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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Being Young and Mormon

Hello, all!

I wanted to write a short post on something that has been swirling around in my head for a couple of years now (and Stephen might help me). I was talking to a friend yesterday on what it is like to be a young member of the LDS church. She said that when she tells people she's Mormon, she feels like she has to qualify, "I'm also a feminist." or, "I'm not one of those Mormons who seem deeply conservative and narrow minded." I understood what she meant. When I was little, I was extremely proud to be a Mormon. I still am, but I feel like there are labels and stereotypes out there that I don't want to be associated with: narrow mindedness, bigotry, misogyny, etc.

There are many reasons that the culture of our church has instilled these stereotypes in some people's minds, and some of these stereotypes do exist--I mean, nobody's perfect. But I've personally noticed a couple things that might have aggravated this view of Mormonism (or orthodox religion in general).

First, I've noticed an abundance of irony. Let me put it this way, have you recently watched a 90s movie/TV show and been completely turned off by it? The 90s were all about taking sincerity and trying to translate it in various ways. Disney movies during the 90s renaissance were filled with heartfelt music, dialogue, and storylines. Now, we've been so pumped full of pop culture that any attempt at sincerity makes us think words like sappy, cliche, overdone, corny, etc. We are such an ironic culture, and as we see people share more conservative views, we come to think they're being archaic. I feel myself joining in a generation that has come to be extremely cynical and sensitive. In other words, I think we're becoming quick to simultaneously see the worst and feel offended by someone's sincerity, seeing it as offensive and old-fashioned.

Second, due to this digital age, we have a hypersensitivity to what everyone else is thinking. This generation of mine is one that is being steeped in blogs (yes, like this one. Take me with a grain of salt), status updates, tweets, opinion articles, Buzzfeed lists, and on and on. Now that we have platforms, we have all come to think that our own opinions are extremely important and valid. Opinions are important, but they're not always right. Every time I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I see dozens of editorials, blogs, and status updates that are aggressively communicating someone's opinions. The internet, while vast and expansive, is unstable and made up of inconstant people. It is always changing and hardly reliable.

This life is so short! We have barely a blip on this planet and then we're gone. Do we honestly believe we can know and authorize everything with which we come in contact? This is why I live by faith. My absolute knowledge entails only three things:

  1. I know that I don't know very much.
  2. As Matthew 7:17 says, "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit." I know that following the teachings of my church--reading the Bible and the Book of Mormon, praying to my Heavenly Father, repenting of my mistakes, and living as my gospel preaches--makes me happier than anything else I've sought after in my life. Anything.
  3. I know that someone out there knows more than me, and, thankfully, He loves me enough to guide me to make choices in my life that bring me peace and happiness. As Neal A. Maxwell says, "Isn’t it marvelous, brothers and sisters, that God, who knows everything, still spends time listening to our prayers? Compared to that cosmic fact, what does the world really have to offer us? One round of applause, one fleeting moment of adulation, or an approving glance from a phantom Caesar?"
With these three pieces of knowledge, I lead my life as best as I can. I try to base my beliefs on what is constant and speaks peace to my spirit. I try to be humble, because I'm working through life and I'm just as dense as the next person. I try to remain close to our Heavenly Father because I feel His hand in my life when I'm doing my best, and I know He loves me infinitely.

So, to my generation who reads blogs and opinion editorials and facebook status updates, I want to say that I'm proud to be a Mormon. I'm proud to root my beliefs in something constant that brings me joy and peace. And I know from where this joy and peace comes.



Monday, March 17, 2014

Patience: A Tag-Teaming Post

Hello! It's been a while, yes. Last week, we had stake conference, and our stake president gave us several challenges. You know me, I love lists, and these were things that Stephen and I knew would bring us closer together and to the Lord. Here are the challenges our stake president gave us:

1. Live the gospel of Jesus Christ

  • Invite the spirit through daily scripture study, prayers, and family home evening (Families can decide what they do during FHE)
  • Love our spouse and children by treating them with kindness, patience, and respect. (A perfect marriage is simply two imperfect people who refuse to give up)
  • Keep the sabbath day holy, including reverently participating in sacrament meeting and attending all three meetings each Sunday (For guidance regarding Sunday activities, see Isaiah 58:13).
  • Make monthly home and visiting teaching visits in a Christ-like manner. (The lesser law is to make the visits, the higher law is to treat them as Christ would)
  • Keep our thoughts and actions pure by avoiding inappropriate media. (The world is crowding out appropriate media. We will have to be more particular about the media we choose, because the world will not make it easy for us to feel the Spirit)

2. Gather Israel through missionary work

  • Pray daily for missionary opportunities and act on promptings.
  • Share a gospel message each week (e.g. Pass-along card, Book of Mormon placement, gospel discussion, social media, testimony, etc.)
  • Invite a non-member to meet with the missionaries during the year.

3. Enable the salvation of the dead

  • Be worthy of and hold a current temple recommend. (98% of our stake holds a temple recommend. We should have 98% home/visiting teaching as well! Let's keep our temple covenants fully in our callings and stewardships)
  • Increase our temple attendance. (Interact with temple patrons. They are here to offset the influence of the adversary. Learn from them to make temple worship more meaningful)
  • Participate in a family history project during the year (e.g. Temple ordinances for deceased relatives, own personal history, personal history of family members, FamilySearch indexing, etc.)

4. Care for the poor and needy

  • Make a generous monthly fast offering. ("Generous" means something different for every family. A couple of dollars may be generous for one couple while it may not be enough for another)
  • Perform an act of service each week for a family ward. (This will bring about great unity and will strengthen the ward. Be receptive to the Spirit and The Lord will tell you who needs your help. In your prayers, you can ask, "What blessings do I have that I am not aware of?" Then ask, "Who can I help?")
  • Participate in community service during the year. (E.g. Deseret Industries, bishop's storehouse, homeless shelter, blood drive, etc.)
These were fantastic charges for us! Stephen and I have looked over this list and made some changes in our household. In the vein of missionary work, we decided that one way we can improve in spreading the Gospel is by the both of us contributing to this blog. So here we are! The both of us. Hi guys! Itsa me! Sitting next to my darling wife. We're going to try to tackle this blog every week together and discuss principles on our minds. Don't worry, we won't get too cheesy on you. (:

The topic we'd like to discuss today is one I've discussed in previous posts, but it's always worth remembering. Of course, Neal A. Maxwell has some important things to say on this topic, “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).

Much as we would like to say we've followed this council fervently and that our patience has been tempered to a certain degree of frequency, we both have felt our patience fluctuate dramatically over the span of months, weeks, and even minutes. An automatic tendency towards kindness and charity can truly be difficult when each day brings new challenges--but we should gratefully remember that Heavenly Father wants us to reach a higher and holier plane of patience, and will send us the experiences necessary. 

Since we've been going through some very clinical experiences, I know that the Lord sees fit to give me more patience. But, of course, He can't just give me more patience, otherwise I won't actually have it in my tool chest of mastered attributes. For the last five months, Stephen and I have been looking to buy a house. Yes, we started looking at the wrong time, which is partially our fault. But since October, we have seen dozens of homes, put an offer down on five of them, and purchased... none. The excitement we once had walking through a potential home of ours has since dwindled. Unless we really like the house and put an offer on it. Then the excitement dissipates again once we find out that someone has out-bid us, or that the person selling the house has exaggerated some important facts, or that the seller will not pay closing costs no matter what (ridiculous, considering you're in a first-time homebuyer's market, buddy, but that's a rant for another day). To be frank, our patience has been wearing thin.

Thin. In. Deed.

This is the first kind of patience we've noticed we need to develop: Patience with our circumstances

I am definitely not a patient person when it comes to this. When I realize I want something, I want it now. Call it a negative effect of my membership in the Y Generation, but usually, when I put my mind to something, I can make it happen. When circumstances are out of my control, however, it is a great test to have to sit back and wait. Just this last week, Stephen and I had put an offer down on a house, but for some reason, I wasn't exactly sure whether we should go forward with the offer. The seller accepted our bid, and we were getting ready to move forward. It was the closest we'd come to buying a house! We could smell the deed and house keys! But for some reason, I still didn't feel sure about the home. Nothing was wrong with it, in fact, it had been gutted so the inside was brand spankin' new. And by going forward with this, we could say goodbye to house hunting for a long while! But still, I felt like we should wait. I then got a call from our realtor, who discovered that the man selling the home hadn't actually measured the square footage of the home or the lot. He had grossly exaggerated the size of the house, making it worth $15-20,000 less than he'd advertised. This wasn't done sneakily on his part, just carelessly. Our realtor advised us not to go forward on this house, since there could be other "careless" moves made on this man's part. And I realized how grateful I was for the Spirit, who helped me wait, even though the rest of me wanted to just sign the dang contract and have a house already!

The involvement of the Spirit reminds me of a helpful quote from Neal A. Maxwell when I think of these circumstances we're asked to patiently bear: “‘Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people, ye he trieth their patience and their faith” Mosiah 23:21.’ Interesting that those two virtues would be cited among the many: patience and faith. We soon discover in the quietude of our ponderings and our thinking upon the Lord that he is a tutorial activist God. He is not passive somewhere in space. He is active in the tutoring of each of us” ("If Thou Endure It Well"). It is important to remember that God is with us in these trying circumstances. Buying a house will not be the only (nor the most) difficult thing we're asked to bear, but our Heavenly Father knows what we need and what will make us happy, and He will step in to help us as He did this week.

Of course, an important aspect of earning divine direction is our own degree of spiritual submissiveness. Since knowing Whitney, my love of Neal A. Maxwell has gone through the roof, so to put it in his words, "spiritual submissiveness is not accomplished in an instant, but by the incremental improvements and by the successive use of stepping-stones. [And] stepping-stones are meant to be taken one at a time..." ("Consecrate Thy Performance"). This goes perfectly with the idea that our "clinical experiences" will not be accomplished in a hurry. We are meant to patiently learn patience and, once again, Heavenly Father will eagerly step in to assist us. When uncontrollable circumstance is therefore the trial, as opposed to personal folly, we can more easily turn such situations into moments for personal growth.

The second kind of patience being taught to us is an ongoing cycle: Patience with others.

I'm not proud of how often this lesson is taught to me because I obviously have not mastered this patience, yet it is integral to becoming like our most loving Savior and Heavenly Father. As Ruth E. Brasher said,  “There is an integral relationship between loving our Father in Heaven, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves. Love in these realms gives perspective to all of the laws and the commandments. Thus we cannot afford to just wait for ‘love’ to happen in our lives. We ought to seek it, to refine it, to be sensitive to its presence or absence, to its vitality and strength, because love is essential” ("That We May Become").

And yet, it is so easy to react cynically and impatiently to those around us who do or say things we find annoying/catty/frustrating. Just the other day, we were out at a restaurant when a friend came over to say hello. We heard a group of people at another table say mockingly among themselves, "Oh, hello! Oh my gosh! You're so famous!" I was tempted to walk over to their table and say some not very nice (though, I'll admit, quite clever) things back to them, but I didn't. However, that didn't stop me from getting annoyed with them all night long! Why should I care if someone acts like the girls in middle school I try to forget? I should have ignored the table and kept enjoying our lovely dinner, but I felt like I had a right to be "righteously indignant."

In a previous post of mine, I mention a talk by Sister Elaine Jack, the General Relief Society President from 1990-1997 called “Charity: How We Treat Each Other.” I think this talk applies well here, too. She says,
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. 
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.
Setting aside pride and continuing in love stands out to me as the supreme method of developing patience for others. What it boils down to is how we manifest our love, even if third parties are entirely unaware.  The act of "energetically persisting" or "enthusiastically fighting" for charity to take the place of contempt in our reactions to unkindness ultimately means we are becoming better, more upstanding, less selfish or self-indulgent people. We're purging the natural man from our hearts and replacing the vacant space with an extra measure of love.

Sister Jack goes on to provide an outline that further helps us obtain patience and charity for others:

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.
So SHARE the love you feel rather than the spite, the tender word rather than the abuse. Christ has given us an abundance of love through example and can give us even more through heartfelt prayer. I love thinking about that joyous cycle--patterning our lives after Christ's example and, in turn, kindling a desire to ask for more personal charity. This should become a self-sustaining process that eventually fills us with daily doses of patience.

Finally, the third kind of patience we've been taught: Patience with our personal progression.



This life is a continual balancing act between having faith that we can become like our Heavenly Father, and being humble enough to do what we need to get there. In my efforts to come closer to Christ, I've noticed all these qualities I'm lacking--charity, selflessness, not being judgmental, (not to mention, patience). I find myself very far from my Heavenly Father when I take a moment to measure my progress. These moments of humility, however, can be great blessings. As Maxwell said,  “So much of life’s curriculum … consists of efforts by the Lord to get and to keep our attention. Ironically, the stimuli he uses are often that which is seen by us as something to endure. Sometimes what we are being asked to endure is his help. Help to draw us away from the cares of the world. Help to draw us away from self-centeredness. Attention-getting help, when the still small voice has been ignored by us. Help in the shaping of our souls. And help to keep the promises we made so long ago to him and to ourselves. Thus there is clearly no immunity from these stimuli. There cannot be. No immunity from afflictions. There cannot be. Whether the afflictions are self-induced as most of them are, or are of the divine tutorial type, it matters not. Either way, the Lord can help us in a most interesting manner. Our afflictions, said Alma can be ‘swallowed up in the joy of Christ’ (Alma 31:38)." When we recognize how involved Christ is in our progression, this journey can be exciting instead of daunting. I mean, think about it, we have an all-powerful, all-knowing Heavenly Father who knows us by name, loves us infinitely, and respects us enough to ask us to become like Him! To know that my God sees that potential in me is a very heartening knowledge.

With that encouragement, we can begin to let go of the portions of ourselves we selfishly reserve. Maxwell states, "So many of us cling tenaciously to a particular 'part,' even treating our obsessions like possessions. Thus, whatever else we may have already given, the last portion is the hardest to yield... Since knees often bend long before minds, holding back this 'part' deprives God's work of some of mankind's very best intellects." That puts a certain perspective on what pet sins we may be holding on to, right? They're not only detrimental to ourselves, but they're also taking up energy we should be spending on the Kingdom of God! Our progression is therefore essential to ourselves as well as the entire body of Christ. 



To gain encouragement and work alongside Christ in our progression, this kind of patience can only be developed with humility and meekness. As Maxwell says, “Meekness and patience have a special mutuality. If there were too much swiftness, there could be no long-suffering, no gradual soul-stretching, nor repenting. With too little time to absorb, to assimilate, and to apply the truths already given, our capacities would not be fully developed. Pearls cast before us would go unfound, ungathered, and unsavored. It takes time to prepare for eternity” ("Meek and Lowly"). I need to have the humility to see where I can improve, and the meekness to submit to my Heavenly Father's will to overcome my shortcomings. This meekness will then give way to an inconceivable joy I feel when I come closer to my Heavenly Father!

It's a meekness and joy we all need whether or not we yet realize it. I know that patience is a divine principle because I have felt joy in patience. I doubt I've reached the greatest trials I'll yet have to endure and I know that I can't afford to let my patience decline. So as long as we look for patience in our circumstances, the people around us, and ourselves, there won't be time for any sort of decline.

I also know that as we develop patience through the tactical experiences Heavenly Father allows us to endure, we will develop meekness, humility, and charity. While this last little while has been stressful, I know that if I use it as another stepping stone in my progression towards becoming like Christ, I will come out of this better and a little bit closer to my Heavenly Father.

Amen!