The first time I stood before a judge was in my elementary school’s science fair. I spent hours cutting out tiny paper socks and used gallons of Elmer’s glue to present my fascinating findings on the most effective laundry soap.
I remember being nervous but excited to explain my project to the judges at the fair. Eleven-year-old me did her best to sound smart as I answered questions and tried to show the judges why my project deserved a spot in the next round of the competition. Always beat out by someone’s baking soda volcano, however, my projects never moved on past the first round.
No matter who you are, we all have at least one presentation coming up. But this one won’t involve any trifolds or Elmer’s glue. And, most importantly, it won’t involve a comparison of your project to anyone else’s.
My all-time favorite quote from President Russell M. Nelson starts this way:
“In a coming day, you will present yourself before the Savior.”
That sounds like a presentation no amount of Elmer’s glue will prepare me for. But before we get too nervous, let’s step back and look at what that quote doesn’t say. It doesn’t say, “In a coming day, you will be lined up and compared to everyone else before the Savior.” Or, “In a coming day, you will be given five minutes to explain your life and why you deserve a spot in the top 20.”
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Our Judge on that day won’t be looking for a nicely arranged trifold or eloquent answers to questions. He will simply want to know who you are. Not what you accomplished, or earned, or look like, but who you became on earth. You will present yourself. I’ve always pictured that as a very submissive moment. We won’t be trying to defend ourselves, trying to show why we are better than the next guy. I see us looking up at the Savior and meekly saying, “Here I am.” There will be no more comparisons. No more first, second, or third place, but an evaluation of you relative only to you.
I recently read a BYU speech by JB Haws that made me realize how important it is to follow the Savior’s example when we are tempted to compare. First, Haws explains what John and Peter asked of the Savior in John 21: John asked to live forever to preach the gospel while Peter requests to quickly join the Savior in the kingdom of God. Haws then shares an insight that I had never considered. He says:
“This is my mental screenplay of the scriptural story. Peter approaches the Savior a bit hesitantly and quietly asks, ’What was John’s heartfelt wish?’ Peter learns that John desired to stay on the earth until the Second Coming to preach the gospel. I can see Peter keeping a forced smile and saying, ’Wow. That is wonderful.’ But in his mind he is really thinking, ‘Ahhh! I am so dumb! Why didn’t I ask for that? Why didn’t I even think of that? John is so much more righteous than I am! Not to mention he is a faster runner than I am! Why do I always have to be so impetuous and jump in first on everything?’
“In this reading, one might assume that Doctrine and Covenants 7:5 would read like this: ‘I say unto thee, Peter, [your desire to come speedily into my kingdom] was a good desire; but my beloved [John] has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what [you have done, thou slacker].’ I can still remember where I was, however, when I realized that of course the verse did not read that way. Here is how it really reads: ‘I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done.’
“I feel this with the force of truth: our perfect, loving God makes no horizontal comparisons. In this verse Jesus only compared John with John’s former self—John with old John. He only compared Peter with old Peter, with former Peter. And He only compares me with old me.”
Why is it so hard to follow the Savior’s example in this? He may only compare you to old you, but it is far too easy, and destructive, to compare ourselves to everyone else.
I think the Spirit was trying to teach me this the last time I read my patriarchal blessing. Like when I read President Nelson’s quote, I was more impressed by what it doesn’t say. It does not say, “You will become more charitable than the people around you.” Instead, it says things like, “You will increase your talents” or “You will grow in your faith.” Not once does Heavenly Father use a comparison to someone else as a way to teach me about my life on earth. His plan is to move me forward, not so that I can get ahead of someone else, but so that I get closer to Him.
But resolving not to compare is much easier said than done. We live in a world that loves and encourages competition in everything. But remembering these words from Elder Bednar may be a good start:
“If today you are a little bit better than you were yesterday, then that's enough. And, if tomorrow you are a little bit better than you were today, then that's enough.”
We should all go glue that onto a trifold.