Our family joined the Church the summer when I was fourteen, my brother was ten, and my sister was six. We grew up in Connecticut as a churchgoing family, but after church was over at 10:15 on Sunday morning, we were free to do what we wanted with the rest of the day. In the spring and fall, we usually spent the rest of the day at soccer games for my brother, Ethan. Spring soccer ended that year before we set our baptism date, before we understood the finer parts of becoming a Mormon, before we knew about how Mormons kept the sabbath day holy. At the end of the spring season, Ethan signed up to join the traveling team in the fall.
By the time August came to an end, my mom realized that she was facing a problem. We were fresh from the waters of baptism and still felt like we could do everything right in terms of living the gospel. Should she let Ethan honor his commitment to the team, or should she encourage him to keep the sabbath day holy as much as possible? Full of a convert’s zeal, she had her opinions, and she marched Ethan into the Bishop’s office to have him validate her opinion.
“He’s thinking about playing soccer this fall, and there’s a conflict with church,” my mom said as she and Ethan took seats across the desk from the Bishop.
“Tell me about your soccer team, Ethan,” the Bishop said.
“We’ve been playing together since we were four, and we’ve all gotten really good.”
“What time are your games?”
“Every other Sunday at two or three.”
“What time does church end?”
“I see no conflicts then, Ethan.”
The Bishop excused my brother and faced my mom, who couldn’t hide her confusion.
“Why?” she finally asked.
“Milk before meat, Terry. He’s new in the gospel. We don’t want to turn him away before he has a chance to grow.”
“What about next year when we have afternoon church?”
“We’ll worry about that next year.”
Ethan played and fulfilled his commitment to the team. The next spring when it came time to sign up for fall soccer, Ethan decided not to join the league that would make him play on Sunday. By that time he was almost twelve, preparing to receive the priesthood, and had met people in the ward who were both good friends and good examples. More than twenty years later, he’s raising six kids in the gospel, and the impression our bishop’s counsel made on our whole family has influenced the way we all live as members of the church.
Are there times when you’ve received unconventional counsel? How has it blessed your life or caused problems for you? How do you discern between living the letter and the spirit of the law?