As a young girl I was taught our purpose in life was to get a body and be tested to see if we would always be obedient. I have to admit, thinking I existed solely to take a test wasn’t very motivating. It left me to wonder, isn’t there more to life than getting a body and taking a test? After all, what is the purpose of having a body? And why is obedience so important?
The simple answer lies in the teachings of the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi to his children, found in 2 Nephi 2:25. “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.” There is the answer!
The purpose of life is to find joy and happiness.
And joy and happiness is found in becoming like our Heavenly Parents
Our Heavenly Father is a perfected glorified being who is literally the father of our spirits. His purpose, His work and His glory is to help us become like Him, whereby we can receive the fullness of His joy. That is why the plan that allows for us to learn and do what we need to do here, to qualify to return to God’s presence, is often called “The Plan of Happiness”.
Joseph Smith taught, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be in the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it. . .”
And while visiting His disciples in the Americas, the Savior promised them, “ . . .
and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your shall be full, even as the Father hath given me of ; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one” 3 Nephi 28:10
Our Heavenly Father and Savior experience a fullness of joy because they are glorified perfected beings. Likewise we will not experience this fullness until we too have reached perfection. However, perfection is a process, not an event, and as we move forward, progressing on the covenant path, which is the path to exaltation, we can experience joy and happiness now.
Here are three main ways we can experience joy in this life as we prepare for a fullness of joy in the hereafter:
Joy is found in obedience
There are two forces at work in the universe. Good and evil. Whereas God’s purpose is to help us be good and choose freedom and happiness, Satan’s purpose is to trick us into choosing evil, captivity and misery. The more we become like God, the happier we are. The more we become like Satan, the more miserable.
The reason we are “being tested” to see if we will choose obedience, is not so we can learn obedience simply for obedience sake, it is so we can learn Godhood and be happy.
Moroni taught, “Come unto Christ and be perfected in him” . . . And the Savior taught us that we “come unto Him” by following the covenant path of faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring in righteousness until the end of our lives. This is the path that leads us back to our Heavenly home. Choosing to follow this path is “the test” of our obedience.
But it is not just a path we follow so we can receive a reward at the end. It is also the way we become like our Heavenly Father. With every commandment we keep we are developing a Christlike attribute, and with every Christlike attribute we develop, we are becoming more like God. And the more we become like God, the more joy and happiness we will have in this life and in the life to come.
Alma the Younger in the Book of Mormon is a good example of both the power of Satan’s misery and the greater power of God’s happiness. Alma not only rebelled against God personally, but he spent his time persuading others to also participate in his wickedness. In answer to the prayers of his father and the people, an angel appeared to him and called him to repentance. In his own words he taught:
“I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities for which I was tormented with the pains of hell . . . .”
For three days and three nights he suffered this anguish. But then he remembered what his father had taught him about Christ and His atonement and he cried out to Christ for deliverance. He then continues, “And oh, what joy and what marvelous light I did behold, yea my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain.” (Alma 36:12-20) When Alma later taught his son Corianton, “wickedness never was happiness” he knew of what he was teaching.
Joy is found in the family
God is literally our Heavenly Father, or in other words, the Father of our spirits. We are part of His eternal family. His entire work and glory, and therefore His joy and happiness, comes in helping us become like Him and receiving the joy and happiness He has.
Therefore, in order for us to receive a fullness of joy, His purpose must become our purpose. His work must become our work. And His purpose and work is all about the family.
That is why the family is central to God’s plan for the happiness of His children. That is why we needed to come to earth to have bodies—so we could then have children. That is why being sealed for time and eternity is the crowning ordinance of the gospel. That is why when we speak of being exalted (God’s greatest blessing offered to His children) we are speaking of having an eternal family.
But we don’t have to wait until the next life to have joy in family life. That joy and happiness can and should be found in family relationships right now, here on earth.
I realize that sometimes when we are surrounded by messy diapers and dirty dishes, crying babies and sick toddlers that happiness in family life may seem like a fairytale. I have not found marriage easy, nor raising children to be all roses and butterflies. But I have experienced a lot of joy in my family.
I rejoiced when I over heard a son in law teaching his two year old daughter how to pray. My heart smiled when I was visiting my son’s home, and in the middle of the night heard him lovingly say to his little boy, who had been throwing up, “You have to get it into the bucket, Buddy.” I find great happiness in watching my children gather their little ones around at night to read the scriptures, or see them all kneel to say prayers. I still get stomach flutters when my husband winks at me across a room. And I think growing old together is wonderfully romantic.
We recently were separated from our children for three years while we served a mission in Mexico. When we were released, we drove straight to Utah where we met all of our children and their families for a family reunion. It was at the moment they arrived and all 19 of us gathered together in the family room that I truly understood the meaning of the phrase “joy and rejoicing in your posterity.” It was the most beautiful sight!! And it was my greatest joy!
No wonder Satan fights so hard to destroy the family!
Joy is found in loving service
The Savior taught that the first and greatest commandment is to love God. The second commandment is to love others.
Love is the motivating force behind all that God does. Love is why He created this world so we could come here, receive our bodies and progress toward perfection. Love is why He sent His Son to earth to live, suffer and die for us. Love is why the Savior was willing to sacrifice His life so we could live again in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Love is why God hears and answers our prayers.
Jesus taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Therefore, love becomes our motivating force in keeping God’s commandments, because we want to live with our Heavenly Father again!
And when we truly love our Heavenly Father, we also truly love all of His children, our spiritual brothers and sisters. One of the best ways to know if we are progressing toward our goal of becoming like our Heavenly Father is if we are increasing in love toward our fellowman.
Which is why Moroni taught in Moroni 7:48 that if we have charity, “ . . .when he [Christ] shall appear we shall be like him . . . “
One of my favorite examples of joy in service is found in the story of Ammon and the Anti-Nephi-Lehites. The four sons of Mosiah were partners in iniquity with Alma the Younger, and repented when he did. The suffering they experienced as part of their repentance process, created in them a desire to share the gospel with the Lamanites—people they perceived to be the most wicked of all. Their love for their fellowman was their motivation to leave their own families, travel to another land, suffer numerous trials and deprivations to teach their enemies. And thousands repented and joined the Church.
Upon seeing the fruits of their labors, Ammon exclaimed, “. . . my joy is full, yea my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. . . .yea we will rejoice for our joy is full, yea, we will praise our God forever. . . “ (Alma 26:11-12)
Ammon didn’t just learn obedience. He learned love. And in so doing, he felt great joy.
The greatest service we can offer anyone is to share with them the gospel through either missionary work or temple work. But we have also been commanded to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, liberate the captive and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. (Jacob 2:19) And it is in these acts of service, both great or small, that we learn to love others and feel deep and true joy.
Putting it all together . . .
Think for a minute about Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life. The goal in the dream was to get to the tree, but in order to do that, a person had to follow the path to the tree by clinging to the iron rod. The rod, we learn in 1 Nephi 11, represents the word of God, which we can receive through reading the scriptures, listening to the prophets or personal revelation through the Holy Ghost.
In other words, clinging to the rod, means being obedient to God’s commandments, and being obedient is how we progress on the covenant path—which is the only way to get to the tree.
And what does the tree represent? We also learn in 1 Nephi 11 it represents the love of God for us, His children. But why would God use a tree and fruit to represent His love for us?
Because a tree is also the symbol of the family. The highest, most pure love is the love of Heavenly Parents for each other, and for their children. Love is not just a feeling our Heavenly Parents feel, it is what They do and who They are.
And, as the angel taught Nephi, that pure, perfect familial, Godlike love . . .
Is . . . “the most joyous to the soul”. (1 Nephi 11:23)
And that is the purpose of life!