Saturday, December 28, 2013

Educating Our Desires

Hey hey, friends! I hope everyone is having a fantastic holiday. I've been chillin' with the fam (both mine and Stephen's) and enjoying a much needed break from writing. I think I'm ready for a new year. (:

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:
So let's break it down on a personal level. Generally, I think that having a good job, being married, having a beautiful family and a nice home, and writing comedy make me happy. We all have similar goals that we think will make us happy. Money, marriage, stuff. These aren't bad things at all, but it's important to recognize that they are only a means to an end.

Writing comedy can ultimately help me and those around me appreciate and celebrate life. Especially while working for BYUtv, writing comedy can help strengthen viewers' ties to the Church. In the bigger picture, comedy can help us put life in perspective and live in gratitude. Gratitude helps us live more righteously and more closely to Christ.

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" (

Money is important to buy stuff like houses (a feat we're currently trying to tackle) and clothing and car insurance. Sometimes it's nice to use for vacations or gadgets or entertainment. These are all great things. But they do not bring us happiness. It is the way we use our money--for providing for others, for bringing loved ones together, and for service to those in need--that is important. These positive uses can instill charity in us and allow us to live a generous, Christ-like lifestyle.

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:
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.
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.

Touching on this, Maxwell says, “Brothers and sisters, the scriptures offer us so many doctrinal
diamonds. And when the light of the Spirit plays upon their several facets, they sparkle with celestial sense and illuminate the path we are to follow.” I love that idea. Sparkling with celestial sense! While this picture might a little dramatic, but what is important is that the truths that we feel burning in our chests are not temporary ideas. They are the logic of eternity! Our spirits recognize what is full and what is fleeting. The more we study the words of God, the sharper and more powerful our spirits become, so that we may recognize what is really desirable.

After we recognize what is desirable, we can then train our hearts to yearn after those things. Maxwell continues:
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.
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!

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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Casting Off Our Old Selves: A Re-Post for a Rehashing of Old Sentiments

I would say this isn't an attempt to be lazy, but it sort of is. BUT-- lately, I've been feeling very similar to when I wrote this post and in preparation for giving a Relief Society lesson on the topic of pursuing our divine potential, I came across this post, and it completely disarmed my crusty defenses that I use to keep acting the way I'm acting. So, I'm going to re-post this for anyone who might also find themselves stuck again in the cycle of tired surrender to the easier, but lesser quality of living. So, if you have some spare time, read Neal A. Maxwell's talk, “If Thou Endure Well.” Then you'll be as motivated as I was when I first wrote this. And as I hope to be after pursuing this upward climb all over again:

I feel like this last week has been a little bit of a spiritual bootcamp for me, or at least a bootcamp for my sense of how I'm doing. Every month or so, I feel like I get into a restless mindset that reminds me that I'm not doing as well as I should be, so I get into gear and motivate myself until I run out of steam and become restless again later. I wish it weren't so cyclical, so hopefully every time I wake myself up from my spiritual snooze, I hope that it's a more powerful awakening with a better resolve not to slack on things of importance.

Here's how I came to my state of awakening this time: I was sitting in a writer's group at work, pitching sketches for Studio C, and I just felt awful. I hadn't written good material, and everybody knew I hadn't written good material, but I was still frustrated with everyone's feedback. I wanted something good said to me; I wanted some positive feedback, and I was getting more and more frustrated with my lack of positive feedback and everyone else's abundance of it. How's that for a red flag? As Jeffrey R. Holland put it, “Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!”

Even when we left the meeting and a family was touring the broadcasting building and wanted a picture with us, I remember feeling even more annoyed that the family kept talking to one or two other people in our group of writers and not to me. I mean, how dense can we get when we don't have the Spirit with us? It's easy to see that now, but at the time, I just felt awful. That night, when I was reflecting back on my day, I finally saw what a mess I was in. I had been self-centered. I had been doing things for glory and not for the building up of my Heavenly Father's kingdom, and it had made me turn so far inward that I couldn't see much outside of my own problems. This is a prime example of what Maxwell calls being “mired in the ooze of self-pity” (“Meek and Lowly”).

Well, thank goodness I saw this because now I'm on the mend. And this talk totally helped me, so hopefully it will help any of you who are trying to put away the natural man, as well. I feel like there are a few steps I go through every time I engage in discarding my old self, so I will outline this post in those experiences:

1. I feel guilty

This is the first stage I enter when I start to make a change in myself. I started feeling it that night after work when I realized what a doofus I was being and how I might've treated those around me. As Maxwell says, “The first thing to be said of this feeling of inadequacy is that it is normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance” (Notwithstanding My Weakness”). The person I want to become is very far from the person I am now, but when I recognize that, I am motivated to make the trek.

Obviously, to feel that motivation, this stage can't last too long to be effective. Maxwell remarks, “We have great expectations, and then must endure the difference between what we could be and what we are and to try to make of that some useful ‘divine discontent’  rather than corrosive affliction of the self.” I can't beat myself up about the habits I've collected. Instead, I need to find good habits to develop and reignite my desire to be close to God.

2. I feel a desire to change

This desire is very important. We cannot make any movement in our trek toward God, we cannot make any strides in our discipleship, unless we desire to do so. This desire is so important because we can “let it work in [us], even until [we] believe in a manner that [we] can give place for a portion of [his] words” (Alma 32:27).

3. I ask God for help
As soon as I get on my knees in humility for all of the work I've got ahead of me, I feel a warmth rush over me and an overwhelming feeling of love fills my heart. This is God's way of thanking me for coming to Him. Of course! God wants to help us! There is proof in each of these experiences of divine discontent that He loves us and wants to help us change. As Maxwell noted,
So much of life’s curriculum … consists of efforts by the Lord to get and to keep our attention. Ironically, the stimuli he uses are often that which is seen by us as something to endure. Sometimes what we are being asked to endure is his help. Help to draw us away from the cares of the world. Help to draw us away from self-centeredness. Attention-getting help, when the still small voice has been ignored by us. Help in the shaping of our souls. And help to keep the promises we made so long ago to him and to ourselves. Thus there is clearly no immunity from these stimuli. There cannot be. No immunity from afflictions. There cannot be. Whether the afflictions are self-induced as most of them are, or are of the divine tutorial type, it matters not. Either way, the Lord can help us in a most interesting manner. Our afflictions, said Alma can be quote “swallowed up in the joy of Christ” (Alma 31:38).

How often have I ignored feelings of being stagnant because I do not want to make the effort to awake from those spiritual snoozes? How often have I ignored the feeling to look outside myself? These are the moments that I can be “swallowed up in the joy of Christ.” I should not treat them as bothers or burdens, but as gifts.

4. I use resources from God to strengthen my resolve and change my perspective

We have so many resources at our disposal! We can pray, we can attend the temple, we can read our scriptures. There are many lines of communication between us and God, and what may have been a resource we took for granted can truly become a helpful resource in our quest for motivation and the desire to change. Take the scriptures for example--it is easy to see reading your scriptures every day as drudgery, but how joyful it can be when you recognize these books as sources of truth and light--as the source of answers to your struggles.
This staying power about which we’re speaking requires strength, and that strength is to be achieved by feasting upon the gospel of Jesus Christ regularly, deeply and perceptively. If you and I go undernourished by the gospel feast which God has generously spread before us, we’re vulnerable, instead of durable. As Paul intriguingly warned, we then become “wearied and faint in our minds” (Hebrews 12:3). Think upon that, brothers and sisters. There are some among us who have become intellectually weary and faint in their minds because they are malnourished, they are not partaking regularly of the fullness of the gospel feast. Instead you and I brothers and sisters should partake from that feast in the spiritual rhythm which Alma described as thanksgiving daily. (Maxwell)
When I read this from Maxwell's talk, I recognized a need to shift my perspective. As of late, I've been reading my scriptures late at night, before I go to bed, and I haven't been getting anything out of them because of how tired I am. But one morning, when I had time for myself, I started reading this Maxwell talk and the principles in it touched me in ways I was not able to receive when reading my scriptures so late at night. I realized that the answers I was getting that morning while intently searching Neal A. Maxwell's words were from God and that I could get answers like that often if I made time in the day to devote myself to this search.

5. My personal habits begin to change
This stage can be very slow, as Maxwell said, “The fact is, that as one might begin for instance to move away from self-centeredness toward compassion and empathy, that slow shift may be hardly perceptible. Trying to watch it would be like trying watch the grass grow. But the change occurs. And the quiet periods of life often lend themselves to this sort of alignment.” I like that Maxwell mentions the quiet periods of life, because that is where I often sense changes in my life, when I am quietly reflecting.

I must note, however, that these changes do not happen simply because I read my scriptures more and ask God for help. They happen through trial and error, and, over time, with a readier mindset to change because I more easily recognize my mistakes. When at one point it took weeks of muddling through self-pity and envy and other dark feelings before I'd finally had enough of these sins of commission and wanted to change, I can eventually recognize more quickly when I am off track simply by committing sins of omission. As Maxwell mentioned in his talk, Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father, “Once the telestial sins are left behind and henceforth avoided, the focus falls ever more on the sins of omission. These omissions signify a lack of qualifying fully for the celestial kingdom. Only greater consecration can correct these omissions, which have consequences just as real as do the sins of commission. Many of us thus have sufficient faith to avoid the major sins of commission, but not enough faith to sacrifice our distracting obsessions or to focus on our omissions.”

Focusing more closely on these sins of omission allows me to be on guard when I make a mistake--and I make many--so that I can hopefully correct that mistake in the future. I guess I don't notice so much the change in my habits during this stage as I do the change in my focus on these habits. I am more aware and thus more ready to change.

6. I am more helpful to those around me
This is usually the last step for me because service is a tough principle for me to adopt. Even in my goals to build up the kingdom of God, I usually see my contributions in terms of my effect on people. How can I write better sketches to uplift my audience? How can I write better blogs to help my readers? How can I use my talents to help those around me? These are not necessarily bad thoughts at all, and when I use my talents with the intent to help others, I generally do feel more aligned with God. But I exercise this form of service and charity much more than the Christ-like, nitty gritty acts of person-to-person interaction and upliftment.

There was one Sunday a few months ago where I felt impressed to write a note to my Relief Society president from my ward. She and I were not close at all, in fact, I found her personality to be rather different from mine and so assumed that we would probably not be very close. However, this one Sunday, I felt impressed to write a personal note to her. I do not receive many of these kinds of impressions you hear of in Conference and from other in-tune people, so I decided to follow it because who knew when I'd get this impression again? As I sat down to write this note, feelings of love flowed over me for this girl. Yes, she communicated her feelings differently than I did, and yes, she and I had different perspectives on many things, but I didn't see that at all when I wrote this note. I saw my sister. I saw a girl who was struggling under the weight of her calling and feeling distressed with the circumstances in other areas of her life that made her feel small and alone. I saw that! And I can guarantee that wasn't because of my people skills. It was because the Lord saw an opportunity to use me as an instrument to uplift one of His daughters. I cite that experience because I haven't had one like that since, but it's stuck with me and served as a reminder to me that I can be an instrument in God's hands for personal acts of service.

7. I feel truly one with God
This is because God and I share delight in the same event--the refining of my spirit. Even though I usually do not see all of the changes happening in me, as noted in step number five, I feel a change in my perspective. I feel the presence of the Spirit in my life more fully. That which might have been a burden before is now a joy. I find joy in obeying God because I can feel all of the wonderful effects of living the life He wants for me.

This is truly a beautiful stage to find myself in. I don't know that I've reached it just yet during this particular set of isometrics, but I look forward to reaching that point, and that desire is what fuels me to keep chipping away at my old self.

8. I am open to further shaping of my soul
By this point, my spirit has softened up a lot. I feel joy instead of resistance when met with an opportunity to grow because I know I am growing closer to the Savior. I need to work to keep my spirit soft, though, and that requires what Maxwell calls “Graceful endurance, and it includes becoming and growing. It includes, but is not limited to, hanging on for one moment more. It is as has been observed, a circumstance in which ‘all virtues at the testing point take the form of courage’ (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters). And then after you and I have passed breaking points without breaking, our virtues take the form of endurance.” It is utilizing these virtues we've gained when it comes time to be tested and stretched again that really keeps us close to God. We must remember that we've gained more tools in our fight against our old selves and we must remember that the fight is ongoing.

Obviously, this wasn't meant to be easy. “Endurance is also the recognition that the very process of being born again is not a one-time-thing. Hence Paul said that he ‘died daily.’ 1 Cor 15:31. Such is the process, of putting off the old self as one becomes a woman or a man of God ... It is that stern competition of what we are in the process of becoming which is assaulted and attacked by that which we are that provides this tremendous isometrics in which we’re to pull free, cast off that which is not good, which we have been.”

This openness to being shaped and refined does not stay. It requires a new resolve every day to be open to refinement. This openness means I must keep my will flexible, and be willing to submit my will to God. Christ was the perfect example of this submissiveness when He performed the Atonement for all of us:
Think about it, brothers and sisters … as the pressure of that enormous weight of the awful arithmetic of atonement fell upon [Jesus], beginning to intensify in Gethsemane and in Calvary, we find Jesus groaning under the weight thereof, needing to be strengthened by an angel who appeared to strengthen him. That perfect soul untouched by sin, then took upon him all our sins. Even though he was intellectually brilliant, uniquely so, even though he was the creator of other worlds and he knew what he had to do, when the moment came, since he had never passed personally through an atonement himself, it was much much worse than even he with his brilliant mind could possibly have imagined. Hence the great soul cry [My God, my God, why . . . ] and in one of the gospels, only one, does he, Jesus, in his pleading to the Father plead that the cup pass from him, but Jesus also said, ‘Father, all things are possible unto thee” (Mark 14:26) take this cup from me. I do not presume to know what went through his mind. Whether there might have been a moment in which he wondered if there could be some other way, he quoted back to the Father that which he as Jehovah had said to Abraham ‘is anything to hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). He quoted back that scriptural statement which he had used a number of times in his ministry, that to him that believeth all things are possible. So great was his agony as he felt the weight of the atonement, that he made that special pleading. And then in spiritual submissiveness, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” 
It is enormously important that Jesus’ grip on himself is seen as our grip on eternity for in fact it was, on that occasion. Now significantly, being spiritually submissive as he was to perfection has been something he has now laid upon us as his followers, when he said ‘and what manner of men (and women) ought ye to be and I say unto you, even as I am’ (3 Ne 27:27). Incorporated therefore in our developmental objectives is the acquisition and the further refinement in each of us of that spiritual submissiveness about which we’re speaking, which requires that we endure to the end. In fact, it shouldn’t surprise us that the Christian virtues, one of which we’re speaking about tonight spiritual submissiveness and enduring well to the end, are those qualities which will rise with us in the resurrection, and not much else. And to the degree that we have developed them in ourselves in this life we will have so much the advantage in the world to come (D&C 130:11).
Christ’s submission is the perfect example of how our attitudes should be toward our Father in heaven. Again and again, we must sacrifice our comfort, habits, time, talents—we must consecrate ourselves to God, and in so doing, submit our wills to Him.

Flat periods may come

In fact, they will come. Maxwell noted, “There are also the flat periods in life which may be those periods when before new lessons come in upon us. The past lessons of life are allowed to seep quietly and deeply into the marrow of our souls. These outwardly flat periods of life when enduring well may not seem to be purposeful are probably the period of time in which quietly attitudinal realignments are occurring within our hearts and within our minds. And this means frankly that an experience must not only be passed through but absorbed into the marrow of the soul. Thus, when we really look at it, it is we, not God who need more time.”

Constantly reshaping ourselves and submitting our wills to God is hard to do when we're asked to do it every day for the rest of eternity. But that is why we must constantly refuel our desires to change. These desires are fueled by the recognition of the why behind the what. And a big why in this process is God's love for us:
[God] would not be a loving Father if he ignored our imperfections and we must not forget that he would not be a true Father if he were content with you and me as we now are… “For all those who will not endure chastening but deny me cannot be sanctified” (D&C 101:5). Why is non-endurance a denial of the Lord? Because giving up is a denial of the Lord’s loving capacity to see us through all these things. Giving up, suggests that God is less than he really is. It is a denial of his divine attributes, and also a denial of our own possibilities. We should therefore brothers and sisters see life as being comprised of clusters of soul-stretching experiences. Even when these are overlain by seeming ordinariness or are wrapped in routine.
God wants us to always be improving. So there are some times when we seem to be experiencing flat moments. These moments are when we can adjust the more subtle traits in ourselves that are hindering our ability to come that much closer to being God-like. When I am experiencing divine discontent, it is an opportunity to change something that God wants me to change.

It is also important to keep an eternal perspective. What may seem like drudgery after a while ("Do I have to read my scriptures tonight?" "I'm not going to hell if I complain about my co-worker." Etc.) can instead be seen as another stepping stone in our big change, our intense progression towards a perfect goal--Godhood. As Maxwell put it, “So much of mortality of necessity involves teeth to be brushed, beds to be made, cars to be fixed, diapers to be changed, groceries to be bought and on and on those endless chores go. They are mundane matters. But in the midst of these things is the real business of living. A friendship to be formed. A marriage to be mended. A truth to be driven home. A child to be encouraged. A Christian attribute to be further refined and developed.”

The take home message
This is the process of life. The gathering of Christ-like attributes is how we measure our progress in this world. As Maxwell notes, “This life is not lineal it is experiential. It is not really chronological, though we use clocks and calendars and wristwatches. It is essentially experiential. Someone said it well, ‘We live in deeds, not years, in thoughts, not breaths, in feelings, not figures on a dial and we really should count times, by heart throbs’ (Phillip James Bailey).”

I have a testimony that these little struggles we have within ourselves are how we make it back to God, inch by inch. It is important to treat each battle we wage with reverence and that we are in communication with our Father about how this will play into the grand scheme of things. As President Gordon B. Hinckley's father said, “When a man makes war on his own weaknesses he engages in the holiest war that mortals ever wage. The reward that comes from victory in this struggle is the most enduring, most satisfying, and the most exquisite that man ever experiences. … The power to do what we ought to do is the greatest freedom” (Bryant S. Hinckley).

I promise that when you recognize the importance of what you're doing when you make the decision to change, you will start to lengthen your perspective so that eventually, it will see eternally, as our Father in Heaven sees. And that makes you free. Free from the ooze of self-pity. Free from the short-sighted perspective that comes with selfishness. Free from the boundaries Satan has set for you as a mere mortal. Free from any doubt you've ever had about your worth and your potential. This is how we become like God.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Charity Project: Seeketh Not Her Own (a big reality check)

Hello, friends!

I've noticed that it's been over a month since I last posted. The pressure to post has been weighing on me more and more, but I really hadn't found a spare moment to sit down and write. And, what's more, I hadn't been motivated to write until I thought I had something to say, otherwise I'm sure I would have found dozens of spare moments to write. (:

You see, after my last post, I became wary of taking my temperature too often to see how I was doing. And, as time went by and things picked up at work, that mindset turned into a lack of paying attention to my progress at all. That is how Satan gets us, isn't it? Not by giving us hate, but by giving us numbness to the enticings of the Spirit. Not to say I've been vacationing in Babylon these last few weeks, but I definitely haven't been closely monitoring my actions with a Christ-like perspective. This morning, I woke up and, with some new resolve, I sat down to say some things that have slowly been emerging from the fog in my head.

I chose this aspect of charity today (seeketh not her own) because I've realized that a large part of my lackluster spiritual attention is that I've been doing what's easiest for me. I've put blinders over my eyes, and chosen the paths of least resistance, and really haven't given any thought for what I could do outside myself. I call it laziness, but it could also be seen as selfishness. We are selfish when we ignore the work to be done for God and for others. We are selfish when we muddle through this life with no thoughts of improving ourselves. We are selfish when we forget why we're here. And so, I'm hoping that in researching and writing this post, I can unwind the habits I've made these last few weeks of being too tired to aspire higher and progress further in the path to perfection.

That's a scary word, though, isn't it? Perfection. Part of the reason I took a break from writing was because by the time it came to write another post, I'd read through what I'd written before and I knew I didn't feel as passionately as I had when that was posted. And the trek toward that mindset seemed too daunting and tiring to attempt. I knew very well how imperfect I was, and so, instead of charging forward with a faith in the patience of my Heavenly Father, I shied away and chose the path of least resistance (which is foolish, because the path of least resistance is ultimately the path of righteousness, right? We use such dumb logic when rationalizing our behavior sometimes (: ).

At any rate, this weekend, I felt prompted to read Neal A. Maxwell's talk, "In Him All Things Hold Together." I know I've used this talk a lot in my posts, but then, isn't it strange that I can still come back to it and find new insight to help me improve? One of the things Maxwell said that hit me was when he stated, “One of the problems we have in the Church is that we consider perfection in abstraction, and it becomes too intimidating. But when we think of it in terms of the specific, cardinal attributes, and we strive to develop these in a steady process of self-improvement, it is quite a different matter” (Neal A. Maxwell). Perhaps that's why I've been procrastinating my turn around in coming closer to God. I've thought of all the things I lack and saw my destination of perfection as a cloudy, lofty goal that wouldn't ever be realized.

Granted, I definitely will not become perfect in this life, but, as Maxwell says, “These qualities are not
only developmental destinations, but, meanwhile, if developed significantly, they also provide us with the balance urgently needed for traveling on the demanding narrow path!” It is not just the destination that we are aiming for, it is the journey, as well. We can make our lives much fuller, richer, and full of joy when we develop more Christ-like attributes in ourselves. Why would I deny myself opportunities to be happier, more talented, and more effective and useful in God's hands? We clearly don't have that perspective when we're being numbed to the enticings of the Spirit.

As I felt myself losing enthusiasm for this work, I knew I didn't feel great, but I'd gotten into a mindset where working harder felt too difficult. Thus, I let my natural man take a little more control. Maxwell says, “Too often when we seek to excuse ourselves, it is, ironically, ‘the natural man’ we are excusing. Yet scriptures inform us ‘the natural man’ is to be ‘put off’ (see Mosiah 3:19).” I think these past few weeks, I’ve been on autopilot. And I haven’t tried to remedy it because it isn’t something I need to stop doing, but, rather, a mindset I need to start keeping. I let myself say things I shouldn’t, or think things I shouldn’t, but they’re not really hurting anyone but me, and the hurt they do cause me isn’t obvious. I’m just limiting myself, which isn’t as obvious as damaging myself, but, really, those two words can mean the same thing. Any actions that keep me from experiencing more joy and from turning outward and bringing souls to Christ are things that are hurting me. I just never realize how hurtful they are until I turn my focus back to Christ and feel the immense light I’ve been missing.

I came to a realization this last weekend that is quite simple, but I think we need to be reminded of simple things fairly often. It is something I used to tell myself all the time, but have since let fall into my proverbial ice box of old inspirations sayings: We all have different ideas of what will make us happy. Some of us want more friends, a better paying job, some of us want to get married or have children. I give these examples because, generally, the things we strive for that we think will bring happiness are not bad things at all! These are good goals! But, we should remember that the source of all happiness is Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we can have joy. So, when we think of these goals in our lives, we should see them as a means to an end. They are tools that can bring us closer to Christ, who then brings us joy!

I’ve had to remember this principle a lot recently, as I try to do better at my job. My job is not what will bring me happiness (even though it can be a ton of fun!), it is a way I can use the talents God has given me to uplift those around me. It is that mindset that will bring me closer to Christ. It is as Neal A. Maxwell said on proportion and perspective: “The gospel gives proportion as to both substance and style. For example, it is far more important to be morally clean rather than to be a clean-desk individual.” Similarly, it is better for me to be a creative individual who draws her strength from God, rather than herself. And it is better for me to work on my talents of drawing people to the gospel through comedy, rather than to be the best writer in our staff (which is just a useless pursuit anyway. I mean, who ever feels satisfied when competing to be the best? Rule of thumb: don’t try to be the best. Try to be an effective instrument in God’s hands).

Perhaps that is the key to staying balanced in this project of mine. I knew I should be aware of the danger of focusing on myself, but I didn't realize that the remedy to that was not to stop progress altogether, but to focus on how to make anything I was doing a means of coming closer to Christ. "What are your biggest goals right now?" "How are they helping you come closer to Christ?" I think those two questions are a way we can check ourselves whenever we feel our resolve starting to fade. Thus, when we become tired or discouraged from the targeted analyses of our progress (as I did while doing this step-by-step analysis of my grasp of charity), we can take a step back and feel the soothing balm of the bigger picture. Are my actions bringing me closer to Christ?

Sometimes, even that can seem like too tiring of a mindset to keep up. We can start even smaller. I went to the temple the other day with the question, "How can I be more active in my discipleship?" While attending a session, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude for the beauty Christ gave us in the earth, for the workings of our bodies, for the love experienced in our family units, for our agency, for the Atonement of Christ, which allows us to make use of this life and to become more than we are! Gratitude for the trust we are given to make and keep sacred covenants with God Himself so that we can eventually return to Him and become as He is! I truly was overwhelmed. And, as I thought back on my experience in the temple, I realized that one particularly strong tether that will keep us on the path of discipleship is to express gratitude often. When we are too tired to realign our actions with our beliefs, we can instead say a prayer of gratitude. It doesn't take much to find the things for which we can be grateful. And when we express this to our Heavenly Father, He will bless us with the motivation to align our wills with His. He will give us strength to change our habits, and He will then bless us with the uplifting joy that accompanies those changes so that we gain testimonies of the truly joyous lifestyle of Christ. I experience this again and again. When I re-focus and reset my course to Christ, life feels easier, happier, and more abundant. I see myself not solely as a vessel for my own wants and needs, but as a pillar of strength in God's plan of salvation. I can be an effective instrument in His hands to bless the lives of those around me and to bring souls unto Christ. I am grateful that God entrusts His perfect work to His imperfect children. I know I am not perfect, but He knows I can be. So for now, I'll keep trying.

What a wonderful gospel this is.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Charity Project: Kindness (To Be Turned Outward)

I've been thinking the last couple weeks what I wanted to write about, and I think I'm finally at a mindset where I can put my thoughts into words.

These last couple weeks have been... really great, actually. I've felt less competitive, less envious--two of my sketches got cut without my knowledge the other day at work, and although I was sad to see them go, I immediately recognized that they weren't as strong as what we were keeping, and so I let it go. I've felt less down on myself, less stressed, and less... what's the best word to describe it? Small. Less small.

I think there are a few reasons for this. First, we took a whole week off from work after wrapping our last live taping. That week, I didn't have to go to any pitch meetings or compare my talent to anyone else's. That lack of pressure made me step back and see a bigger picture where there was more to life than writing sketches, being the best, etc.

Second, since we have had to get back into the writing game, I've been working harder on my own sketches. I've been taking the criticism I'd gotten over and over and tried to challenge it head on while writing and as I've done that, I've noticed that these challenges aren't as big as I'd always imagined them to be. All I needed was a little more focus and determination. Focus to find where I was lacking, and determination to not be discouraged, but to overcome my weaknesses. I've also been writing more with a knowledge that this inspiration comes from God. In short--to refer back to my last post--I've been working harder to be excellent so that my genius (Heavenly Father) felt I was ready to receive His inspiration. I've come to realize that talents, like testimonies, must be worked for in order to grow. We have to prove we are serious before the Lord will step in and help us.

Third, I've recently been called to a position in my ward where I am much more involved in my ward than I'm used to. I've had to devote more time, energy, and (frankly) love to the work I'm doing. Since receiving this calling, I can sense the initial fear I had when first accepting it turn into love and excitement. I'm more excited to visit teach my fellow sisters, rather than dreading the awkward 15 minutes we have to share before getting out a lesson and leaving. I know every sister's name in my Relief Society after praying over all of them for various needs. In short, I've taken one smart commenter's advice to stop thinking about what I'm doing and to just do it. As Neal A. Maxwell once said, "Too much anxious opening of the oven door and the cake falls instead of rising. So it is with us. If we are always selfishly taking our temperature to see if we are happy, we will not be" ("Patience"). I think I've stopped measuring how I'm doing with this whole project because I've been too busy doing things. And when I realized that, it made me very happy.

So, I tread on in this project with caution. I want to take on these qualities of charity, but I want to do it in a way where I am not self-focused, self-absorbed, or self-deprecating. Instead, I want to find practical ways of administering, or consecrating, these traits so that I may turn them outward. It's such a simple remedy, isn't it? But it works every time. When you are feeling bad, sad, angry, or completely useless, use your focus and determination to bless and serve others. Consecrate your talents, your love, and your personality to those around you. And don't do it to make yourself feel better (I mean, you can, but try to move on from that motivation). Do it because the Lord needs us to accomplish His work in helping our brothers and sisters. Do it to come closer to the Lord and to become more like Him. Do it to bless someone else.

Joseph B. Wirthlin gave a stellar talk in which he says several things to get that sense of consecration motivated. I wanted to spread these out and insert them naturally in this post, but reading them all together made me pumped and so I want to drop them off here in a huge, inspiring chunk (:
“Serving others should become a natural part of the life of every follower of our Savior. When we subordinate personal interests out of love and give of ourselves with no thought of receiving in return, we are moving toward becoming true disciples” (Joseph B. Wirthlin). 
“One way you can measure your value in the kingdom of God is to ask, ‘How well am I doing in helping others reach their potential?’” (Joseph B. Wirthlin). 
“If you are building others, you are building the kingdom of God” (Joseph B. Wirthlin).
So with these motivations behind me, I'm going to try to be more purposeful in my kindness. I've decided I'm going to work on my thoughts as well as my words and actions. Thoughts can be so deceptive because they are quick and fleeting. But over time, they turn into actions that either inspire or weigh down ourselves and others. So, I've landed on a formula that I want to try these next few weeks:

Every day, I will...

THINK three genuine, uplifting thoughts about other people.

SAY three genuine, uplifting comments to other people.

DO three genuine, uplifting acts for other people.

I want to be careful, however, that I do not monitor this progress for the benefit of myself--like, say, how much good feedback I can leave on this blog next time I post. Instead, I want to get into a mindset where I am genuinely trying to help my brothers and sisters around me. If I am on the right track, I will feel some sort of relationship to the description Ezra Taft Benson gave in a 1983 General Conference talk when he said, “One who is kind is sympathetic and gentle with others. He is considerate of others’ feelings and courteous in his behavior. He has a helpful nature. Kindness pardons others’ weaknesses and faults. Kindness is extended to all” ("What Manner of Men Ought We to Be?"). Of course, I don't think I will ever perfectly fit this description, but I know Heavenly Father will give me reassurance that I'm on the right path to becoming so if I am focusing on the right things.

I think one way we can continue consecrating our work for others without focusing too much on ourselves is to live in the spirit of gratitude. Marvin J. Ashton gave a wonderful talk at BYU titled, "And in Everything Give Thanks." In it, he says, "Appreciation for all people and events that come into our lives is most important because it is God's way of helping us to grow. The ultimate maturity is being able to feel and express appreciation promptly, being fully aware of the value and importance, and showing gratitude for it." I love that Elder Ashton says gratitude includes being aware of something/someone's value and importance. That awareness can keep us humble, while also strengthening our spirits to become more Christ-centered, as well as more focused on the work we should be doing.

So, again, I emphasize the importance of focus and determination. We must be determined to treat others kindly and to encourage their unlimited potential. And we must focus on why we are doing it-- we do it because we all have the potential to become like our omnipotent, omniscient, omni-charitable Heavenly Father. And we were put on this earth to help each other accomplish that mission. We are not on this earth to sit and stew, or sit and be idle, or sit and prattle on about ourselves. We're here to work, to work for the salvation of men. It is a work we will continue to do after this life, so we'd better get down the ethic for the labor now.

I'm sorry, I feel like this post may have been scattered from one thought to another with no connection in between. But they are all I've collected these past couple weeks, and I've tried to be direct so that hopefully you may feel the determination and responsibility I've come to feel as I've realized the blessings God has given me. He has given me these blessings to bless others. And as I continue to work on being excellent with my talents, I can also become excellent in building up of God's kingdom. I can become an excellent force for good and be armed with the power of an almighty God as I strive to help those around me. Goodness knows, I am generally a selfish person with little power to do anything outside of my own sphere. But I know that if I continue with focus and determination to feel the desire to do God's work, I will be endowed with His power to accomplish it.

Have a great week. Help your brothers and sisters. And become an excellent version of you.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Charity Project: Comparison and Individual Worth

Going off of my findings in my last post, I'm going to spend another week talking about the phrase, "Envieth Not." I'd researched some talks on kindness, but felt like I should spend a little more time on this stupid vice of mine. Thankfully, I feel like I'm finally starting to get a handle on this principle. There was one setback last week, but all in all, I feel like the habits I've been forming have been fairly effective:

  • Saying prayers morning and night
  • Repenting of my sins of commission and omission
  • Praying in moments of weakness to react as Christ would react
Some things I want to focus on now are those aspects of envy that involve comparison and competition. This could probably also bleed over into the principle of "[seeking] not her own"so take it as you will.

A phenomenal talk was given on this idea by Merrill J. Christensen, called, "Comparing, Competing, and Individual Worth." In this talk, Brother Christensen puts comparison, pride, and envy in a bigger perspective in terms of our missions here on earth:
Comparison [with others] can be discouraging and may decrease our sense of self-worth. Such comparison may lead to the sins of envy and ingratitude as we focus on and fret about what we don’t have rather than on what we have been given. Compulsive comparison can rob us of the enjoyment we might still experience in the expression of the talents we have been given and in the talents of others. The ability to rejoice in the successes and talents of others increases our capacity for happiness and joy as we experience those feelings each time someone we know succeeds… Focusing on others’ talents and tasks, worrying about what rewards they may be receiving, and feeling we’re in competition for that recognition may easily distract us from our own responsibilities, inhibit the development of our talents, and divert us from our personal missions and ministries.
Not only does comparison rob us of enjoyment, it also distracts us from our own responsibilities and it keeps us from improving and becoming more effective instruments for God's purposes. This should seem obvious, but when I'm worried about how someone else is being treated compared to me, I'm not taking the time to love that person or to build them up. And I'm also not working harder on my own talents. It's as if I'm expecting my current work to be appreciated above others' without trying hard enough to make my work excellent.

A word on excellence while I'm speaking about it--one of my friends brought up a very good point the other day when measuring our talents. She said we don't have to be the best, we just have to be excellent. Sometimes I get so caught up in being the best, that I'm not particularly focused on how hard I'm working, but rather, if what I'm doing is better than everyone else. That is a form of pride that, if we keep feeding it, will never be satisfied. It is not content to succeed, only to succeed at another's expense. Isn't that just a depressing thought? So, I encourage you, as well as myself, to shoot for excellence. I may not write the best sketches or the best books or be the best actress or singer. And in a personal sense, I may not be the best leader I know or the best conversationalist or the best listener. But I shouldn't let that discourage me. Instead, I can put in the effort to be excellent! Enough comparing myself to those around me. What can I give back to my Heavenly Father, and how can I give the best that I have?

There is a TED talk that addresses this idea. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, talks about your genius. Not in the sense that we understand it today of someone being a genius, but, rather, the old Greek understanding of someone having a genius that gave them inspiration. What Gilbert essentially ends on is that if we put the work in every single day, we're proving that we deserve the help of our genius. And sometimes our genius won't come through that day, but that doesn't mean we won't show up and do our part to prove that we're serious. Gilbert attributes this idea of a genius to mean whatever you want it to mean. But I take it to mean the inspiration we can get from God. I definitely understand the power of being inspired in my work when I know I'm writing something that I could not have crafted on my own. I think it is very important, though, what she says about doing our part to show up. If I'm not serious enough to refine my talents, God won't take me serious enough to grant me inspiration.

Back to the talk I've been reading, Brother Christensen has a wise perspective on a common parable:
A man, travelling into a far country, called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods. 
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. 
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. 
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. 
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. 
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. [Matthew 25:14–23] 
One of the greatest aspects of this story is that the first two servants got the same reward and the Lord didn’t compare them one with another. Just as the Lord in the parable gave talents and set expectations for each servant individually, so also does He provide for each of us a unique blend of talents and circumstances… individually customized to accomplish His purposes in our lives and in the lives of those we can bless.
Perhaps this is a pep talk I needed to give myself, but I hope anybody else struggling with a sense of competition and--as a result--failure can grasp the intense love our Heavenly Father has for each of us. As Brother Christensen said at the end of his devotional--
I do not have the ability to impress upon your minds and hearts as powerfully as I desire the glorious reality that each of you individually is of infinite worth to God, your Heavenly Father. Your value to Him is independent of your body mass index; your accomplishments in arts, academics, or athletics; your possessions, popularity, or marital status; your current calling in the Church; or any other thing that can be a source of comparison and competition. His love for you is infinite—quantitatively and qualitatively—and intimate—intensely personal and specific. He knows your name, your successes and setbacks, your triumphs and defeats, your fears, your doubts, your hopes, your desires, your motivations, your thoughts, your words, and your actions. He feels what you feel, He shares your joys and sorrows, and He desires your happiness now and forever.
I know I may not be the best, but I have talents that the Lord has blessed me with and I know He has placed me here--in this town, at this time, with these people, performing this job--for a purpose. I can be an effective tool to build up His kingdom and I can do that by working my butt off without any thought about the accomplishments of the person next to me.

I'd been deciding whether or not to post this quote in this blog post or in a future one about "Seeketh Not Her Own." I've decided I'll post it in both, so please forgive the future redundancy. I wanted to address some simple "How's" of this idea of not comparing ourselves to others, but championing them instead. Merrill J. Christensen listed some ideas we could access in order to help those around us:

  • We can pray with all the energy of heart, that we may be filled with charity which envieth not, vaunteth not itself, and seeketh not her own. (Moroni 7:48 and 1 Corinthians 13:4–5)
  • We can try making it through a day without a single self-reference that draws attention to ourselves.
  • We can pray, “Help me to be the answer to someone’s prayer today” (Bonnie D. Parkin).
  • We can pray, “Please let me serve, this day” (Henry B. Eyring).
  • We can resolve to sincerely compliment someone each day.
  • We can resolve to thank someone each day.
  • We can resolve to try to go a day without finding fault.

So, in addition to working hard every day to be our best, we can also work hard every day to encourage the best in others. I think that's the key to being charitable. As Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “If you are building others, you are building the kingdom of God.” So I will work even harder this week to make myself excellent so that I won't be tempted to compare my work to others. Instead, I will try to build them up, as Christ would do if He were here. I can tell that this is a principle that will really make me happy. (:

Have a fantastic week. Be your best self. And encourage the best in others.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Charity Project Reworking

Hey guys, sorry for the delay in posting. Last Sunday was spent driving back from a weekend trip to see my folks. But I'm actually glad to have had this chance to reflect.

You see, ever since undertaking this project, I've been getting some beatings to my spiritual self-esteem. I feel like I've really wanted to change my heart into something more kind, loving, and selfless, but instead I've been selfish, angry, and easily offended. I've often come home crying because of something that has hurt my feelings and then crying more because here I am writing a blog series on how to have charity and I am getting nowhere in my personal ventures.

This morning, after a night of crying myself to sleep, I woke up and finally had had enough. I was going to get some inspiration to help me gain charity, because I've been looking for it and so help me, God was gonna throw me a bone on this one. (:

Luckily, Neal A. Maxwell's always got my back. I turned on Neal A. Maxwell app on my phone and started reading the last talk that was on there, "The Pathway of Discipleship." I've read--and quoted--this talk before, but I felt like I was reading it for the first time today because I was looking for anything to answer, soothe, and de-stress my heart.

One of the first thoughts Maxwell said that touched me was this, “The divine attributes of love, mercy, patience, submissiveness, meekness, purity, and others are those attributes we have been directed to develop in each of us--and they cannot be developed in the abstract (see 3 Nephi 27:27, Mosiah 3:19). These require the clinical experiences--those things through which we are asked to pass. Nor can these attributes be developed in a hurry” ("Pathway of Discipleship," emphasis added).

Of course! First, what was I thinking, trying to gain a charitable attribute every week? Second, all of these moments where I've felt angry and selfish are opportunities God has given me to develop these characteristics. How could I have expected to become charitable just because I asked for it and studied it a lot? No, our Heavenly Father does not work that way. If we want to become more charitable, He helps us to do so through the clinical experiences of our every day lives. We have to actually act charitably if we want to become charitable.

This means I will have to take the principles I've been blogging about and apply them every day, even every second, to my life. As Maxwell says:
The daily discipleship of which I’m speaking is designed to develop these very attributes that are possessed to perfection by Jesus. 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. If we are thus determined, then we are emulating yet another quality of our Lord, of whom we read: “And there is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it” (Abraham 3:17). True disciples are meek but very determined.
To gain these principles of kindness, selflessness, love, etc. I must be determined. Even more so than I have been while writing these previous posts. I must hunger after this righteousness and seek for it everyday. I must ask the Lord to bless me with His calming and loving spirit every time I feel the temptation to get angry or self-concerned. As Maxwell says, “In that cumulative process, today’s small inflection for good adds to what becomes tomorrow’s mountain of character.”

Part of this process can be helped if I utilize the Atonement more in my life. Maxwell brings up the idea of having "faith unto repentance" when he says, “Faith unto repentance covers both sins of commission and sins of omission. And so the faith of discipleship about which I speak briefly tonight isn’t simply for life’s crises, though they will come. Rather, it is especially needed to ensure our regular repentance.”

I have not thought much on repenting as helping me gain good qualities, I've more thought of it as a way to erase the bad ones. But this is a key part of the journey towards charity for me because I need to repent every day of the good things I’m not doing as well as the bad things I am doing. When I fall short of these goals of charity I've set, I can come to Christ in humility, expressing sorrow for the gap between where I am and where I want to be. And then I can come closer to the Lord as I feel God's love for me as I feel freed of the burdens I've been building on my back. The repentance process allows us to work closer with the Savior on our setbacks and thus allows us to work closer with Him on our goals as we put them into practice. Now, when I am in a situation that gives me the opportunity to demonstrate charity, I will have the physical memories of repenting of these sins in the past as well as fresh feelings of my Heavenly Father's love for me to encourage me to act better.

This memory of God's love for us is also crucial to the process of changing ourselves. Maxwell says, “We cannot always fully or glibly explain everything that is happening to us or around us, but knowing that God loves us is absolutely crucial. Then, as immortals possessed of immortal principles, we can overcome the mortal trials and we can put the pressing things of the day in precious perspective.” Before we can change, we must have a sureness--a recently confirmed sureness--that God is pulling for us. In fact, as Brad Wilcox says, "Jesus is pulling with you" ("His Grace is Sufficient").

Isn't that amazing? As Maxwell so beautifully put:
And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people [the Noachians], and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
... And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch, and told Enoch all the doings of the children of men; wherefore Enoch knew, and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook. [Moses 7:32–33, 40–41]
An absolutely supernal, marvelous insight! Our Father in Heaven is so tender even for his most mistaken children.
When I read that passage this morning, I felt warmth in my heart as I knew that my Heavenly Father loves me. He wants me to succeed! And despite how many times I've stumbled, He will help me succeed.

This, of course, means we need to not beat ourselves up when we stumble. I definitely struggle with that, but Maxwell puts it well when he says, “Mercifully, when we make mistakes we can recover and learn from them by ‘faith unto repentance.’ We cannot, of course, relive a particular moment in our lives, but we can use it as a spiritual spur to remake ourselves. We need not let yesterday hold tomorrow hostage.”

One thing Maxwell mentioned that motivated me a ton while reading this talk was when he described a place we can reach in our spiritual journey:
Now, since we are not always free to choose just when and how all of life’s interactions will occur, we are nevertheless free to choose our responses to these moments. Since we can’t compute beforehand all our responses, it becomes vital to set our course as immortals on the basis of immortal principles to be applied as reflexively as possible. In fact, I would go so far as to say to you tonight, my brothers and sisters, that if we are truly attached to immortal principles, some decisions need to be made only once, really, and then righteous reflexes can do the rest. Absent such fixed determinations, however, one can be tossed to and fro by temptations that then require case-by-case agonizing.
The more we act on the righteous immortal principles that we've been asked to follow as immortal beings (even though we may be set back by mortal circumstances) the more we will naturally act that way in the future! Until it becomes a reflex to act more like Christ!

How can we do this? One way is to become more deeply familiar with the scriptures and words of our prophets: “One of the things we can do to help us develop those reflexes is to further develop our scriptural literacy so that, as Nephi prescribed, we can ‘liken all scriptures unto [ourselves]’ (1 Nephi 19:23).”

I've learned from firsthand experience that facing your weaknesses is a hard thing to do. It can be discouraging when you ask for qualities and then fail to work for them, but God gives us more opportunities to grow when we ask for them, and, with Him by our side, we can achieve those goals! They will come to us not as epiphanies, but as quick moments where we are tried and must realize that we have the opportunity to act better than we are--right then. “How we manage those moments in daily life ends up either developing character or disintegrating character. These moments of truth may be small, but they give us a chance to express character” (Maxwell).

Of course, we will stumble sometimes. Maxwell says:
I am the first to acknowledge that we, as Church members, have a tremendous challenge being equal to our theology and our opportunity. We fall short. If we stumble, let us arise and continue the climb. The Lord will bless us because we are possessed of truths about “things as they really are, and . . . things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13). These truths beckon us, even in our imperfections, to be better.
I feel, today, that I am already beginning to see past the giant hill that's been blocking my vision of hope and truth these last few weeks. I want to possess this vision continually, because, as Maxwell says, “Those who have eyes single to the glory of God are those who see the most of reality.” And the reality is that we can change, no matter how far away our potential seems to be.

Lastly, I want to emphasize the importance of the Holy Ghost in all of this. Maxwell ends his talk by stating, “I express my appreciation for the promptings of the Holy Ghost and plead that each of us might not deflect these but might receive them as indicators of how much more we could do if we were more serious disciples.” As Elder F. Enzio Busche adds, “The greatest achievement that can be reached in our lives is to be under the complete influence of the Holy Ghost. Then he will teach us what is really good and necessary to do” (“Unleashing the Dormant Spirit”).

We can act as Christ. We can react as Christ in circumstances that try our patience, pride, and self-worth. We can think less about ourselves, while thinking more of ourselves. Satan wants us to think of nothing except how terrible we are. This does us no good! It makes us feel sorry for ourselves and freezes us in a state of self-pity and anger. Believe me, I've been feeling it as of late. But I promise you that you will feel an immediate release of those burdens when you turn to the Lord and ask for His help.

I have not yet addressed my future plans for this charity project. For now, I am going to keep working on my feelings of envy. It seems to spur on many other unwanted characteristics and so I want to keep at it until I feel I've adequately destroyed it's effect on me. I want to love those around me and support them in their gifts and talents. I want to think of my interactions in terms of how to build up the Kingdom of God and to continually add to that work. I have some thoughts on kindness that I want to address in my next post, but I don't yet want to move on because I feel like I need some extra time. And that's okay. We have a loving Heavenly Father who gives us second and third and fourth chances, and who will help us--if we seek it--to one day have the reflexes of a man/woman of God.