What is the great ideal?
The celebration of Easter was quickly followed by the weekend of conference. There was much during this time to occupy our minds and our hands. We were reminded by Sunday School teachers and bishops to "prepare" for conference, that the counsel given, and the spirit of the counsel, was not be wasted.
I suggest: Lift our thoughts in simplicity and supplication toward the ideal. If we dwell on what is best — noblest and most desirable — we will draw the Savior into our hearts in a way that is quiet, open and natural. We will see things and feel things that have been buried beneath piles of useless, transient debris in the back of our thoughts, holding our spirits down. Looking for the ideal we will shed much that is useless, we will delight — we will marvel!
This society does not think much nor talk much any more about ideals. The ideal is looked upon as an "unrealistic expectation" that places meaningless, unnecessary pressure, especially upon our children and our young people, who already have enough with which to deal.
They deal with the stark, the impersonal, the ofttimes empty demands of the day. These are always shifting — they are ofttimes fleeting — they tend to be confusing, with no recognizable outcome or goal. Many times, our youths see in the world nothing better than themselves — nothing shining with beauty, glory and promise, for which they can strive and for which they can yearn.
We usually consider ourselves standing apart from all this. But the tentacles of the world reach out to us, and it is a difficult challenge to disentangle ourselves. Everything in the world teaches "Look out for number one. Be smart, see first what’s in it for me." Sometimes we feel the emptiness of it and cringe. We forget what Jose Rezal said: "It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal. It is like a stone wasted on the field without becoming a part of any edifice."
But we are not wasted. We believe in the gospel. We are involved in the plan of salvation. We are doing our part. But, who are we? What do we see as ourselves — on the outside and on the inside? We may believe that we are children of God, but do we act, dress and speak like one? Both Presidents Joseph F. Smith and David O. McKay, presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, taught that every man should, above all else, be a gentleman. And does a woman in jeans, a sagging T-shirt with unkempt hair and a slouching posture represent the ideal?
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "Let every word be seasoned with grace" (see "Teaching the Prophet Joseph Smith," p. 156).
He also entreated the brethren as quoted in "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," "How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations — too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God."
So many niggling little fingers of the world twist, direct and deter us. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord tells us gently, but many times, that all have gone astray. All have worldly idols to face and dislodge.
Do any of Madeline L’Engle’s words ring true? These are from "Walking On Water": "Because we cannot see a God we can touch, a God we can comprehend with our rational intellects, we invent new gods to take his place — all the little gods of technocracy, little gods who have eyes and see not, ears and hear not, hands and touch not, and who have nothing to say to us in our times of deepest need."
President Ezra Taft Benson powerfully reminded us: "Certain principles and truths are shared in common by the majority of mankind. These principles, which are termed values, transcend more than culture, race, nationality, religion ... we tend to associate with those of like ideals. Only the wholesome have the capacity to lift and encourage one another to greater service, to greater achievement, to greater strength ... you cannot let down your standards. Anytime you break a law of God you pay the penalty in heartache, remorse, lack of self-respect — and you remove yourselves from contact with the spirit of God" (see "Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson," p. 455).
President David O. McKay, with beauty and tenderness, told the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: "Christ came with love in his heart for every individual, with redemption and possibility for regeneration for all." (see "Teachings of David O. McKay," p. 35). By choosing him as our ideal, we create within ourselves a desire to be like him — we perceive life as it should be and as it may be.
What then is the great ideal? Truth is the great ideal. The Savior, at the heart of truth, is the great ideal.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that in understanding the nature of God we understand our own nature! Thus, we, too, are part of the ideal.
If we desire the ideal we will come to love it, to seek it, to yearn after it, to become like it.
Brother Joseph urged, "Let us realize that we are not to live to ourselves, but to God; by so doing the greatest blessings will rest upon us — both in time and in eternity."
We are the last, we are the foremost guardians of the light. The ideal is the love of God. The ideal is the power and presence of the Savior of mankind. The ideal is our salvation. The ideal is our returning once again home.
And who could describe that with more exactness and pathos than President Brigham Young? Speaking of the Saints returning to their heavenly home after this life he explained, "He is the Father of our spirits; and if we could know, understand and do his will, every soul would be prepared to return back into his presence. And when they get there, they would see that they had formerly lived there for ages, that they had previously been acquainted with every nook and corner, with the palaces, walks and gardens; and they would embrace their Father, and he would embrace them and say, ‘My son, my daughter, I have you again.’ And the child would say, ‘O my Father, my Father, I am here again’" (see Journal of Discourses," 4:268).
Let the gentle prophet, President McKay, have the last word:
"Back of the work, back of the life, ever glows the ideal. How constantly we keep our eyes upon it determines whether we shall fall as failures along life’s highway — or fulfill the divine purpose of our being."
Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnbook. She has six children. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com.