When I came home from my mission years ago, my first Sunday was ward conference, and my dad, who was on the high council, was one of the speakers. Dad had served on the high council for years and, frankly, as a youth I found his talks rather boring. But having experienced the same transformation that Mark Twain did, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much my dad had learned while I was away on my mission.
It was the late 1970's, and my folks had lived in Lagos, Nigeria during my mission in Germany; Dad's employment took him there, and they were able to witness the opening of West Africa to missionary work after the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.
My folks had joined the church in the late 1960's – I was nearly nine and was the youngest of four kids. My dad saw the church, among other things, as a means of protecting us kids against the changing mores in American society at the time. He and mom served faithfully in a series of callings since joining the church, and Dad landed on the high council within a few years of baptism, soon after our stake was formed.
In his talk in ward conference, my dad spoke about personal inventories. The topic was interesting to me as I was quite familiar with companionship inventories from my mission. During their time in Africa, my parents were the church. There was one other brother who would join them for a small sacrament meeting in their home a couple of times a month, but mostly it was Mom and Dad, holding a tiny worship service in their home in Lagos. After the two senior missionary couples came (after the 1978 revelation) to begin missionary work in West Africe, my parents had occasion visits from them, though the couples' primary work was outside Lagos in other parts of Nigeria and in Ghana. Mom and Dad were part of the International Mission at the time. And apparently, the time away from church structure gave them plenty of time to think about their membership, their commitment, their testimonies, and how they chose to live the gospel.
In his talk, Dad suggested that since God does not change, it's up to us to find Him and to orient our lives around him. This was a theme of Dad's membership. He was never one to place demands on God; he was uncomfortable with verses like D&C 82:10 that suggest that our obedience allows us to lay claim to blessings, and instead favored the King Benjamin view that God blesses us in His own way whenever we do right without our asking for it. In fact, one of Dad's reasons for leaving his protestant faith in the late 1960's was their annual meeting to decide what would be true for the next year.
So Dad's suggestion to do an occasional personal inventory made great sense to me. It's a chance for us to think about where God wants us to be and where we are, and to sort out how to close the gap. It's a chance to identify what we're doing right and wrong. And it's a chance for us to make course corrections where required.
The occasional inventory allows us to grow, too. It recognizes that our understanding of what is required of us may change over time – not that the requirements change, but that a new season in life might allow (or drive) a change in our focus. Dad, for instance, became a much more regular temple attender when a temple was close enough to get to in a day's drive, and when his travel schedule for work allowed him to be in one place for longer than a few weeks.
I'm a fan of the inventory, too. It seems to me that a personal inventory allows us greater access to the blessings of the Atonement, as it presents to us a case for change in our lives. In my mind, a good inventory is not simply a listing of what we perceive to be our deficiencies, but rather an account of strengths and weaknesses – what we'd like to do more of as well as things we see that we must change.
Have you had experience with a personal inventory?