Take What You Can Use, and Leave the Rest

The top of the Heap.

It is a custom at the end of many 12 step recovery meetings to read a statement like, “The opinions expressed here today were strictly those of the individuals who gave them; take what you can use, and leave the rest.” I believe this statement is included to emphasize the recovering addict’s ownership of his or her recovery. A reminder that the recovering addict is capable, and responsible, to determine which principles are helpful and to actually apply them.

I think this is a wonderful custom and I sometimes wish this statement became customary at the end of our Church meetings.

I apply the principle myself in Church. Sometimes statements in talks or lessons resonate with me, sometimes they do not. Sometimes they seem flatly wrong. The same is true at times even with correlated materials. And so, I take with me what I can use, and leave the rest.

Some might call this a form of cafeteria religion or selective obedience. While I do not condemn cafeteria religion or selective obedience, that is not what I here advocate.

Rather, I suggest that we not feel compelled to believe and apply everything we hear or read in the Church. We are moral agents, and are responsible for our own spiritual and emotional wellbeing. We should humbly seek God’s spirit and be careful in assessing the truth and usefulness of what is said or written. And that we not obsess over things taught that seem to be incorrect and impractical or impossible to apply..

The Apostle Paul wrote that we should “[p]rove all things [and] hold fast that which is good.” 1 Thes. 5:21.

J. Reuben Clark once remarked that, in evaluating what we hear at Church: “We can tell when the speakers ‘are moved upon by the Holy Ghost’ [and are speaking truth] only when we, ourselves, are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’”

In a revelation excusing the Prophet Joseph from “[re]translating” the Apocrypha, and after noting that the Apocrypha was not unalloyed truth, God advised:

4.Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth;

5 And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;

6 And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited.

(D&C 91:4-6)

Finally, even with respect to counsel from our highest leaders, President Eyring has advised:

Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don’t discard the counsel, but hold it close. If someone you trusted handed you what appeared to be nothing more than sand with the promise that it contained gold, you might wisely hold it in your hand awhile, shaking it gently. Every time I have done that with counsel from a prophet, after a time the gold flakes have begun to appear, and I have been grateful.

Henry B. Eyring, “Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, Jun 2008, 4–9

In evaluating what to take with me when I leave Church meetings, the operative word is “useful.” This is not the same thing as “true.” President Packer has observed that not everything true is useful.

Of course, “leav[ing] the rest”does not mean I forever reject or discard what I leave behind. Most of the time, if a teaching or counsel is true and important, it will be repeated at a later time—a time when it may be more useful to me. In some cases, I do as President Eyring suggests, and let the statements sit in the back of my mind, mentally turning them over or shaking them gently, and often the gold flakes of usefulness appear. Thus, in an unforced way, as the dews distilling from heaven, the right path may begin to form. See D&C 121:45. And in the meantime, I have a degree of serenity.

This strategy does not always work in avoiding intellectual, spiritual or emotional angst or clashes between conscience and directives. But most of the time it does. And this gives me the strength to deal in humility and hope with unavoidable confrontations when they do occur.

In this manner, relying on the the whisperings of the Spirit and using the discernment and judgment with which God has blessed me, I feel stronger, healthier, and more content and fulfilled as part of the body of Christ, which we know as the Church.


It has been an honor, and I have enjoyed very much guest blogging here this week. I hope there have been a few gold flakes here and there.

The opinions expressed in my posts and in the comments that have followed were and are strictly those of the persons who have written them. Please, take what you can use, and leave the rest.

Bookmark Take What You Can Use, and Leave the Rest


  1. Mark Brown says:

    Solid gold.

    David, thank you for participating here. You’ve been a great guest, and I know that I will be returning to some of your posts in the future.

  2. Great post. I’ve also enjoyed reading your posts. They’ve all been great.

  3. mmiles said what I was going to say, so . . .

    Ditto to #2.

    Thanks, David.

  4. Thanks, David, for a great guesting stint. It’s been our pleasure to have you aboard.

  5. Cynthia L. says:

    Love it. Thanks for your posts.

  6. Gold flakes? This one alone is a huge nugget. Thanks for sharing yourself with us.

  7. Agreed – really glad to read that gold flakes analogy. And thanks for all your posts.

  8. “Rather, I suggest that we not feel compelled to believe and apply everything we hear or read in the Church. ”

    Indeed :)

    “If we hear any principle taught from the stand that we do not understand, let us seek to comprehend it by the Spirit of God. If it be not of God, we have the privilege of knowing it. We are not required to receive for doctrine everything that we hear. We may say, “I do not know whether this is true or not; I will not fight it, neither will I endorse it, but I will seek knowledge from God, for that is my privilege, and I will never rest satisfied until I have obtained the light I require.” 
    If you hear a doctrine that does not agree with your feelings or that you do not believe, take this course; do not reject nor endorse hastily without knowing or understanding. By taking this course you will develop the principle that God designs we should possess, and we will thus become a wise and understanding people, for we will be based on the rock of revelation.” (Apr. 21, 1867, JD 12:46)
    -George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 270

  9. Aaron Brown says:

    Thanks for this, David.

    The first half of your post feels a tad inconsistent with the second half. I wonder if “cafeteria religion” is, in fact, what you’re advocating, except that you’re merely rejecting the perjorative connotation of that word (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But then comes the Eyring quote, plus what follows, in which you make much of the distinction between “usefulness” and “truth” (a distinction that doesn’t manifest itself earlier on, and is clearly not what J. Reuben Clark is saying). Perhaps I’m hairsplitting, but I just wonder if these fine distinctions are all that significant, or if, at the end of the day, we’re all just being selective in how we react to everything we’re told. And maybe we should all just own up to it.


  10. MikeInWeHo says:

    I’m not sure, but have heard the Scientologists begin every service by saying “Don’t believe anything you hear today except what you can prove for yourself to be true.”

  11. I think the difference is that a cafeteria mentality would determine to carry certain things and reject the rest permanently. What David seems to be advocating is more of a careful consideration, in concert with the spirit, that never completely rejects anything outright, but continues to consider it for future use. I think this is very wise. We can’t do everything all at once.

    If we are willing to consider everything, however, we may find use for some things now, and some things later. Food storage has always fallen into the later category for me, until recently. Now I’m starting to find ways to do some food storage, because it is starting to make sense to me.

  12. I like this, David. Thanks for expressing it.

  13. As a recovering butt-insky and member of Al-Anon and AA, I often hear nuggets like this that I recognize as recovery-speak.

    The GA’s say things like “turn your will over to God” and “let go and let God” all the time.

    A lot of wisdom in AA. No lie.