All right. Ready? Good? Let’s go. 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 blood. I had to do it. I may have had to walk at times, but I never quit. 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 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 Latterday Saints in my high school of 3000, 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 God had a 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, certainly I appreciated the sense of connection with God that grew in my heart as a result of my faithfulness to these standards. To this day, it’s a connection I cherish. The hope of eternal life life, or celestial living, or Zion, is the ultimate destination. How I get there begins with a well-lit path of covenant and sacrifice. Each of these things are vital and important to me. 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. 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 Monson taught. We may see other people as obstacles to our journey instead of relationships to 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. 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. When all is said and done, nothing is more important than this supreme, unencumbered law of love.