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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. (:

1 comment:

Liz said...

Dear Whitney,

I wanted to thank you for this post and for the others on your blog. I am a Christian, though not LDS, and the division between mainline Christians and the LDS church have been heavy on my heart lately. I look at Mormons and they seem like great people who, though we have some very significant differences in doctrine, seem to be at the core hoping and trusting in the same Savior that I trust in and adore. I dearly love all my brothers and sisters in Christ and if this includes Mormons, the alienation between LDS and other members of the body of Christ is enough to make me cry. (But if we are not worshiping the same God and Savior, like so many say, that's reason to cry all the more.)

So it's helpful to me to read your posts and hear, not just what people say about the LDS, but what members of your church actually believe and practice. Thanks also for the wonderful practical advice in this post -- you're right that we're more effective when we focus on what we can do instead of what we must not do, and that's so encouraging.

Wishing you the best,
Liz