William R. Bradford, “I Want My Life Back,” New Era, Sep 1993, 49
From an address delivered in April 1992 general conference.
Do you own things, or do they own you? Who—or what—is pushing your control buttons?
My wife and I recently received a letter from one of our daughters that, in part, read, “I’ve become a nurse. Four of the six kids have the flu. I’m changing my ambitions from psychiatrist to nurse. Anyway, nobody in this family is sick in the head; we are just all sick.” Then in capital letters she wrote, “I WANT MY LIFE BACK!”
When we read the letter, we gave each other a knowing smile. But those last words, “I WANT MY LIFE BACK,” have stuck in my mind. My daughter’s situation was temporary and for a good cause, but I’ve been hearing more often about people who are filling their lives with meaningless and harmful things.
A cluttered life is a life that you do not have control of. It is a life in which the things you have surrounded yourself with, and allow to use up your time, are controlling you and negatively influencing your happiness and eternal progress.
Our lives can become cluttered by many things. Some are obvious, such as material things. We can surround ourselves with the material things to the extent that we have no time for the spiritual. Look around and you will see all the gadgets and toys and the nice and the fun things that cause us to squander and pay and to wander and play.
Other things that clutter our lives and use our time are not as obvious. They are more subtle and just seem to evolve, taking control of us.
Whenever I think of something subtle—something kind of hidden that we know is there if we stop to think about it but don’t suspect it of cluttering or negatively influencing our lives—I know Satan is busy at his work.
Nothing suits the devil better than to become a silent partner with us. He knows that we have agency and are at liberty to make choices for ourselves. He also knows that while in mortality we are subject to time. If by his subtle means he can become our silent partner, he can influence us to make wrong choices that use our time unwisely and prevent us from doing what we should.
I have learned that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to unclutter one’s life by starting at the top of the pile with the idea that the solution is to just get things sorted and better organized. It is nice to get better organized, but that is not enough. We must actually get rid of what we do not need.
To do this we need to develop a list of basics, a list of those things that are indispensable to our mortal welfare and happiness and our eternal salvation. This list must follow the gospel pattern and contain elements needed for our sanctification and perfection. It must be the product of inspiration and prayerful judgment. It should separate need from greed. It must be our best understanding of those things that are important as opposed to those things that are just interesting, between things we really need and things we just want.
We need to examine all the ways we use our time so we can better understand what we should really be spending our time doing. After all, we give our lives to that to which we give our time.
We must learn that none of the exciting and entertaining and fun things are worth it if they take us from the path that will lead us back home to our Heavenly Father.
We must remember that a person who is not living the basics of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not living them, no matter who or what has caused it. We must also remember that a family divided is a family divided, no matter who or what divides it.
We need to ask ourselves some serious and soul-searching questions. One of these would surely be, Do I have time for prayer? I don’t mean just an occasional, quick, repetitious prayer that is like giving a wave of the hand to your Father in Heaven as you pass Him on your way to something “important.” I mean sincere, honest, “from the depths of a contrite spirit and a broken heart” prayer; kneeling in humility, demonstrating to the Holy Father that you really love him; private prayer which involves you in the process of repentance and pleading for forgiveness and allows time for pondering and waiting for the answers to come.
The next question might be, Do I study the scriptures? If you do, you know that Lehi saw a rod of iron, which, interpreted, means the word of God (1 Ne. 11:1–23). Those who held to the rod, using it as a guide at all times, came safely through the mist of darkness and arrived at the tree of life and partook of its glorious fruit (1 Ne. 8:19, 30). I solemnly testify that the holy scriptures are the word of God. Constant study of them is the act of holding to the iron rod. They will guide you to the Tree of Life. If you are one who has said, “I want my life back,” I exhort you to go to the Tree of Life, where you will find the pure love of God.
God’s plan is a plan of simplicity. It involves being obedient to simple laws, laws that have within them an automatic blessing and happiness for obedience and an automatic punishment and unhappiness for their disobedience.
I urge you to clear away the clutter. Take your life back. Use your willpower. Learn to say no to those things that will rob you of your precious time and infringe upon your agency to choose to live in exactness to God’s plan of happiness and exaltation. Don’t let the subtle influences of Satan take away any part of your life. Keep it under your own control and operated by your own agency.
It is my humble prayer that by our choices we may preserve our individual agency from the subtleness of Satan and live our lives bright and clear and on the path that leads us back to the presence of our Heavenly Father.