One morning as I was waking up, this idea flashed through my head: the gospel is a compass, not a map. I've been thinking about this a lot for the past week or so as we've battled viral pneumonia and had some really low lows. Now I'm writing down some of the thoughts I've been having.
What's the difference between a compass and a map? A compass is fluid because it shows you where each direction is from wherever you're at. A map is fixed. With a map you have only one fastest path from Point A to Point B.
A lot of people see the gospel as a map showing the one fastest way to salvation and exaltation. It often consists of getting your Eagle Scout Award or Young Womanhood Recognition, going on a mission, going to college (especially at BYU), getting married in the temple, raising several children who all go on missions and get married in the temple and then becoming a temple worker /serving a service mission/ serving a high-up church calling of some kind.
There are a few problems with maps.
1) Because you see life as a fixed series of events, you begin to judge others by a very rigid standard and think it's your job to get them back on track. Here's the thing, it doesn't matter if you are someone's bishop, parent or Priest's quorum Advisor, ultimately how someone chooses to live his life is between him and God. If a young man chooses not to serve a mission, it is actually none of your business. If he is derelict in his duties, God will see to it that consequences are put in place. Same thing for not getting married in the temple, having a baby out of wedlock, getting divorced, not having children, etc. When we view life as a fixed path, we also get the pay off of thinking we are morally superior because we are adhering to "the one fixed path", which ends up in a whole lot of pridefulness: "Look at all my righteous accomplishments!" "You made such and such mistake, you are not as righteous as me!" Or alternatively, we berate ourselves because we haven't lived up to the map. The advice of your kindergarten teacher is as applicable now as it was then: Worry about yourself, forget about what everyone else is doing.
2) You miss out on a lot of great things. Let's use a metaphor and say this culturally constructed map is a trip from Provo, Utah to Salt Lake City, Utah. There's nothing wrong with a trip from Provo to Salt Lake. But if all you're thinking about is getting from Provo to Salt Lake, you could miss a whole lot of great things on the way. What about hiking Mount Timpanogos? Maybe you should get out and help a stranded motorist. Maybe you should take a detour and visit Aspen, Colorado and then resume your voyage to Salt Lake. Maybe when you get to Salt Lake you shouldn't stay there, but should hop on a plane to Honolulu or drive in an RV up to Anchorage, Alaska. Maybe Provo isn't even your starting place. Maybe you took a wrong turn and ended up in Tooele. Maybe you're starting from New York City. Maybe Salt lake isn't ultimately the right destination for you; maybe it's Los Angeles or San Francisco or Bangor, Maine or Miami, Florida or Bangkok, Thailand.
There are an infinite number of ways to live a Christlike life that serves others. If you're set on following a map, you might miss out on some great opportunities that your compass may be directing you to. Whenever I've been too rigid, I've missed out on better things and regretted it. The best decisions I've made have often been seemingly crazy things that were not a part of my plan. The only thing that is important is making it to the places you are supposed to be.
3) You mistake destination for character. A lot of people will tell you they want to make it to Salt Lake. Maybe they're in Salt Lake already or are on I-15 Northbound. But on their trip they've hit up every strip club and dog fight along the way, held up a couple of gas stations and ran over a few pedestrians. "None of that matters!" they say, "I'm headed to Salt Lake so just forget about it!" It's not your destination that defines you, it's how you travel. Compasses constantly redirect you to the right path, maps are all about just getting to a destination.
4) Life is what happens when you're planning something else... and life is often more wonderful than any map we can possibly think of. An "oops" baby, divorce, a special needs child, infertility, financial difficulties, health problems, accidents, death, natural disasters, wars and the like are rarely part of anyone's plan, but they can turn into experiences that define us for the better. A compass guides you through any terrain you might face. A map of Utah is completely irrelevant if you happen to be in Vermont or Sweden or South Africa.
Throw away the map. Get out your compass. I'll wave to you as I stumble around heading towards my trail.