First Things First

Dear Will:

Ever find yourself going in so many directions at once that you can’t concentrate very long on any one thing? I don’t know about you, but when I get into that sort of synapse-firing frenzy, it’s almost paralyzing. My mind becomes a jumble. At best I’m inefficient with how I use my time; at worst I get nothing done whatsoever.

It wasn’t very many years ago that I was a devotee of the Franklin Planner, a system for organizing one’s day and getting stuff done. I first encountered the Franklin Planner in the mid-‘80s when I served a short, ill-fated stint as Stake Clerk  in the Los Angeles Stake. The men in that Stake Presidency were very accomplished and successful, and all three of them swore by the Franklin Planner. As an unaccomplished and unsuccessful 20-something wannabe, I was in no position to judge, but since I was a 20-something wannabe it didn’t stop me. I teased and taunted them about their devotion until, a few years later, I sheepishly got a Franklin Planner of my own.

In those days, when you bought your Franklin Planner starter kit they encouraged you to listen to a couple of cassette tapes designed to train you on how to use the planner and to motivate you to actually use it. Central to the approach was the “Prioritized Daily Task List” in which you were supposed to separate the important from the not-so-important so that you would be less likely to burn time and energy on low priority fluff and more likely to focus on the truly essential. It’s what Stephen R. Covey has referred to as “putting first things first.”

So which things should come first? The answer to that question will vary from day to day, but over the long arc of time, that which matters most will always have more to do with human relationships than with personal achievement or financial success. Our prophet, Thomas S. Monson has said:

I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. . . .

[And] what is most important almost always involves the people around us. Often we assume that they must know how much we love them. But we should never assume; we should let them know. Wrote William Shakespeare, “They do not love that do not show their love.” We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown. Rather, our regrets will come if such things are omitted from our relationships with those who mean the most to us.

Send that note to the friend you’ve been neglecting; give your child a hug; give your parents a hug; say “I love you” more; always express your thanks. Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved. (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” General Conference, October 2008)

It’s an important reminder, especially as I consider the scribbled list before me: so many self-centered to-do’s that there’s hardly room for a person to get my attention. Perhaps it’s time for me to reprioritize.

It’s a speech I have given myself before—and certainly one I will give myself again—but for now, my mind is a little less jumbled. So before I post this letter, I think I’m going to go call my mom.

PW

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No Ordinary Blessing

Dear Will:

I think I’ve mentioned before that I teach early morning Seminary. My class begins at 5:45 a.m. each school day. This year we are studying the Old Testament.

In preparation for this week’s classes, I have been reading about the prophet Enoch.  Although there are men in the scriptures who seem a bit inaccessible to me either because they’re too perfect or too superhuman (I’m thinking about Nephi and Elijah, for example), Enoch seems like my kind of guy. Uncertain. Deeply flawed. Human.

When God first told Enoch that he wanted him to go preach to the people, Enoch was full of very reasonable excuses. “Why me?” he said in essence. “I’m too young, nobody likes me, and I don’t talk so good” (see Moses 6:31). Something like that, anyway. Well, God sent him out nonetheless, and the early results were not very promising. We’re told that “all men were offended because of him.” Some said, “there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us” (Moses 6:37-38). (You can see what this new assignment did for Enoch’s popularity.)

Even so, Enoch persisted, and the people came around—and then some. So great was the impact of this one, humble man and his glorious message that “the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).

Imagine. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a place with such a great group of people? And to think it was all made possible by a reluctant prophet—a man who thought himself so awkward and so unpopular that he tried at first to decline the assignment.

You and I may never have the opportunity to dwell in such a place, but fortunately we do enjoy the benefits that come from having a living prophet on the earth. This coming weekend, in fact, Thomas S. Monson will be addressing the world along with his counselors and the Twelve Apostles, men divinely appointed to share with us the will and word of the Lord.

Enoch’s followers had to go up into the mountains to hear his message. But you and I can hear a prophet’s voice without even getting up off of the sofa. If your receive BYU-TV through your cable provider (most of them carry it), you’re all set. And if not, you can always watch a live stream of the conference online. Just go to lds.org where you’ll find all kinds of options for hearing the words of the prophet in your own home. (Sessions run both Saturday, Oct. 1, and Sunday, Oct. 2, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. PDT.)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, reminds us of what a blessing it is to have a living prophet—and the miraculous technology that allows us to hear his words here in California even though he is standing and speaking hundreds of miles away:

“Our merciful and loving Heavenly Father has not forsaken and will not forsake His children. Today, as well as in times past, He has appointed apostles and prophets. He continues to reveal His word to them.

“What a marvelous privilege it is to hear God’s messages for each of us during general conference! Let us prepare well for this great blessing of divine guidance delivered by His chosen servants.

“For this is no ordinary blessing” (Ensign, Sept. 2011).

I’m looking forward to a great, inspiring weekend. As one who is himself deeply flawed and very human, I need all the help I can get.

PW

A Weekend Bonanza

Dear Will:

When my son Seth turned 12 in February, he was ordained a deacon. His best-friend-for-life, Cameron, was made a deacon around that same time. Since Cameron’s dad Warren and I are also good friends, he and I promised the boys we would take them to Salt Lake City to attend the Church’s semi-annual General Conference—our way of welcoming them into the priesthood. So it was that the four of us flew to Salt Lake last week in a four-seat Bonanza with Warren at the controls. The skies were clear and the weather was beautiful when we arrived—highs in the low 70s.

What a marvelous adventure! We had the sort of father/son bonding time that you would imagine and got to attend two of the five sessions of the conference in person. In the Priesthood session, we sat just a few rows back, directly in front of the Prophet and President of the Church, Thomas S. Monson. Through incredible good fortune, the boys even got to meet six of the twelve Apostles (a thrill as big for the dads as for the boys, I must admit). But the fun was just beginning.

On Sunday morning, we awoke to several inches of snow on the ground—which delighted the boys, of course. Because of the weather, we waited until late in the afternoon to begin the flight home. Although it was still snowing when we took off, we soon found ourselves with a clear, sun-washed view of the Salt Lake valley. I can’t describe to you how beautiful it was, with a fresh blanket of white snow covering the hills and mountains all around. It was truly glorious.

Then as we flew south through the Utah desert, the snow disappeared. Although I have driven through that rocky corridor many times, I had never gotten that bird’s-eye view before. (Commercial airlines fly too high, but in the Bonanza we were at 12,000 feet.) It was the perfect time of day for the flight: early evening, when the sun was casting wonderful shadows off of the red rocks, buttes and mesas of southern Utah. Indescribable.

As I looked out the window that evening, it occurred to me that the flight home provided an apt metaphor for General Conference. The weekend of Conference allowed us to rise above our usual cares and concerns and get a perspective on the things that truly matter. As servants of God, our leaders enabled us to see farther and more clearly as we look off toward a distant horizon. And the view they provided was truly glorious.

In case you’re interested, the Church posts the transcripts and video from the Conference online. You can find the whole proceedings here.

Here are some of my favorite talks from the Conference that I would highly recommend:

I would also encourage you to review any of the messages from President Monson. If you get a chance to do so, you will feel lifted above your present cares, and you too will gain clarity and perspective to help you deal with your day-to-day challenges.

PW