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DRAWING LINES OF COMMITMENT

By Sarah Ingram Westerberg (MPA ’01)

As we make whole-souled commitments, we draw lines we will not cross.

A2_Commitment_bp

When I first came to this land, I quickly learned that a number of everyday words had different meanings here. Biscuits became cookies, petrol became gas, and chips became fries. It was through my work with a group of wonderful student employees in the tutoring program that I was introduced to a new meaning of the word flaky. Previously, I had come across this word only in connection with the qualities of pastry or piecrust. But my student employees used it to describe a fellow student. When I asked for clarification about this use of the word, they explained that flaky meant that someone was unreliable, someone who did not keep
commitments.

We have all observed flakiness in some form or other, whether it’s when someone gets stood up for a date, when someone takes a different job two weeks after committing to work for a whole semester, or when someone chooses not to keep sacred covenants and takes a path different than the one the Savior would have us choose. Whatever the degree, flakiness is the antithesis of commitment.

Commitment, in its most basic form, is doing what you say you will do. Elder F. Burton Howard said of commitment:

The Church does have many needs, and one of them is for more people who will just do what they have agreed to do. People who will show up for work and stay all day; who will quietly, patiently, and consistently do what they have agreed to do—for as long as it takes—and who will not stop until they have finished. [“Commitment,” Ensign, May 1996, pp. 27–28]

Whether your commitments are in the form of promises, pledges, covenants, callings, contracts, or simply your word of honor, they must be kept. Whether they are commitments that are spiritual, legal, or seemingly trivial and temporal, they must be kept. Karl G. Maeser’s statement about chalk circles demonstrates the importance of keeping our commitments well.
He said:

I have been asked what I mean by my word of honor. I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls—ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I will escape; but stand me on a floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I would die first! [In Alma P. Burton, Karl G. Maeser: Mormon Educator (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1953), p. 71]

In an increasingly flaky world, it seems that the word commitment has been progressively modified such that, in many contexts, it no longer resembles what it used to mean. More and more I hear people seeking to justify breaking a commitment. They say, “I have to do what is right for me” or “I am just too tired” or, especially, “I am just too busy.” We hear people talk of casual, partial, or half-hearted commitment. But anything less than complete, absolute, or total commitment is as bad as no commitment at all.

Achieving total commitment may seem daunting. I hope these six basic principles will be both useful and inspirational as you strive to keep your commitments in all areas of your life.

Know Your Commitments

A faculty friend of mine recently told me that she had asked her class to list the commitments they had made. She was met with blank stares and silence. The students needed help to articulate the commitments they had made. It is difficult to think about keeping commitments if you aren’t really sure what you have committed to do. She posed the question again and then prompted the students by saying, “OK, let’s start with baptismal covenants.” Then they began to realize that they have many commitments, and many in common.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have committed to take upon us Christ’s name. This should completely change every thought we have and every action we take. We recommit every Sunday, through the ordinance of the sacrament, to always remember Him. As we attend the temple we make additional covenants to do the Lord’s will.

At BYU we commit to keep the Honor Code. Many of us have committed to serve in callings in our various wards and stakes. Other commitments may include attending the weekly devotional in the Marriott Center, being on time for work or class, reading the Book of Mormon daily, or praying morning and night.

Know what commitments you have made and reflect upon them often. Ask the Lord to help you keep them in the forefront of your mind.

Decide Now

We must decide now to keep our commitments. Then, when faced with a temptation or an opportunity to compromise, we will not waver, because the decision was already made.

Great strength comes from commitments that are made well in advance. The Savior was constantly trying to strengthen His disciples, to help them develop commitment patterns, because He knew what trials and challenges they would face after He was gone. At one point He told them, “Settle this in your hearts, that ye will do the things which I shall teach, and command you” (JST Luke 14:28). The Savior was encouraging His disciples to decide now.

My husband and I are committed to rearing our children in the gospel, and part of that commitment involves holding family home evening. We have already decided that we will have family home evening every Monday night, and so when our 4-year-old, William, inevitably answers the call to come to family home evening with the suggestion, “Let’s play lightsabers instead,” we are not swayed or moved because we already decided to have family home evening.

Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “Have you made the commitment to do anything the Lord asks, and are you disciplined enough to fulfill that commitment, even at a time that may not be particularly opportune or pleasant?” (“The Power of Commitment,” New Era, November 1989, p. 6). Commitment is never to be postponed for convenience or pleasure. It is easier to keep commitments when we decide before we reach the crisis point, before the critical mass of peer pressure occurs.

Follow the Master

The scriptures are replete with examples of ancient prophets and leaders who kept their commitments in the face of great adversity and trials. Nephi built a ship without any prior shipbuilding experience because he had committed to do whatever the Lord asked of him. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies, parents of the 2,000 stripling warriors, kept their commitments, even though it meant that many of them would be killed and that their sons would be sent to battle. The sons of Mosiah were committed to preaching the gospel to the Lamanites, even though it was dangerous work. Joseph resisted the advances of Potiphar’s wife and kept himself morally clean, even though it meant being thrown into prison.

The quintessential example of commitment, however, is our Savior, Jesus Christ. His devotion to His Father was perfect and complete, and He was totally committed to doing the Father’s will in all things. President Howard W. Hunter said:

We must keep the commandments of our Lord. If we can pattern our life after the Master, and take His teaching and example as the supreme pattern for our own, we will not find it difficult to be temple worthy, to be consistent and loyal in every walk of life, for we will be committed to a single, sacred standard of conduct and belief. [“The Great Symbol of Our Membership,” Ensign, October 1994, p. 5]

Early in 2002 my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A few days later, my husband was also diagnosed with cancer. These were dark, difficult days for us. It would have been easy to have done as the devil tempted Job to do—to curse God, ignore our commitments to the Lord and to others, and wallow in despair. However, even when our circumstances change, our commitment to the Lord must not change. There is no sliding scale. We cannot get a rain check or opt out from our commitments, even for a time. We must stay on track and be lifted up by Jesus’ example.

Even though our individual circumstances differ, our commitments to the Lord are never situational; they do not change depending on the level of stress or joy we may be experiencing in our lives. Whether it is through defining moments of great trial or during seemingly subtle and quiet moments of reflection, making a commitment is a sacred act, an act that reflects what is divine in us. President Marion G. Romney said, “I . . . believe that the most effective way to get on course and to stay on course is to do as Jesus did: make a total commitment to do the will of His Father” (“Commitment and Dedication,” Ensign, March 1983, p. 5).

Set Realistic Goals and Endure

Once we are committed to following the Master, then a good way to make progress with our commitments is to set realistic goals. My sister volunteers at a family history center and has commented that many people are full of enthusiasm and energy when they come to search for their ancestors but leave disheartened because they are not able to identify all of their forebearers in a single session. Their commitment to redeeming the dead can be relatively short-lived. Setting realistic goals assists in fulfilling commitments and thus in enduring to the end. Whether we write a list of goals or keep them in our mind, we need to set goals that are reasonable and achievable and that will help us to keep our commitments in the long run.

We often hear of people who have “commitment issues,” people who don’t endure. Generally, these issues are in the context of a relationship, but it is an idea with broader application. Do we have spiritual commitment issues? With the Lord, all things are spiritual, thus there are no commitments that can be deemed “simply temporal.” When we keep our commitments, we draw closer to the Lord and come closer to becoming the person we need to be to endure through eternity. What may initially appear to be temporal is, in actuality, a training ground for things eternal. The companion of commitment keeping is enduring to the end. Because we are children of God, our commitments are eternal.

Anticipate Opposition

Keeping our commitments is something we must do daily, no matter what the day might bring. Through both the clouds and the sunshine of life, we must be committed. Many will keep their commitments only until the clouds appear, only until it becomes awkward, painful, expensive, unpopular, inconvenient, unfashionable, or politically incorrect. But we must be steadfast and immovable (see Mosiah 5:15). Elder Marvin J. Ashton said:

A truly committed person does not falter in the face of adversity. Until one is committed, there is a chance to hesitate, to go off in another direction, or to be ineffective. Members within our ranks who are committed to living the gospel of Jesus Christ will not be affected by the rationale of hecklers. [“‘The Word Is Commitment,’” Ensign, November 1983, p. 62]

The adversary uses discouragement to get us to break our commitments. Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland in the 13th century and an ancestor of mine, learned a great lesson after having been defeated in battle. While hiding from his enemies in a cave for several months and being at the lowest, darkest point in his life, he observed a spider trying to spin its web. The spider fell down again and again as it tried to construct the web but persevered and eventually succeeded. Bruce came to the realization that he must try, try again, and he too was eventually successful.

A further type of opposition we may experience is having friends who are lax or casual in their approach to their commitments and who minimize the extent of their obligations. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:

[Some] members accept callings but not all of the accompanying responsibilities. . . . While casual members are not unrighteous, they often avoid appearing to be too righteous by seeming less committed than they really are—an ironic form of hypocrisy” (“Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, November 1992,
pp. 65, 66).

The natural man is typically another opponent of commitment keeping, which is why our prophets and apostles speak so often of self-mastery. It takes great strength and discipline to be fully committed to all that is required. The cultural tides in our world run strongly against commitments of any kind.

Reap the Blessings

When we put our whole heart into our commitments and covenants with God, the blessings will extend far beyond our spiritual selves and will strengthen all aspects of our lives.

When my mother was baptized a member of the Church in 1964, she could not drive, and the local branch met in a drafty building across town. She had to take several buses to get to and from church twice each Sunday. One cold, snowy night as she waited to catch the bus home, the missionaries passed by and told her that if she would keep her commitments to the Lord and continue to live the gospel, in the future it would be easier for her to get to church. Several years later, my mother passed her driving test. Soon afterward, the members worked hard to build a meetinghouse about a five-minute drive away from our home. What a marvelous blessing it was for my mother to be able to get to meetings so easily.

President Henry B. Eyring described great learners as people who keep commitments:

Any community functions better when people in it keep their promises to live up to its accepted standards. But for a learner and for a community of learners, that keeping of commitments has special significance. . . .

The Latter-day Saints who see themselves in all they do as children of God take naturally to making and keeping commitments. The plan of salvation is marked by covenants. We promise to obey commandments. In return, God promises blessings in this life and for eternity. He is exact in what He requires, and He is perfect in keeping His word. Because He loves us and because the purpose of the plan is to become like Him, He requires exactness of us. And the promises He makes to us always include the power to grow in our capacity to keep covenants. He makes it possible for us to know His rules. When we try with all our hearts to meet His standards, He gives us the companionship of the Holy Ghost. That in turn both increases our power to keep commitments and to discern what is good and true. And that is the power to learn, both in our temporal studies and in the learning we need for eternity. [“A Child of God,” 1997–98 Speeches, pp. 46–47]

My mother was committed to raising her children in the gospel. Just one example of her commitment to this ideal was an activity that happened every morning in our family. In the Ingram family we called it “morning service,” and it involved a hymn, a family prayer, and scripture reading at 7:30 a.m. each day. Regardless of what else might be going on that day, we always had morning service—every single day. I am ever grateful to my mother for her tenacity in keeping her commitment to raise up a righteous posterity even when her children were not always terribly congenial about having to get out of bed for scripture study. Her commitment has made a difference in my life. I know the scriptures better because of morning service. Those blessings extend through future generations and continue to bless my family as I teach my children the gospel by reading the scriptures with them.

Whole-Souled Commitment

Let’s keep the flakiness in the kitchen. Let us be more fully aware of our commitments; decide now to keep them; follow the Master in our approach to our commitments; set realistic goals to help us endure in our commitments; anticipate the opposition that will come; and reap the blessings, both temporal and eternal, that flow to those who faithfully keep commitments.

Commitment to God’s laws is the basis of peace in this life. President Howard W. Hunter said:

A successful life, the good life, the righteous Christian life requires something more than a contribution, though every contribution is valuable. Ultimately it requires commitment—whole-souled, deeply held, eternally cherished commitment to the principles we know to be true in the commandments God has given. [“Standing As Witnesses of God,” Ensign, May 1990, p. 62]

“Whole-souled, deeply held, and eternally cherished commitment”—these are words to live by.


Sarah Westerberg is associate dean of students at BYU. This is adapted from a devotional address given on Dec. 2, 2008.
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