In a cabin in pine, above the fireplace, hangs what was once a beautiful piece of art.
It’s a family crest, or was when first hung there many years ago. It’s made of solid wood, shaped like a shield, with a banner once reading “Sanders”. The crest was composed of small, individually cut and added wood pieces, each with differing color and texture. Together, they formed a beautiful complicated piece of art representing the Sanders Family. There was a large bull at the top, posturing to all that Sanders were stout, tall, proud, and passionate people. I particularly loved the fleur de lis in the middle, representing to me my family’s involvement in scouting.
Over the years, the crest fell apart. It seemed every time I’d visit the cabin another piece had fallen from its position, victim to the heat of the fireplace. What the family used to comfort our stay actually destroyed the crest. As the fire’s smoke and heat rose through the chimney the glue, securing the wood pieces softened then melted.
I sat, recently, in front of that fireplace, under that very crest. I asked myself what could have been done different.
I was thinking about the crest, but more intently thinking about my family, my parents and eight siblings. At the time, my father had moved out of the house, and soon after, my mother filed for divorce. As I stared at the crest above the flickering fire, I thought of the countless lessons my parents taught me, though now they seemed to have less tack.
At the age of seventeen, my parents sat down with us children and discussed that my grandfather, a man respected in the community, a former Bishop and member of the Stake Presidency, along with my grandmother after 40 years of marriage and twelve children, decided to call it quits. Of course this terrified many of my siblings, but my parents assured us that they had their act together, they loved each other and they would never split up.
My recent conversation with my children was a little different.
My parents bragged that for some thirty years, maybe more, that they read the scriptures everyday except for one night back in ’78, maybe it was ’79? Even when they were living apart, they still read scriptures. I was raised to believe that scripture reading was an ingredient for a successful marriage. I doubt it hurt, but I’m learning that a successful marriage isn’t achieved by checking boxes.
That may actually be a large factor in my family’s current situation. If we believe that God will judge us on our works, that it is only through strict adherence to the laws, that qualifies us for heaven, we might adopt a practice of checking boxes. Reading scriptures, going to church, saying prayers, paying tithing, all great things, if done out of fear of condemnation, don’t seem to harvest the blessings that foster happiness. If we check the boxes with hopes of not being punished, its difficult to enjoy the moment, or recognize the blessings that are predicated upon those laws. And what of the atonement, forgiveness, and mercy?
The devil would have us think that our efforts aren’t good enough, that we don’t deserve grace because we haven’t done “all we can do.” The story of our existence changes when we realize that the greatest of us, the only deserving, able of inciting damnation, came not to condemn but to save.
As a box checker, I often found myself looking at others around me, seemingly free from the daunting tasks of righteousness, wondering why they appeared so happy, free. I judged them, I condemned. I thought that by checking the boxes, I would someday find myself, after having endured to the end, struggling through this existence, carrying the crosses I’d been asked to bare, at the Savior’s feet, where he would say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
I’ve since had a change of heart. I realize now that enduring to the end is the fun part, the great part, because now I have the knowledge of who I am; I have been forgiven and shown mercy. Now I can enjoy the blessings of the atonement and the gospel and be happy.
That was difficult to see through my judgmental eyes. My insecurities and fear drove me to criticize those around me, passing condemnation onto the lot, as I sought to find fault with others, in the name of righteousness. In truth I was living way beneath my privilege, making this existence harder for myself and those around me. In reality, the scene I often visualized of describing to the Lord the boxes I had checked, complaining about the crosses I had born and the sacrifices I had made would have merited the words, “I never knew thee.”
As box checkers, we bend over backwards to serve those around us, to offer a ride, make a pie, donate countless hours to others and worthwhile causes. This usually merits kind recognition, appreciation from those served. It might even allow us to dream of our mansions above and with that, maybe we already have our reward. To our family, those not in the lime light, where action isn’t seen by the world (except through Facebook), it’s difficult to find time and the only boxes requiring checks have little to do with being a good parent. There’s a world of difference between reading versus of scripture, and teaching children the Gospel. And “no success can compensate for failure in the home.”
Heat will come; there is opposition in all things. I think the answer to avoiding separation is stronger bonds. As I’ve abandoned the ways of checking boxes, I’ve learned how to live in the moment, finding joy in everyday situations with my family. I’m more grateful for my life, and I recognize the multitude of blessings that come from, not checking boxes, but making righteous choices.
The greatest bond comes through the healing power of the atonement. The atonement not only has the ability to heal the offender but also the offended.
I use to believe that my day was made up of right or wrong choices, black or white decisions. If I was in tune with the Spirit, I would be told the right choices to make in everything I did, down to which road to take to work. I was essentially asking God for more boxes to check. Then I learned that the Spirit doesn’t work that way. God gave us a mind in which to ponder, and free will to choose, not between black and white, but purple, orange, red, and blue, and hundreds of thousands more. The Spirit isn’t going to tell us anything contrary to God’s plan of happiness. God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be. The Spirit cares about what’s important to me, and doesn’t seem eager to give me boxes to check.
Another bond is each other. At one point all of us were on the same side. If Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, who are we to not forgive all men.
Even though the crest is looking pretty pathetic, it wouldn’t take much to restore it to its former majesty. A little love and forgiveness could go a long way.