Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Thou Shalt" Commandments

Hello friends!

There have been a few things stirring in my brain these past few weeks, so I decided now was the time to type them out.

Recently, I've noticed a disturbing trend in my life. I'm in the middle of several situations at once that require a lot of time, studying, and focus, and I've made myself a rigid schedule to follow some deadlines. I've never felt so productive this entire summer and it delights me to see how many aspects of my life are successful and noteworthy. I feel like all the events that I have control over are going better than I could have ever planned and am extremely grateful to my Father in Heaven for blessing me with these academic and occupational opportunities. However, I've noticed a lag in my Christ-like interactions. I have this checklist of attributes from Neal A. Maxwell's talk, "In Him All Things Hold Together" and more and more, I find myself drifting away from many of these good qualities. It is so easy for me to become sarcastic, condescending, easily offended, tactless, easily irritated, and judgmental, and these qualities come without my knowing it. I've come home several times in the past few weeks thinking, "That wasn't a very nice comment I made to so-and-so tonight," or wondering "Why am I so irritated by so-and-so's actions toward me?" It's a terrible habit, and I need to stop.

Yesterday, I read Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl as one of the books on my reading list for my thesis defense. I'd read it years before, but I'd forgotten what an impact it had had on me at the time. The title character is a homeschooled girl who comes to a public school and completely changes everyone's perspective about life--for a while. She changes the narrator's perception for the rest of his life. By the end of the book, I was crying. I'd realized that life could be so much more beautiful if I looked for all the beauty. As Neal A. Maxwell says, if we emulate Christ's generosity, "we will be living abundantly and not just existing."

Speaking of Maxwell, he also mentions in this talk, "The Pathway of Discipleship," that we should pay more attention to our sins of omission. As Maxwell says, "It is very often the sins of omission that keep us from spiritual wholeness because we still lack certain things...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?"

I've listened to this talk recently and realized that I may not be idle or unchaste, but I'm failing to be meek, humble, gentle, long-suffering, merciful, and gracious, and it is not enough to merely follow the "thou shalt not" commandments. Maxwell goes on to say:
One way of looking at the "thou shalt not" commandments is that these prohibitions help us to avoid misery by turning us away from that which is enticing but harmful and wrong. However, once we are settled in terms of the direction of our discipleship and the gross sins are left firmly behind—"misery prevention," it might be called—then the major focus falls upon the "thou-shalt" commandments. It is the keeping of the thou-shalt commandments that brings even greater happiness. 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. Then we can come to know true joy—after all, man is that he "might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25).
This perfectly describes what I'm feeling right now! My life has been completely lukewarm. But I want to be living abundantly rather than simply existing. This life is not just to exist, it is to live!

So, I pray for guidance in all of my conversations. I pray that my love for the Lord will not just emanate in my personal scripture study, but in my actions, my conversations, my daily doings. As D&C 108:7 says, "Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings."

In every interaction, I pray for the Spirit of God to stay with me. I pray for the strength to not only think, but to act and react with the Holy Ghost. I've started some projects of my own to show some friends of mine how much they mean to me (in the ol' Stargirl fashion), but I hope this motivation will become much more than projects; I hope this will become a way of life. Abundant life.

Love to you all,

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

In the Moment

A short post today. Really just an idea I wanted to elaborate on. This has already been a topic of some discussion, but I thought I'd write my thoughts down and see if anyone else wanted to join in on the conversation.

I’ve been reading up on devotionals about the idea of preparing for the purposes we’re placed here for. D&C 64:34 says, “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.” The first thought I had when I read this just now was, “Well, I have a willing mind and heart.” But then I realized, I have a willing mind and heart right now, when I’m studying. When I’m alone in my pondering moments, I’m willing to do anything for the Lord. I’m willing to mold myself into whoever the Lord wants me to be and will choose anything that brings me closer to Him. However, when I’m in the midst of my daily actions—when I’m with friends, in class, working, etc. it's so easy to forget where I should submit my will. It’s so easy to forget who I can be in the moment of who I am. So how can I keep my daily actions in line with what the Lord would want of me? How can I be more patient in the moments requiring patience? How can I be more loving, warm, holy, accepting, meek, supportive to those I’m interacting with while I’m interacting with them? How can I be less selfish, attention-seeking, jealous, impatient, frustrated, harsh, judgmental, and condescending in the moments when I’m most tempted to act in such a manner?
I suppose I know the answer. I have to persist in marinating in the gospel. These quiet moments of reflection are my moments in the mountains. They are to fuel me for my daily interactions, but they’re only effective if, while I’m in my daily interactions, I’m constantly keeping the Lord in my mind and heart. That is why this discipleship is not a passive one. I need to mold my character into Christ’s by constantly thinking of Him and centering my actions around Him. When I am faced with a decision (and every reaction is a decision) I must first pray to the Father that I will be filled with His spirit and act according to His will. In the moment I’m being tested, I must pray to be filled with strength to be more like Christ. The important part is remembering to pray for it.
This is an ongoing struggle for me. I so desperately want to refine myself to become like my Savior. And I feel like I can become like Him, but it is so easy to compartmentalize my life when I’m actually living my life. That is my life’s journey, I suppose, to gain the qualities of Christ in my actual daily living. I pray for help in this journey to remember the covenants I’ve made, especially in the moments when Christ's qualities are most needed, when I am tested in day-to-day living.

If any of you have thoughts/advice/similar experiences, I'm up for gaining a three-dimensional view of this issue because I think it's the issue that matters most in mortality.

Happy Fourth of July. What a wonderful time to be alive!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

With Purpose, For a Purpose

Hello, friends!

It has been a few weeks since my last post. I've been working on another project in the meantime, yet I have had plenty of spiritual experiences since and feel it's time to write them down.

First, I'd like to share an experience that happened today in Sacrament meeting. Our bishop stood up to bear his testimony before opening it up to the congregation, but this Sunday was different. He told of a story from last year where he attended a church meeting with all of the apostles. At the end of the meeting, President Boyd K. Packer asked that the apostles share their testimonies, so each one did. When they were finished, Packer approached the pulpit again and said, "Those were very nice stories, and I'm aware of the Spirit being here because of them, however, those were not testimonies. Now, I'd like each of you to get up again and bear your testimonies." My bishop told us, "Brothers and sisters, after that, the meeting changed completely." He then invited us to share what we knew to be true and promised that we would receive the answers to our fasts if we bore our testimonies that day.

My goodness, what a wonderful experience to be a part of! I cannot remember feeling the Spirit so strongly in a Sacrament meeting. Person after person got up and shared their knowledge of the gospel. After hearing "I know...," "I know...," "I know...," one could not help but feel the power of our ward and the testimonies within it. I had the great opportunity of bearing my own testimony, and in stating the words, "I know," I received guidance in my testimony that has proved to be a sweet experience for me. I can tell you that I know this gospel is true and that God does hear and answer our prayers.

With this in mind, I'd like the majority of this post to be my testimony. I've been on a kick recently about our purpose here on earth and how to manifest that in our daily actions. Our daily actions are what make up who we are, what characteristics we acquire, and how we are progressing. It is in the Now that we make these decisions. As Neal A. Maxwell has said, "There can be no agency avoidance. No decision is a decision. Delay is a delusion, and that delay always discards the holy present. It simply throws it away."

I'm in the process of striving to receive revelation for myself on a particular subject that is very important to me. This fast Sunday, I've studied talks on the subject and have prayed fervently for an answer. I feel like this blog post may also help in my process of receiving revelation, so please bear with me if some of this seems less accessible, though I'll bet you can relate to at least some of the questions I've been asking.

I recently read a talk by Richard G. Scott called, "Finding Happiness." In this talk, Elder Scott states, “The intent of your Father in Heaven is to lift you from where you are to where he knows you will have eternal purpose and unspeakable happiness. By using the talents, abilities, and latent capacities developed in the premortal existence, he will lead you through growth experiences here on earth.”

This life is an experience of joy. We are here in mortality because our Heavenly Father wants us to attain the highest degree of glory and happiness for all of eternity. What a wonderful fact! How blessed we are to know this of our mortal journey and our Heavenly Father! However, in order to obtain that happiness, we must expand our souls (Alma 5:9) and gain the characteristics needed to become gods. We are here for a purpose; we are here to progress. This discipleship is not a passive lifestyle.

Elder Scott posed some questions that made me reexamine my daily actions in relation to my eternal goals. He said, “I am confident you have the intention of doing all of the right things. Yet I wonder, are you doing them as fully and as completely as you are capable of doing? That is not an accusatory question. It is one asked in sincerity to help you, if needed, to open your eyes and evaluate each day’s decisions to confirm that what you are doing will lead you to where you most desire to be... Your goals are noble, but you decide by the choices you make each day whether they will be realized or not. A knowledge of truth is of little value unless lived in full measure."

The reason we are here can be realized daily. We can access our God daily and know what He would have us do to continue building up His kingdom. It is when we act with purpose daily to follow His counsel and refine ourselves that we will truly be surprised by who we can become.

Brothers and sisters, I have had some experiences this year that have struck me hard. They have been difficult challenges that have forced me to examine my plans, my confidence, and my spirit. Yet, I cannot express how grateful I am to my Father in Heaven for blessing me with these experiences and with the tools to utilize these experiences in the most effective way possible to develop a stronger relationship with Him.

As of late, I have come to feel the power of our purpose here on earth, brothers and sisters. Our Heavenly Father has specific goals and plans for each of us. He has given us characteristics, talents, people, callings, jobs, and interests that are specific to us. He expects us to take these blessings and expand them. He expects us to marinate in the words of God and to live lives that radiate with light and truth. He expects us to gather His sheep and to bring as many of His children back to Him as we can. He expects us to be as He is.

Do not waste the present. I have gained a fresh testimony today of the importance of these moments now and how we consecrate our time for the building up of God's kingdom. Every day can be filled with revelation--personal revelation that God means for you. If we search for these messages, hunger after them and watch for them in our scriptures, prayers, temple worship, and interactions with others, we "will be overwhelmed with gratitude to find that He has come to trust [us]" (Henry B. Eyring).

I am so grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost and the opportunities we have to receive these promptings from our Heavenly Father. I want to share one last quote from Neil L. Andersen's talk, "Preparing for Your Spiritual Destiny." He says, “Personal revelation received through the gift of the Holy Ghost guides us through the unforeseen in accomplishing what we are here to do.”

Brothers and sisters, may we rely on the Lord to travel through the unforeseen and may we recognize for what purpose we are here on earth. I promise that every time you re-recognize your purpose, your perspective will shift, and the mountains you found before you will turn into molehills. You will find the strength of Christ from His atoning sacrifice to conquer any challenges that stand in your way. Because you are here for a purpose, and if you remember that in all your daily actions, you shall not fail.

Thank you for letting me share these thoughts. I know they are true, and I feel the power and love of God as I figure out, piece by piece, just what He has in store for me.