17 O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die? Turn ye, turn ye unto the Lord your God. Why has he forsaken you?
18 It is because you have hardened your hearts; yea, ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd; yea, ye have provoked him to anger against you.
When Nephi returned home from preaching the gospel in the north countries for about six years, he was horrified at how much his own society had deteriorated. The institutions of government which he knew very well, having served as chief judge for nine years (Helaman 3:37, Helaman 5:1), had been infiltrated by members of a secret society who valued loyalty to each other above the rule of law (Helaman 7:4-5). In agony, Nephi ascended a tower in his garden to pray for his people. This tower was located beside a busy road, and when people saw him praying for the people with so much intensity of feeling, a crowd gathered to observe the spectacle.
During the sermon which Nephi delivered to this crowd, he asked them a number of questions with a common theme: Why were they not acting in their own self-interest?
- “Behold, why have ye gathered yourselves together? That I may tell you of your iniquities?”
- “How could you have given way to the enticing of him who is seeking to hurl away your souls down to everlasting misery and endless wo?”
- “Why will ye die?”
- “How could you have forgotten your God in the very day that he has delivered you?”
Why would people make decisions that are harmful to themselves? Don’t we all have a survival instinct, a desire for self-preservation? The answer is that we do in the short run. By and large, we react appropriately to imminent dangers. But when the consequence is further in the future, when the danger is not so immediate, we have a much harder time motivating ourselves to do what we know to be right.
Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen calls this the “resource allocation problem,” and he says that it affects the personal lives of many high achievers. They gravitate to activities which produce an immediate reward—a bonus, a promotion, recognition at work—and chronically neglect activities which will only produce a reward in the future, such as raising children and building strong relationships. “Starving those relationships of investments like your time doesn’t feel like it’s costing you anything,” he said, “all the way up until it’s too late” (“How Will You Measure Your Life?” Forbes, June 5, 2012).
What is the solution? We have to remind ourselves of our long-term priorities and discipline ourselves to align our daily decisions with our goals. We need to have patience and intentionally forego immediate rewards when they interfere with our steady progress toward the achievements that are more important. As Nephi urged his people to do, we can ask ourselves where our current decisions are leading us. “Why will ye die?” he asked them.
As Elder Quentin L. Cook has counseled us:
I encourage everyone, young and old, to review goals and objectives and strive to exercise greater discipline. Our daily conduct and choices should be consistent with our goals. We need to rise above rationalizations and distractions. It is especially important to make choices consistent with our covenants to serve Jesus Christ in righteousness. We must not take our eyes off or drop that ball for any reason.
This life is the time to prepare to meet God. We are a happy, joyous people. We appreciate a good sense of humor and treasure unstructured time with friends and family. But we need to recognize that there is a seriousness of purpose that must undergird our approach to life and all our choices (“Choose Wisely,” General Conference, October 2014).
Today, I will evaluate my decisions and ensure that they are aligned with my highest priorities, with my own health and happiness, and with the long-term happiness of the people I love. I will adjust my activities as needed to ensure that I am working toward long-term and meaningful goals, not wasting my time and energy on short-term ephemeral accomplishments.