It was an interesting morning and it went poorly for one main reason, I made something too important.

I got up early to exercise. When you’re a mom, sometimes the only time you can get exercise is when your kids are still asleep. But before exercising, I got out bread that had been undergoing a slow rise in the fridge overnight. I’d made the starter two days before, formed the loaves only the prior day, and was very excited, this day, to see this Sicilian-inspired bread come to fruition. I needed it to come to temperature while I was working out so that I could begin baking it as soon as I was done. One hour.

But, while I was working out, my very young daughter woke up early. I was right in the middle and she wanted me to help her get a bowl of cereal. I told her firmly, “I’m working out, you’ll just have to sit on the couch and wait.” However, for a 4-year-old, 30-minutes is an eternity, and she simply wouldn’t quit bugging me. I really was frustrated. I just wanted to finish. I didn’t want to break my momentum in the work-out for the five minutes it would take to get her breakfast.

Then, as I was gruffly dealing with my daughter every 30-seconds, with an angry repetition of, “You’ll have to wait!” my sister came in (who was staying with me for a bit) and asked something about the oven. I didn’t hear much of anything she said, as I was already in a tiff. So, I loudly pronounced, “The oven isn’t on.” Somehow it didn’t occur to me she was about to try and bake something.

The next 30 minutes were quite similar with my little girl. I just wanted to get my workout in. Then, I would be totally available. Whatever was needed. Why couldn’t she wait? But, our mini-argument persisted.

At last, the workout was over. I sighed and huffed and slammed cupboards (a little bit) went into the kitchen to get my 4-year-old a bowl of cereal, only to see something cooking in the oven. My bread was just about to temperature and if I didn’t put it in, in the next 20 minutes, it was going to over prove. My first thought was, “Why didn’t my sister say she wanted to cook something!”

I got my little girl a bowl of cereal and huffed and puffed around the kitchen. My sister was off getting ready. Devastated at the 40+ minute cooking time I guessed was needed for her food, I shoved my bread back in the fridge wanting to cry for all the effort lost. Then, when my sister came out, I politely chastised her for not noticing my bread sitting there and putting something in the oven.

“I told you I needed to bake something. I asked if it was okay. When you didn’t say much, I figured I was clear,” she answered.

“But, didn’t you see my bread?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s why I asked. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to inconvenience you,” she said with complete sincerity.

I felt bad that I had chastised her, but I was also still upset about my bread. I was also miffed that I’d let my temper rule my interaction with my daughter too. I told her it was no big deal, but my heart wasn’t yet quite in agreement with my words. I headed off to my room to get ready myself, and a recent situation with my daughter popped into my head.

Anna, it’s time to get off your computer. You’ve been playing it all afternoon.

We were on a trip far from home and without toys, as we packed light, my little girl was relegated to a computer and an empty apartment. Quite difficult for a 4-year-old. She began to complain and throw a fit.

Computer time is a privilege. If you throw a fit, you’re going to get in trouble.

But she threw a fit, and I was quickly upset. However, I calmed myself down and proceeded to teach her.

I know you love to play your computer. I know it’s fun. I know there’s not a lot to do here when we’re not out doing stuff on this trip. But is your computer more important than me or your dad?

She answered, “No.”

That’s right. So even though it makes you sad to stop, it’s more important to be nice to the people you love than to yell and scream and throw a fit. We let you play a long time!

No sooner had this memory finished replaying than all my frustration about the bread, getting my daughter breakfast, and arguing with her for the last 30 minutes of my workout; it all went away. I had made my workout too important. I had made it more important than my daughter. I had made it more important than listening to my sister.

I immediately went out and told my sister, “Sorry for being so frustrated. There would never have been an issue if I’d simply stopped my workout for five minutes to get Anna breakfast. Then, I would have heard your question and we could have communicated just fine. Then, both your meal and my bread would have made it into the oven without any confusion. I made my workout too important. I’m sorry.”

My sister frankly forgave me. And I made the same apology to my little girl. The hardest part was realizing that it was me, not them, who had caused the frustration by elevating something less important above things that were very important.

What Do You Make Too Important?

The world tells us frequently to place self-care above all else. It tells us to make time for me. It tells us we’re worth it. And, the world is not wrong. Self-care is important. We do need time for ourselves. We are worth it. But some things are more important even than self-care, time to oneself, and our self-esteem. Those things are Christlike attributes, qualities, and actions. That thing is our relationship with God.

We do need to be mindful of self. But, our spiritual self, our progression toward godliness, is far more important than even the perfect skincare routine or workout regimen we’ve set up. It’s more important than inconveniences or putting out fires in our home or work. It’s more important than everything else.

A five-minute break in my workout was not going to derail my self-care regimen. And I acted like it would. And taking care of my little girl…well, she’s my world. If I have to gain five pounds to treat her as I ought every day, that’s worth far more to me, it’s far more important. Her feelings, her health, they are more important than whatever continuity I lose by pausing my work out for 5 measly minutes.

I’ve done this before in years past. I’ve taken the time to run 3 miles and prioritized it above date time with my spouse to go out for an ice cream, because I didn’t want to gain weight. I could still have run 3 miles at a different time. I was very active. And yet I made my image more important than time and good food with the very best company. I placed an activity above my loved ones.

One thing the gospel of Jesus Christ does is it teaches us how to prioritize. Tithing before bills. Sunday worship and sacrament ordinances before weekend activities. Scriptures daily. Family Sunday School weekly. Prayer morning, noon, night, and in our heart all day. And most importantly, God before self.

Our relationship with God is more important than everything else in this world. And if we honor it, the rest will take care of itself. It’s that simple.

But, too often we act out of fear, or prideful independence, or determination to achieve, that we make the things of this world (important or not) more important than God. Had I simply put God first by acting Christlike with my little girl, a whole morning would have gone differently. It made me think, “What else in my life am I making too important?”

Prioritizing in a Godly Manner Doesn’t Mean You Have to Give Up Everything

Sometimes when the Holy Spirit chastises me like this, my first reaction is, “Well, I guess I have to give up exercising altogether. I’ll just gain weight and all my clothes will look terrible, and I don’t have the money for a whole new wardrobe… I’ll just become a mess. It’s so unfair.” Yes, I’m that kind of drama queen.

But that is not what God expected me to do. He knows self-care is important. He merely expected me to act how I feel and according to what His Spirit has taught me is right. My daughter and my sister are more important than working out. Period. So, I merely needed to stop for 5 minutes, or even 10, to take care of those that are important and that I love. Then, I could return to my less important self-care workout, for me. Lots of levels of important, but taken care of in the best order.

It’s Time to Evaluate

Want something, but going after it requires you to compromise your morals or standards? What you want is important, right? It’s a house, or a car, a date, a job, a promotion, or a vacation, or something else. Maybe it’s even more significant than that. But, the fast way to getting it means making what you want more important than God. You think that once having it you’ll get your priorities straight again, but it’s never that easy. Once you make God less important getting Him back to the top becomes herculean.  

Stick to your belief that God is the most important. Put Him first and you’ll end up not with exactly what you want. Nope. You’ll get something, what you need, and it will be way better—far better—than what you were after initially.

Like playing video games, watching Netflix, or surfing social media, but fail to have time to read your scriptures and prepare your Come Follow Me? Which is more important? God, or those things? If it’s God, then put Him first. You’ll be surprised that you’ll still have time for all that you like to do, and you may even find that much of it becomes less desirable to you and that you feel prompted to replace it with things that really build you up, make you healthy, happy, and peaceful.

Have a job you love but it conflicts with Sundays? Negotiate with your company, or look for a new position that allows you to put God first on His Holy Day. Make the sacrifice to make Him more important than your fear of not doing what you love or not having enough money. Do it, and He’ll bless you not only with the job you need and the resources you need to “make ends meet,” but He’ll give you something that will lead to greater job satisfaction and greater growth opportunities.

Afraid to pay tithing? Worldly math doesn’t give God credit. Godly math is a higher law than worldly math. That’s it. God’s math is more accurate and more real than what we have here on earth. We’ve yet to discover all that God knows about numbers. So, when He says to pay tithing, to make Him more important. He’s worth trusting.

Afraid to change friends because the friends you have pull you away from God and family? Afraid to be persecuted or alone? What is more important? Put God first. Find people and situations that strengthen your relationship with Him. Stay in those places and with those people. Do so, and God will bless you with truer friends, more loyal friends, and more peace and happiness than you ever could have imagined before.

It’s a scary leap putting God first. It’s hard to make Him more important than our dreams and desires. But, as I learned in my difficult morning, everything would have gone so much better…everything would have been more peaceful…I would have had a better day if I had only remembered “what is most important.”

BT

Recently the question was posed to me, “If you could say anything to your past self, what would it be?” So, I thought about it. And, I struggled to come up with anything. Because in all honesty, I don’t see the point in doing it. If given the chance, I don’t think I would go back and try to mess with my past self. I’m not sure it would make a difference.

But, after some more thought, what I realized was, that more than it really mattering IF I actually would go back and say anything to my past self; considering what I might say to my past self actually had a great deal of value for my present self. Why? Because trying to look back and think what I might say is an exercise in remembrance, in reflecting on my life.

Click here to listen to the podcast: The Stuff I Would Say to My Past Self!

Immediately questions arise like:

  • Would I change anything about my past?
  • What advice and help did I receive in the past that brought me to this point I’m at now? Will it help me going forward?
  • What growing experiences did I have because I had to live by faith without frequent peeks at my future or a phone call from the future?
  • Do I see the hand of God in the path my life has taken?
  • If everything had gone the way I had planned or expected, would I be the same person?
  • What truths did I cling to then? Are they the same ones I cling to now? Are they the same ones I should cling to in the future?

It turns out, there is an incredible benefit to remembering our past and reflecting on the course our life has taken, if we do it properly.

Remember, Remember…

In the scriptures, prophets repeatedly encourage people to reflect back on their lives and remember (and acknowledge) the ways in which God has blessed and preserved them, as well as their forbears. This remembrance of our lives is an exercise in gratitude.

In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds the members of Ephesus to remember what they were like before the grace of God touched their lives. He encourages them to remember when they were without Christ and how their life and hope has changed since becoming converted to Christianity. This remembrance is not only an exercise in gratitude, but it’s a chance for the Holy Spirit to reaffirm our testimony.

Joseph Smith recorded that after reading James 1:5 that the message of the verse hit him so hard that he reflected on it again and again (JS-H 1:12). Many of us, like Joseph, have heard quotes, read scriptures, heard sermons, or recited prayers that have entered our hearts with such force that we find ourselves coming back to those messages again and again and again…often being taught even deeper truths each time we reflect on them. This type of remembrance is not only the reaffirmation of our testimony of a truth we’ve been taught, it’s a reflection that invites the Holy Spirit to teach us more about a truth we are willing to learn more about. It’s in invitation to be taught.

Pillar of Salt

Conversely, in the scriptures we also have accounts of people reflecting back on the past in a manner that breeds personal destruction. Lot’s wife, when she looked back at the destruction of Sodom (where her home was) turned into a pillar of salt. Or, in more blunt words, she was burned up by the destruction. She didn’t simply look back, she ran back toward the city and to her own death. Lot tried to lead her out of it to a life of righteousness, and she didn’t truly want that, so even though the city was going to be destroyed, she had rather run back and get burned up with it. Her reflection led her to run head first into self-destruction.

Often, when many of us reflect back on the past we do so with longing for things that aren’t beneficial to our present. We create sentimental trophies out of old romances, past friendships, once promising athletic careers, and other such childhood and teenage fodder. We glorify these images so much in our minds that it builds regret for our present location in life. We begin to resent and discredit all that we have built in our current lives by running full-force back to the imaginary happiness we truly believe we missed out on. We, like Lot’s wife, run head first into self-destruction.

Others, when they reflect back or dwell on their past mistakes they lean so hard into shaming and mentally destroying themselves, that they can’t press forward successfully in the present. As they look back at their lives and think what they might say to their past selves they use the opportunity instead to punish themselves more. To beat themselves up more. But, they aren’t beating up their past self. They are beating up their present self, creating self-destruction in the present.

God Wants Us to Reflect to Propel Us Forward

So, now I put the question to you. What would you go back and tell your past self, if you could? That past self could be the self of yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, five years ago, or even twenty years ago. Would you tell all these selves the same thing? Why, or why not?

Now, here’s another question. Now that several things have crossed your mind about what you would tell your past self. How do these words of wisdom help you in the present? What would you tell your future self?

It turns out God has a primary purpose for self-reflection and remembrance. But, they are illustrated most powerfully in the man called Alma-the-younger.

Interestingly, Alma-the-younger (Jr.)’s father had been a Christian rebel when he was a young man. But, then he got himself straightened out. So, what happens? Well, his son, Alma Jr., decides to rebel also and run around trying to destroy Christianity (the church). Alma Jr. and his friends (the sons of the king, named Mosiah) describe themselves as the vilest of sinners (Mosiah 28:4). During their wicked streak an angel appears to them and tells them to repent or be destroyed.

These words hold particular hold upon Alma Jr.’s heart. He falls to the ground and is tormented with what he describes as “the pains of hell” for up to a day or two. The things causing his hellish pain? Well, they are his reflections on his wicked past.

And then, amidst Alma Jr.’s reflections he remembers hearing his father (Alma Sr.) preaching about Jesus Christ who atones for the sins for the world. That there is forgiveness. This reflection leads him to repent. He calls out in his anguish to Christ and asks to be saved. He is then suddenly filled with peace even greater than the hellish pain that he was being tormented with. He says, “And now, behold…I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:13,19).

Notice, he doesn’t say that he can’t remember his sins. He can. But what he can no longer remember is the hellish-pain, guilt, misery, and suffering that he was under because of his recognition of his sins.

Alma Jr.’s reflection back on his past had the potential to propel him forward. First he reflected on his sins and was nearly overwhelmed by his vivid understanding of just how rotten he’d been. But, then, so very important, is that second, he reflected on what he’d been taught about Christ and in faith he sought Christ. What happened then? He found peace in the grace of Christ and was able to be free from the pain of his sins. Certainly he could still remember them, but they didn’t torment him anymore. Now, he was free to use those memories to press forward…to become better.

A Challenge

Out of this topic, I have come to the conclusion that the best way for us to reflect upon the past is to do so with God’s help. If we are to look back and reflect in a way that has the greatest potential to propel us forward, then we should look back with the help of a being that can see our past as clearly as He can see our present and our future.

Consider questions like:

  • God, is there anything in my past that I still need to deal with and resolve?
  • God, is there a time in my past where you were with me but I didn’t realize it back then? Show me so I can find peace now.
  • God, can you help me to remember the times your grace carried me through, or your Holy Spirit taught me truth so that my current testimony can be re-affirmed?
  • God, is there anything more you would teach me about this truth that I already love so much?
  • God, are there any truths I’m overlooking in my past that I need to understand so I can receive the future you have in store for me?

I’m Finally Going to Answer the Question

I have to be honest. I don’t think I would go back and tell my past self much of anything. But, if I did, it would sound something like this:

Don’t waste any mental or emotional effort on the fact that it simply isn’t your nature to care about being popular or fitting in. You never do seek out those things, but you will try to waste a lot of effort on whether or not it’s important. So, don’t.

Next, God has given all of us bodies. Mortal genetics play their part. Be grateful for the body you have been given. Don’t waste another second beating yourself up because you weren’t born four-to-six inches shorter, four-to-six inches narrower, or 40-60 lbs lighter. Your body is the power God has given you to do His work. Take glory in the fact that you can accomplish it with the body you’ve got.

You were right. You’ll keep being right. You’ll keep trusting in God. You’re going to make it.

BT