A couple weeks ago, I was feeling bombarded with stress. I felt constantly behind. On a whiteboard in our kitchen, I faced a long list of to-dos—and the list never seemed to get shorter. I’d wake up in the morning, resolve to get a long-outstanding task done that day, then—blink! The day would be gone and that item wouldn’t be done . . . again.
Finally, one Sunday afternoon, I had a nervous breakdown. I felt totally drained, and I lacked the desire to keep pressing on. Why should I, when I would inevitably fail to do everything I both wanted to do and felt I was supposed to do?
Thankfully, the nervous breakdown was only a mild one, and the Lord has blessed me with an all-star family support structure for such moments. Through a priesthood blessing from my father, the powerful faith of my mother, and the loving care of my wife, I was able to pull out of my slump and begin to analyze what was going wrong in my life.
After a long conversation with my wife, I finally came to the bottom of what was making me feel overwhelmed: My life was full of too many good things to do. “How silly,” you say. “How is having too many good things a bad thing?” Well, the problem was my life was full of too many things I felt were important—things that I felt, from either general gospel teachings or specific spiritual promptings, that I was commanded to do.
Writing in my journal was a commandment. Working on my novel was something I felt personally mandated to do. Spending time with my wife, wisely managing finances, creating scripture songs for the Atrium of Light page, fulfilling responsibilities at work—the list went on and on. And this list inevitably exceeded the time available to me. So I was left making choices each day: “I have a half hour before bed time. Is it more important that I write in my novel? Or work on my blog post? Give some overdue feedback I promised to a fellow writer? Or prepare my upcoming Sunday School lesson? I only have a half hour; I can’t do all of these things.” And so on, day after day.
After identifying the problem, I was ready to find out God’s thoughts. So I sat down with the scriptures and a journal and asked the Lord to teach me.
A Cosmic Perspective
The Lord prompted me to turn to Moses 1, where several verses immediately stood out:
And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?
And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease. (Moses 1:3–4)
These verses helped me take a step back and view my life from a cosmic perspective. How concerned was God, really, about all my many projects and initiatives? Even if I were as prolific as possible and produced dozens of novels, posts, emails, or events, what was that compared to God? His works are without end. Worlds without number has He created. Next to that, my meager output is nothing!
But that was not all. If we continue on the path of Christ’s gospel, we could eventually be exalted and enjoy the same infinite prolific potential as God. We could have works and words “without end”! So what did it matter, in the long run, how many good things we created in this life? It would be nothing compared to our limitless creative output in the hereafter.
These realizations helped me reach a paradigm-shifting conclusion: God is much more concerned about quality than quantity.
God cares much more about who we are than what we do. He is more concerned about our behaviors and attitudes than he is about our productivity. Certainly, our actions matter, but only insofar as they shape our eternal character into that of divine quality.
We are commanded to live the law of consecration: to give all, 100 percent, of our time, talents, and energy to the Lord. But 100 percent is ultimately a qualitative measure, not a quantitative one. It measures our willingness, not our capacity. For the poor widow in the temple, 100 percent was a single mite. For the rich young ruler, 100 percent was immense riches. But for both, the demanded price was “all that they had.” One was willing; the other was not.
These insights brought me a newfound level of peace. I didn’t need to worry about doing everything I felt was important. As long as I was “anxiously engaged” all day in a good cause (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27), as long as I stayed focused, kept on task, and prioritized the most important things, and as long as I served God “with all my heart, might, mind, and strength,” then I could “stand blameless before God at the last day” (Doctrine and Covenants 4:2).
So if you find yourself in my same boat, stop worrying. On the cosmic scale of infinity, anything you do is hopelessly finite. But who you are will one day mean everything.
For whoso is faithful unto . . . the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God. . . . Therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto [them]. (Doctrine and Covenants 84:33–34, 38, emphasis added)
Sometimes we can get overwhelmed with the many good and important things that we feel commanded to do. But when we adopt a cosmic perspective and remember the endless nature of God’s works, we realize that anything we could ever accomplish in this life fades into complete insignificance. The Lord is not as concerned with the quantity of our good works as with the quality of our character, because it is our character that will ultimately matter in the eternities.
Points to Ponder
- Why do you think the Lord gives us more things to do than we have time for?
- How can we identify what is most important to do, especially when choosing between two righteous activities? How do we prioritize commandments?
Banner credit: Photo by Greg Rakozy from Unsplash.
6 thoughts on “Righteousness: It’s About Quality, Not Quantity”
Comment by Hannah Gibson Rueckert on the original post in atriumoflight.com:
Great insights! I’ve been feeling this way a lot over the last 2 years in grad school. Right now I’m taking an emotional self resilience course put out by the Church and it’s brought me a lot of hope regarding this topic. I think the main reason why God gives us more to do than we have time for is to help us stay humble and build our faith. He knows we are limited and wants us to remember that so that we turn to Him for strength and support. We need to learn to rely on Him on a daily and even hourly basis in order to prioritize tasks that are most important at any given time. Sometimes the thing that is most important for us to do will be to minister to our neighbor or work on our calling, or finish a pressing assignment for work or school – other times, even when there are endless tasks on our to-do list, we’ll be prompted to drop them all in order to spend precious time connecting with family within our own home. Remembering this brings me great peace and helps me feel more secure and confident when I recognize that I don’t have all the time in the world to do everything I’d like to do. I can slow down and relish each moment of the day because I know I’m doing what God wants me to be doing right then and there. This is how I felt as a full-time missionary and it’s how I long to feel every day. I’m working on it. This post was a great reminder. Thanks Jeremy!
Thank you for sharing these spot-on thoughts, Hannah!
Comment by Laura Madsen on the original post in atriumoflight.com:
Jeremy mentioned having a mini breakdown that only took a day to resolve (thankfully!). In 2009, I had a major breakdown that took ten years to fully recover from! One of the great lessons I learned that first year was that I was truly nothing. To quote Ammon in the Book of Mormon: “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak” (Alma 26:12).
The good thing about having all my confidence stripped away was that I learned the rest of Ammon’s message down deep in my soul: “Therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.”
What helps me from getting overwhelmed with my life’s tasks is realizing my limitations, giving my burdens to Christ, letting Him fill in all the gaps where I fall short, and then just doing the best I can each day. And just like Ammon, the result is that I feel like shouting praises to God every day of my life!
What a great scripture for summarizing this process of humbling ourselves and then finding strength in Christ! Thank you!
Comment by Pete Madsen on the original post in atriumoflight.com:
I loved the very last sentence you wrote in your summary about the importance of quality of character over quantity of good works. If we are continually stressing out over completing lists of tasks, at the expense of developing our character – especially being kind, patient, and loving toward those around us that should matter most, then what is the point? What do we ultimately take with us into the next life? I maintain that our most important purpose for living is to learn how to love as God intends us to love. We will take our character with us into the next life, including our capacity to love, and the relationships we have developed with our families and all those within our spheres of influence. Usually when I am feeling ovewhelmed, I step back, take a deep breath, and look again at the big picture. Is it really worth it to get so stressed, when in the big picture of what is most important in life, these things will pass, and all will eventually work out. One of the blessings of having two little grandsons in our home, is the opportunity to feel pure, innocent, Christ-like love shining from their spirits every day. Sure they are tons of work. But when I take the time to hold these little boys in my arms and hug them and talk to them and play with them, the stress of my day melts away and once again I get to glimpse through their eyes into heaven. I am so glad you are feeling better Jeremy! I knew that with your wisdom, maturity, faith, and eternal perspective you would get past that bump in the road. Keep up that eternal perspective! Because with a new little girl around the corner, those bumps will keep coming! But with those bumps will be an outpouring of love from you and your wife toward her, and from her back to you. I enjoyed reading Hannah’s comments about sometimes being prompted to drop what we’re doing so we can spend precious time connecting with family. Hi Hannah! You are awesome! Thanks Jeremy for tackling a great topic. If I don’t see as many posts in the coming months, that’s okay! That means your family is getting a little more of you instead.
Thank you! In the last two weeks as I’ve held my little girl in my arms, I have felt exactly what you described!