A few months ago, I heard a presentation by Simon Sinek, author of The Infinite Game. He explained that many games we play, like football or chess, have clearly defined rules, consistent participants, and most importantly, endings. He called these “finite games.” But other activities that we participate in might be better labeled as “infinite games,” with evolving rules, unpredictable participants, and no ending. In a finite game, he said, the goal is to win. But in an infinite game, the goal is to keep playing. Many of our frustrations come from treating infinite games as though they were finite. For example, when we focus on achieving time-bound goals or meeting deadlines, we have to remember that the work goes on after the goal is achieved.
I thought about Simon’s presentation this week as I pondered the following passage from Doctrine and Covenants 29. Speaking to a small group of members of the Church assembled just before a conference in September 1830, the Savior described “the beginning of my work” and “the last of my work.” Then, He added the following clarification:
Speaking unto you that you may naturally understand; but unto myself my works have no end, neither beginning; but it is given unto you that ye may understand, because ye have asked it of me and are agreed.Doctrine and Covenants 29:33
I reflected on the difficulty of an infinite Being trying to communicate clearly to a group of mortals, who are used to thinking in terms of time-bound activities. No wonder Isaiah quoted God as saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Book of Mormon prophets repeatedly emphasize the eternal nature of God. For example, Jacob quotes this passage in which Isaiah contrasts the impermanence of our world with the permanence of God:
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.2 Nephi 8:6, Isaiah 51:6
Lehi, Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni all testify that God is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever,” (1 Nephi 10:18, 2 Nephi 2:4, 2 Nephi 27:23, 2 Nephi 29:9, Mormon 9:9, Moroni 10:19). (See also Hebrews 13:8, Doctrine and Covenants 20:12.)
I find deadlines and short-term goals useful. For example, when I’m trying to accomplish a large goal, I find it helpful to divide it into smaller goals, with short-term deadlines. This gives me a sense of accomplishment along the way and helps me track my progress.
But if I were to overemphasize one of those short-term goals, declare victory when it’s accomplished, and become complacent, I might never achieve the larger goal. I keep going because I remember that each milestone is only a marker of progress, not the finish line.
Likewise, an eternal perspective helps us avoid being demoralized by failures.
As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has taught:
We are made of the stuff of eternity. We are eternal beings, children of the Almighty God, whose name is Endless and who promises eternal blessings without number. Endings are not our destiny.
The more we learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we realize that endings here in mortality are not endings at all. They are merely interruptions—temporary pauses that one day will seem small compared to the eternal joy awaiting the faithful.“Grateful in Any Circumstances,” General Conference, April 2014
Today, I will strive for an eternal perspective even as I complete daily activities. I will remember that God’s work is eternal and that my finite goals and tasks are part of an eternal journey.