Sunday, July 14, 2013

Where's the Edge?

There is a well-known story told about a King who was looking for a new carriage driver. After sifting through many applicants, he narrowed his choices down to three potential candidates. He called each one in for a personal interview in which he had only one question: on the King's preferred route through the forest, the path comes close to a steep cliff. His question to the potential drivers was "how close can you get to the edge of the cliff?"

The first applicant said that he could get right to the edge without even a wheel slipping off.

The second replied that he could still maintain perfect balance with one wheel off the edge.

The third answered, "Your Majesty, I plan to keep both of us as far away from the edge as possible."

You can guess who got the job.

Regardless of how long you or I have been members of the church, why is it that instead of adopting the philosophy of the third applicant, we sometimes challenge where the "edge" of obedience actually is? Why is it that we sometimes look for ways to live our lives with one wheel off the edge, all the while trying to convince ourselves that we still have perfect balance? President James E. Faust presented an answer:
Occasionally you want every detail of appropriate and inappropriate conduct to be specified, perhaps so you can feel comfortable in getting closer to the edge. . . . It is the responsibility of prophets to teach the word of God--not to spell out every jot and tittle of human behavior. Our moral agency requires us to know good from evil and choose the good. Source 
For the most part, I have been one to say that if it's not specifically written down in some church-approved source, then it's up to you. However, the gospel principles that we have been given by the Lord to live by--which encompass every aspect of our lives--are written down. What's up to us, as President Faust said,  is how diligently we use our moral agency to understand the full meaning of these principles.

As humans, our carnal nature causes us to see how close we can get to the line without actually crossing it. Sometimes we're doing it on purpose. Other times, we're living with one wheel off the edge simply because we don't know any better. So, what's the safest way to know what's okay and what's not without going to extremes? While there are many answers out there, the best one that I've found so far is from chapter 9 in the book "Daughters In My Kingdom," in which the 3rd General Relief Society President of the Church, Zina D. H. Young, said the following regarding how to teach our children:
Sow good seeds in their young and tender minds, and always prefer principle to policy, thus you will lay up treasures in heaven. (Emphasis added, p.153)
In saying this, she didn't mean that we should just ignore church policies. On the contrary, the policies sent by the Lord to our church leaders help us to better grasp and live eternal gospel principles. What's more, they're updated with the times so that we have an idea of how to handle current situations. They are the guidelines that help us use our moral agency to understand the specifics that aren't written down. Here are a few examples of this:

Sabbath-Day Observance
About a month ago, a newly-baptized member of the church posed a question about proper Sabbath-day activities. She knew that going shopping on Sunday was a no-no, but her mother (not a member of the Church) enjoyed Sunday shopping and wanted her daughter to come with her. She said that didn't feel quite right about it, but since she was a new member she didn't know for sure. She wanted to know if it was okay to just go to the store with her mom, but not actually shop.

When it comes to proper Sabbath-day observance, there are physically written down specifics like purposefully shopping, recreation, athletic events, and entertainment (Link 1: Search "larger society"Link 2). But there are other things (like the example above) that have been debated quite a bit because they are not actually written down. So, what is a gospel principle upon which those specifics were written? In the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet under Sabbath Day observance, it says that "Your behavior and dress on the Sabbath should show respect for the Lord and His holy day" (emphasis added).

For the most part, we know which things show respect for the Lord, but how many times do we forget that His holy day deserves a level of respect that is not required on the other six days of the week?

Modesty, Dress, and Grooming
"Some Latter-day Saints may feel that modesty is a tradition of the Church or that it has evolved from conservative, puritanical behavior. Modesty is a gospel principle that applies to people of all cultures and ages. In fact, modesty is fundamental to being worthy of the Spirit." Source

The written down specifics of modesty include everyday clothing/fashion, hairstyles, tattoos, piercings, and swimwear (Link 1Link 2Link 3Link 4). Some of these specifics outline the exact do's and do not's, while others leave understanding to you (e.g. appropriate sportswear attire and the exact definitions of "extreme hairstyles" or "inappropriately casual"). Therefore, it's good to know of a few principles underlying this subject.
  1. "Your body is sacred. . . . Through your dress and appearance . . . You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him." Source
  2. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
  3. "Ask yourself, 'Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord's presence?'" Source

The Appearance of evil 
Avoiding the appearance of evil is a slightly different topic than the others because it is a principle, rather than being associated with one. However, it seems to be the one most up for interpretation than any other. For example:
Some young adults were surprised when they learned that it was inappropriate for mixed young single adult groups to be involved together in overnight activities. They said, "Why hasn't the prophet told us?" The Church counsel in this matter has been clear for many years. It should not have been necessary to tell these young people to avoid the appearance of evil. Source
The answer to the example question regarding Sabbath-day store attendance may be best clarified by this principle than the one of Sabbath-day observance: to show respect for the Lord and His holy day, we avoid the appearance of evil by not going to the store and making it look like we're shopping. I used to believe that as long as the Lord knows the intents of my heart, it didn't matter what other people thought. I have since learned that this mindset is incorrect. If I want to be a true disciple of Christ, then how I am perceived by others--my example--should be one of my greatest concerns: My example will give people an impression of not only myself, but the God that I worship and the gospel that I profess to follow. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'll get it right every time or that I'll be liked by those around me, but there should be no doubt in their minds that I'm doing my best to follow Christ.

In the end...
You know, I never really gave too much thought to a lot of this stuff until I got married. From the movies we were watching to the household messes that went uncleaned, both my husband and I realized that things needed to change in order to live the gospel principle of sacredness, specifically that "Only the home can compare to the temple in sacredness." Additionally, we knew that our children would learn more from our examples than anything else, but that idea became more of a reality as we realized that we needed to start making those changes before children came into the picture. As my husband is fond of saying, "it's easier to build boys than to repair men."

Now, our inappropriate slang has been replaced with the appropriate wording; some of our movies have been thrown out and put on a list to buy edited one day; music not conducive to the Spirit has been deleted; anger-management skills are being honed; and household messes are cleaned up much sooner after they're made. It took about a year of conscious thinking and prodding each other to get just those five things under our belts, and the last two still aren't where we want them. But knowing that we're trying to do better to live the gospel (and to be the parents that the Lord need us to be in today's world) is a great motivation to keep going.

In the end, none of us are perfect. It will take longer than this lifetime to attain perfection. However, one thing is for certain: we can't live our lives with one foot on the path and one close to/off the edge, and expect to maintain perfect balance. We need to do our best to learn how to keep ourselves and our families as far away from the edge as possible.


  1. If I may, I'd like to use parts of this post in some spiritually educational settings in the near future.

    1. Of course! One of the purposes of these posts is to share spiritual things that I have learned so that we may all rejoice and progress together. If you appreciate what is here enough to share with others, then I'd say that this specific goal is being met.


I welcome fun, civil, and respectful discussion. See "The Blog and House Rules" for what that means to me.