HOW to Know If Something Is Truly Good? An Object Lesson.

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We recently celebrated our oldest son’s birthday. He is the sweetest kid and we are so proud of him. For every birthday around here we prepare the same delicious Sticky Bun recipe–a fun and simple tradition. I’ve made this recipe at least a hundred times and it has always turned out perfectly. That is, until now.

This time. something. went. wrong.

Rather than rising neatly, the rolls were uneven and deflated. They looked wrong. They smelled wrong. I put them into the oven–hoping for a miracle. No miracle occurred. When I overturned the dense rolls onto a plate, they clung stubbornly to the pan. I had to pry them out in several pieces.

What went wrong, you ask? Upon a bit of investigation, I discovered my mistake. The recipe calls for Jell-o butterscotch cook & serve pudding mix. I accidentally used the instant variety. The box I purchased at the store was located on the top shelf of the pudding aisle, exactly where the cook & serve is normally found.

jello in disguiseThe boxes are nearly identical. But just because they are packaged similarly does not mean that they are the same thing. The outcome from using one is opposite the outcome from using the other. Where the right ingredient yields a heavenly dish, the wrong one produces a crusty mess. Where my family usually devours a double batch, this time they opted for cereal.

From this experience, I learned two things.

1. It matters very much which ingredients we use. 


2. Just because something imitates an ingredient, does not make it one.

As my family picked at their food in disappointment, we discussed the metaphor of the bad birthday breakfast. There will be many opportunities in our lives to choose between cook & serve and instant pudding mixbetween what will bring happiness and what will ultimately bring regret.

The choice is ours!

But it’s not always easy to discern between what is a true ingredient in the recipe for happiness and what is an imposter. Many falsehoods masquerade as truths. Many miserable roads appear golden.

So how do we perceive which ingredients to include and which to forgo?

Here are a few introspective questions.

Do I feel positive or negative emotions?

As the Savior taught, we know a thing by its fruits. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” We will know if something is a principle of truth if, when applied in our lives, it produces favorable results just as we knew the cook & serve pudding was good because it produced delicious breakfast.

Paul expounded on this idea of fruit in Galatians. He taught that the initial fruit is exhibited by how we feel. Our feelings are a guidance system. When we feel love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness or temperance, then we know that the principles of truth are operating in our lives. Conversely, when we feel uncleanness, hatred, wrath, strife or envy, we know that truth is absent, at least in some sense, from our lives. (Matthew 7, Galatians 5)

Does my soul feel like it’s growing?

Christ assured us that “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.” Alma offered a similar guarantee, encouraging us to “experiment upon the word.” When we exercise faith to live a true principle, we feel “swelling motions” as truth “beginneth to grow” within our hearts.

The sticky bun recipe rises to a perfect size and texture only with the proper ingredients. The wrong ingredients prevented the rolls from rising. In the same way, when we follow after falsehoods, we feel no expansion of soul, but rather internal stagnation. (John 7: 17, Alma 32)

What does the idea invite me to do?

Moroni was emphatic in his declaration that we may “know the truth of all things.”Perhaps the single most important way to know if something is true is to ask the question: “What does this principle invite me to do?” When we follow our feelings, we must pay careful attention to messages and invitations.

If something invites us to be contentious, selfish or prideful, it is NOT good. We may be tempted to contend in defense of truth. But contention doesn’t originate from God. We can only effectively stand for truth with love unfeigned. 

I happen to love birthday breakfast. That is why I am eager to share it with my family. I want them to enjoy something fun and delicious–a tradition that brings us together. If a thing invites us to do good, to serve and bring others to Christ, then it is good. It is as simple as that. If we continuously look for good in the world, even in unexpected places, we will be prepared to “lay hold of every good thing.” (Moroni 7, 2 Nephi 11)

Happy Birthday to SeanWhile ruining a meal is a bummer, I was actually grateful for the powerful object lesson this miserable failure presented. And I am pleased to announce that while breakfast was a bust, the rest of the day was a success!

Happy birthday Sean! May you always remember your 15th birthday and seek out truth and goodness!

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