Situating our current lifetime within God’s eternal plan, President Thomas S. Monson described this mortal life as “an opportunity to prove ourselves in order to qualify for all that God has prepared for us to receive.” Because of the understanding of God’s plan that has come through modern revelation, Latter-day Saints see our time on the earth as an intermediate step between the time we spent with God before our births and the time we hope to spend with Him again after our deaths. As such, we see these brief decades of life as a time to prepare ourselves to return to God’s presence, a time to develop the kind of character that will qualify us to enjoy the glory of an eternity with our Heavenly Father. Indeed, this life is the time to “prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32). As the late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin put it: “Our Heavenly Father wants us to use this mortal probation to ‘fully develop’ ourselves, to make the most of our talents and abilities.”
When I think of this life as a time for me to develop and prepare myself to return to my heavenly home. I can’t help but reflect on one of the parables Jesus told to His disciples. In the parable, Jesus says that a certain wealthy man left his affairs in the hands of three servants, giving each a sum of money and the charge to administer it wisely. To one servant, the wealthy man gave five talents; to the second, he gave two; and, to the third, he gave one. While the wealthy man was away, the five-talent servant put his money in the exchanges and gained five additional talents. The two-talent servant did likewise and gained two additional talents. The third, however, afraid to lose the money entrusted to him, buried it in the ground and garnered no return on his master’s investment.
It’s interesting to me to note that, upon his return, the wealthy man made no distinction between the servant who had gained five talents and the one who had gained two. To both of them, he said “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21, 23). The wealthy man, a stand-in for our Father in Heaven, wasn’t concerned about the absolute achievement of each servant—success wasn’t measured in total number of talents. Instead, the wealthy man was concerned with the relative improvement of each servant’s allotment. The first two doubled their shares—and that doubling qualified them both for equal rewards. Only the servant who did nothing at all to improve what he had received was subject to his master’s ire.
I take great comfort in the lesson of that New Testament parable. To me, it says that, though the standard is ultimately perfection (Matthew 5:48), God is much more concerned with progress at this phase of my eternal journey. The parable of the talents, in effect, teaches me that, regardless of where we’ve started out or ended up in life, God only expects us to make ourselves, our lives, and the lives of those around us better, not perfect. Whether we are five-talent, two-talent, or even one-talent servants, the reward is the same so long as we continually improve. To borrow Elder Jeffry R. Holland’s words: “[W]e can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.”
Because our performance on the test of mortality is measured by progress and not perfection, we really do get credit for trying. But we must really try so that we aren’t like the faithless one-talent servant of the parable who was cast “into outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30). Ultimately, we are free to make of our lives whatever we wish, but, since our lives are gifts from God, we have a sacred responsibility to make the most of them that we can. Spencer W. Kimball put it this way: “Your life is your own, to develop or to destroy. You can blame others little and yourself almost totally if that life is not a productive, worthy, full, and abundant one. Others can assist or hinder you, but the responsibility is yours and you can make it great, mediocre, or a failure.” Happily, with the knowledge of the gospel, the strength of the Savior, and the encouraging realization that progress is our goal, we can take charge of our lives and press forward with confidence and faith as we live towards eternal greatness.