The first movement of Robert Schumann’s Piano Sonata number 2 (Op. 22) is labeled “So rasch wie möglich” (as fast as possible). Near the end of the movement, he writes “Schneller” (faster), followed shortly after by “Noch schneller” (even faster). It’s an exciting piece to listen to (I recommend this performance by pianist Tiffany Poon), but the performer can’t possibly take Schumann’s instructions literally. If he or she is going to speed up at the end, they have to pace themselves at the beginning.
I recently ran my first marathon: a socially distanced race in Richmond, Virginia. The evening before the race, I received the following advice from a friend via text: “Remember that the turtle won the race.” Remembering this advice as I ran helped me to pace myself and finish strong.
After urging his people to give to those in need, “every man [and woman] according to that which he [or she] hath,” King Benjamin added an important caution. “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order,” he said; “for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” Then he added, “It is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize” (Mosiah 4:27).
In April 1829, while Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon, he received the same guidance from the Lord. “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:4). For Joseph, the “means” included a scribe—Oliver Cowdery—who arrived at about that time to assist with the translation. The demands on his time and energy included not only the important work of translation but the work required to support himself and his wife, Emma. During that winter, he had dug a well, husked corn, threshed grain, and tapped maple trees to produce syrup and sugar for sale. (See Joseph and Emma Smith’s Home on history.churchofjesuschrist.org.) He may have wished that he could devote all of his time and attention to the work he had been given by an angel of God, but that was simply not possible.
Elder M. Russell Ballard offered a caution to those who are enthusiastic about church service:
Occasionally we find some who become so energetic in their Church service that their lives become unbalanced. They start believing that the programs they administer are more important than the people they serve. They complicate their service with needless frills and embellishments that occupy too much time, cost too much money, and sap too much energy. They refuse to delegate or to allow others to grow in their respective responsibilities.
As a result of their focusing too much time and energy on their Church service, eternal family relationships can deteriorate. Employment performance can suffer. This is not healthy, spiritually or otherwise. While there may be times when our Church callings require more intense effort and unusual focus, we need to strive to keep things in proper balance. We should never allow our service to replace the attention needed by other important priorities in our lives.“O Be Wise,” General Conference, October 2006
Elder Ballard pointed out that balancing competing demands doesn’t necessarily mean giving equal time to all of our responsibilities: “Sometimes family demands will require your full attention. Other times professional responsibilities will come first. And there will be times when Church callings will come first. Good balance comes in doing things in a timely way and in not procrastinating our preparation or waiting to fulfill our responsibilities until the last minute” (“O Be Wise,” General Conference, October 2006).
Today, I will pace myself as I dedicate appropriate time and energy to each of my priorities. I will work hard, and I will remember that steady, consistent, well-organized progress is likely to result in better outcomes than exhausting sprints toward short-term goals.