During one Sunday-night devotional our Session Director gave an analogy as follows. If you want to sew several t-shirts there are a few ways to go about doing it. You can picture in your mind how you think they should look, then go about sewing them, trying to copy the one you made before. Or you can find a good example of a t-shirt, study it carefully, and try to sew each one as closely to the original as possible.
Or perhaps the best way would be to get a sewing pattern, trace, cut and sew your fabric carefully, following all the instructions intently, and have each replica as near perfect as possible. Patterns make a way for us to get it right the first time and each subsequent time instead of replicating imperfect copies.
Such is the pattern of our lives. We can picture in our mind the way we think we should go, do, or be, but surely that would give the roughest end result, try as you might. There are many wonderful examples we can study who will indeed lead us in the right direction. But there is one perfect pattern who, if you follow intently, will help you become as perfect as possible: our Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ. "He is like the Father, the great prototype of saved beings" (Joseph Smith).
As I pondered that concept that week I began to see other analogies with similar messages, such as the service project we did each week with the youth. We made simple fleece blankets for orphanages by cutting slits around the edges of the fabric and tying the pieces together. Special instructions and patterns were provided in each case.
That week as I watched the youth enthusiastically go to work, many left the pattern quickly after realizing the extra effort and time required to match it up and cut around it.
At first I thought, "Sure, they'll get it close enough, and it'll save time." After all, the first few cuts looked just like the patterned ones. But as they continued to cut, each one deviated a little more, getting wider or thinner, shorter, more crooked or uneven than the last. I still kept thinking "It's ok, it'll all look the same when they're tied. They're cruising, and we'll be done in no time!"
But the trouble came when we tried to tie the knots. The short, fat fringes were nearly impossible to tie, and the long, skinny ones were more flimsy and less elegant. All the sudden our work slowed dramatically as we tried over and over to finish those difficult knots. We were among the last groups done, and although the blankets still looked nice, they were definitely less than perfect.
I couldn't help but think of how much easier it would've been to have followed the pattern diligently from the beginning, and to have urged the youth to do the same, even though they didn't understand why and were eager to do it on their own. Now I could see the reasons behind the method, and the difficulty that could be avoided. All they had to do was trust that I knew better -- had experience, that I wasn't just trying to be old-fashioned and make their lives difficult. And if they didn't, they'd have to deal with the consequences. I'm sure you're catching my drift, because yeah, the parallel hit me over the head too.
The pattern of the Gospel our Father in Heaven has given us is designed so we can live the happiest way possible and avoid many of the unnecessary difficulties. There are no shortcuts to living with true happiness. In reality, the pattern that's set is the shortcut because it saves the time trying to correct the mistakes (remember, we were among the last to finish). Any time we deviate there will be difficulties and imperfections. Luckily they don't have to be as permanent as a cut piece of fabric. But that's a topic for another post :)
All we must do is carefully follow the instructions our Father has lovingly given us and trust that He knows all things.
As soon as I saw that pattern, I quickly noticed how well it worked, repeatedly. Week after week youth from all over the country would come from the widest variety of backgrounds you could imagine. But no matter their previous experiences, as they immersed themselves in the gospel-centered activities of the week, they were beaming with joy and love by the end. I can't even express the difference I could see. And not only in them, but me too. I remember distinctly thinking that I was always so incredibly happy by the end of each week. Especially the Friday of my last week. I was singing and dancing and about ready to explode with joy, and the funny part is, I'm not even exaggerating!
The pattern of frequent prayer, personal and group (family) scripture study, serving others, learning about the gospel and then sharing it with others brought the Spirit into our lives so strongly. We received answers to our prayers, we found comfort and encouragement in the scriptures, we felt such a strong love for all around us (even though we barely knew them!), we felt the courage to make needed changes in our lives and be unwavering examples to others. Such are only a few examples of the many blessings that come from immersing ourselves in the gospel.
Just a few weeks ago I read an article in the Ensign entitled "To Returned Missionaries" that solidified all these things I'd learned. Elder L. Tom Perry was petitioning returned missionaries to "press forward with the zeal" they once had as a full-time missionary. All too often they come home and slump back into their old habits and then wonder why they aren't feeling the same spiritual high they felt on their mission. The exact same thing could be applied after EFY! I know because it happened to me several times.
It was no surprise to me when Elder Perry outlined the same basic principles to keep that spiritual vigor:
- Frequent, consistent, and mighty prayer
- Individual and companion (family) scripture study
- The joy of teaching the gospel
This was an important lesson for me to learn. Looking back I've seen the difference when I haven't followed the pattern. And now I recognize why I'm so ridiculously happy when I do! Just follow the pattern. Heavenly Father knows best. People are the happiest when they're immersed in the gospel.