I have found three litmus tests that are quite effective in guiding the activities at our home…and ultimately providing the very process by which sanctification takes place. The first is especially helpful and accessible to children and youth as it only requires a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The other two take a little more thought and consideration, but are exceptionally helpful at aiding us in making wise decisions.
1. Is this virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy?
You can rattle this off really fast as the door slams in your face and your 16 yo jumps into his buddy’s car to ‘do something exciting’. Obviously poached from the 13th article of faith, these may not be the most popular parting words at your house; but they do have the capability of inducing some piece of responsible thinking. Sometimes. You can easily ask this about a movie they are watching, a conversation that they are having, or a joke that is being told. This is standard fare at our house and a perfect starting point for making powerful decisions for all of us.
2. Is this Good, Better, or Best?
Taken from a landmark General Conference address by Dallin H. Oaks in October 2007, this has become a staple in many of our consciences since then. It was catchy, true and easy to apply.
As we all know, things get a bit more complicated when you grow up, add a spouse, throw in some children, say ‘yes’ to a calling, and get invited to run for public office (or head up the PTA or teach a dance class or run a book club…) These three words: Good, Better Best can be very powerful. This particular litmus test also assumes that you’ve refined the ability to distinguish virtuous and non-virtuous (Test #1). In other words, maybe you’re not reading Vogue magazine anymore but now you have to ask yourself things like, “If I don’t have time to read the Ensign each month, do I really have time to read Southern Living?” This was a real question for me years ago. I subsequently had to cancel my subscription to SL.
For years I have felt that I had the time and energy to do Good, Better, AND Best. But, those days are over. The activities and opportunities (SOOOOOOO many great ones!) have come in a tidal wave as my kids have gotten older. Music lessons, sporting teams, choirs, art classes, scouting, personal training, book clubs…X 7. Whatever the interest, there is a master mentor just waiting to take my child their wing. Some of these opportunities seem WAY too good to pass up. But we have been told for decades now that our best efforts should be spent in our homes. I am SOOOOO guilty of giving my kids the short end of the stick. My Relief Society lesson or my Sacrament Meeting Easter Program is going to get a lot more urgent attention than Family Home Evening tomorrow night. I have to regularly check myself because I can easily expend all of my energy in good and better while my children grow up on the left-overs. Granted some things will need short bursts of our attention; but I have had to let many, many opportunities sail right on by.
3. Is this putting God first?
This is the ultimate litmus test. This is Commandment #1. We will be doing the better and best things 90% of the time if we put God first. ‘When we put God first, all other things fall into their place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue and the order of our priorities.’ (Pres. Ezra Taft Benson).
Sometimes I think that we mistakenly believe that putting God first means that we study our scriptures all day long or have Gospel lessons going on with the children 24/7. Or it means no trips to the park or popsicles in the backyard on summer nights. I have slowly come to realize that putting God first means listening to the Spirit which will tell me when to break from routine and do something different. As a homeschool mom, I have had promptings to set the spelling and math aside for the day and go on a hike or to the aquarium. I have had promptings to watch movies with my children instead of finishing up a personal project. I have felt prompted to sit outside on the stoop and watch them ride their bikes while my plans for dinner take a dive. Sometimes I will override bedtime for that popsicle on the front porch swing. It takes the Spirit to teach me how to truly prioritize my time and be a mom; because my natural man wants to spend every waking minute working on my to-do list.
If we can fine tune our relationship with the Spirit, he will lead us down our own, very personal paths of ‘putting God first’ and helping us to sort out Good, Better, Best. But walking that path requires opening a gate which is latched by one simple question: Is this virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy? If it is…enjoy it with all your heart!