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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.

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