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:
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.”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.
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:
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.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.
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:
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!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.
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.