Have you ever watched the Olympics or another prestigious athletic event in person or on television? Although it is exciting to watch skillful athletic performances, few of us will truly understand the years of dedication, discipline, and practice that each athlete must experience before he or she can compete at that level of competition. The athlete's performance is a direct result of working toward a chosen goal.
Life is much like the Olympics because both require a goal, preparation and hard work in order to gain success and both involve persistence in case of failure. Life is unlike the Olympics in that very few athletes ever become gold medalists but each of us can receive the highest reward of life.
Like Olympic athletes, we are "in training" because we want to reach a very important goal. The "gold medal" we are working toward is exaltation in the celestial kingdom. In order to receive this reward we must be dedicated and disciplined in keeping the commandments and our covenants with God.
We must understand that Heavenly Father has a plan for the happiness of His children and that He introduced that plan to us while we lived in heaven with Him. We listened as He explained that we would leave our heavenly home and go away to "college" to gain knowledge and experience, and then we accepted His plan. As part of Heavenly Father's plan, we came to earth as infants and grew to our present stature.
Why did Heavenly Father want us to come to earth? Why is mortality an important part of the plan of salvation? Our Heavenly Father loves each of us, and He wants each of us to reach our full potential. He understood that we needed mortality in order to reach our highest potential.
President Spencer W. Kimball gave us two very important reasons for mortality: "God has given us a plan. He has sent us all to earth to obtain bodies and to gain experience and growth." (See The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p 25.)
Heavenly Father sent us to earth in order for us to receive physical bodies and to gain experience. We learned a lot while in our pre-earth life, but we needed physical bodies in order to progress any further. "My brothers and sisters, we're away from home. We're off to school. Our lessons will not be easy. The way we react to them, the way we conquer and accomplish and live will determine our rewards, and they will be permanent and eternal….
"You are sent to this world with a very serious purpose. You are sent to school, for that matter, to begin as a human infant and grow to unbelievable propositions in wisdom, judgment, knowledge, and power." (See Teachings, pp 28, 31.)
The "home" cited by President Kimball is our home in heaven with our Heavenly Father. The "school" is mortality. What have you learned in this school since you left your heavenly home? President Kimball said that one of the purposes for coming to earth was to gain a mortal body. A body is a wonderful blessing, but learning to control that body and how to use it righteously is a major learning experience. This earthly lesson includes learning to control our appetites, desires, and passions. It also includes using our newly learned skills like walking and talking in righteous ways. We need to use our ability to walk to go to the places where we should be and to take us away from evil. We need to use our ability to talk to speak honestly and positively and never take the name of the Lord in vain. God's commandments, such as the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity, help us learn to use our bodies righteously.
There is much that we must learn while we are in this earthly school before we are ready to "graduate" and return to live with Heavenly Father. An ancient prophet named Alma counseled, "For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors." (See Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ,
"And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
"And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity." (See 2 Peter 1:5-7.)
Nephi, an ancient American prophet, taught, "And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved." (See Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 2 Nephi 31:16.)
So, in order to prepare to meet God, we must develop faith in Jesus Christ and then diligently add the following qualities: virtue, knowledge, temperance (self-control), patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity (Christlike love). After we have developed all those qualities, we need to continue doing good and then endure to the end of our lives.
The different circumstances and situations we experience in our earthly life are tailored to our individual needs to help us develop those qualities we personally need in order to live with Heavenly Father again. Our nation, our family, our friends, our health, and our church experiences are all situations that help us learn. Caring for a young child helps to develop patience. Dealing with a personal or family disability helps to develop compassion. Experiencing failure or disappointment helps to develop persistence. Keeping the commandments develops self-control and faith in Jesus Christ.
Our experiences on earth are all part of our eternal life. Our view of eternity is now limited, but we will have a better understanding of the importance of using our mortality wisely after we leave this life.
President Kimball related the following personal experience. "While in the city of
, we stayed in a room which was enclosed in glass on three sides. The light in the room illumined it and we could see the shining glass, the beautiful furniture, ceiling, floor, walls, the vases and other ornaments, everything in the room only. Our vision was limited to the small room and its contents. And then we turned out the lights and went to the window and through that window, which before had been the end of our vision, now we could see clearly over the housetops, over the trees, to the thoroughfares beneath with their many street lights, studded with the lights of automobiles, and beyond that we could see the seashore and the great hotels, and Waikiki Beach, the Punchbowl and Old Diamond Head with their craters, and the great ocean with its ships carrying the commerce of the world. Honolulu
"[This] is like eternity. Here [on earth] we are limited in our visions. With our eyes we can see but a few miles. With our ears we can hear but a few years. We are encased, enclosed, as it were, in a room, but when our light goes out of this life, then we see beyond mortal limitations….
"The walls go down, time ends and distance fades and vanishes as we go into eternity… and we immediately emerge into a great world in which there are no earthly limitations comparable to ours as to time, distance, or speed." (See Teachings, pp 40-41.)
The knowledge that there is life after death or knowledge of eternal life can help us to use our mortality wisely in order to learn and gain all the knowledge and experience possible. President Kimball said that "our lessons [in this life] will not be easy," but the reward - exaltation - for learning these lessons well will be well worth the effort.
I am very grateful for my experiences in life and the lessons I have learned from them. I know that Heavenly Father gave us mortality as a time to learn and grow because He loves us and wants us to return to be with Him and like Him.