Each of us will face "mess of pottage" decisions.
Today our seminary lesson was about Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage. Esau gave up so much -- immense riches, all the blessings of Abrahamic covenant, and later eternal marriage -- all for a bowl of lentil soup (see Genesis 25:29-34).
Each of us will face "mess of pottage" decisions when we must choose between what we want now, instant gratification, or what we want the most, all that God has, eternal marriage and families, the Spirit with all its gifts and fruits, and living in the celestial kingdom with God in joy and peace.
When is the best time to make those decisions? Ahead of time.
The main thing that stood out to me in last night's Face2Face interview with the Piano Guys is the need to decide ahead what your standards will be. That way when temptation comes, the decision is already a done deal. The Piano Guys mentioned their team's strong commitment to keep the Sabbath day holy, and how it's been tempting when offered good money to perform on the Sabbath. But they didn't give up what matters most -- keeping God's commandments, strong families, and eternal life -- for a mess of pottage that doesn't last, like money and fame.
President Kimball said, "Right decisions are easiest to make when we make them well in advance, having ultimate objectives in mind; ... When I was young, I made up my mind unalterably that I would never taste tea, coffee, tobacco, or liquor. ... There were many occasions when I could have sipped or touched or sampled, but the unalterable determination firmly established gave me good reason and good strength to resist. ...You do not have to decide and redecide what you will do when you are confronted with the same temptation time and time again. You only need to decide some things once!" (Teachings: Spencer W. Kimball, chapter 10, emphasis added)
I invited my seminary students to take some time to write in their journal at home what their standards are now, before temptation arises, with things like dating and chastity, music and media, honesty, Sabbath, obeying the prophet even when it's hard, and so on.
I brought samples of our family's lentil soup called megadarra, and gave my students a small bag of lentils, challenging them to keep it in their pocket for the next four days, and each time they feel it, to think about decisions they are making. Are they pottage "now" decisions, or eternal "most" decisions?
Lot is another scripture story that shows how huge the results can be from one seemingly small decision.
Lot decided to live on the edge of wickedness, right on the edge of Sodom. Pretty soon he was living in Sodom, even though he wasn't participating in their sins himself. Look at all the consequences that came from one small decision to live on the edge of wickedness:
- Gen 13:12 – Lot lives on the edge of Sodom
- Gen 19:1 – Moves his home into Sodom
- Gen 19:4-10 – Sodom’s sins affect Lot's guests and potentially his daughters
- Gen 19:14 – Lot isn't able to influence grown children to leave Sodom, so they get killed in the fire
- Gen 19:16 – Lot lingers – he doesn't want to flee
- Gen 19:24 – His city and home are destroyed
- Gen 19:26 - Lot loses his wife as she has gotten too attached to Sodom and wants to go back (see Elder Holland, BYU Devotional, Jan 13, 2009)
- Gen 19:33-36 – Wickedness permeates his family which was once righteous
As a bishop and attorney, my husband has seen the effects of living on the edge of wickedness even within good families like Lot's.
Today many good people seem to think it's find to watch and virtually do things they would never do in real life, like commit adultery or kill people. But when they listen to music, watch movies, or play video games about breaking the law of chastity, violence, or killing, isn't that living on the edge of wickedness? Jesus said, "Thou shalt not ... commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it." (D&C 59:6) What else would be like unto it if not watching other people do it or doing it virtually in a video game? Click here for more about keeping high standards with media.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “We do not go many hours in our lives without having to decide again 'which way do we face' and whether we will pitch our tents facing Sodom or the holy temple.” (October 2003 General Conference)I brought a play tent to seminary as an object lesson for Lot's small decision with great results. By our decisions each day we choose if we face our tent toward Sodom or toward the temple. Do we choose what we want now or what we want most? God grant us the power to choose what matters most and what is eternal.
- Set up a tent in the backyard or in the house. Place a picture of the temple just outside the door to represent facing your tent toward the temple like King Benjamin's people did rather than facing Sodom like Lot did.
- Have the family climb inside the tent, and study or tell the story of Lot and/or Jacob and Esau. Or role play it in a skit.
- Brainstorm a list of "mess of pottage" decisions that young people face today, and the potential negative results that can happen from those choices.
- This would be a good time to pull out For the Strength of Youth to clarify what God's standards are in any given area.
- Then give family members some quiet time to write commitments in their journals of what standards they will keep with dating and chastity, with music and media, with honesty, the Sabbath, obeying the prophet even when it's hard, and so on.
- It's always good to close with your testimony. You might share that you know these standards are from God and they are given out of love and protection, because He wants us to be happy and to come back to Him.
- Here is a handout you can use to quiz the family on how much they know of the Jacob and Esau family, or to look up the questions together.
- If you want, you could prepare lentil soup ahead of time for refreshments.