In physics, one speaks of two kinds of balance, or equilibrium. Unstable equilibrium describes a system that is in balance, but that will become unbalanced at the slightest outside influence. Think of trying to balance a pencil on its point: it’s possible to do in theory, but in practice it will fall over every time you try. Stable equilibrium describes a system that is in balance and that will seek the same equilibrium, even if outside influences temporarily unbalance it. Think of a marble resting in the bottom of a bowl: you can nudge it, flick it or bump it to make it leave that position, but it will eventually roll back to the bottom of the bowl.
In my experience, Mormons (and perhaps especially Mormon women) have a habit of reducing the Gospel to an infinitely long to-do list. Pray, read your scriptures, fast, go to church, do your visiting/home teaching, magnify your calling, go to the temple, do your genealogy, pay your tithing, pay your fast offering, bear your testimony, hold Family Home Evening, etc., etc. No one could possibly do all of these things, so success at one is always mitigated by imperfection in others. (Worse, success in any one area may be trumped by the unrealized possibility of a higher degree of success. Sure, you packed home lunches for your kids, but did you bake the bread? Hmm?)
So I was sitting one day in Relief Society, apparently thinking about physics instead of paying attention to the lesson, when I had a thought: “Be a marble.” In other words, don’t let all the little things I’m “supposed” to be doing pull me off balance; rather, see each of them as tending towards the same center of peace and stability, and seek that center by any path.
I had seen each of the little rules of the Gospel pulling me in a separate direction, throwing me off balance unless I happened to do them all perfectly at once. I realized, instead, that they were all pointing towards the greatest commandments of loving God and loving my neighbor. If I did my visiting teaching, but didn’t go on the last temple trip, I didn’t need to beat myself up for it because I had still found a way to offer service. If I went to church on Sunday but I didn’t read my scriptures all week, I had still tried to become closer to God. Each facet of the Gospel wasn’t in competition with every other one. Instead, all the commandments were working together to bring about the same end, and trying faithfully to keep any one of them would help me to follow all of them.
- 11 June 2006