorn and everyone could relax—the sky was not falling after all. What a relief!
My experience has convinced me that many human beings are vulnerable to speculations, and Latter-day Saints are by no means immune to the problem. “Have you heard?” “Do you know?” “If you promise to keep a secret, I’ll tell you what I learned!” Such attention-getters are guaranteed to claim our immediate interest. What usually follows is hearsay, ranging from speculation about who the next bishop or stake president will be to the timing of the Millennium.
Fortunately, we don’t live in a “Chicken Little” environment. The prophets counsel us with great care. Full of faith and hope, they know God and share with us his inspiration. Furthermore we can verify the source of that inspiration at any given time by listening to the Spirit. Sadly, I’ve noticed that some of us are prone to excesses in many varieties. For example, some of us eat excessively, while others ignore healthful nutrition. Some sleep too much, others not enough. Some ignore proper body care and conditioning, while others almost worship the physical body. Certainly we must gain all the new information we can in matters dealing with the health and care of our bodies, but I believe the Lord expects us to use wisdom and common sense. The key words are balance and moderation—thoughtfully applying all the truths one knows, not just a big emphasis on one of them.
Balance plays an important part in recreation and entertainment. It is true that all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy, but Johnny becomes a playboy if he insists on recreation at the expense of his responsibilities to family, work, and spiritual development. A person may neglect family, or through a poor example encourage children to value entertainment and material possessions above work or concern for their fellow beings.
Another area of imbalance has to do with the virtues we seek to integrate into our lives. Our thirteenth article of faith reads in part, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” [A of F 1:13] Many virtues are defined by the proper balance between excess and deficiency. For example, if we spend too much, we are spendthrifts. If we are stingy, we are Scrooges. If we laugh too much, we are buffoons; if we seldom laugh, we are dull. If we talk too much, we are bores; if we say too little, we are sullen.
The desired virtue is a balance of these excesses and deficiencies. Some virtues are complete in themselves and do not require a search for balance. For example, we are obedient to the commandments or we are not. There is no virtue in immorality. Even the least degree of unchastity is sin. The commandments are clear: obedience is still heaven’s first law.
Yet, during much of our journey in mortality we find it necessary to seek for balance, for moderation, which has a strong bearing on whether we actually live a life characterized by goodness.
President Joseph F. Smith said this of moderation: “The Saints should not be unwise, but rather understand what the will of the Lord is, and practice moderation in all things. They should avoid excesses and cease from sin, putting far from them ‘the lusts of men’; and in their amusements and pastimes adopt a course that looks to the spirit as well as the letter, the intention and not the act alone, the whole and not the part, which is the meaning of moderation. In this way their conduct will be reasonable and becoming, and they shall find no trouble in understanding the will of the Lord.” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 239.)
Many of us have difficulty finding a balance between self-deprecation and pride. Some may feel hopelessly inadequate, while others seem excessively confident, even arrogant. The scriptural paradox states, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12.) The ideal, somewhere between self-deprecation and pride, is humility, which means including God as our partner. We overcome our weaknesses only as we combine our best efforts with his unlimited strength. Too often we do not recognize God as our partner; we become proud and too self-sufficient—and when we do, we usually fall. Humility is not a continual self-put-down, a wallowing in self-pity, but rather is a quiet self-assurance that with God’s help we can overcome all things and become even as he is—full of virtue.
Some of us struggle not only with distorted virtues but also with misplaced values. The ambitious, energetic executive, for example, may have a misplaced set of values dedicated to achieving success measured only by wealth, or praise, or power of position. Such a person may be driven by such an intense desire to achieve that marriage, family, friends, and church—the things that matter most—become casualties of careless and vain commitment. In this sidetracked condition, a person loses sight of the Savior’s counsel, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26.)
Another example of misplaced values appears with the student who is so exhausted with social life, athletics, clubs, and other activities that education suffers. Or the student who so heavily concentrates on study that everything else takes a back seat. The single-sided life may strike a direction too narrow to meet the whole requirement of a life’s development.
Even in the practice of religion we may become unbalanced, especially if we concentrate our total efforts in one area while ignoring other equally important commitments. Scripture study, parenting, Christian service, and church callings all vie for portions of our time. The emphasis of one at the expense of all others brings us short of the Savior’s expectations. He taught that we should do the one “and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt. 23:23.)
Sometimes our quorum meetings and Gospel Doctrine classes become forums for debate rather than instruments for spiritual development and service. While bantering about opinions, we sometimes fail to consider how the needs of widows, the sick, and those in mourning are to be met.
Certainly applicable to the unbalanced religious life is the story of the rich young ruler who asked Christ what more was required to be saved. He had kept all of the commandments from his youth, and thus his question to the Master was “What lack I yet?” Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor, but the man went away sorrowing, for he loved his possessions more than he loved his fellowmen. (Matt. 19:16–22.) In sacred places, many of us have made promises to live the laws of consecration and sacrifice, but when we are actually blessed with wealth we may give little or no thought to how we should use our resources to help build Zion.
The Lord has declared that “men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27.) The kingdom will be built by people who freely give their time, talents, and resources. There are great needs in the worldwide Church today—missionary service and missionary contributions, temple work and temple building, generous fast offerings and genuine concern for the poor, family education and training. Within each stake, some needs may be different, but no less important. Quality home and visiting teaching, compassionate service, visiting the sick, Christian service, effective leadership, and excellent teaching are truly needed everywhere continually.
Let us ask ourselves, how are we doing with our time, talents, and material resources? Are we on the mark, or have we fallen short because we have committed too much of our time to the secular, given our talent exclusively to our careers, and used our resources only for self-indulgent pleasures? Do we heed the pure teachings of the Savior?
The three temptations of Christ offer fascinating glimpses into the inner strength of the Savior. (See Matt. 4:1–11.) After his fast of forty days, Christ was “an hungered.” The first temptation—“If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (Matt. 4:3)—was an appeal to the appetites of the flesh. He wanted Christ to indulge his physical appetites at the expense of his divine mission. The second temptation—“If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee; and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Matt. 4:6)—was an enticement to pride. Satan wanted Christ to perform a spectacular miracle, become a hero to the people, and receive fame and applause at the expense of his godly self-control.
The third temptation—“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:8–9)—was an attempt to bargain with Christ. Satan wanted the Savior to choose power and momentary glories at the expense of his divine integrity.
To each of these temptations Christ was more than equal: he suffered from no excesses or deficiencies. Perfectly balanced in his commitment, he knew he was the Son of God, the Savior, and his only desire was to do his Father’s will.
Temptations are often sophisticated and subtle. Focusing on our weaknesses, they are timed to reach us at just those moments when we are most vulnerable to their power. By such means, the tempter designs to destroy the balance in our lives and thus deflect us from the course that will bring us home to God.
When the resurrected Christ appeared to the Nephites, he asked them, “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be?” and then answered his question in these words, “Verily, I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Ne. 27:27.)
In our quest for balance, we all struggle with problems and temptations, with excesses and deficiencies. We all need the strength that comes from knowing that Jesus Christ is our personal, literal Savior, whose atonement and saving grace make it possible to overcome and endure to the end, and return to our eternal home. It is wonderfully reassuring to know that it is our Heavenly Father’s goal to guide and teach as we fashion ourselves into perfectly balanced beings like the Savior.