One of the smartest men in the Western world, Albert Einstein, believed that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If this is true, then many active members of the LDS church are either insane or on the way there. This is probably not news to anti-Mormon activists, but don’t worry; I’m not one of them. In fact, I choose to wear insanity as defined by Einstein as a badge of honor.
The LDS faith and culture champions repetition as an effective method for bringing God’s children closer to Him. Among other things, we are encouraged to attend church every Sunday, read the scriptures and pray daily (at one point on my mission, I was praying privately and publicly an average of 12 times a day!), and tell our spouses we love them often. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, one of the most logical men I know, challenges Einstein’s definition further when he teaches us that it is typical for avid, ardent scriptorians to read the same verses several times (doing the same thing over and over again) yet expect to learn something new or different about the gospel (expecting different results) based on what the Holy Ghost chooses to teach us, or what we choose to learn, at any given moment in time.
Family Night Insanity
I grew up with parents enforcing family night on us seven kids every Monday night. We were doing the same thing over and over again. I remember many of the family nights where lessons were taught as being failures, or least being not very memorable. Were my parents expecting different results? Were they expecting a weekly Monday evening spiritual manifestation that embodied the very song we sang so frequently, ‘Love at Home?” Hmmm…
I didn’t detect the different result of this same thing until I was on my mission. I had been in Korea for two months, and it was my turn to teach the Joseph Smith story for the first time. I vividly remember the searing anguish the expectation of this opportunity put me through. I stared blankly out the second story window of a musky, cavernous rented hall where we held services, directly at the crumbling brick wall of the building next door. Although I had heard the story of the First Vision an endless number of times growing up in church, in the MTC, and most recently from my missionary companion, I didn’t know if it was true- or I didn’t know I knew (see Alma 10:5-6). How could I relate this story to an investigator, and promise that heartfelt prayers about the reality of this experience would be answered, when it had not happened to me? How could I perpetuate such a bold act of hypocrisy? How could I live with myself?
At that darkest moment, when I felt that I could not live with myself, I reached deep inside and replayed one of many family nights in my head. All us kids were slouched in the couch, draped in various positions over a chair, or strewn across the floor in various stages of impatient boredom. Dad was teaching yet another intensely spiritual lesson that we were too shallow to appreciate. Yet, at this moment of my mission, it came alive for me. Dad was bearing his testimony on the reality of the Atonement, the true knowledge of which was restored to the earth again through the First Vision. As I reflected on this event, the spirit bore witness to me in an undeniable way that God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ did indeed appear to the boy Joseph Smith, and did promise to restore the true church through him. My soul was comforted. I could now ask an investigator to seek an answer to prayer as both Joseph and I had.
Call me crazy, but I think what we have here, according to Einstein, is an insane Dad. He held family night after family night, achieving similarly disappointing results most of the time. Yet he continued to hold them because he was obedient and expected a different result- which was achieved two months into my mission.
Here’s a new definition for you- gospel parenting is doing the same thing over and over again to achieve the right result.