I have a complicated relationship with the principle of obedience. I want to do the right thing, but it’s hard for me to invest in the “right thing” if I don’t understand or appreciate the reasons behind it.
In the LDS hymn “I Stand All Amazed,” about the Savior’s grace, there’s a line that says, “I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine, to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine.”
Every time I’ve sung that line, I’ve thought, “Look at you, Brother Charles H. Gabriel, who wrote this song. The book here says you died in 1932 but you clearly know me well.”
One of my earliest memories is of my parents and grandmother instructing me not to touch the hot iron that was sitting on the ironing board. I was maybe four years old.
“The iron is very, very hot,” they said clearly. “It will burn you. Do not touch it.”
I nodded obediently.
Then the adults were all briefly distracted and stepped into the next room. I can remember staring at the iron and thinking, “What do they mean, ‘very hot’? How hot? A very quick touch could not burn me. I’m not, like, touching the iron all over. I am just finding out what the grown-ups think is ‘very hot.’”
It seemed perfectly reasonable until I carefully pressed the tip of my index finger to the flat, metal part of the hot iron. I screamed, burst into tears and felt a deep sense of regret I remember plainly even after more than 40 years.
The adults came rushing to me. They soothed me and tended me and irrationally blamed themselves for leaving me unattended.
I knew what could happen. They told me. But in my tiny child pride and curiosity, I imagined there was some room for safe experimentation. I could bend the rules. It was a little touch, a quick touch. A tap, really.
But it was foolish to make any kind of contact with a hot iron, and the huge blister on my fingertip reminded me of that for days.
As an adult, I use an iron so rarely my own children have virtually no risk of getting burned.
However, they’ve found their own misadventures. More than once, I have discovered a mess (an impressive live caterpillar collection in a coin bank comes to mind) or tended to a completely preventable injury (did you know you’ll need stitches if your brother throws a spoon at your forehead?) and felt completely appalled.
“You KNOW not to do (whatever the most recent waywardness is),” I say, exasperated.
“You’ve never said we couldn’t!” they reply self-righteously.
This exchange happened enough times it has created a standing joke as the kids got older. Whenever I leave the house, I still tell them, “Be safe and be kind and remember, no goats on the roof!”
We don’t even own goats. That is just a stand-in order for “don’t do anything weird or reckless, even if your parents have not given specific counsel regarding your idea.”
In Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith records the Lord admonishing the people, “it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant.”
In other words, the Lord has given His people commandments, but he also expects us to be sensible and not put any goats on the roof.
In current times, we’re dealing with a global pandemic. My kids haven’t seen my grandma since March, and we are all sorry about the dozens of inconveniences and cancellations and disappointments we continue to endure.
But we’re falling into the trap of pride and arrogance if we shrug off the risk, or use our energy to angrily push back against every possible safeguard. It is misguided to declare ourselves “blessed” if we are too proud to follow even the most basic suggestions to reduce the suffering of others.
Rather than attempt to bend every rule — to touch the hot iron just a little, to put just one little goat on the roof, to have just one small get-together — we would serve each other better to embrace the spirit of public health recommendations.
Contact Sally at firstname.lastname@example.org.