On hearing of the death of John the Baptist, possibly one of the men in the world who knew Jesus Christ best, the Savior sought the solitude of desert places. We know naught of what he was feeling, or whether he went to mourn or worship or commune. The record reads:
When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.
And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
There was not, at this time, a quiet moment of meditation for Jesus. Rather, the pressing crowds, oblivious of their intrusion on his desired tranquility, demanded instant attention. Christ did not for a moment begrudge them this, but immediately, “moved with compassion”, turned to their ministry.
Recently, I was musing on frustration in life, and stress, and their geneses via our own unrealistic expectations. We stayed with the family of my wife’s sister, her husband, and their five children. There wasn’t much time to do anything remotely personal with all the hectic running about and attention that five kids require, and at the beginning of the week I found myself staring into the abyss. I wondered how I could ever shoulder the burdens of parenthood for the long years required, when I have so many things I still want to do and be.
I came to realize, however, that although the parents may not be doing all that they may have envisioned in their past, they were not unhappy, but very, very satisfied with their good family life. It struck me that I’ve been approaching life incorrectly. Life isn’t about meeting the peculiar urges and desires of this ego right now, but about becoming via study, prayer, meditation, and especially selfless service, begrudging no moment to another’s salvation when necessary (less [of ourselves] is more [like who we need to be]). And I’m referring to much more than just parenting, although that is a wonderful example.
Self-fulfillment is a relatively modern notion, but it finds little scriptural support. Life isn’t about becoming the armyman-doctor-fairyprincess-astronaut with a pony we may have dreamt of as children. It isn’t about becoming the MBA or black belt or bishop we may dream of now. Some of these may happen incidentally, as we choose righteous pursuits and use them to hone our spiritual development, but the divine expectation is not that we seek to meet our own needs now but that we change and grow into the sort of being who is happy in the service of God.
A changing definition of happiness is also needed. Instead of constant pleasure-seeking, we need to become happy with the things God allots to us and happy in the service he requests. It is not a sacrifice of happiness, but a recognition that in this subjective redefinition greater peace and happiness is possible than ever we suspected before. This is no idle leap of faith, either–turning your back on years of wishing and planning can be frightening, but it need not be a resignation to despair.
The prophet Alma exclaimed:
But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish [to do more than I have been called to do]; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.
I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.
In other words, we get what we want, though we don’t always suspect the terms of that fulfillment. Joseph F. Smith wrote of “educating our desires”–that “in nature we have our seedtime and harvest”. He also preached, “Our desires are the strongest motives which incite us to energy and which make us productive and creative in life” (Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pp. 297-98). This is a solemn reminder and rejoinder to continually engage in the deliberate practice of self-purification.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.
–1 Corinthians 15:36
We are now a hard kernel of wheat, dead but with infinite potential. Face to face with the breadth of charity, charity greater than love, we pause in trepidation. Yet there need be no fear in the consecration of ourselves to God, nor in the metamorphosis from a selfish creature to a child of God. Far less of our ego than we suspect is truly who we are, and far more of our potential.