Every time I see someone playing the guitar or the piano skillfully I think to myself “I wish I could do that” – and I really do wish it. I have a strong interest in playing the piano and the guitar (among many other things) as well as anyone in the world. The problem is that I don’t have an interest in actually practicing. I don’t have an interest in spending the time that is required in order to learn to play well or learn new songs. It seems that I only have an interest in having a talent miraculously bestowed upon me – which could also mean that I really don’t have an interest in learning to play these instruments at all. I only have an interest in wishing I could.1
This same idea could be said for anything that is difficult or that requires a lot of effort. In fact, there are literally hundreds of things that I have an interest in doing well, but don’t have a strong enough interest to actually practice or spend time to develop them. This seems to be a problem with my talent development.
In fairness, there are some things that I do actually work hard at, and I feel that I am even improving (even if I acknowledge that my improvement is modest). Yet, with that same realization comes the understanding that for real and measured and sustainable improvement to continue, a lot of effort is required. This process may also increase our respect for some individuals who in fact do that thing extremely well (i.e. professionals in the field or activity) which we are attempting to develop within ourselves. This can foster motivation and emulation.
Last summer I decided that I had an interest in doing a triathlon. After all, how hard could it be to swim (I’ve gone swimming a thousand times), ride a bike (we’ve all done that since we were 4), and run a little (I learned to walk/run when I was 1). At first this interest was just a ‘wish’ – but then I started to actually let that interest work within me and signed up for a triathlon (sprint distance). I felt confident in my ability as a “formerly decent high school athlete” and in my somewhat-active lifestyle as an “occasional church and friendly neighborhood pick up basketball game player” to somehow be able to perform each of these disciplines in succession with minimal effort.
Then I went swimming (for distance, not for fun) one time. That’s all it took.
The swim distance (for a sprint triathlon) is 800 meters. For reference, that’s only 2 laps around a regular sized track. That’s it. How hard could it be? With no formal swim training, a sufficient ego, and plenty of naiveté I went to the pool (6 weeks before race day) on day 1 of training with lofty goals. I jumped in, fastened my swim goggles, and off I went. By the time I was completely gassed, I stopped to assess the situation and measure my baseline effort and wonder why my entire body was hurting and I murmured internally about the non-stop difficulty of not sinking to the bottom of the pool. Somehow it surprised me that the moment I stopped swimming I started sinking. I had struggled mightily to swim 50 meters (that’s two measly laps in a standard 25-meter pool). Suddenly I realized just how amazing Michael Phelps really is and I had to make a decision on just how ‘interested’ I was in actually completing a triathlon.
A similar situation that I can relate is my interest in earning an MBA (Masters of Business Administration). I have always wanted an MBA to round out my business education, yet what continually prevents this from happening is the list of requirements to actually earn one. I get hung up on actually taking the required pre-application GMAT or GRE test, applying to MBA schools, without even mentioning the commitment of actually paying the tuition, going to class, doing the homework, studying, completing the projects, (you know, actually earning the MBA). Needless to say, I have not earned my MBA and my supposed interest is waning. In all reality, we get to decide how interested we really are in things once reality (the list of requirements) is presented to us, and we get to decide all along the way if we are still ‘interested’ as we start the process and understand just what that reality means as we continue forward and struggle to improve.
Only those who have actually struggled through the process of repeated pain and effort (regardless of what talent or goal it is), or who have let their ‘interest’ in that thing to lead them to real and marked improvement can relate to those who are like minded. The rest of us just think to ourselves “that would be nice if…” or maybe even “it’s probably not that hard – I could do it if I wanted” or “those guys are just weird.” We likely think that being able to do something incredible is just ‘given’ to other people that we see – because that’s what we ‘wish’ would happen to us.
The more you struggle through and begin to overcome (see results) – your love for that thing increases, and your ‘interest’ is deepened. Deepened to the point where we may be searching for ‘plans’ or ‘programs’ or ‘mentors’ to help guide us in our quest to become even better. We start to look for additional routines and techniques, tips and tricks, and suddenly we find ourselves enveloped in the process of ‘becoming’ more and more. Because when we are truly ‘interested’ in something, we are interested in actually practicing and thinking about and trying to improve that something – and find ourselves willing to go to whatever lengths are required while someone who isn’t comfortable giving 110% effort for that thing wouldn’t feel comfortable wanting to train with those who do, and would quickly realize that they are actually more interested in something or someone else.
What are we interested in? Is our interest merely a wish, or do we let it guide us to repeated thought and action and to actively developing our talents and skills and love for that thing? Or, are we too easily deterred by the list of entry requirements or our first effort at improving?
King Benjamin gave us the answer; one in which he had a bunch of people express their ‘interest’ in something. After he had given them an amazing and promotional advertisement for salvation outlining the benefits of the “kingdom of God” they (his audience) all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
In other words, they said “we have an interest in being part of the kingdom of God. Apply the atonement to us. We want to be saved.”
And king Benjamin again opened his mouth and began to speak unto them, saying: My friends and my brethren, my kindred and my people, I would again call your attention, that ye may hear and understand the remainder of my words which I shall speak unto you.
In other words, he said “okay, here is a list of the requirements for the thing which you desire.”
- Trust in the Lord, be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life
- Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.
- Believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you;
- And now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.
- Ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come
- Ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.
- Ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another…
- Ye will teach them (your children) to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.
- Ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
Perhaps thou shalt say: The man (who is in need or is asking for succor) has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
In other words, he said “this is a list of things that bring salvation, and it includes a whole lot of ‘doing’. You may even look to excuse yourself from actually doing some of the things on this list for seemingly rational reasons or because of other people’s actions or your assumptions of their situation.”
“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this (stay his hand, a.k.a not complete and live and do the requirements on this list, a.k.a withhold your succor and/or your ministering effort)… the same hath no interest in the kingdom of God.2
In other words, he says “if you don’t try and actually do these things, you really aren’t interested, you’re only wishing.”
King Benjamin did not say that they couldn’t be saved, but he did say that they “hath no interest in the kingdom of God.” I think this means they really won’t have an interest in it – and wouldn’t like participating in the activities there anyway.
Training for a triathlon (especially real ones – like an Ironman) is made up of a whole lot of swimming, biking, and running. Mix in some nutrition plans, some strength training, and some brick workouts, proper sleeping habits and mental toughness exercises that will be never ending for as long as you want to be a triathlete – because that is what it means to be a triathlete or to belong to the kingdom of triathletes. If you aren’t interested (in love with and finding joy in) the training regimen, you are in fact uninterested in becoming a triathlete. As a note, the end result of all that training is actually a race that includes a lot of swimming, biking, and running. Imagine this voice on race day: “Congratulations, all of your swim, bike, and run training has earned you the right to swim, bike, and run with other people who love it just like you.”
Training for the kingdom of God is made up of a whole lot of serving, ministering, succoring, teaching, sacrificing, feeling and caring for the sick and the needy, believing, hoping, praying, and loving. These activities will be never ending for as long as you want to be part of the kingdom of God. If you aren’t really interested in these activities, or if you cannot find joy in performing these duties, or if you think that by somehow completing enough of them to ‘earn’ your MBA in Christianity (or if you just want these talents to somehow be bestowed upon you) – you are in fact uninterested in belonging to the kingdom. Heaven is made up of a bunch of people doing kingdom of God training exercises all the time. Imagine this voice on race day “Congratulations, all of your repeated succor, care, blessing, teaching, ministering, and sacrifice training has earned you the right to succor, care, bless, teach, and minister to people who love it just like you.”
The means really are the very ends that we so earnestly seek. To learn to love the process is to understand what heaven is really like.
I am hoping for the kingdom of God. I am wishing for the kingdom of God. But am I really interested in the kingdom of God?
1 This is a touchy subject for me. Mostly because I feel like ‘wishing’ or ‘hoping’ that somehow a talent or gift could just be mine (without the struggle to develop and earn that talent) is in fact a strong talent of mine. I have given multiple lessons on ‘talents’ and have been free to disclose that one of my strengths is identifying desirable qualities in others and ‘wishing’ I had them. In full honesty, I then also disclose that I am not willing to actually work for any of them, thus highlighting (with levity) the gap between the two ideas.
2 Mosiah 4:2-18