Have you ever been trying to teach someone how to play a new game and you get to the point where their eyes start to glaze over? You realize if you don’t get them playing the game as soon as possible they might pretend their phone rang and make up an excuse to leave. Maybe that’s only happened to me. Surely, your friends or children have always been patient and have perfectly understood your explanations.
The second I see someone beginning to lose interest in the instructions of a game I say, “Don’t worry, you’ll pick it up as you go. Let’s just start playing and it will make sense.” Most adults and all kids will immediately relax their posture and brighten up again. You start playing and introduce the instructions as they play. You also typically go easy on them for a while until they catch on, only gradually introducing strategy once the instructions seem to be understood.
I’m not going to say life is just a game. It’s not. I don’t know of any game where the nature and condition of your immortal existence is part of the ante. But there are instructions which can definitely help us in this life and beyond. I call them instructions and not rules because I like that word better. “Rules” implies some authoritative top-down structure which we’re expected to fit into. “Instructions” implies some universal definition for what works, some truth which if understood would show us the way things really are. If we go with the game analogy, rules say that there is only one way to play the game. Instructions, however, teach you the best way to play the game as it was always meant to be played. I like that better.
While our eternal lives are not a game, and God does not play dice with the universe, there is a way in which eternity works, and the Lord has given us, and will continue to give us, instructions. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article of Faith 9).
Often we think we have all the instructions. We don’t. We have more than humanity has ever had before, but we do not have anything close to a complete understanding of eternity yet. We pretty much only have the portion that says “Game Setup”. We know the basics and how to get going. The rest will be learned directly from the Lord as we move through our lives and have experiences. As we run into challenges or other unknown obstacles we seek the Lord for further instructions. Sometimes he gives us further light and knowledge at this point, and sometimes he says, “Just keep going, you’ll see how it works out.”
The trick is to remember we’re just learning, and mistakes, even failure, are necessary to the process. Elder Sterling Sill taught:
My brothers and sisters; as a text for my remarks I would like to quote an interesting line from Ecclesiastes in which the wise man Solomon said, ‘My heart had great experience.’
Because we draw so much from the rebellion, weakness, and evil with which we are surrounded, we tend to load ourselves up too heavily with guilt complexes, mental problems, insecurity, and mediocrity. I recently heard of a man who compounded the problem by hoarding his mistakes. He often referred to the fact that his D.F.T. drawer was the largest file in his office. Someone once asked him what these file letters stood for, and he said they identified a collection of the damn fool things that he had done. Most of us are not bad people—we just let our D.F.T. files get too large.
The scriptures themselves make almost as many references to fools as to sinners. And if we were trying to make the most effective application of Solomon’s text, we might take the positive approach and make a written collection of our experiences… For whenever excellence is recounted, it is increased. (Great Experiences, General Conference, 1971)
He goes on to explain how writing down the good things we do can help us remember to see the hand of the Lord in our lives, and to see that we are actually all doing a pretty good job. For example, he says, “Great experience number one is that I managed to get myself born, and I have been very pleased about that ever since.” Seriously. We chose to sit down to learn how to play. A full third of our brothers and sisters didn’t get that far. Just being here is a great victory, and a positive experience we can build on.
The very best part is that because of the Savior, we can confidently put one foot in front of the other knowing that once we’ve started, and if we keep trying to understand the instructions, there is literally no way we can lose. He has a whole plan worked out whereby all mankind may gain exaltation. The more we give to our eternal lives, the more experiences we have and the better we understand the eternal nature of God and man.
My dad worked really hard during my childhood. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time together. But on Wednesday nights, when my mom was gone in service to the young women of our ward, he would teach me how to play cribbage. It’s a four hundred year old card game that includes a little wooden track for keeping score that I always thought was really cool. There are a lot of little nuances to the game, and it took me a while to remember all of the instructions well enough for him to be able to start teaching strategy.
Most of the time, he didn’t actually teach me any strategy at all. He didn’t tell me what to do, but he just consistently won until I picked up on what he was doing. He didn’t teach me as much as he showed me. It took years, but I eventually beat him. I was so pleased with myself! And from then on he only won half the games. We were equally matched. I had become just as good at that game as my father because I trusted him, I trusted the process, I was patient, and I persevered.
Later, I tried to teach my husband how to play cribbage. It didn’t go so well. Half way through trying to explain the instructions he got that glazed over look and I said, “Let’s just start playing”. He’s a bright guy, and he was picking up on the game play quickly, until we started pegging for a hand in which I had nobs. This means I had a jack in my hand that matched the suit of the card which was turned up on the top of the non-dealt stack of cards. You get an extra point for that. And my husband thought I was making it all up.
I don’t blame him. After all of the crazy instructions he’d learned through the previous five hands of play he hadn’t complained at all. But now, “nobs” was just too much to handle. A single point made him throw in the towel. “You’re just making up rules now. I don’t want to play anymore.” He was laughing, but very serious. He wouldn’t finish the game. And to this day, nearly fifteen years later, he has never even attempted another game of cribbage with me. And I never even got to “two for his heels”. So much for enduring to the end!
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God, but we frequently see some of them . . . fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions. (Joseph Smith, Words of Joseph Smith, 319)
It’s okay, though. Where it really matters my husband is really very good at enduring and seeking truth. I see all of his victories and his growth, and he sees mine. I love him. And God loves us. All he wants is for us to keep listening, to keep trying, and to keep going to him for further instructions on our personal paths to Godhood. Elder Sill says:
Certainly the most successful lives are those that have the most worthwhile experiences. The religion of Christ itself is not so much a set of ideas as it is a set of activities. The purpose of the Church is to help us translate the principles of the gospel of Christ into constructive, meaningful human experience. And everyone should work toward this end by a daily practice of thinking some uplifting thoughts, listening to some fine music, reading some stimulating literature, doing some good deeds, and having some great experiences every day.
In reality, it’s just that simple. We can learn everything needed for exaltation directly from the Lord, line upon line, through our many earthly experiences. He has all of the instructions for eternal life. We just need to have experiences which will help us learn how to write them on our hearts. We just need to go, and do.