All That I Must Be

I don’t know much about the history of LDS hymns, but I do know that in 1957, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball asked Naomi Randall, the author of the lyrics of “I Am a Child of God” to change the lyrics from “Teach me all that I must know/ To live with Him someday” to “Teach me all that I must do/To live with Him Someday.” Kimball explained, “To know isn’t enough. The devils know and tremble; the devils know everything. We have to do something.”

So knowing isn’t enough. But is doing enough?

I think I’m pretty good at doing. Give me a list, and I’ll get it checked off. Like many of you, I often find myself on autopilot– running on the treadmill, emptying the dishwasher, throwing in a load of laundry, supervising a piano practice session, driving, driving, driving, reading a bedtime story, overseeing family prayer. I’ll bring a dinner to a family when the mom has a baby, show up with treats to a ward party, even whip up a Primary program when requested. I go through the motions of reading scriptures and praying to check them off my list.

I’m not saying that this is nothing. It’s an accomplishment to get through a full-day’s work, no matter what that work is.

If knowing is the first step and doing is the second, I’d say that at this point in my life, inching into my later 30s, I’m satisfied with what I know and what I can do in a day.

But it’s the autopilot mode, the thirty second prayer muttered under my breath as I flop myself onto my bed at the end of the day, exhausted, that makes me feel like knowing and doing aren’t enough. Sure, I’m getting a lot done, but my mind is always somewhere else– on the book plugged into my ears, on the din of kids in the next room, on the grocery list I’m mentally composing in my head.

My oldest son loves zoos. He goes to each zoo with a checklist of every animal in his mind. As soon as we walk up to the exhibits and he spots the animal, he checks it off his mental list and we move on. I think I’ve been doing that with my life. I’m often the first one to leave a party, eager to get home, put the dishes in the dishwasher, and sweep the floor before I go to bed for the night. I find it hard to sit and chat, even with good friends. Because there’s always more doing to be done.

So from now on, while all of you are singing “Teach me all that I must do,” I’m going to sing “Teach me all that I must be.”  I don’t need to do more, but I do need to be more fully present, to be a better friend, to be a mom who listens to her kids. I want to become a woman who is changed by Christ and by His gospel, and not just known for all the things I can get done in a day.

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

27 thoughts on “All That I Must Be

  1. I actually appreciate the word change for a different reason – I am actually pretty good at the doing. I just wish I was better at the knowing part of it. For me, it is easy to be (mostly) obedient, but not so easy to have faith.

  2. Shelah, as I started to read I found myself silently saying “I wish the word was “be” rather than “know” or “do” because it best describes our process of “becoming” through the miracle of the Atonement. And then at the end I read that was your thought, too.

    But, without knowing or doing I can’t become anything. So maybe it’s really all three, with the emphasis on the result of be-ing.

  3. I have exactly the same challenge – and guess what? I’m in my early 60’s. I decided about 3 weeks ago, that no matter the task I was doing, that I would consciously make myself be in the present; pay attention to the details; the smells; the textures – really aware of what I was doing and experiencing -” actually being in the present” AND consciously finding a specific thing in that task that’s satisfying or joyful. Can’t do that if my mind isn’t present with my body. Typically while I’m doing the present, my mind is in “the next” or “upcoming”. ITS SO HARD – I must have to re-wire my brain to be in the present moment. But its my main focus to work on through all the doing.
    Boyd K. Packer said: “I don’t know why we worry so much about our to-do lists when we have so much to be. Why don’t we have to-be lists?” (I didn’t take time to find the verbatim quote but that’s the gest of it.)
    I hope your post evokes comments from women who have mastered this.
    1 idea I’m trying now (and its hard) is to pad 20 minutes around certain tasks. I have such and such a list before I leave the house – pad 20 minutes around that task so that: a) I’m not
    late and b) it gives me some time to be more conscious of what I am about while I’m getting through whatever it is I’m doing. Same with dinner prep; tutoring my grand daughter; the house work I need to get done today; at work, etc, etc. It also de-clutters the daily list because now I have less “to-do time” which I hope, 20 minutes here and there, eventually melds it all into “I’m becoming” time. Looking forward to success stories in this post!

  4. “All that I must BE.” I love it. All that I do, is so that I become the person I want to be. Thank you for your words.

  5. Thanks so much for this, Shelah. I can’t DO as much as I used to, so I am trying to concentrate on who I can BE. I like Sharon’s idea of padding time around tasks.

  6. Thought provokiing post. Too bad the song doesn’t include; to know, to do, and to be. We need all 3.

    I didn’t realize the then Elder Kimball wanted this done back in 1957…then it must have taken several years for this to happen after his request. I remember the exact day it was announced in Primary and how it felt to sing I am A Child of God the new way.

    This post makes me feel so historical. :)

  7. Thanks for your great post, Shelah. Same wavelength: years ago I taught an R.S. lesson based on an article by Arthur R. Bassett called “Knowing, Doing, & Being” (published in Sunstone) and at the end we sang I Am a Child of God with “teach me all that I must know” for the first chorus, “teach me all that I must do” for the second chorus, and “teach me all that I must be” for the third chorus. It works really well in succession, and I’ve sung it that way myself every since–although alone. It reminds me of the progression and relationship between knowledge, action, and internal change (helped immensely by Christ).

    To read Bassett’s article: type [[“knowing, doing, being” sunstone]] into Google and the second listing, VITAL DIMENS… will pop up an 8-page pdf you can read)

  8. I have gotten so much better at this, BUT I’m 61, it has been a long time coming.
    My husband and I served a mission last year. We were called to be proselyting missionaries and we were pretty much left on our own to prayerfully figure out how to go about strengthening the ward we were assigned to. It was difficult, when we reached the mission field my awesome husband had only been a member for 3 1/2 yrs. so he had no leadership experience and I had no priesthood experience!
    I’m a mom of 7 and hence a doer, no time to slow down just keep moving :)ya know.
    There were things to do like be the most active couple in the ward, but there was a lot of other time left over to fill.
    I finally learned to sit, to converse, to listen, to be silent, to mourn with those who mourn, to comfort, to teach and be taught solely by the still small voice, to be fully present. It was hard for me, I never felt I was doing enough and continually pestered the Lord, to know if I was, and every Sacrament meeting during the sacrament he reassured me that I was Doing exactly what He sent us to do.
    Since I’m home I’m so much better, with my adult children and 20 grandchildren, I finally take the time to be fully present! I still have to concentrate on it, but I’m so much better at it. What a huge blessing it is to my life.

  9. I love this post, Shelah. I’m still working at it, but I get being all about being. I learned that lesson the hard way once when a long recovery from ACL surgery made me rethink being all about doing.

  10. I read a book about a year ago called _Wherever you are, there you are_ by John Kabatt-Zinn that made me think more about what you talked about–going on auto-pilot to get it all done. This book helped me reevaluate that.

    My mom has always taken naps in the afternoon because “Life is too short to go through it tired.” I was thinking about this the other day and realized that life is too short to go through it on auto-pilot. In lots of ways when we are on auto-pilot, we aren’t really present to appreciate or show gratitude for what is going on. My goal (probably from now until I am dead) is to work against that. If I am here, doing something, even something mundane that I did yesterday and will have to do tomorrow, I want to be really present. It will necessitate reevaluating priorities–as Julie Beck talked about–categorizing things into essential, necessary and like to do and then slowing down and not doing some of them but I think it is worth it. Thanks for this article!

  11. Thank you for this insight. I feel you were describing my life exactly! I rush from day to day, week to week, checking off the things that need to be done without savoring the moments. My kids are growing up so quickly (my oldest is 18, youngest 9) and I’m becoming one of those “older women” who tell young moms to “enjoy them while they’re young, they grow up so fast!” I know I need to slow down and appreciate the little things, listen to my kids without being distracted, really enjoy the time I spend with friends, have a REAL conversation with my husband. It’s hard to rewire myself at almost 40, but I really appreciate reminders like this post.

  12. Just love all of you gals! You are all wonderful!

    Sometimes I notice my lack of presence with my children and for the next moments I slow down, try to engage and make them feel loved.

    Wish I’d be that way all the time!

  13. I love this post, Shelah. I confess to wondering if maybe someday they will change that word. ;)

    But I really like what Roberta said, “But, without knowing or doing I can’t become anything. So maybe it’s really all three, with the emphasis on the result of be-ing.”

    As I thought about it, I was also reminded of what Elder Bednar said about how the real change of heart (which to me is the ‘be’) is the Savior’s job. I can’t do that myself.

    “All of our worthy desires and good works, as necessary as they are, can never produce clean hands and a pure heart. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that provides both a cleansing and redeeming power that helps us to overcome sin and a sanctifying and strengthening power that helps us to become better than we ever could by relying only upon our own strength. “

    So maybe there is a reason they haven’t changed that word!

  14. For me, weaker and more in need of immediate reward, I have to think about what I’m getting out of the tasks to make it through the day. Going through the motions leads me to over-do, loose my focus and joy, and spiral downward.

    Dirty kitchen? I can’t face cleaning it, unless I think about how good a clean kitchen will feel. Driving my daughter to school? It’s a boring task I could easily delegate if it weren’t for how much I like my daughter and want those few minutes with her in the morning. Laundry? I don’t want to chase down half-clean clothes for the kids, what a pain, so I’ll just clean them.

    We wouldn’t “do” if we didn’t first “know”. The other words of the song show that we know. Adding “do” makes the song powerful, knowing isn’t enough. If we constantly inform our “doing” with knowing we will become. Focusing on the end product (becoming) without the focus on knowing and doing, is overwhelming and feels impossible. I like that it is broken down into a smaller and more simple statement of “do”. We become through doing.

  15. Lovely thoughts and comments. I agree that finding ways to be still and present are key to seeing the hand of God in our lives, and we would all do well to seek more of that. But I want to add that I tend to be in awe of the major “do’ers” I meet, because that piece is such a huge component of BEING.

    If I can’t progress from knowledge acquisition to implementation, (ie: knowing what I need to do, then doing that so that the process will ultimately refine me), I won’t ever become who I hope to become.

    So I have a great appreciation for those who are DOers, because their example shows me how to move from awareness to knowledge to action. The refiner’s fire and the atonement are my only hope of becoming more Christlike on the inside, but I don’t think it will ever happen if I don’t find a way to become a do’er myself. James says in Chapter 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

    23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

    So don’t be too hard on yourself, all you uberdoers! :-) You make this world better and keep things running. What a mess it would be without your efforts. You inspire those of us on the trail to becoming better stewards with time and talent management and show how it can actually be done. Take a gentle view of yourself, and give thanks for the little awarenesses that come of ways that you can let all this DOING smelt you into a brilliant creation cast in His image. I think it’s prerequisite to being and you are on the right path. ♥

  16. This is me to a “t”. I’m a worker bee. I always say people want me around to get things done but I’m not the fun one. I really try and focus on president monson’s admonition to find joy in the journey. I feel like I can have fun once I’m done with the work instead of making the work fun. I always tell my daughter during violin practice- you have to do it no matter what, you can make it a positive experience that we can look back fondly on the hours spent practicing as valuable time together or as torture. It’s what you make of it.

  17. Also, I really like the book “the myth of self esteem: 9 steps to finding peace”. It addresses the “checklister” mentality and talks about how we put hese expectations as what we should do for the lord instead of just being what he wants us to be, his yoke is so much easier than the one we put on ourselves.

  18. “He knew the book from A to Z;
    His mind had mastered every part;
    A fine achievement but alas!
    It never got into his heart.”
    by C.W. Vandenbergh

    Just saw this tonight and thought it relevant to the discussion about the difference between those who know the word of God and those that do the word of God. Perhaps the key is to make sure our “doings” are God’s will for us, and in doing so, we become more worthy to be called His children. Maybe doing IS being in some greater sense?

  19. About 12 years ago when I was in a situation I was desperate to not be in, mentally pining away at how I couldn’t wait for time to put it behind me, I had a revelation.
    The words came to my mind, ” BE where you ARE”. (I was presently over a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup). I thank God for that thought, and often find myself repeating it. i consider it one of the most profound things the spirit has ever taught me.
    Still struggling to actually do it though. :)

  20. Coming to the discussion late to say I really appreciated this post, Shelah. Someone once said to me, “You’re a human doing, not a human being.” Lol. It’s so true. I have to try very hard to focus on the being, and I often fall short. But I have felt my heart yearning lately to be the woman the Lord wants me to be—to feel His love deep in my bones, to commune more with Him, to have that mighty change of heart. That takes less doing of the relatively unimportant things (and figuring out what is relatively unimportant!) so that I have time for what is truly important. I do believe that we must know, do, and be in order to become truly converted, and I love the idea of thinking about all three words as we sing that song.

    Thanks again for this post!

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