I spent nearly half of my mission service training new missionaries. This allowed time for a lot of extra study. I enjoyed this extra study so much that I convinced a couple of my more willing companions to get up early with me even when we weren’t training. Missionaries are fond of bearing comp-a-monies and will often get emotional about what they learned from one another. “Sister So-and-So taught me about charity.” “Sister Thingy taught me about prayer.” You get the drill. When it came to others reflecting on me, it was always, “Sister Lindley taught me how to work.” I was never quite sure how I felt about that. My new comps would invariably tell me after about three weeks how terrified they had been to serve with me due to the taskmaster reputation I had unwittingly earned. They would say, “I’m so surprised that that you are nice, too!” I was never quite sure how I felt about that, either.
My point in sharing this is to illustrate that for all the things I did wrong on my mission, my level of diligence was not something I ever regretted. My last companion was a fantastic sister I had often served near on my mission, but never with. I got a surprise transfer with her for the last 3 1/2 weeks of my mission. The weather was beastly hot that Australian December, but we got a reprieve when we were sent to serve in the beautiful Blue Mountains. With both of us so close to going home, we decided to get serious about the exercise we had always intended to do. We woke up each morning and ran down the hill toward the national park, scaring the sulfur-crested cockatoos and galas from the same trees each morning, watching the sun kiss the craggy tops of the Three Sisters, the iconic landmark of the Blue Mountains. We worked very hard on our mission work as well, sometimes knocking on doors for up to ten hours a day.
We traveled into the city for my last zone conference, and our cheeky district leader called on various elders and sisters to spontaneously teach selected principles from the discussions—–without any aid except the scriptures. There had been a big push in the mission for us to memorize the six discussions that were then used to teach the gospel to prospective members. Elder Teenager asked my companion and me to teach the sixth principle of the sixth discussion. In other words, he had given us the very most difficult one: I’d only taught the sixth discussion a handful of times during my whole mission.
After we finished teaching, as I noted the extreme gratitude I felt for having just reviewed that lesson the day before, a sister who had been in the mission, to the day, as long as I had, said to me with thinly disguised envy, “You are really lucky that you have the discussions memorized.”
I suppose she meant this to be a compliment, and though I smiled with gritted teeth, I felt a rather bitter taste in my mouth. I wanted to stop smiling so stupidly and inform her that “luck” had nothing to do with it.
Was I blessed? You bet—blessed with time to study because of all the training I was asked to do, blessed with a first-rate education from age 4 to 21, blessed with parents who taught me to work hard, blessed with a mind that does what I want it to, blessed with a love to read and learn.
Was it luck that set the alarm for 5:30 all those mornings? Was it luck that my companions and I followed the schedule and rules in the handbook? Was it luck that kept me awake over the scriptures each morning? Was it luck that copied passages of scripture to be memorized during the horrifically long and often boring hours of knocking on doors?
I don’t think so.
We use the word “luck” a lot. You are so lucky. Good luck. Today is your lucky day. That was a lucky break. Third time lucky. Thank your lucky stars. I’m just having a string of bad luck.
But what does it mean? Is there really any such thing as luck?
Though a science teacher, I currently teach a class on personal finance (don’t ask), and something that I try to emphasize with these near-adults is that the very worst thing they can do is approach life without a plan or goals and to instead just let life happen to them. In other words, the worst choice is the non-choice. Too many young people view success as something that happens to other, luckier people. Or they believe that luck is the only path to success.
Some writings here of late have made me think that in LDS culture, we have our own version of the luck myth. Too often, we tell our young women that if they are really righteous then they will be blessed with a good (read: rich and handsome) husband who will take care of them. Don’t misunderstand; keeping the commandments is their surest path to peace and confidence and happiness. But no amount of righteous living will guarantee them a husband, or children, or any of the things we are fond of tying to righteousness. When marriage and family don’t happen for them right away, or ever, our narrative may cause them to mistakenly doubt their standing with God; or worse yet, His very existence. In truth, the scenario where a rich, handsome young man will sweep them off their feet and thereby solve all their woes, financial or otherwise, is exceedingly rare—if it every existed outside Disney movies at all. In my mind, this oft-heard narrative is as irresponsible as me teaching my personal finance students that the key to a comfortable and fulfilling life is winning the lottery.
I would not claim to know that God is involved in every detail of our lives; a large part of our purpose is to choose our lives for ourselves. I have felt clear guidance when I have made some big decisions, and I have made other big decisions without that still, small voice of guidance. What I do know is that when I work hard, more opportunities come my way, more good choices are open to me and my family, more avenues for inspiration and revelation are open.
The lives we make for ourselves should be the ones that we seize joyfully out of the difficulties and circumstances we’re presented with. Compared to this dynamic and fulfilling truth, luck is merely a counterfeit for real living.