When we moved into our current house, we were excited about the large lawn in the front and the back yards. At the time, a little voice in the back of my head kept saying, “Hey – that is a lot of grass…you sure about this?”
But I quieted the voice by reminding myself that I had four strapping young sons who could help keep it maintained.
About two years later we hired a lawn service. We were just too busy, and we had sports on Saturdays, and it was too hot, and we were our of town a lot, yada, yada, yada. It was really nice to have someone else come and cut the grass, and haul away the trimmings. Even better, I was the ‘Good Guy,’ and my sons were relieved of that duty.
Then I remembered something: I love my sons. So I fired the lawn guy.
After that, we worked through a variety of ways to help them get the job done. Sometimes it went smoothly, sometimes I ended up doing it myself, and sometimes the grass just got a little long.
Through the process of working through this chore with my sons, I noticed a sort of hierarchy of involvement that has wide-ranging application. For example:
1) Fearing the Wrath of Dad
Sometimes, mowing the lawn was a contest of wills. “Dad, can it wait? I’m tired, busy, etc.”
Occasionally this would end with a stern, “You WILL mow the lawn, or suffer the consequences.”
Result? Mission accomplished: The grass got cut. Begrudgingly.
2) Let’s Make a Deal
There were times when we bribed the boys with money, (allowance) or leveraged the chore with something they wanted. It worked most of the time.
Result? Mission accomplished: The grass got cut, and the boys were happy to get their reward. (This system was short-lived however, because we realized that paying the kids to do family chores conflicted with the next possible option.)
3) The Miracle
Every now and again, I would come home to find the grass freshly cut – without my having asked or bribed! These were glorious memories that I will cherish until the day I die. Usually the reason was something as simple and resounding as, “I saw it needed to be done, so I did it.”
Result? Mission accomplished: The grass got cut, I was a happy dad, and so was the voluntary mower.
These three examples are not equal. They follow the pattern that is applicable to many things in our lives. Simply stated:
Good – Better – Best. (One of the all-time great General Conference talks had this title, and was given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks back in 2007.)
In all three examples, the end result was that the grass got cut, so the end result is not in dispute – as far as the grass in concerned. What is in dispute, is which method is of most worth. The motivation behind the act is what makes it more valuable. When this idea is applied to obedience, it might open our eyes to a better way.
Good: Being obedient because we have to. This would include under duress from parents, peer pressure, or guilt. Or fear. Fear of retribution was a great motivator for the children of Israel. You want to mouth off to your parents? Go ahead, but know that they have the all-clear to take you outside the walls of the city and stone you to death.
The Law of Moses was a harsh law, motivated very much living your life in a way to avoid punishment. The Pharisees in Christ’s day had a heyday browbeating the people for disobeying the law. (Yes, that is the first time I have ever typed the word “Heyday”.) Sometimes we find ourselves obeying God’s commandments for the same reason: Fear of reprisal, or negative consequences.
This idea is hinted at when we say, “I can’t do that, I’m LDS.” (Rather than, “I don’t do that, I’m LDS”)
Yet, as any parent who has had to strong-arm their kid into going to church knows: It is better that they be there begrudgingly, rather than not be there at all – because at church, at least there is a chance of a collision with the Spirit.
Better: Being obedient because we get blessed. Now this is where we probably find ourselves most of the time. Want security? Pay tithing. Want endurance and health? Obey the Word of Wisdom. There are blessings attached to the commandments that can incentive us to obey – willingly.
Is God okay with this approach? Apparently – He is the author of the promised blessings that are attached to the commandments.
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20-21)
Much like it was with my sons being rewarded for mowing the lawn, if we do what God asks us to do, He will bless us. The hope for blessings is a good motivator for obedience. Even the idea of becoming like God and having eternal families is a obedience/blessing equation.
Obedience and the quest for blessings is much, much better than obedience under duress. Why? Because it is voluntary, and built on faith – not fear of reprisal. The idea of belong blessed for obedience is more than just an idea – it is a law – a law that existed before this world was created. We are most definitely safe seeking blessings for our obedience. But is there something even better…?
Best: Being obedient simply because we love the Lord, and want to please and serve Him. Christ was short, sweet, and to the point when He taught:
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Pretty succinct, right? The way we show Christ our love is to keep His commandments. If we choose not to keep the commandments, we are showing Christ that we do not love Him.
Anytime my kids mow the lawn, clean the house, or stand up and just start doing the dishes without being asked, I see that as a sign of love. I imagine that God probably feels the same way when we are quick to obey – without fear, without leverage, or even without a “what’s in it for me?” mentality.
Obedience driven by blessings, while acceptable, is still self-focused. It is about me, me, me. What do I get out of the deal? Much of our mission in life is to get out of that mindset, and look towards others. Obedience driven by love of Christ is not self-focused – rather It is focused on the Savior, and the “least of these” whom He has asked us to serve. (Matthew 25:40)
One of the great beauties of obedience born of love is that the blessings that follow still come – even though that is not what we are after. Do we love the Savior enough to follow Him with no expectations? Is our love that pure?
Good – Better – Best. What is my motivation for obedience? I find that at times I am in all three of these categories. I’m not proud to admit that occasionally I obey out of fear for the chaos that could ensue if I don’t do what I know that I am supposed to do. I also know that I am highly motivated to obey in a quest for blessings – both on earth and in heaven. Laying up treasures? You bet!
Thankfully, I recognize that sometimes my obedience is simply because I know that it is what the Lord wants of me. Being “quick to observe” builds momentum in my life, (momentum was a concept discussed multiple times in Conference last month.) and I find that the more I focus on pleasing God, and then less I worry about the consequence – good or bad – the easier it is for me to get on with it and do what I need to do.
PS: Here is a great talk by Elder Bednar that he gave at BYU a few years back: “Quick to Observe.”
(If this looks familiar, I originally posted this back in 2015.)