Yesterday in Relief Society, our lesson was Chapter One, “Living What We Believe,” from the new Teachings of Presidents of the Church manual. [If you don’t have a copy of this new book, the complete text is available online at lds.org.] On page one, we learn that George Albert Smith, at age 34, made a list of 11 ideals to live by, which he called his “personal creed.” The manual referred to them as “resolutions” – perhaps they used that word to inspire members of the Church in their personal New Year’s resolutions. Interestingly, the kinds of ideals on President Smith’s list are to be noted not only for what they included, but also for what they did NOT include:
George Albert’s list did NOT include going on a diet to lose 20 pounds (or any other weight goal).
George Albert’s list did NOT include exercising more to get physically fit (or any other physiological goal).
George Albert’s list did NOT include anything that would not really matter in the Eternities.
His list, in short, was a description of how he would follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in his daily actions throughout his life, being kind, gentle, and a blessing to all. While his goals certainly could be termed “lofty,” there was no spirit of “loftiness” – no pride nor arrogance or self-importance – to be found in any of the eleven ideals. Each of us would do well to adopt his creed as our own.
Obviously, personal creeds and New Year’s resolutions are not the same thing. I recently read some advice that could be applied to New Year’s resolutions. In Chapter 19 of Dallin Oaks’ new book, Life’s Lessons Learned, his advice about goal setting is useful if we want to make better resolutions:
“I believe in setting goals, especially the right kind of goals. I have learned that some goals can be an impetus for progress, but others can be little more than a source of frustration. … The ultimate goal for personal effort is to put the Lord first in our lives and to keep His commandments. Attaining that goal requires personal effort and does not depend on others. … Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in His commandments and His will for us prepare us to deal with life’s opportunities and circumstances….”
As I read that, I thought to myself, what would happen if I made just one New Year’s resolution for 2012, that in all things, I would “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness”? The question I would ask myself in each situation would be what would the Lord have me do? The promise that follows seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness is that “all these things shall be added unto you.” The “all things” Christ was referring to (see Matthew 6:24-34) were the temporal concerns of his disciples for food and clothing and other “Gentile” desires. He assured his disciples that Heavenly Father knew what they needed and would do a better job of supplying those needs than they could do by “taking thought.” (For us, “taking thought,” refers to obsessing over things beyond our control.)
My last year’s list of New Year’s Resolutions comprised 12 things I wanted to accomplish or improve on during 2011. All of these goals were good goals that required personal effort and did not depend on others. While most of these goals did see a little action, not one of them was successfully “completed.” In most cases, I had been too optimistic about my own strength and time available.
Nevertheless, I think I shall keep last year’s list because it expresses good desires. However, I think I may be more successful at actually improving if my motivation for working on any particular item on the list is to do God’s will.
I like the simplicity of what Elder Oaks said: “The ultimate goal for personal effort is to put the Lord first in our lives and to keep His commandments. … Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in His commandments and His will for us prepare us to deal with life’s opportunities and circumstances.”