one thing is needful

Treasures of Heaven

When I have been focused more on Jesus Christ, a lot of things that I thought were important simply don’t matter anymore. There are a lot of treasures of the world that seem really appealing—more income, more savings, better stuff, nicer house, more followers—and they aren’t necessarily bad things, unless they become too important and I become overly focused on them. I have a limited amount of time and resources, so I will need to make sacrifices in order to choose the important things that could easily be ignored.

If I don’t actively choose to focus on Jesus Christ, then often I am choosing not to follow him. The treasures of the world surround me daily—they look appealing, easy, and fun. But the treasures of heaven will bring me a lasting happiness.

Exercises:

  • Spend some time planning and pondering on your priorities, with the perspective of trying to come closer to Jesus Christ.
  • Spend more time listening to or reading the words of the Savior, like Mary did.
  • Write down a single mission statement for your life that helps you remember what is most important.
  • Look at how you are allocating your time and money and determine what can be eliminated or sacrificed in order to choose the better part. For example, maybe eliminate time spent shopping, spending money on cable television, or checking social media.
  • Read and ponder Matthew 5.
one thing is needful

Changing plans

I have found that many things that I find important are not important to God. And so I have had to change my plans. I’ve removed goals from my list, such as travelling the world or publishing award-winning books—because they were distractions, not what I really wanted my life to look like. And I’ve had to make decisions to switch where I was heading in life so that I could better follow what was needful.

For a few years, I stopped writing novels. After years without success, I was wondering if that was really the direction I needed to head. So I took a break. I thought that I might never write fiction again. While I did write fiction again, it was with a different attitude. I didn’t need the success that I had craved before—and my writing changed. I never published a book like I thought I would, but it also no longer mattered. My goal of becoming a best-selling novelist was no longer there. I was on a better path, one that was more right for me.

I still have goals. And I still have long lists of things I need to do. I worry. I make mistakes. I’m not going to spend every moment of every day reading scriptures, saying prayers, or serving others. There were still be a lot of things in my life that don’t seem very needful—like watching television, going hiking, or going out to eat. I’m not going to be perfect all at once—but I can keep trying to remember Jesus Christ more and think of him when I make decisions.

Sometimes, I must change my plans dramatically; sometimes I must change a few small things. What I’m aiming for is gradual and consistent improvement that is bring me close to the one thing.

one thing is needful

Sacrifice

I have to sacrifice, and sometimes it feels really hard to sacrifice the things that I want and the things that feel so important. But I try to remember that sacrifice is giving up one thing for something else that is better. Sometimes I’m so inclined to focus on what I’m giving up that I forget to see what I’m gaining. When I focus on the end result, I’m much more able to make that sacrifice.

I am often still unwilling to make those small, daily sacrifices. The bigger sacrifices of staying home to take care of my kids, driving over a half hour to church every week, or quitting a job have seemed easy in comparison to small sacrifices like spending a minute in prayer or turning off the computer. I have quit my job quickly and easily, but I often quit my web browser very slowly and reluctantly.

When I fail to sacrifice, I find myself stuck with a small, limited picture of what my life could be. I have to learn how to say no so I can say yes to other, better things. Some days, I really want to sleep in and do the bare minimum possible to get by. I’m miserable on those days, and it’s not really what I want my life to look like at all. I want to be able to give up what is easy to do what is right, to have the life that God wants for me. And sometimes I have to sacrifice really good things, in order to find that one thing that is needful.

I don’t want to be like Martha was, so caught up in good things that I forget to actual do the one thing I need to do. I don’t want to trade living water for normal water or the bread of life for ordinary bread.

It can be hard. But making the choice is the only difficult when I’m focused on what I’m giving up, focused on trying to find the easy way, instead of looking at what I’m gaining by sacrificing to live a better life, and choose that one thing.

one thing is needful

Choosing Happy

I really want to be happy. Sometimes I have no idea how to go about doing that. But I’ve found that I can’t choose to be happy by simply changing my mood; I choose to be happy by living in a specific way, and then the happiness comes.

Happiness is difficult to define in words, but I know how it feels. I find happiness in small moments, like laughing at something funny or working hard at something new. But I want the happiness in my life to last. My life sometimes feels like a roller-coaster of ups and down; I am searching for a happiness that persists through good days and bad days. I want true joy, a feeling that can exist even with sorrow and difficult times. Joy fills me up with light, peace, and a feeling that I’m doing the right thing. How do I find lasting joy and happiness when life seems to come at me with some new challenge almost every day?

I find joy by following Jesus Christ.

It’s simple, really. I’m miserable when I am not following Jesus Christ and his commandments. When I think about all of my incredibly miserable moments, the moments filled with despair and icky-dark discouragement, they have been moments when I have made bad choices: I wasted my time, I didn’t forgive others, I was selfish, or I was proud. Because I’m rarely miserable when I’m truly trying to be meek, humble, and serve others.

Recently, I had been feeling discouraged for various reasons—it was in the middle of a dark winter and I had been sort of lazy. I was going through a difficult time—not that I could really describe what was so difficult, but I was struggling to wake up in the morning and get going. I’ve had moments like this a lot in my life, but I found that this time I didn’t feel any despair, something that I had felt often before. I wondered why I was doing better, why I had enough to hope to keep trying. And I realized that over the years, I have tried to make Jesus Christ the foundation of my life. As I become more successful in doing that, it meant that I always had hope to rely on.

When I focus more on Jesus Christ, I knew that I could always rely on him. I knew I was always loved. I no longer felt despair because I always had at least a glimmer of light in the darkness. I could find lasting happiness.

I know that I have to choose between good and bad, right and wrong. I can’t follow Jesus Christ and hold on to all my bad habits and weaknesses. There have been days where I simultaneous want to sit around and do nothing and feel like I’m accomplishing my goals and doing good in the world. The two things don’t go together. If I’m going to be happy, I can’t make the choice to do what seems easy to me. I can’t just go with the flow. Following Jesus Christ must become my deliberate, active choice that I make not just on occasion, but daily.

one thing is needful

Worry and Balance

There are countless distractions in life. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed with worrying about everything that is not important. I worry about the past, which I can’t change, and I worry about the future, which I can’t predict. I have spent countless days worrying about trying to get everything done and find some sort of balance.

I usually feel so completely out of balance, as if I’m never quite in the right place at the right time. I have a lot of different things going in my life—being a wife a and mother, serving in my community, being a good friend, trying to pursue my own ambitions—and I just end up feeling guilty most of the time because my time and resources and limited.

How do I balance taking care of my kids with working on my own projects? How do I balance being a good friend and taking care of everything there is at home? How do I balance days when I’m feeling unmotivated and exhausted? Sometimes I worry that I should delete my Facebook account or shut off my computer all the time; sometimes I throw in a frozen pizza and play hide and seek; sometimes I bake unicorn cookies and wait a little bit too long to pick up my crying child.

My life doesn’t feel balanced at all. I muddle along, worrying about everything.

But I don’t have to live the rest of my life like that. It’s not easy, because it involves the reality that I must stop relying solely on myself and trust in God. If I choose to follow Jesus Christ, I don’t have to worry. I can have the assurance that everything will work out.

Balance can come when I establish my one thing first. If I can put what is needful above what I want, then I will find the right sort of balance. But that balance is completely different from the balance I want. I want a sort of balance that means I’m doing everything and I’m doing it well. But the sort of balance that comes from following Jesus Christ is a balance where things don’t get done and areas I feel are important become neglected and forgotten in favor of something better.

I was driving home from picking up my daughter from school and I felt I should go visit a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. But I ignored the feeling—I was cranky, my house was a mess, and I was worried about everything there was to do. I didn’t feel up to it. I came home. And later, I realized I didn’t want everything that I felt I had to do overwhelm something that I knew was the right thing to do. I got into the car again and I drove to visit my friend. All the things that I had worried about really didn’t matter—I didn’t have the time to spend cooking a nice dinner, my house didn’t get as clean as I wanted to, and I still sort of felt tired the rest of the day. But while things didn’t get done, by visiting with my friend, I found happiness.

one thing is needful

Priority

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.

-Luke 10:27

When people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always had answers: veterinarian, poet, novelist, or freelance editor (my dream in ninth grade). My answers changed, but I always dreamed about a bright future. But most of the things that I dreamed about never happened.

When I was a teenager, I started to write novels. My first few attempts were mostly a whole lot of bad ideas—one was about magical shards of glass. While my ideas were not always very original, I was persistent. I wrote a complete novel while in high school, and I tried to rewrite it and get it published. I failed. So I wrote a new novel. I tried again and again. A person asked me once if I seriously thought I was going to publish a book, and I said with completely confidence that I was. I would keep trying until I got there.

In the middle of all the writing, I discovered a new favorite author. I thought she basically lived my dream life: she had gone to college, written and published books, won awards, had children—and she was a brilliant presenter and a good person. I met her a few times, and I seriously thought that I wanted a life just like hers. That was my dream.

I have always made intense goals about what I want to accomplish: publish books, go to graduate school, get married, have kids, own a home, and travel the world. At one point, I had a list of a hundred things I wanted to do in my life. Those goals were incredibly important to me.

But over the last few years, my focus has started to shift.

Mary and Martha

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

(Luke 10:38-42 KJV)

Martha had a really long list of everything she thought she needed to do that day. She had received a very important guest into her house, someone she loved and admired. And she wanted to serve him. She must have been incredibly frustrated that she was trying to get everything done and it wasn’t working how she wanted it to. She felt alone, and she wanted help to get things done. She may have wanted everything to be perfect. But she was looking for perfection in the wrong place.

One Thing

I am Martha in this story. I like to have everything in order, and I love to get things done. In addition to my long-term plans, I am constantly making extensive to-do lists and I am worried about, well, everything. Life is a clutter of everything that competes for my attention and effort—and I am trying my best to get it all done.

But only one thing is needful? What about my long lists of things I need to do in life? What about my dreams and my goals? What about everything I need to do in a day? I have to exercise, get ready, get my kids ready, teach them how to read and play the piano, feed everyone healthy meals, be involved in worthwhile activities, finish my writing, read books, catch up with watching videos and reading blogs and social media feeds—and I also try to read my scriptures, say my prayers, serve others, and be kind. I tried to narrow my lists down, but they are still so long. There are lots of things that seem needful.

My family needs food, money, school, books, a home, activities, etc. We need so much. Right?

How could only one thing be needful?

I had read this story multiple times and skipped over that phrase, rationalizing that everything that I had in my life and in my head was completely necessary. I thought I needed a comfortable, successful life.

But I am like Martha. And what I really need is to figure out how to be like Mary.

I have read the story over and over again. I think about it often. Mary was simply listening to Jesus Christ. She probably had things she could be doing, a whole long list of them. But when it came down to it, she chose to listen to Jesus Christ.

Martha was doing so many good things, but they were taking her away from Jesus Christ. She prioritized everything that seemed urgent and necessary, but that meant she was focusing on the bread on the table and the jug of water to be served instead of hearing the words of living water and seeking the bread of life.

I’m a good person—and so was Martha. But sometimes the first thing I do when I wake up is look at the weather or check Facebook. Sometimes I turn on an inspirational message or try to listen to scripture, and then I become so distracted that I have no idea what I listened to. I think I am following Jesus Christ, even though I forget to spend any time thinking of his words. I think I am doing good things, even when I forget to follow a whole lot of simple commandments, like loving my neighbor and being completely honest.

I need a priority—not a long list of everything good, but something that can help me in every single aspect of my life. I need a priority that gives a clarity that will help me with each individual choice.

I want following Jesus Christ to be that priority. I want to follow him, not as afterthought, but in every moment of my life.

 

Note: This is an excerpt from my unpublished book, One Thing is Needful: Choosing an Abundance of Joy Over an Abundance of Things. If you would like to read more, please let me know.