At age 7, I responded to a comic book ad selling 1,001 toy soldiers. The soldiers were to provide hours of battle strategy and marble-bombing runs, along with peppering the "enemy" with a dart gun. After spending a month’s allowance in response to the ad, the weeks dragged on with no package from the postman.
When the toy soldiers finally arrived, I was home from school with the flu. Never did a boy open a package with such anticipation — only to be crushed at the wafer-thin, cheap plastic soldiers inside. They were so flimsy, the odds of standing them upright were less than landing a flipped coin on its edge.
The expectation gap
The toy soldiers taught me my first lesson in the lamentable gap between expectation and reward, between promotion and product. Like so many others, I had been lured into buying something that didn’t meet expectations. Electric ab belts and "earning six figures working at home in your pajamas" also come to mind.
My friend Mary Ellen Edmunds says, "Sometimes it seems I spend money I don’t have, on things I don’t need, to impress people I don’t like."
Of wasted resources, a Book of Mormon prophet teaches: "Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy" (2 Nephi 9:51).
Like the expectation gap, wasting our resources is emotionally and physically draining.
More draining than dashed expectations or wasted resources is wasted potential.
Some seek their potential in the quest for worldly wealth, only to find fool’s gold at the end of an illusive rainbow. Others may achieve riches, but soon find that having is not nearly as satisfying as wanting.
In order to reach our true potential, we must understand what that potential is. As precious sons or daughters of God, our potential is unlimited and our reward is eternal.
Godly charity closes the expectation gap
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus counseled, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). "Seek ye first" means not allowing our temporal appetite to starve our spiritual potential. We starve our spiritual potential when we waste the gifts God has granted us.
For example, priesthood power, dormant from sloth or sin, is wasted potential. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "Nevertheless, too often our actions suggest that we live far beneath this potential" (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Your Potential, Your Privilege," Ensign, May, 2011).
For those who place God first in their lives, there is nothing left wanting because everything worth having is centered in serving others: "And whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:25).
By loving God and serving our fellow travelers, our happiness is assured in a journey lined with the breathtaking scenery of selflessness.
With God as our guide, there is no flimsy package awaiting a child’s disappointed eyes, and for those with more mature vision, our gaze heavenward is an unobstructed view inward to the charitable heart. In this way, we seek to "lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees" (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5).
Only in giving do we acquire character worth having.
In the charitable heart, there is no gap between expectation and reward because our potential for doing good is unlimited, and so is our happiness.
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law and teaches law and ethics. A former Phoenix stake president and current high councilor for the QC Chandler Heights Stake, he is active in Interfaith and a U.S. Air Force veteran