I’ve been thinking about the classic work hard scripture lately:
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;” – Doctrine and Covenants 58:27
I have been thinking about what this scripture actually means. Of course, it seems pretty obvious – we need to be working all the time, right? Serving in our callings, doing things with our kids, making dinners, bringing people meals, doing our family history, canning foods, and…well…the list goes on an on.
When I think about this “list” of things that I ought to be anxiously engaged in, it gets me tired. So much so that I kind of don’t want to do anything. Which is a conundrum because then I’m not anxiously engaged in much of anything – nevermind bringing forth any righteousness!
But what if I’ve been thinking about it all wrong?
A Good Cause
First of all, in this situation, what exactly does good mean? I think that this is the key for the scripture – determining what is a good cause. Figuring out the good cause is more than deciding if we are doing is merely superficially good.
Often, we are choosing between more than one good thing. So, there are times when sacrificing time with our family so that we can fulfill the duties or our calling is good. Other times, maybe we need to say no to another meeting or program and spend time with our little ones. Even though the choice seems to be between the same two things, only one of them is really good. It is tricky when the “good” thing can change depending on circumstance.
This is when the Spirit is essential in helping us to determine what is good. When I think of the word good, first what comes to mind is something that isn’t bad. But perhaps here, we should think of good as something more – Good is something that glorifies God, something that the Savior would be spending time on. Good is of God, and it is the best possible thing we could be doing. We should be anxiously engaged in the best possible thing for that moment and circumstance: that which God would have us choose. When we think of “good” in this way, it can help us to judge between things that aren’t bad at all…Additionally, we may see that some “good things” may not have the effect we desire – especially if they aren’t the thing that the Spirit is prompting us to do – even if the activities aren’t essentially wicked.
Even though the Lord wants us to be anxiously engaged, that doesn’t mean He wants us to be over-busy. In Doctrine and Covenants 66:10, the Lord counsels, “Seek not to be cumbered.”
This is a good question to ask: when I’m being anxiously engaged, is it to be doing good as the Spirit guides me to do, or because I think that it will make me feel better and more productive? We shouldn’t seek to be cumbered. I have to admit, sometimes I have a hard time with this. Being busy to be busy seems noble, and way better than getting bored. Yet we should not seek to be busy for busy-ness’ sake. We need to be anxiously engaged in a good cause – one that is of God – both in its essence and at that immediate moment. What’s interesting is that good cause may be something that seems to be slower paced and not what we would typically consider anxious.
A classic example of this is when the Savior ate with Mary and Martha.
So…here’s what happened:
“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.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
40 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.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42
We know the story. Now keep in mind the scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants. From the description we get in verses 38-39, it would seem that Martha was the one anxiously engaged. She was doing a lot – she was serving. Someone had to do work to get the dinner ready! Yet Mary was sitting at the feet of the Savior, and it seemed like she was doing nothing.
This idea was not lost on Martha, as she begged Christ to let Mary help.
Interestingly enough, the Savior didn’t rebuke Mary for sitting around and listening. Instead, he told Martha that she was too busy for her own good. Mary was the one who was anxiously engaged in a good cause, though she was busy with nothing. Jesus declared that Mary had chosen that good part.
This isn’t to say we should all sit around and avoid dishes, but I think that it helps me to understand that there are times when making a dinner for a family in the ward because their mother just had surgery is the good cause. It takes time, for sure, and is a sacrifice, but it is a great way to be closer to others, teach our children, and express the love that we and God has for one another. In these moments, we may be passing up other “good” things – playing with our children, taking our kids to activities, doing things that bring us fulfillment, whatever. There are times when service is appropriate.
There are also times when we our service in one regard will cumber us so that we are no longer able to be anxiously engaged in a good cause – overall. For example, maybe we always sign up to help. Maybe one of our children really needs us. Maybe we need to find time and ways to say our prayers and read our scriptures. Maybe the best possible thing for us to do at that moment is rock a little child. We may not be doing something that seems busy or “anxiously engaged” at face value, but the “good cause” part of the scripture is what counts. It is what figures in the Spirit, and it isn’t always something difficult or dramatic.
Anyways…I realize that someone reading this could have said it in fewer words. You probably already know this! I have just been thinking about some of the experiences I have had recently, and the way that we (especially women) like to beat ourselves up for not doing enough. We just want to make sure that we aren’t so overwhelmed with something that seems good – especially outwardly – that it crowds out the truly good thing – that which the Spirit is guiding us to do – that which will nourish our souls and glorify God.
(By the way, did you find the Savior and Mary in the background, to the left of Martha…so often, our choices are like Martha’s – between good and good.)
What do you do to make sure you are anxiously engaged in a good cause? How do you keep all of the good things in life prioritized properly?