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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Charity Project: Suffereth Long

Hello all!

Here we are in the second week of my Charity Project. Last week, I made the goal to work on not being easily provoked. Let me share my progress with you!

The first few days of the week, I felt like I was doing pretty well. I had this project on my mind quite a bit and made sure to be slow to anger if anything didn't go exactly how I wanted it. If someone said something that offended me, I shrugged it off and thought loving thoughts. I prayed for patience, and kept going. Then, Thursday happened, and everything got shot to hell. I mean this in the sense that I'm sure I let hell overcome me, because I was not at my best, or even at my mediocre. I was definitely at a low.

Blame it on the birth control. Blame it on the fact that Stephen was the first to be grumpy (and how could I just sit back and suffer it?). Blame it on my selfishness and high expectations. Whatever the reason, I did not react well. I did not become a creator of my circumstance. I was a creature. A monstrous creature who consumed all happiness in sight.

You see, as Thursday started, I recognized that Stephen was feeling a lack of confidence in himself. This happens to all of us in creative and non-creative professions alike, but in those professions that capitalize on our personalities, it is easy to feel completely awful when we sense we're not performing well. Just recently, I had had similar feelings of despair, and Stephen was very sympathetic to my needs. When the tables were turned, however, I was not sympathetic. Instead, I was impatient. Generally, when someone comes to me with a problem, I like to solve it. I forget, though, that this can come across as calloused when someone simply needs understanding. I guess, I'm more like a man in that sense because I can never sit and listen to Stephen, I have to give him my solutions. At any rate, this made Stephen feel worse, which brought out a defensive side to me that lasted throughout the evening. It got to a point where I had to go for a run and listen to talks because I knew I was being rash and "easily provoked." I finally came back and apologized to Stephen and then we went to bed.

Was I through, though? Oh no! The next day, after a writers' meeting where I'd presented a sketch I was excited about that was sort of shot down, I came home irritated and hurt. I had to get over it quickly, though, because Stephen had made plans for us to go to a party--which I was already dragging my feet to go to, but I'd made up my mind to suck it up and go. However, at the party, I kept getting more and more angry as frustrations were building up. I didn't want to be there. I was in the process of transferring all the data in my old phone to a new one and it was causing me issues (1st world problems, eh?). I felt like a poor, awful writer. And, to cap it off, there were Studio C fans who were so sweet and nice and I felt "burdened" by the need to act cheerful back. What awful black hole had I thrown myself into that I was being annoyed by sweet and nice things?!

When preparing for this post, I came across the scripture “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19), and I actually laughed because I was so not doing that. Yes, suffice it to say, I did not succeed last week. So--my post for this week is sort of a cheat post. A way to continue working on last week's virtue under a new name: charity suffereth long. There are a few of these cheat virtues that I'll probably need to use when needing a second try at a virtue I've failed--beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things--these may be used as second chance posts in the future.

This whole charity project of mine is shaping up to be pretty hard. I think that's because I'm engaging in the battle with my "natural man." A fellow blogger wrote an excellent post on charity and our battle to obtain it. In the post, he said--
Virtue is expensive, and takes an eternity to truly master with frequent ups and downs in our pursuit.  The spirit, or "pattern", that we leave this life in will be the same pattern that we take into the eternities.  Are we willing to fight tooth-and-nail, day after day, putting aside our distracting obsessions and go against the internal sheer forces from the very vessels we occupy to fight to set a pattern of seeking for something that we won't be able to master while we're alive, but can perfect if we persist through the eternities under a Heavenly Father's tutelage? We can choose to not choose and let our default behavior take over, (it is an option...), and whatever we decide we will receive the eternal reward that we will be most comfortable with.
So if I want what is "greatest of all" (Moroni 7:46), I'm going to have to work hardest of all and persist longest of all. It is the greatest battle I will wage. Recalling what President Hinckley's father said again, “When a man makes war on his own weaknesses he engages in the holiest war that mortals ever wage” (Bryant S. Hinckley). This means we're going to have to put in some effort.

How can we keep it up? How can we spend eternity in this battle against our natural man? How can we suffer long in charity? Well, first, I think we can't do it without the Lord. We must know Him well enough to strive to be like him. As Ezra Taft Benson said, “Let your minds be filled with the goal of being like the Lord, and you will crowd out depressing thoughts as you anxiously seek to know him and do his will.” Our thoughts can be lifted up if we lift our thoughts to Christ.

I want to stress what President Benson described as anxiously seeking to know our Savior. This anxiousness is another way to describe what is our desires. For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Mosiah 3:19). How can we be enticed by the Holy Spirit in order to be more submissive, meek, humble, and patient? We must educate our desires. If we can educate our desires in the right way, we will become “what we want to become and what our Father in Heaven would want us to become,” said Elder Neil L. Andersen. “It begins by careful contemplation of who we are and what we want in life.”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks elaborates on desires, saying, “In order to have righteous desires, we have to control our thoughts and achieve appropriate feelings. My widowed mother understood that principle. 'Pray about your feelings,' she used to say. She taught her three children that we should pray to have the right kind of feelings about our experiences—positive or negative—and about the people we knew. If our feelings were right, we would be more likely to take righteous actions and to act for the right reasons.”

Thus, praying simply for righteous desires can lead us to desire the best things and that can dictate our actions and lead us to be more charitable. Make sense? We can pray just to want to be like Christ. And that can help us to actually have those desires. And, if those desires are strong enough, we can let our minds be filled with goals to be like Him. Those goals, when passionately sought after, can become a reality. And prayer can keep that cycle going!

I believe that in refining these traits of charity and then suffering to follow them through any circumstance, we must also have a lot of patience. Patience with others when we are stressed. Patience with ourselves when we fail. Patience with God for not simply giving us these traits, but rather, making us work for them. Elder Robert C. Oaks, of the Seventy, gave a talk on patience in terms of acquiring Godly traits. He also gave some steps to help us obtain this quality:
Since impatience is so natural, how do we develop the divine virtue of patience? How do we move our behavior from that of the natural man to that of our patient, perfect example, Jesus Christ?
First, we must understand that to do so is necessary, if we desire to fully enjoy the blessings of the restored gospel. Such an understanding might motivate us to:
1. Read each of the scriptures in the Topical Guide listed under the topic “patience” and then ponder Christ’s patient examples.
2. Evaluate ourselves to determine where we stand on the patience continuum. How much more patience do we need to become more Christlike? This self-assessment is difficult. We might ask our spouse or another family member to help us.
3. Become sensitive to the examples of patience and of impatience that occur around us every day. We should strive to emulate those individuals we consider to be patient.
4. Recommit each day to become more patient, and be certain to keep our selected family member involved in our patience project.
This sounds like a great deal of work, but to achieve any worthwhile goal requires hard work. And overcoming the natural man and working to become more Christlike in our patience is a most appropriate objective. I pray that we will pursue this path with diligence and dedication.
Still, when we are in the heated moment where we're being tested by our circumstances, all this business of being patient and submissive smacks of being weak, especially when we feel we're in the right. I know that while I was on my run, blowing off steam, I thought to myself, “I'm right in this situation. Why should I apologize?” Sister Elaine Jack, the General Relief Society President from 1990-1997, gave a wonderful talk titled, “Charity: How We Treat Each Other.” She describes the process of being long-suffering, saying--
Have you ever wondered what “charity suffereth long” means? It doesn’t mean that charity is a painful process. It is saying that charity is patient. It doesn’t give up on others. Suffer means to wait patiently, to tolerate, to hold out, to allow. I do not equate “long-suffering” or “patient” charity with submissiveness to others or lack of energy. Quite the opposite—charity is energetically persistent in reaching its goals. It is submissive only to the Spirit of the Lord... This is the suffering that works understanding. It reminds us that others have been patient with us, that the process of individual growth means we take turns suffering long and being suffered for (Elaine Jack).
In those moments where we may think, “Who is right?” we should instead adopt the spirit of charity and enthusiastically fight for what is right! We should instead ask, “What would Christ do?” And that is not a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite, actually. It is a sign of immense will power and strength to set aside our pride and continue to love.

Since we are aiming for a long-term change here in our hearts, I'm looking for as many step-by-step outlines we can follow to obtain charity, and then keep it up and suffer long. Elaine Jack provides an outline here:

To develop this ability of truly helping others takes practice and the desire to learn. Fortunately, the Lord has taught us ways we can develop the attributes of charity. Let me share several of them with you.
Personal prayer: ... One of the greatest blessings that has come into my life is this opportunity to pray for so many others. 
Scripture study: One of the best parts of scripture study for me is that various passages increase in personal meaning as I have new experiences. I hope sharing the scriptures and your testimony with others is an important part of your life. If you haven’t added the scriptural dimension to your friendships yet, try it, you’ll like it.
These words of Nephi are significant to me:
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. [2 Nephi 25:26]
My friends, as part of your daily comings and goings, I pray that you will feel it in your heart to echo Nephi—to talk of, rejoice in, and preach of Christ. Nothing can teach you charity faster.
Freely give. [Christ] taught, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). The Lord wants us to do what we can—and do it lovingly.
Well, this post is becoming far too long to be practical. We all have lives, right? So I'll end with something Elaine Jack said at the close of her talk that was a soothing balm to my weakened feelings of self-worth:
Another charitable habit: Lighten up and chill out. Take a healthy helping of enjoyment and laughter from the smorgasbord of life’s experiences. And give some to your neighbors and friends. While we don’t choose all that lands on our plates, we may choose some of the trimmings. Laughter is a condiment that makes just about anything go down better. And the ability to enjoy life with all its frustrations and diversity is like a good sorbet—it freshens the palate. Good humor refreshes me as nothing else can. Sharing a good laugh with someone is often an act of charity (Elaine Jack).
Boy, is that welcome advice. I may have started this post in the wrong attitude. Sure, I messed up, but--keeping this charity project in mind--I still went out in search of inspiration in the height of my anger. That's progress, right? God doesn't want us to beat ourselves up every time we stumble. That is not how He motivates us. That's how Satan discourages us. Instead, God shows us who we can become. He highlights our strengths and shows us how to bridge our weaknesses to our strengths so that we may become even stronger than we already are. Ether 12:27 states: And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Whoo! Pep talk right there! I definitely can see some weaknesses of mine, but I am in the process of making them strengths! I just need to seek after the Holy Spirit--to educate my desires and be enticed by it--I need to be patient, stay close to the Lord, and lighten up! And if I keep my relationship strong with Him, He will show me not only how to have charity, but how to keep it.

Hopefully I'll do better next week in terms of being less easily provoked. But I know this is a process. It will take time. Luckily, when we undertake hard things in the name of the Lord, we receive immeasurable help. For me, one of those helps is Stephen. He is so patient with me, and loves me even when I have days like the ones I mentioned. He is a living testimony that charity is possible. Or at least, having persistence in the stretching journey of obtaining it is possible. Another help is the scriptures and words of our leaders. Prayer, fasting, and temple attendance all provide immense help. And finally, we have a Savior who loves us so much that He suffered unspeakable pain and sorrow in order to give us individualized help to become like Him. If we access His help through the Atonement, we will be amazed at who we can become, and how long we can keep it up.

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