How would your decisions change if you thought you would never move? What if you thought you’d be in your current job forever? Would you approach your activities differently? Would you make any investments that would improve your productivity and your job satisfaction?
In 1831, a group of church members relocated from New York to Ohio. Church leaders and local members had arranged a place for them to live, but the Lord made it clear that their stay would be temporary. “I consecrate unto them this land for a little season,” He said, “until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence” (Doctrine and Covenants 51:16). With that context, He went on to teach them how they should think about their time in Ohio:
The hour and the day [that they will move on] is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good.Doctrine and Covenants 51:17
Everything in life is temporary, but we make better decisions when we assume things will last for a long time. We lay better foundations, invest more in learning, and build stronger relationships when we assume we will use those assets in the future.
When Lehi’s family left Jerusalem, they didn’t know how long they would be in the wilderness. If you had asked them at the time, they probably wouldn’t have guessed years. It was a difficult change of lifestyle, but it was presumably temporary. No need to get used to this new way of life, because it would be over soon enough.
Much later in their journey, on the shores of Bountiful, two of Lehi’s sons, Laman and Lemuel, complained to their brother Nephi:
Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.1 Nephi 17:21
How much better off would they have been if they had left behind their former life, assumed that they would be in the wilderness for a long, long time, adjusted their expectations, and learned to find joy in their current circumstances?
A little over a year ago, when the pandemic began, many of us assumed that things like quarantines, social distancing, and masking would be relatively short-lived. Maybe weeks, maybe months, but over a year? Think about your experiences during that time. How much more have you accomplished and how much happier have you been when you’ve worked within your current circumstances instead of merely waiting for it to be over so you can get back to your “normal life.”
Brigham Young encouraged church members in Utah to apply this principle. Speaking to people who had been driven out of many homes, he said:
Were I residing in a gathering place where I knew I could remain for two years, and had fifty thousand dollars to spare, I would expend it in the best improvements I could, and labor to improve until the last day of my remaining.Journal of Discourses 8:72
On another occasion, at the site of the future Salt Lake temple, he taught the principle even more dramatically:
We should be as cheerful in building this temple, if we knew beforehand that we should never enter into it when it was finished, as we would though we knew we were to live here a thousand years to enjoy it.Journal of Discourses 1:40
Why? Because Brigham Young understood that when you build a temple, you aren’t just building a temple. You’re also building the builder. Your skills, your knowledge, and your character grow every day as you dedicate yourself to the work.
Elder L. Whitney Clayton explained how this principle can influence our daily activities using an analogy of a potted plant:
We would be wise to sink our roots into the pot in which we are planted and not wait for a later time or a different place or a new pot. No matter how “little [our] season,” we should act upon this, our land, “as for years.” We sink our roots by getting involved, making friends, seeking opportunities for service, accepting and then magnifying callings, attending the temple, and joining in community efforts. Sending our roots deep will enrich our experience and bless others as well.“The Promised Land,” Brigham Young University Commencement Address, 12 August 2010
Today, I will act “as for years.” I will treat my work responsibilities, my church assignments, my community engagement, and my other activities as if they were permanent. I will do my best work and make long-term investments, believing that those efforts will “turn to [my] good” and to the good of others.