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.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Charity Project: "Envieth Not" (Or, in Other Words...)

Hello, friends! First off--Happy Shark Week! I’m so stoked to celebrate the wonderful/terrifying world of fast swimming predators. We’re having a kick-off party this evening, complete with activities like:

  • A photo booth and--
  • “Pin the Arm on the Unfortunate Swimmer”
  • Customized shirts
  • Great food
  • And the awesome Sy-Fy movie Sharknado!

This is one of my favorite weeks of the year.

In terms of the Charity Project and my spiritual progression, this week was looking like it’d turn
out to be a similar one to the week before (I know, slow learner, right?) but then everything changed on Wednesday (sound familiar? Don't worry, it's good this time). This week, Stephen and I went to the temple Wednesday night, and my perspective widened outside myself as is so common when we are coming closer to God. I realized that when we are concerned about ourselves, the best remedy to potentially becoming selfish is to find ways to consecrate your time, talents, and spirit to building God’s kingdom. This idea filled me with hope. It made me realize that instead of telling myself all the time, “Don’t get easily offended. Don’t be easily provoked. Don’t be selfish. Don’t, don’t, don’t...” I should instead tell myself, “Do good for those around you. Do what you can to build God’s kingdom. Do use your gifts, talents, and love for good. Do, do, do.”

I’ve often said this, but I’ll say again that The Lord does not motivate us by discouraging our (sometimes weak) efforts to become better. Similarly, we aren’t always motivated by focusing on what we need to stop. Rather, we should follow the Lord’s example and motivate ourselves by focusing on what we should do. I think this is what Neal A. Maxwell meant when he talked about the sins of commission and omission and he said--
One way of looking at the “thou shalt not” commandments is that these prohibitions help us to avoid misery by turning us away from that which is enticing but harmful and wrong. However, once we are settled in terms of the direction of our discipleship and the gross sins are left firmly behind—”misery prevention,” it might be called—then the major focus falls upon the “thou-shalt” commandments. It is the keeping of the thou-shalt commandments that brings even greater happiness… Remember the rich, righteous young man who came to Jesus asking, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” 
“Keep the commandments.” 
“All these things have I kept from my youth up.” 
And then came Jesus’ searching response: “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor . . . : and come, . . . and follow me.” (See Matthew 19:16–21 and Mark 10:17–21.) 
A customized commandment thus came for that man. It was something he needed to do, not something he needed to stop doing, that kept him from wholeness. (“The Pathway of Discipleship”)
Thus, we are encouraged by our potential rather than discouraged by our lack of progress!

So, for the remainder of this project, I’m going to put my goals in terms of what I should do, rather than what I should stop doing. I think it will be more motivating, inspiring, and helpful.

This week, I’m going to focus on the phrase, “Envieth not.” This was going to be my first principle to tackle in this Charity Project because of the line of work I'm in. I've found this feeling creeping up in me whenever we have writers' meetings, whenever a sketch is cast and I'm not in it, and whenever I'm not included in something among friends. It pops up a lot. But for the purposes of this project, let’s focus on the “do” of this principle. If we’re not envying others, we must actively 1. Appreciate our own talents, possessions, and circumstances. And 2. Appreciate the talents, possessions, and circumstances of others as they contribute to the building up of God’s kingdom.

This will require a mental shift from thoughts like, “How does this benefit me?” To a broader mindset like, “How does this benefit my loving Father in heaven and His plan of happiness for all of His children?”

Janet G. Lee--wife of Rex Lee, the BYU president from 1989-1995--gave an incredible talk January 24, 1995 at BYU, titled "The Lord Doesn't Grade on a Curve" In this talk she mentions some things we need to stop when we are caught envying others, but she also brings up some good things to do in order to gain more charity rather than envy (this is a long quote, but it's all worth it):
It is an inevitable fact of life that we compare ourselves to others. Yet it can be a very dangerous practice. If we give ourselves a superior rating, we fall into the trap of pride. President Ezra Taft Benson has warned us that “the proud depend upon the world to tell them whether they have value or not. Their self-esteem is determined by where they are judged to be on the ladders of worldly success” (”Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, p. 6). 
If we see ourselves at the top of the ladder, we diminish the significance of others, sometimes overlooking important qualities that our grading scale ignores. We may not even be aware that we are doing this… 
An equally dangerous practice is giving ourselves an inferior rating. In this instance we often compare our weakest points with everybody else’s strongest ones. If we believe we are at the bottom of the ladder of success, we feel defeated. 
Why do we do that to ourselves? When someone else does something well or owns something we do not have, why do we immediately knock ourselves down a rung or two? Appreciating the abilities and resources of others should lift us, not diminish us in any way. Every time we see or hear something of merit, we should be better because of it. The Lord must have intended it to be that way, because each of us has been given different gifts, unique abilities, and varying insights. 
We cannot have every talent and every virtue. The only way we can experience all that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy is to enjoy at least some of it vicariously. We may never play tennis like Chris Evert, sing like Ariel Bybee, or throw a football like Steve Young, but we can come closer to appreciating those talents if we spend our time in joyful observation rather than in degrading envy. If we are troubled by the inadequacies of our home when we visit our neighbor, then we have rejected their gift of hospitality. If we belittle ourselves when we study with a brilliant friend, we close our minds to at least part of what we could be taught. If we berate ourselves as we observe the gentle nature of President Hunter, we miss the magic of his example. Being able to appreciate and encourage the gifts of others may well be the greatest gift of all.
 Further more, Marvin J. Ashton emphasizes what Heavenly Father values in us that we may overlook when seeking to have the best talents, looks, etc. He says, “When the Lord measures an individual, He does not take a tape measure around the person’s head to determine his mental capacity, nor his chest to determine his manliness, but He measures the heart as an indicator of the person’s capacity and potential to bless others” (Marvin J. Ashton, emphasis added). I do not mean this to be yet another thing we should compare between ourselves and those around us--because, comparing spirituality is
always going to lead us to a bad place, either pride or unhelpful discouragement--but we must keep in mind that the Lord measures an individual based on their potential to bless others. This is the Lord’s mission! It should be ours as well. We should replace our obsession with comparison with a determination to fulfill the Lord's mission of blessing others.

When we fixate on that goal, we feel an outpouring of love from our Father in Heaven. We do not feel the need to be the best, but instead, feel a sense of purpose. As the associate dean of the BYU College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, Ruth E. Brasher, said,  “Knowing our Father loves us and that He created each of us and endowed us with the capacity to fulfill the purposes of life provides us the basis for understanding our worth. Self-esteem and self-confidence flourish in the bonds of love.”

Friends, I know that this life can be difficult to us sometimes. I know that when working, playing, and loving alongside our brothers and sisters, we can sometimes get caught up in a spirit of competition and it can lead to comparing and envying others. Instead of playing Satan's sticky mind game that only ends in feelings of loathing--either for others or ourselves--why don't we rise above that mindset and focus on why we're here? Instead of measuring ourselves against our brothers and sisters, why don't we serve them? Instead of feeling beat up when we think we're not as good as someone else in a certain category, why don't we ask God what we can do for Him and immediately feel better about ourselves in the process?

I love this gospel. It is filled with light and joy. I know that every time I turn my heart to my Savior and ask Him to help lift my burdens I created in times of despair. The gospel really is the easiest thing in this life. It is easy because it fills us with such hope, peace, and happiness. It is the truth, brothers and sisters. And I feel it every time I live it. Have an envy-less appreciative and helpful week. (: