During the last half of my college years, I worked as a producer for my university’s radio show. It was a fun job with tons of creative freedom, but there were also a lot of rules. My general job description was producing radio content; though this might seem self-explanatory, the details of the job were documented in an exhaustive, multipage document. It included rules about email etiquette, interview prep, audio cuts, and all kinds of things I had never heard of.
It was daunting at first as I tried to remember all the details. But I came to appreciate that list—it helped me be a better producer. It wasn’t a restrictive list that kept me from using my creativity; instead, it helped me turn my ideas into a real, finished product. It was a set of guidelines, created by people who knew the job much better than I did.
I like to think of the commandments in the same way. The two great commandments—to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Matthew 22:35–40)—are part of our general job description as people on earth. The rest of the commandments are more detailed instructions on how to effectively achieve those goals, outlined by a loving Father in Heaven who knows the work perfectly.
When we truly understand commandments, we see them as blessings. They are added instructions that Heavenly Father, with His perfect perspective, gives to us to help us return home to Him. As President Russell M. Nelson explained, “Because the Father and the Son love us with infinite, perfect love and because They know we cannot see everything They see, They have given us laws that will guide and protect us.” 1
Sister Carole M. Stephens, former First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, illustrated this point when she told the story of her energetic three-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, who could not be convinced to keep her seat belt buckled in the car. Despite Sister Stephens’s genuine attempts to encourage her, Chloe kept unbuckling her belt and refused to stay properly secured in her seat.
Finally, after explaining to her granddaughter that the seat belt was for her own safety, Chloe’s face brightened, and she exclaimed, “Grandma, you want me to wear my seat belt because you love me!” 2 As Chloe eventually understood, rules often come from a place of love. Such is the case with God’s commandments.
Commandments are evidence of the great love that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for us. They are also an opportunity for us to show our love for and obedience to Them. “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15) is a scripture we hear often, and its meaning is poignant. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “The crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.” 3 I can only imagine the love that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ must feel when we strive to follow Their instructions and live in a way that will allow us to return to Their presence someday.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that following God’s commandments will be easy. Even if we understand God’s love and the reasons behind the commandments, some of them may still be difficult to follow (see 2 Nephi 2:11; Mosiah 3:19).
Moses spoke about this right after he brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, telling the Israelites that “God is come to prove you” (Exodus 20:20). Proving means to try or to test (see Malachi 3:10, footnote c). As loving as these commandments are, they are also an important part of Heavenly Father’s plan for His children to “prove them … , to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25). Commandments give us an opportunity to intentionally use our agency to, as President Nelson taught, “choose to return to Him, prepared, qualified, endowed, sealed, and faithful to covenants made in holy temples.” 4
When we feel like there’s a lot to balance and do, we can remember that it is the world, not the gospel, that creates the complexities in our lives. Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“It has been said that the gospel of Jesus Christ is ‘simply beautiful and beautifully simple.’ The world is not. It is complicated, complex, and filled with turmoil and strife. We are blessed as we exercise care not to allow complexity, so common in the world, to enter into the way we receive and practice the gospel. …
“… We should all strive to keep the gospel simple.” 5
During those times when we feel overwhelmed by the demands of life, it can be helpful to remember the commandments in their simplest form: Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. All of God’s other commandments to us are extensions of these core commandments, and extensions of His love for us.