We sometimes think we’re supposed to love people back onto our path instead of respecting their own journey—no expectations, no transaction.
When I was in ninth grade, I wanted to be a three-sport varsity athlete: football, basketball, and baseball. I knew that to reach my goal, I needed to work extra hard. One of the ways I tested myself was to run laps around my neighborhood in Greenwich, Connecticut. One lap was about three-fourths of a mile to the elementary school, up Palmer Hill, and back down to my house. Palmer Hill should have been named Palmer Mountain. It felt like it went straight up in the air.
When I was young, I decided that each time before I ran, I had to commit to myself how many laps I would run. Most of the time it was three or four laps. But sometimes I would get super aspirational and tell myself five or six. Once I said that to myself, it was now in my blood. I had to do it. I may have had to walk at times, but I never quit. I felt like if I did quit, it would cause some kind of existential domino to fall and knock over who knows how many more, to the detriment of my goal to get to varsity in all three sports, which in the end I did achieve.
Being goal-oriented has been a great way for me to live. I’ve kept up the spirit of that run up Palmer Hill my whole life. I’ve always been a can-do guy. If you told me what I needed to do to be successful at something, that was all I needed. I would start climbing.
In many ways, that also describes my spiritual life. As a young kid, I was the only member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in my high school of 3,000. I loved listening to Saturday’s Warrior as I did my homework. The music and the story really resonated with me. I wanted to be a Saturday warrior: someone God could count on to do good in these last days. I knew the sacrifices that warriors made: living the Word of Wisdom (no coffee, tea, alcohol, smoking, or drugs), upholding chastity and dating standards, using clean language and entertainment, etc.
Certainly, I appreciated the sense of connection with God that grew in my heart as a result of my faithfulness to those standards. To this day it’s a connection I cherish. The hope of eternal life, or celestial living, or Zion, is the ultimate destination that I seek. How I get there begins with a well-lit path of covenant and sacrifice. Each of these things is vital and important to me.
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But I also noticed that seeking for these rewards could become very self-consuming. In a way, it could become a contractual agreement between me and God. If I do these important things and keep doing them, I can receive glorious rewards that are worth any sacrifice. But at some point, I felt that seeking eternal life became an end in itself—to earn the rewards for myself.
In the end, we cannot get where we want to be by pursuing a transactional relationship with God. Even if I’m as obedient as I can be, I am still an “unprofitable servant” (Mosiah 2:21). I need a Savior to make up the difference between my best efforts and what God requires. Besides, if I’m only pursuing the rewards, I’m not necessarily becoming more Christlike, more loving.
In fact, the opposite may be true. For example, we may see others as problems to be fixed instead of people to be loved, as President Thomas S. Monson taught. We may see other people as obstacles to our journey instead of relationships of love and support. A wayward family member who torpedoes our goal of “no empty chairs” in our family circle in heaven. A challenging youth who shows up late and unprepared to class, every single time. Someone whose path is calling them in a different direction from mine—still a wonderful path, and right for them, just different from mine. An unruly child in Primary who simply can’t sit still and keep their hands to themselves for thirty-five seconds at a stretch. The irritating coworker with yet another trivial interruption. The slow driver in front of us when we’re in a hurry. All these folks aren’t trying to be obstacles in our journey; they’re trying to figure out their own lives. These situations call for support and love from us, not disappointment or annoyance at being inconvenienced.
Even if we understand the idea that we should love people, we sometimes think we’re supposed to love them back onto our path instead of respecting their own journey. I’m not trying to love people into coming with me. I’m just loving people. No expectations, no transaction. They and God will figure out their journey; my job is to love them along the way.
At church, some might wish a certain family would just move away so they could be a Zion congregation, instead of seeing that family as wounded travelers on the way to Jericho (see Luke 10:29–37) whom we have been called to help. That’s what I’m talking about. We literally can’t be a Zion congregation without all of us, together. In seeking to heal others in their challenges, I grow in valuable ways and learn things that I can’t learn any other way. If the goal of mortality is to become more like God, then we need to study how God lives in non-transactional relationships.
The Church is like a hospital. Sometimes you’re the doctor and sometimes you’re the patient. No need to get judgmental or holier-than-thou when it’s your turn to be the doctor. Soon enough you’ll need help too.
In the end, transactional relationships are self-focused and inadvertently become a source of othering. Our accomplishments make us feel that we are elite, elect, special. Every human wants to be special. We want to earn status with God. But it doesn’t work that way. A famous quote from Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf says this best: “Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God.”
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What This Month of Book Club Study Holds:
- An easy-to-follow reading schedule
- Excerpts from the book shared on LDSLiving.com
- Poignant quotes and discussion of the topics addressed in the book
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For more details, visit the LDS Living Book Club page.
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