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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Living Abundantly Rather Than Just Existing

Hello, friends!

It has been an interesting couple of weeks for me. Not much has happened in terms of life phases, but I've found myself changing into several different people due to my circumstances, and I've realized that I should take charge of myself.

I don't normally consider myself a brash, curt, or sassy person. I dislike confrontation and awkwardness more than anyone I know, but these past couple weeks, I've been so irritable at work. I've felt like it's been okay to be brash with someone because I'm wanting to deliver a good product. Ironically, I've felt like this product could uplift other people, yet in the making of this product, I haven't uplifted the people right in front of me.

Of course, I knew from the moment I opened my mouth that I'd be humbled pretty soon. And then I listened to some Neal A. Maxwell on the way home this week. His talk, "The Pathway of Discipleship," gave me some important things to think about. Maxwell said, “It’s interesting that those who have eyes single to the glory of God are those who see the most of reality.” And the reality of this life is that “in each of life’s situations, large or small, therefore, if you and I will bring fixed principles and strive to be more like Jesus, including emulating his generosity, then we will be living abundantly and not just existing.” The overall message I took from this is that I have the power to live my life, rather than to simply exist. And life is lived most abundantly when we are following Christ.

I am still learning from this experience. In my mind, I was perfectly justified for my actions. This is a different version of the same lesson I learn all the time: We must be creators rather than creatures of circumstance. I can't let my situations dictate my actions because I am practicing to live a higher law. If I am to be more like Christ, I can't simply go with the flow. “These attributes emerge from a consciously chosen way of life; one in which we deny ourselves of all ungodliness and we take up the cross daily—not occasionally, not weekly, not monthly” (Maxwell). This life is an active pursuit rather than a passive experience.

What caught my attention first as I listened to this talk was when Maxwell said
True, as the scripture says, ‘Wickedness never was happiness’ (Alma 41:10), but neither is lukewarmness full happiness. Failing to be valiant in Christian discipleship will leave us without significant happiness. Therefore, our active avoidance of wickedness must be followed by our active engagement in righteousness.
And I realized that I was not happy, even though I had every reason to be. Every part of my life that I have control over is going well and I am very blessed. Yet recently, I've been lukewarm in my life experiences and merely trudging through them.

This drudgery is the difference between sins of commission versus sins of omission. Maxwell says:
Yes, the avoidance of wickedness remains ever important, but the sins of omission also represent a haunting failure. How often, may I ask you, do we speak about the need for repentance concerning our sins of omission? Or how often do we make personal confessions of them to God?... It is very often the sins of omission that keep us from spiritual wholeness because we still lack certain things.

Gah! Of course! How often do I focus on what I should be doing rather than merely avoiding what I shouldn't be doing? In order to improve my character and become more like Christ, I can't simply not be mean or not be idle or not be prideful. I also have to be kind, loving, hardworking, and humble.

After being hit over the head with the humbling fact that I needed to change, Maxwell then moved onto how we can motivate ourselves. This is always how God works when refining us. He doesn't discourage us with all that we lack, but, rather, encourages us with all we can become. “Will we… remember our true identity as we move through daily life? How much sin occurs because people momentarily forget who they really are?” We are children of a Heavenly Father, and thus have the potential to become like God.

Maxwell mentions the importance of everyday choices:
“It takes faith to persist in doing good, particularly quiet good, for which there is no recognition. Otherwise, why bother? Therefore, faith in Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation is needed not just for life’s turbulent, traumatic moments but also for daily life’s seemingly small but nevertheless defining moments.”
I forget so often that I can be better in the seemingly small situations of my life. I have the choice to uplift those around me rather than to simply exist. “Conversations and decisions in which we engage, even if they seem small, expose the heart and the mind and their furnishings. Brigham Young once said, ‘You cannot hide the heart, when the mouth is open’ (JD 6:74)” (Maxwell). Every experience can become a refining moment that brings me and those around me even closer to Christ. I just have to keep my eyes and my heart open to these experiences and recognize them for the refining qualities they possess.

At any rate, I have much to improve upon, but this is a new experience demonstrating the same lessons for me. Every day is an opportunity to instill divine habits in my character, regardless of the situation. “We are immortal individuals whose constant challenge is to apply immortal principles to life’s constantly changing situations. With this perspective we can improve our daily performances because we have fixed our gaze on eternity and its great realities” (Maxwell).

We are immortal individuals! This means we should not be content with mortal characters. I have the potential to become perfect, to have loving-kindness, and to strengthen those around me.

I think my first mode of action in being a better disciple of Christ is to give this coworker a break and to help him feel loved and encouraged. Well, technically it's Saturday, so I guess the first thing I'll do is spend this time with my family at my niece's dance recital. But I can still prepare myself for Monday. (:

Love you all,
Whit

Sunday, May 6, 2012

On Loving-Kindness, and Becoming Like Him

Hello all!

After some wonderful comments from some of my previous posts, I looked up Elder Maxwell's talk, "In Him All Things Hold Together." Though I suggest you listen to it while reading along. Thank you, Noah. It's been a fascinating instrument in my life as of late.

As some of you know, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Israel this last week. It was quite a trip. But the most awesome and inspiring experience was my visit to the Garden Tomb.
While standing inside the tomb, I was struck so powerfully by the gift Christ has given all of us in His suffering, but more importantly, in His success and triumph in atoning for us and overcoming death. I saw in myself a tiny glimpse of what He sees in me. It is why He undertook so great a task to begin with. How can I let Him down?

It's interesting, though, because I didn't immediately come to these conclusions. I had all these feelings welling up inside of me, but it wasn't until I was home, now, this morning, that I've been able to study this out and come to that conclusion. That is a further witness to me that this life is a journey we must make. If we are to become like Him, we must act on our divine impulses and work through the path of mortality.

Elder Maxwell says, “For the serious disciple, the cardinal attributes exemplified by Jesus are not optional. These developmental milestones take the form of traits, traits that mark the trail to be traveled.”

This weekend, I've been slowly coming to the realization that there is one quality I need to acquire (which will require work and effort) in order to further my journey. I've seen this quality shining out from some individuals recently and I realized that it is my journey to find this quality in myself: loving-kindness.

Maxwell continues on this phrase:
And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men. [1 Nephi 19:9; emphasis added] 
Ponder the term loving-kindness. It is a special word, used in David's plea after he sinned so grievously:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. [Psalms 51:1; emphasis added]
This trait is the defining trait of Christ. It is the reason He descended below all things. It is the reason He volunteered so humbly to save all of us.

There are other traits as well. Elder Maxwell lines them out for us. We are to be:
  1. Meek and humble--not self-concerned, dismissive, proud, seeking ascendancy. Blessed are the meek because they are not easily offended. Besides, those who "shine as lights in the world" have no need to seek the spotlight! (See Philippians 2:15.) The world's spotlights are not only fleeting, but they employ inferior light!
  2. Patient--not hectic, hurried, pushy.
  3. Full of love--not demanding, dominating, manipulative, condescending, or harsh.
  4. Gentle--not coarse, brusque, and vindictive.
  5. Easily entreated--not unapproachable, inaccessible, and nonlistening.
  6. Long-suffering--not impatient, disinterested, curt, easily offended. There are so many people in the Church, brothers and sisters, waiting to be offended. And it doesn't take long. If one has a chip on his or her shoulder, you can't make it through the foyer, so to speak, without getting it knocked off.
  7. Submissive to God--not resistant to the Spirit, counsel, and life's lessons.
  8. Temperate (self-restrained)--not egoistic, eager for attention and recognition, or too talkative. In your life and mine, the great moments of commendation and correction have come usually in one-liners.
  9. Merciful--not judgmental and unforgiving. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall know the caress of causality as their forgiving mercy restores others to wholeness! Though God is perfected in the attributes of justice and mercy, we read that, finally, "Mercy overpowereth justice" (Alma 34:15).
  10. Gracious--not tactless, easily irritated, ungenerous.
  11. Holy--not worldly.

Whew! What a list, eh? But also, what a wonderful outline of our Savior. What a beautifully compact description of our mortal journey.

For me, I've realized that loving-kindness is something I need. I've been motivated not by the overwhelming feeling of lack or insufficiency, but by the tiny glimpses of loving-kindness I've seen in me that I know have the potential to become a strength if I refine and sharpen these tiny, almost invisible traits. God does not motivate us by discouragement, but rather, encouragement and showing us the potential people we can become. Thus, I know I have some homework ahead of me. In my scripture study, in my daily interactions, in my attitude towards service or towards people I don't know or understand very well, and most importantly, towards people I know very well. So well, that loving-kindness has slipped between the cracks of our aging associations.

As Maxwell says, even though our traits are so far from being as developed as Christ's, “he of fullness clearly and kindly beckons us to develop that greater likeness in our lives which precedes fullness. It is that likeness that will give us the light in our lives so that we might, as Paul says, 'shine as lights in the world.'... And as we emulate him, by developing likeness in these attributes, he will bless us and magnify us for his purposes.”

How wonderful is that? “How marvelous it is, even given the great distance of the trek... that he beckons us to develop this likeness so that one day we may have fullness with him. It is the journey of journeys. Nothing else is even remotely comparable to it in its importance” (Maxwell). Again, Maxwell says, “[Christ] has said to us, 'What manner of men [and women] ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am' (3 Nephi 27:27). What an invitation! And implicit in that invitation verifies the possibility of its realization.”

Gah! I'm so overcome with gratitude and ambition at the same time. We are to become perfect. This is not a fuzzy guideline, it is a requirement. We can't dwell with a Heavenly Father who is perfect if we ourselves are imperfect. It literally would not work. We must become as Christ is. But Christ invites us to do this, so we can do it!

So, while I have a lot of work to do, I am inspired and motivated to press forward. Elder Maxwell says at the end of his talk, “I salute you for who you are, but, more important, for what you have the possibilities to become.” I don't know what will happen to me, or what I'll end up doing in this life, but I do know who I want to become, and that's all I have control over.

Brothers and sisters, I know we have the potential to become even as Christ is. We have the potential to bless each other's lives. We have the potential to be loving, humble, meek, submissive, patient, long-suffering. But it is we who must make this journey. Thank goodness we don't have to do it alone, because Christ has already overcome our journeys on His own.

Look for revelation every day. I was on the plane ride home from Israel when I was struck with the realization that I hadn't been seeking for my Heavenly Father's guidance every day for a long time, and I realized that I'd missed some opportunities for further refining and guidance. It was then on the plane that I re-remembered how imperative it is to search the scriptures, plead in our prayers, and ACT in our daily routines to become more like Christ.

We can do this! It will be a long journey, but stay focused. Look to other examples in your own life. And develop a relationship with Christ. You will start to see characteristics arising out of you that you had not thought possible. You will begin to see the transforming power of the Atonement as you gradually become more like our Savior. Use these as guides along your journey. It is how each of us can measure our progress to becoming even as He is.

Love you all,
Whit