I acquired and finished Stephenie Meyer's newest novel, Eclipse. President Faust passed away a few days ago. I didn't go to church yesterday because I was in Annapolis with a good percentage of my extended family.
What do these three topics have in common? A single word that never meant much to me until I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Eternity.
We hear about Eternity on a regular basis in our meetings (keeping an eternal perspective, marriage as an eternal covenant, the temple being our bridge into the eternities), but I wonder if the term becomes any more meaningful from the emphasis we place on it. Even when I'm making statements related to my religion, I can't help but wonder if using the word "forever" means anything coming from me. Teenagers say "forever" about even the most trivial things. Can I help wondering if I'm any different?
But I've had a few opportunities to "be still," as our Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley advises, and to contemplate the layers of meaning that make up the onion of Eternity.
I hated romance novels until I read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. But her characters are beyond captivating, and her stories reflect gospel principles in ways that are tasteful and appealing to both LDS and non-LDS audiences. When I finish her books, I leave them with a renewed sense of what love is really about. Stephenie made a statement in an interview on Amazon.com that Twilight is about finding true love, New Moon is about losing true love, and Eclipse is about choosing true love.
Eclipse reminded me that Eternity isn't just a goal to be reached at the end of this life. Eternity was in full swing before I got here. By actively keeping my world spinning by investing my energy into self improvement, I make choices that are always shaping and changing my world. As Meyer brought her book to a close, she illustrated an important point to me that I had never considered before. The main character, Bella, must choose whether or not she will pursue true love, and it comes with a very high cost. She would have to leave every aspect of her life behind her, including her family and friends. She would never have a normal, American Dream kind of life with the white picket fence, 2 1/2 kids, and a dog. She would have to sacrifice more than she could comprehend or even appreciate, opportunities that she would never know about, all because of one choice. But her choice has to be made, and she has to do make it for herself.
I imagine that Meyer's non-member readers may look at that and think, "How discomforting..." but that's what we, as Latter-day Saints, have to consider with everything we do. Our whole way of life is based upon the concept of Eternity, and making decisions that are permanent even in death. Our words, our deeds, our spouses, our families require a level of responsibility that cannot be taken lightly because they are literally FOREVER.
When I think about my life with this perspective, I cannot help but have an increased sense of reverence about why I'm here, what my life's mission is, and getting things right the first time. But at the same time, I worry all the time about making decisions that I could live with forever if I had to. I doubt I'll ever do things perfectly, but I've made an important distinction as a recovering perfectionist: there's a difference between doing something right and doing it perfectly. And I find that the more I understand that distinction, the better off I am inside.
President James E. Faust had his own special place in my heart, even if I didn't have the experience with him that, clearly, others on the Bloggernacle have had. I remember learning more about forgiveness from his General Conference talk than I ever learned on my own. Forgiveness is something that I struggle with when it really matters, and I'm glad I have his talk to help me through it. Maybe with this small piece of his legacy, I can become a better person, and come a little closer to the kind of Eternity I'd like to see for myself and my family.
Having leaders like President Faust with such wise counsel reminds me that agency is not supposed to be a daunting curse; it's a gift that, if we could not handle the accompanying responsibility, we would not possess such power. If we follow the instructions and guidance from our leaders, learning all the time to be more virtuous, then eternal glory will not seem so far beyond our reach.
I admit openly that I'm a recovering perfectionist. It's more than just wanting things done right the first time; it's a level of anxiety that has been unhealthy for me at times, but has been a cross I bear (I'm sure) for a purpose. But what if our crosses are too heavy? What if we fail in a hard moment? Even though (and I even dare say, because) I didn't go to Church yesterday, my testimony of family history work was strengthened.
I know I left my family gathering with AT LEAST 50 new names to add to our family tree, not to mention that my normally chaotic family was together in the same room, being civilized, and helping me to do the work that their loved ones have been waiting so long for someone to do. I remember once upon a time, I didn't want to do my family history because of how difficult it seemed. But I've been blessed with the help I prayed for, and the work is being done. And just watching this unity in my family, this miracle unfolding before me, I return to a realization that family history work always seems to bring with it. Our Father in Heaven believes in second chances because He loves us, and He wants to bless us with eternal life. The tricky part is deserving it.
But what is deserving? I agree that obedience is important, but I learned a long time ago that choosing The Other Option doesn't have to mean Choosing the Wrong. Yesterday, I'm pretty sure I broke a commandment by not going to Church and not taking the Sacrament.
But by choosing to "eat crabs" (they eat them, I watch) with my family, I further fulfilled a mission that was given to me in my patriarchal blessing, which serves my family on both sides of the veil.
Does my choice have consequences? Sure! I find it much harder to go throughout my week when I haven't taken the Sacrament on Sunday.
But is that what you have to be willing AND able to do sometimes? Absolutely! May not sound right when you say it like that, but the point of this life isn't to make sense. If that were the case, brussell sprouts and Liberace would not exist.
The point of this life is to learn about Eternity, and to be able to live our lives in a way that reflects our acceptance of what is expected of us.
And whether that point reaches you through a Young Adult romance novel, the First Presidency, or even from playing hooky from Church, is entirely up to you.
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