Well, this topic of desire is one I've been pondering a lot lately. First, I want to look at the motivation (or at least the ideal motivation) behind our desires: happiness.
We're all after happiness. 2 Nephi 2:25 says, joy is what makes life meaningful. It is what we live for. It makes us feel bright and hopeful like the sunshine and butterflies so joyfully illustrated here:
Being married is fun and romantic and all, but more importantly, it exercises our characters to become more selfless people. As Neal A. Maxwell said, "The love and thoughtfulness required in the home are no abstract exercise in love. They are real. It is no mere rhetoric "The Value of Home Life"). This is true with roommates, with friends, but most of all with family. These characteristics that grow out of the standards we must hold to live peaceably together are the traits that make us more like Christ.
concerning some distant human cause; it is an encounter with raw selfishness, with the need for civility and taking turns, of being hurt and yet forgiving, of being at the mercy of others’ moods and yet understanding, in part, why we sometimes inflict pain on each other" (
You see the common factor among these things? The true source of happiness is Christ. The closer we are to Him, the more we become like Him, the greater joy we experience! It is important to recognize this truth and to make it the motivator behind all we do. Sometimes I want to write a good sketch so that I'll be deemed a talented contributor to Studio C. Sometimes I want to see my sketch become a favorite of viewers. Sometimes I want to feel like I'm excelling more than my coworkers. These are all the wrong motivators to write a good sketch. I should do it to improve my talents, uplift our viewers, and provide reason for celebration. I should write good sketches ultimately because it can help me, as well as others, come that much closer to Christ.
I suggest we all take inventory of the goals in our lives. What are we after right now? And, the more important question--why? When we realign our motivations to be focused on Christ, we will glean more joy and happiness from our goals.
Now that I've mused for a moment on the source of true happiness, I'll move on to some thoughts I've had regarding our desires and how those affect our actions to reach that joyful state. There is a 1996 conference talk by Neal A. Maxwell (who else, right? (: ) called, "According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts" in which he addresses some very straightforward doctrine regarding our desires.
First, Maxwell clarifies what a true desire is:
Thus, we cannot realign our wills with God's, we cannot achieve the purest happiness, simply with fleeting pangs of guilt or short moments of ambition. We must dig into the doctrine we know until we feel the truth resonate in our hearts so powerfully that we are fueled to chase after truth, to chase after the Spirit, to chase after eternal life where we can feel this truth and joy forever.Desire denotes a real longing or craving. Hence righteous desires are much more than passive preferences or fleeting feelings. Of course our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability. Therefore, what we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity. “For I [said the Lord] will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (D&C 137:9). Alma said, “I know that [God] granteth unto men according to their desire, … I know that he allotteth unto men … according to their wills” (Alma 29:4). To reach this equitable end, God’s canopy of mercy is stretched out.
Touching on this, Maxwell says, “Brothers and sisters, the scriptures offer us so many doctrinal
After we recognize what is desirable, we can then train our hearts to yearn after those things. Maxwell continues:
So, we must not only study truth, but we must love it. And I feel like this process can snowball very quickly. When we act on true principles, such as studying, service, or worship, we feel the positive effects in our lives and we seek to feel these effects more and more. Thus, we study, serve, and worship more and then feel more light and truth enter into our lives! Isn't it a wonderful cycle?! It just needs to get kickstarted, and then we can live a truly joyful life!Thus educating and training our desires clearly requires understanding the truths of the gospel, yet even more is involved. President Brigham Young confirmed, saying, “It is evident that many who understand the truth do not govern themselves by it; consequently, no matter how true and beautiful truth is, you have to take the passions of the people and mould them to the law of God…. Do you think that people will obey the truth because it is true, unless they love it? No, they will not” (in Journal of Discourses, 7:55). Thus knowing gospel truths and doctrines is profoundly important, but we must also come to love them. When we love them, they will move us and help our desires and outward works to become more holy. Each assertion of a righteous desire, each act of service, and each act of worship, however small and incremental, adds to our spiritual momentum. Like Newton’s Second Law, there is a transmitting of acceleration as well as a contagiousness associated with even the small acts of goodness.
Something to be wary of, Maxwell stated, is the temptation to be apathetic. He said, “The absence of any keen desire—merely being lukewarm—causes a terrible flattening (see Rev. 3:15). William R. May explained such sloth: ‘The soul in this state is beyond mere sadness and melancholy. It has removed itself from the rise and fall of feelings; the very root of its feelings in desire is dead. … To be a man is to desire. The good man desires God and other things in God. The sinful man desires things in the place of God, but he is still recognizably human, inasmuch as he has known desire. The slothful man, however, is a dead man, an arid waste. … His desire itself has dried up.’” This is probably the biggest temptation among us--to be idle in our discipleship. We do not actively hate the gospel, but we do not actively pursue it either. This seems less harmful than any hateful feelings, but in fact, that is what Satan wants us to think! We can estrange ourselves from Heavenly Father through numbness just as well as through hate while not even realizing we're getting further and further away from that source of joy. We must thus remember that “dissolution of wrong desires is only part of it. For instance, what is now only a weak desire to be a better spouse, father, or mother needs to become a stronger desire.”
This means we need to keep at it! Every day, we need to feed ourselves spiritually and rededicate our passions to the right places. “Righteous desires need to be relentless, therefore, because, said President Brigham Young, ‘the men and women, who desire to obtain seats in the celestial kingdom, will find that they must battle every day’ (in Journal of Discourses, 11:14). Therefore, true Christian soldiers are more than weekend warriors... It is up to us. Therein lies life’s greatest and most persistent challenge. Thus when people are described as ‘having lost their desire for sin,’ it is they, and they only, who deliberately decided to lose those wrong desires by being willing to ‘give away all [their] sins’ in order to know God (Alma 22:18).” This is our battle! This is our challenge! But it is possible to not only withstand fatigue and temptation, we can overcome it altogether!
My brother mentioned the other day that while he was on his mission, he kept two coins under his shoelaces every day of his mission. One stood for diligence, and the other stood for perseverance. He realized that perseverance was a virtue one used during times of trial and difficulty. But diligence was used all the other days when all one needed to do was continue climbing upward. He said he found diligence to be the more difficult of the two because it is required during the flat periods, the times we feel no desperation in our circumstances and so must look to God with no outside provocation.
Thankfully, we have help along the way. Our merciful Heavenly Father has given us the gift of His Son so that we may be encouraged during times of discouragement. As David A. Bednar noted in the Bible Dictionary--
“It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts” (emphasis added). That is, grace represents that divine assistance or heavenly help each of us will desperately need to qualify for the celestial kingdom. Thus the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.We can access additional motivation through our Savior. “Our merciful and long-suffering Lord is ever
ready to help. His ‘arm is lengthened out all the day long’ (2 Ne. 28:32).” Christ will never abandon us in so great a cause! But it is we who must make the plea for his help and continually fuel our passions and desires and love for pursuing divinity.
Maxwell ends his talk by quoting a hymn: “With true desire, we can then really plead:
More holiness give me, …
More patience in suffering,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior, …
More tears for his sorrows,
More pain at his grief,
More meekness in trial,
More praise for relief.”
As I look at each of these qualities, I feel a spark of desire inside me to better exemplify each one. But these sparks must turn into a resolve which cannot be swayed by laziness, discouragement, or suffering. Instead, we must take time to realign our desires with God's, and then we will feel true happiness that comes not from our circumstances, but from the eternal joy that emanates from our loving Savior and Heavenly Father.