I spent several days last week with my dad. He was visiting from another part of the country and we decided to see some classic Bay Area sites. One day we hiked Russian Ridge, a small preserve high in the hills of the Peninsula that provides a view of the Bay on one side and the ocean-chasing hills on the other. Another day we biked around Golden Gate park, where we toured the art museum and Japanese tea garden and saw the most random family of bison surrounded by chain-linked fences.
Over those few days, we talked about many things, and as usual we dabbled in ideas about the Mormon church, faith, and life. By now we are rarely surprised when we disagree, but in general we agree about a lot of things. One thing that we both seem to agree on is that life was not meant to be straightforward. Whatever we are to do, and however we are to live, much of the value of the life experience would be lost if it were not confusing.
What does a “Mormon life” look like? We sometimes bemoan the suffocating cultural expectations: perfect kids, clean house, great casseroles. But I’m going to ignore those for now and focus instead on the theoretical implications of doctrine. What does a life look like if it is truly lived according to Mormon belief?
Mormonism teaches that the terrestrial life primarily serves as an experimental period during which we learn by trial and error, so we would expect a Mormon life to include trials and errors. The best way to avoid trials is to walk the path of least resistance, and the best way to avoid errors is to not make decisions. Either of these strategies will ensure that one will live a very un-Mormon life. Alternatively, following scary paths and making difficult choices (along with consequential mistakes) make a life more Mormon.
As Mormons we should not be surprised when our lives become very messy, very fast. We should also not be surprised when other Mormons’ lives look very different from ours, with their own trials and errors. Those are not a sign that their life is going wrong; they mean it is going right. Life is an experiment and none of us are the controls. We all get the treatment, and the treatment is Trouble (with a capital T).
But Mormonism is not just about the mess. It is also about how the mess gets cleaned up. A Mormon life can be lived boldly because it relies on two important principles: we are not the ones who resolve the problems, and there is a long, long time to work it all out. We make our lives less Mormon when we try to fix everything (including each other) and when we worry about looming deadlines. On the other hand, trusting Jesus to work things out in His own very extended timeline make a life more Mormon.
My dad and I are very different, but one idea we both depend on is that things will work out. We have no option other than to live the life we are in. “There is no other way.” What we can do is truly invest ourselves in our lives, own our decisions, and remember that this unpredictable, challenging, jumbled (a.k.a. Mormon) life is, above all, worth living.