A few years ago, my wife wanted to get a dog for our family. I did not. We discussed the matter several times, but we could not come to an agreement. One day, my wife brought our new dog home. I was livid. We had not agreed on this, and I felt betrayed and marginalized. I quickly determined that I would have nothing to do with the dog, and it would be up to the rest of the family to care for it. I was certain this was a just course; after all, this had been done without my consent.
At the time, this felt like a rational and reasonable decision, and in the big picture not even very important. I was doing all the things I was supposed to be doing, such as attending church and partaking of the sacrament. We had been married in the temple and were keeping our covenants. What difference could it make whether or not I took care of a dog? Surely it was natural that the care of the dog should fall on those who wanted it, and not on me.
My mind was suddenly turned to the future. I saw clearly the end of the road that began with this choice: a gradual distancing between me and the rest of my family, filled with bitterness, conflict, and self-righteousness. It seemed obvious now that my choice was not about a dog at all, but about whether or not I was willing to put my family’s wants before my own. I was on the verge of selfish choices with long-lasting consequences that I had been unable to see.
Becoming Disconnected from God
Somehow, in the process of living my daily life, I had become disconnected from God, and I had allowed myself to lean too much on my own knowledge and understanding. I had forgotten the things that I knew to be true, or at least I had convinced myself to set them aside as irrelevant to the choice at hand.
Amulek felt similarly: “I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his mysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people. Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heart” (Alma 10:5-6).
In our busy, daily, normal lives, it is easy for us to separate the religious part of our lives from the rest. We can forget that our testimonies are not only something we remember on Sunday but also influence every decision that we make. We can know but act as though we wish we did not.
The June 8-14 Book of Mormon 2020 Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families lesson reminds us that the people of Ammonihah “were once a gospel living and ‘highly favored people of the Lord’ (Alma 9:20).” When Alma entered their city, however, they were acting “contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have” (Alma 9:23). The people of Ammonihah were completely unwilling to accept and act upon the gospel teachings of Alma and Amulek for their hearts were now “grossly hardened against the word of God” (Alma 9:30).
Staying on Course for Our Eternal Destinations
This choice is described by Alma: “He that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction” (Alma 12:10-11).
Choosing to use our new dog to drive a wedge between myself and my family would have been choosing to harden my heart. This could have become the first step on the path leading to family alienation, captivity, and destruction. Such an approach would have greatly changed my eternal destination.
At a general conference priesthood session, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf described how a sightseeing plane flight to Antarctica crashed into Mount Erebus because someone had changed the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. He went on to warn the assembled brethren, “I have learned that the difference between happiness and misery in individuals, in marriages, and families often comes down to an error of only a few degrees” (“A Matter of a Few Degrees,” Ensign, May 2008).
Recognizing the Importance of Our Choices
Amulek’s first choice on his road to righteousness might also have seemed tiny, “Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat?” (Alma 8:19). This simple choice, whether or not to feed Alma, guided Amulek’s entire future. Had he not acted on the spiritual instructions that he had received, his family and an entire people might have remained in darkness.
One of Satan’s most subtle tools is to convince us that our choices do not matter, that they are too small to affect our salvation, and thus can be made carelessly. Every time we make a choice without the influence of the Holy Ghost, no matter how small that choice may seem, we are hardening our hearts, and in a small way rebelling against God. The sacrament prayers promise us that we might always have His Spirit to be with us, not only when we are making big decisions.
In fact, the great choice that we must all make—every minute of every day—is to choose to have faith. Do we or do we not believe the things we have been taught enough to change our everyday thoughts and actions? This is the choice spoken of by Joshua, when he challenges us to “choose...this day whom ye will serve … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). As Jacob taught the Nephites, “to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal (2 Nephi 9:39).
Elder David A. Bednar has taught: “We tend to believe the Lord will give us A BIG ANSWER QUICKLY AND ALL AT ONE TIME. However, the pattern repeatedly described in the scriptures suggests we receive ‘line upon line, precept upon precept,’ or in other words, many small answers over a period of time. Recognizing and understanding this pattern is an important key to obtaining inspiration and help from the Holy Ghost” (“‘Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept,’ (2 Nephi 28:30),” New Era, Sept. 2010).
A great choice is made not all at once, but one small choice at a time, so that our “light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24). I know from my own experience that as we soften our hearts one small decision at a time, we will gradually grow in spiritual strength as the atonement of Jesus Christ is able to work more fully in us.