Playing the Long Game


So I was pondering today in church (which is what I usually do in church.  If we’re lucky, I’m pondering the lesson) about the purpose of life.

(I actually do this quite often.)

(Which is, I suspect, one of the possible byproducts of not having children.)

ANYWAY.  The phrase that kept coming up in my head was that we are playing the long game.  (Which led to a lot of research and asking questions on Facebook just to verify that yes, that phrase meant what I thought it meant in the first place.)  (And yes, I am the queen of parentheticals today.)  And what I mean by that is also often expressed as having an ‘eternal perspective.’  And the best way I know how to describe it is by looking at raising children.

When you raise kids, you have a lot of goals.  You want them to be happy.  You want them to be good people.  You want them to not burn your house down.  You want them to learn how to pick up after themselves because you don’t have time to follow them around picking up after them gosh darn it!   Lots of times, our goals with kids tend to be immediate.  Like, JUST FINISH THE VEGETABLES ON YOUR PLATE FOR THE LOVE OF PETE and then you can have the cookie you’ve been whining about for the last 27 minutes!  Lots of times they are short-term, but important, like teaching them to walk.  But lots of times we have more short-term goals that feed into more important long-term goals.  Some examples:

What you want them to doShort-term reason why it’s goodLong-term reason why it’s good
Eat their vegetablesThey are healthier and you don’t get dinged by child protective services because your kid got scurvy.Your kid learns to take care of their body, learns self-discipline, learns benefits of delayed gratification and sacrifice, etc.
Clean their roomThe house doesn’t smell so bad or attract vermin, and you finally are able to have enough matching forks for dinner because they were hidden under their mattress for some reason you’re not sure you want to know.They learn the value of cleanliness and how to clean on their own, as well as self-discipline.
Be nice to their siblingsTo make the fighting stop.  FOR THE LOVE OF PETE MAKE IT STOP.They learn empathy and respect for others and how to be kind and good human beings.

There are lots of ways to accomplish these goals, and they generally change as a child gets older. Very small children generally need more direct consequences. As they get older, more explanation of the whys are possible and often even necessary.  If all goes well, then the child’s understanding will increase and mature as they get older, and they will begin to value the good things they have been taught and start to do them on their ownAnd different children will react differently.  Some kids are eager to please and HATE being in trouble.   They are also often bossy because RULES MUST BE FOLLOWED OR BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN.  Some kids HATE being told what to do and want to figure everything out on their own, no matter who gets hurt.  They see any exception to a rule as invalidation of the entirety of the rule, and often mock the rule-followers.  A very small percentage of kids learn to examine the rules, figure out why they are there (the spirit of the law) and learn when to follow the letter of the law and when it would be better to bend the rules a bit.

Now, most adults are kind of learning/making things up as they go along, in their own lives and as parents.  By the time we get things figured out–IF we get things figured out–we’re tired and unable to do the things we think we need to do, and/or the kids are all grown and out of the house and we’re playing Monday morning quarterback with ourselves.  And some parents are so busy trying to work out their own issues, that their children seem to get in the way (and suffer) more than they are taught and nourished.  It’s never black and white or clear cut, but it affects how we parent.  Sometimes it means we want our kids to give us the emotional things we need.  Sometimes it means we want them to be obedient little machines that always do what they are told.  Sometimes it means we want them to have all the happiness and splendor that we always wanted for ourselves.  And sometimes, just sometimes, we want them to grow to be happy and independent and good and strong, and we realize that this means a lot of hard work, struggle, patience, and constant re-evaluation on our part.  Suffice it to say we are imperfect.

BUT, for our Heavenly Father, he has a LOT of experience.  And knowledge.  And understanding.  And resources.  And he doesn’t get worn out like we do.  So, unlike us, he REALLY knows what he’s doing.  So if we can look at the ideal parent here, and extrapolate that out perfectly to Heavenly Father, it teaches us a lot about the purpose of life, commandments, and the nature of God.

We have commandments for lots of reasons.  Yes, keeping the commandments can help prevent a lot of earthly trouble.  For example, just like you give rules to your children to stop touching each other’s stuff, Heavenly Father told us not to steal.  He even put in place punishments to be enacted if we did steal, kind of like how little Billy got 14 months of hard time out because he found your secret stash of Lindor truffles and ate them all and then threw up on the dog.  For small children, and often for us, it’s the fear of punishment that stops us from doing bad things.  But as we learn and grow, and especially as we keep the commandments more often and learn more about why they are really there, we start to realize that, for instance, stealing isn’t about the things.  It’s about respect and love of people.  And as we start to understand THAT more, hopefully we start to try to actually respect and love people, which is more of a feeling and an attitude than an action (though it is shown through actions).

But if we never learn the reasons behind the rules, our experience is less transformative and more oppressive.  If we are the type that doesn’t like to get in trouble, we may live in fear of mistakes, be horrifically judgmental of ourselves and/or others, or become so pedantic and obsessed with the letter of the law that we miss the point of the law entirely.  If we are more the rebellious sort, we may see the rules as arbitrary oppression from a cruel and dictatorial God, or worse, from individuals who merely seek to steal power over us by taking away our liberties in the name of God.  We become so obsessed with the supposed roadblock that we never learn the reasons for it or feel the blessings from keeping the commandments.  God does not seem loving in either case.  He may seem cruel and even capricious.

However, if we approach the commandments with humility, a willingness to learn (and continue learning, which can mean being willing to alter what you thought was true in light of new evidence), a willingness to at least try keeping them to see what happens, an understanding that you really do have a choice in the matter paired with the knowledge that you are choosing consequences as well, and an eye towards the long game, knowing that this is for your learning the skills you need and not just your obeisance, that it is part of the exercise to make you divine, then you will find yourself endowed with a power and wisdom so profound that it will change your outlook and life forever after.

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