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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Be Not Weary in Well-Doing: Faith

We-he-hell. Hello! It's been a while. I don't mean to sound like a forgetful, apologetic teenager writing in her diary (okay, try twenty-something girl writing in her diary) but I'm sorry for the gap in posts. Perhaps you didn't notice any dry spell, but the lack of posting has been weighing on my conscience because this is where I form my spiritual thoughts. This is where I sort out my convictions. This is where I make my commitments to God and my Savior. So, lucky you! You get a guilt-ridden, bloated, but highly enthusiastic post about picking back up after our moments of lacking. Get ready. It's a long post, but I feel like it's worth it and highly tailored to the many like me who need a swift kick in the pants to get up and start moving in the Gospel.

I think the best description of what I want to convey in this post comes from Dale Sturm, a religion professor at BYU-Idaho:
When our hearts are full and we are filled with confidence, even the hard things are easier to do. I suspect that many within the sound of my voice have, at one time or another, felt the conviction that comes with strong spiritual experiences; the conviction that brings “the mighty change . . . in our hearts, that we have no more desire to do evil, but to do good continually.” You have heard a talk or a sermon or a lesson; you’ve been listening to uplifting music or studying the scriptures; and you have felt well up in your heart the thought, “I don’t ever want to do anything bad again. I only want to be good.” And for a while thereafter, it was easier to do right and to act in faith. But as C.S. Lewis wrote and Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoted more than once, “The cross comes before the crown, and tomorrow is a Monday morning.” I think Elder Maxwell loved that phrase so much because it reminds us that frequently we have to get through trials to get to blessings. But maybe just as frequently—maybe more frequently—what we have to get through is nothing more dramatic than Monday morning. What we have to get through is the mundane, the common, the relentlessly routine to get to the blessings. Sometimes the trial is actually in the insistent ordinariness of the day-to-day.
One thing Stephen and I have done to combat this whirlwind of routine is to study one Christlike attribute each week. We have used great study aids like Preach My Gospel, and the Come Follow Me Study Guide to outline what we should study each day, and (more importantly) what we should do to incorporate our studies. We started this two weeks ago and it sounded like such a great idea! ... Until we got caught up in work and other unimportant things and the whole study session kind of fell off the map. So we're trying again! This time, with a particular emphasis on getting through the day-to-day so that we can rejuvenate our hearts with the gospel of Christ and let the joy and light of Christian living drive our actions to become better and better. We have decided to record our studies on this blog to motivate ourselves to continue studying, and to hopefully help others who may feel in a similar rut. Thus, we are framing this post with the notion that we all have our lazy days. We all have our distracted moments. We all have our unmotivated spells. The trick is to push through them with FAITH! Which, incidentally, is the first Christ-like attribute we are studying.

So, I'm going to outline for you our study plan this week and what we hope to get out of it, and then on Sunday, Stephen and I will go over how the week went. Sound good? Then let's get started.

The Game Plan
Stephen and I will focus on one Christ-like attribute each week. We've gathered the attributes from chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel. They are faith, hope, charity/love, virtue, knowledge, patience, humility, diligence, and obedience.

For this week on faith, let's outline a little about the attribute and what we can do to demonstrate that attribute (also taken from PMG):

About the Attribute
You trust in Christ and are confident He loves you. Faith leads to ACTION/work, not doubt/fear. Faith gives us access to God's power. You receive answers to prayers and personal inspiration to guide you in the Lord's work.

What We Can Do
M- Diligently study scriptures
T- Become better acquainted with Christ (search the scriptures to learn of His ways, commandments, and love for all)
W- Diligently pray
TH- Give dedicated service
F- Obey Holy Ghost's promptings and commandments

Today is Tuesday, so Stephen and I will focus on becoming better acquainted with Christ. Feel free to use this as a template for your week if you're looking for scripture study helps. Now let's look at the principle behind this mode of study....

Faith is a Decision
I quoted above from Dale Sturm's talk, “Faith is a Decision.” I have posted multiple times about this concept in the past, probably because I have so often needed course corrections or refueling in my path to perfection. I think the underlying quality we need to address in these moments of course correction is faith. Most of us immediately think of faith as believing. "I have faith that this church is true." But as a foundational quality, faith is so much more than belief. As Brother Sturm says, quoting Neil L. Andersen
“Faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision.” At least one of the implications of that statement is that faith can be present even in the absence of powerful feelings. Faith is a decision. It is a choice to act on what we have been taught and we know to be right even when we don’t feel like it; it is moving forward and pushing on even when we are not feeling—and it may have been some time since we felt—the strong convictions of the Spirit. In fact, deciding to act in faith, even when we are not feeling very faith-filled, sometimes brings heaven’s most remarkable blessings.
Now, I know that one of Satan's most beloved tactics in leading us astray is not to tempt us to have feelings of hate for the gospel, but instead to tempt to have feelings of apathy, numbness, a lackluster attitude toward this amazing and perfect plan our Heavenly Father has created for us. Besides, as Neal A. Maxwell said, “Life cannot be made up all of kettledrums and crashing cymbals. There must be some flutes and violins. Living cannot be all crescendo; there must be some dynamic contrast” (Patience). The key is to “use, rather than to protest, these seeming flat periods of life, becoming filled with quiet wonder over the past and with anticipation for that which may lie ahead, instead of demeaning the particular flatness through which we may be passing at the time.”

How to Use Our Moments of Flatness
I want to address this in very practical and every day specifics, mainly because during our flat periods, we are less motivated to search for applicable doctrine in our studies. I know that when I am unmotivated to progress in my testimony, I am definitely not looking “for His message in every sermon, song, and prayer” (Eyring). Rather, I am waiting to be knocked over the head by a giant sign that says, "WHITNEY, STOP DOING _______ AND START DOING _______!" Unsurprisingly, God expects a little more from us in our quest for motivated gospel progression, and thus, He will not force us to find the principles that will lead us to happiness. It is we who must lead ourselves so that when we find peace and joy, we will continue to develop the practices that got us there.

DON'T fill your time with too much pointlessness (including excessive sleep)

This is a biggie for me. We even justify it in my field of work. I write comedy, thus, I need time to play. This is true to a point, but there comes a threshold when my constructive creativity-fostering time turns into laziness. I'm going to write some harsh words, but we need them. I need them. And remember, "The wicked take the truth to be hard" (1 Nephi 16:2).

Elder Henry B. Eyring gave a wonderful talk titled, "Act in all Diligence." He addresses this matter by first citing a scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants: “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen” (D&C 107: 99-100).

Elder Eyring then goes on to say,
We are to learn our duty from the Lord, and then we are to act in all diligence, never being lazy or slothful. The pattern is simple but not easy to follow. We are so easily distracted. Studying the daily news can appear more interesting than [a church] lesson manual. Sitting down to rest can be more attractive than making appointments to visit those who need our... service.
When I find myself drawn away from my... duties by other interests and when my body begs for rest, I give to myself this rallying cry: “Remember Him.” The Lord is our perfect example of diligence in... service. He is our captain. He called us. He goes before us. He chose us to follow Him and to bring others with us.
I always feel like I get more done when I'm busy than when I'm free. Now, remember, this does not mean to cram your schedule full of matters so that you are too hectic to do any one thing well. As President Uchtdorf wisely noted,  “I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished. I can’t see it.”

We must remember to have balance. We must remember that while watching a movie is fun, but is it as helpful in our spiritual growth as reading our scriptures, visiting a ward member, or developing a talent? Manage your time. Create a daily schedule if you have to. I posted about this same sort of situation last year when I felt in a funk with my time management. I ended up making a sort of chart that looked like this:
Perhaps it is time to make another one. Don't let sleep, idleness, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Netflix, or any other distraction get in the way of you feeling true happiness! Have you ever felt as happy winning a game of Quiz Up as you have when you've felt the Spirit testify that the Lord is pleased with your efforts? Yet we continually forget and spend our time on frivolous matters. Stop. And make way for the Lord in your life.

DO study your scriptures and pray regularly
I can't emphasize how vital these practices are to a healthy and active testimony of our loving Heavenly Father and His wonderful gospel! Every bishop will tell you that when someone confesses to serious sins, almost every time, they will admit to not reading their scriptures or praying. What does that say about scriptures and prayer?! They are VITAL to our spiritual well being, and yet, are often the most flimsily treated commandments. I say these things with more vigor and vim (defined) to myself than to anyone else because I know these are two areas that are easily skimped in my own life.

Elder David A. Bednar gave a fantastic talk at Ricks College in 1998 titled, "Understanding the Importance of Scripture Study" in which he outlined three reasons why studying scriptures is so important:

  1. Studying the scriptures is important because of the covenants we have made. 
  2. Studying the scriptures is important because of the direction we need in our lives. 
  3. Studying the scriptures is important because scripture study is a preparation for and prerequisite to receiving personal revelation.
In response to these reasons why to study, Elder Bednar also gave six aids on how to study effectively:

  1. First, pray for understanding and invite the help of the Holy Ghost. The things of the spirit can only be learned by and through the influence of the Spirit. Each time we begin a session of sincere scripture study, an earnest and humble prayer in which we petition our Heavenly Father in the name of his Son for the assistance of the Holy Ghost will greatly improve our learning and our understanding. 
  2. The second principle is work. Gospel knowledge and understanding come through diligent study of the scriptures and the tutoring of the Holy Ghost. The combination that opens the vault door to hidden scriptural treasures includes a great deal of work--simple, old-fashioned, hard work. A farmer cannot expect to harvest in the fall if he does not properly sow in the spring and work hard during the summer to weed, nourish, and cultivate the field. So it is for you and me. We cannot expect to reap scriptural insight unless we pay the price of regular and diligent study. Casual strolling through or dabbling in the scriptures will not yield enduring gospel understanding. As Elder Maxwell has noted on several occasions, we are to "feast upon the words of Christ--not nibble" (Plain and Precious Things, p. 3). And the scriptural treasures we seek in our lives cannot be borrowed or loaned or obtained second-hand. We must each learn to open the vault door by applying the principle of work. 
  3. The third principle is consistency. Given the hectic pace of our lives, good intentions and simply "hoping" to find the time for meaningful scripture study are not sufficient. My experience suggests that a specific and scheduled time set aside each day and, as much as possible, a particular place for study greatly increase the effectiveness of our searching through the scriptures. 
  4. The fourth principle is to ponder. Please turn with me to Chapter 4 in 2 Nephi. Nephi is describing the things of his soul: And upon these I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.   Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard. (2 Nephi 4:15-16)
    The word ponder means to consider, to contemplate, to reflect upon, or to think about. The process of pondering takes time and cannot be forced, hurried, or rushed. As described by Nephi in the verses we just read, pondering is very much related to our covenant responsibility to "always remember him."
  5. The fifth principle is to look for connections and patterns and parallels in the scriptures. Rather than simply tell you about this principle, I would like to use an example. Please turn to Mosiah, Chapter 3. We are going to read verse 19. I suspect most of us can recite this verse from memory. As I read, I want to draw your attention to the very last part of the verse. "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ..."
    Now this is the part I want to emphasize. The verse thus far has described the process of putting off the natural man and becoming a saint through the atonement of Christ. As that process takes hold in our life, this is what occurs: "... and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19).... There are layers of meaning in the scriptures, brothers and sisters. As we have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, those meanings can be revealed to us.
  6. The sixth principle is to write your thoughts and feelings. Recording what we learn and writing about what we think and feel as we study the scriptures helps us to revisit the same spirit that brought the initial insight or revelation and invites even greater understanding than was originally received. Recording our learnings and writing about our thoughts and feelings is another form of pondering and of always remembering him and is an invitation to the Holy Ghost for continued instruction.
Whew! Seem like a lot? Well, if it helps, just copy and paste the previous section, print it out, and tape it to your wall or somewhere you see everyday. As you focus on your scripture study, use each of these principles (maybe one a week, maybe all at once) to enrich your experience in the words of God.

Similarly, prayer is an invaluable tool we all too often take for granted! How can we pray better? One simple solution is the location and method. President Kimball noted the need for privacy in our prayers. He said, “I have long been impressed about the need for privacy in our personal prayers. The Savior at times found it necessary to slip away into the mountains or desert to pray… We, too, ought to find, where possible, a room, a corner, a closet, a place where we can ‘retire’ to ‘pray vocally’ in secret” ("Pray Always").

When we can pray vocally, we can pour out our hearts to God. We can speak with Him not as if He is far away, but right next to us, because we will feel of His presence. In turn, we can learn His will and feel His immense love for us. Do this every day, in your own sacred grove, and you will feel a love and closeness with Heavenly Father that you have never felt before. That is the essence of prayer. Not the words we say, but the feelings we have when we achieve a closeness with our Heavenly Father. As President David O. McKay said, “Prayer is the pulsation of a yearning, loving heart in tune with the Infinite. It is a message of the soul sent directly to a loving Father. The language is not mere words.”

Another tool for prayer (as Elder Bednar mentioned with scripture study) is that it needs to be consistent. As 2 Nephi 32:9 says, we are to “pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.”
When we are consistent, we can consecrate ourselves and be more effective instruments in the hands of our Heavenly Father. There is no better feeling than to know that you are in the right place, doing the right things, and that your soul is expanding and singing the song of redeeming love.

DON'T let work and the "cares of the day" take precedent
I don't mean to minimize real trials that test and try us (although, these burdens may also be lightened with a little gospel perspective). What I am referring to is the nightmare Stephen and I are currently tackling because one government worker from Colleyville, TX (who is a child of God, I must remind myself) never documented that Stephen brought proof of driver's insurance to the county courthouse two years ago, and thus, forever damaged his record for being an "uninsured driver." I could go on and on about this particular cluster-cuss of a situation, but that's not the point of this post. (: The point is, we all have those frustrating things--mortgage payments, job security, family drama, pressure from your church calling. The cares of the day will come steadily for all of us, but it is vital that we do not let these tear us away from what truly matters.

Neal A. Maxwell (who else?) addresses this in several talks. The first I mention is one in which he likens our shortcomings to those of Laman and Lemuel. He cites this weakness when he says, “Easily riled and quick to complain, [Laman and Lemuel] could scarcely remember their last rescue long enough to meet their next difficulty. Instead, lacking gospel perspective, the situational cares of the day, like worry over a broken bow, of all things, dominated the things of eternity” ("Lessons from Laman and Lemuel").

How often are we consumed with worries over the seemingly impassable roadblocks of our lives, when with the perspective of the gospel, we may see that they are actually small, harmless potholes? It is easy to think a matter is huge when we put on blinders of worry that keep us from seeing each day with eternal perspective.

Maxwell then offers solutions to this problem. The first is knowing that the Lord loves us. As he mentions in "The Pathway of Discipleship,"
If we can get that witness for ourselves that we are his and that he loves us, then we can cope with and endure well whatever comes in the varied tactical situations of life. Of course, there are going to be puzzling moments. Nephi, paralleling what Brigham Young said, had this reaction when he was perplexed: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17). 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.
We can know this through simple prayer, scripture study, and an inventory of all the gifts God has given us--His Son, our agency, a promise that we will receive "All that [He] hath."

Maxwell also emphasizes the importance that we not only know the Lord loves us, but that we also know the Lord Himself:
To the extent that we are not willing to be led by the Lord, we will be driven by our appetites, or we will be greatly preoccupied with the lesser things of the day. The remedy is implicit in the marvelous lamentation of King Benjamin: “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13). For many moderns, sad to say, the query “What think ye of Christ?” (Matt. 22:42) would be answered, “I really don’t think of Him at all!” ("Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father")
It makes sense, doesn't it? Of every quality of Christ's we gain a testimony, we will  have that much more incentive and love to follow His words and teachings. The more we know Him, the more we will want to be like Him. And that process transcends all the displeasures of the day.

DO make time for the temple
Pleeeeeease. Go to the temple. As President David O. McKay said, “I believe there are few, even temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning of the power of the temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence. If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives” (Truman G. Madsen, "The Temple: Where Heaven Meets Earth").

I promise that consistent temple worship will provide clearer guidance for your daily troubles, as well as a more eternal and exalted perspective as we realize what is truly important in this life: to return to Heavenly Father and to take as many people with us as we can.

 I want to relay one sacred experience concerning prayer and temples that has fantastically changed my life.: Two years ago, I was feeling very unsure and frustrated about my future. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree, and Stephen and I were actually in the middle of a breakup at the time. I was very lost. So I turned to the Lord. I asked Him for revelation every day, and every day, I hungered for it. I searched for promptings from my Heavenly Father, and it got to a point where every day, I received revelation. Sometimes it was little things—write a note to your Relief Society president, work on being patient today, consider your blessings. But after months of this hungering after revelation, I began to sense a bigger prompting. It came to me clearly one night in the middle of July: “Prepare to make covenants in the temple.” Now, I had wanted to do this for some time, in fact, every time I moved to a new singles ward, I’d ask my new stake president, but they had all refused because I was under 25 and wasn’t going on a mission. But I knew this revelation was true. I didn’t know how, but I knew it would happen. So I read every church book I could, I studied the scriptures, and I prepared more than ever to enter the temple. Two months later, Stephen and I started dating again, four months after that, he proposed, and eleven days after he proposed, I was able to enter the temple to receive my endowments. I had no idea Stephen and I would ever get back together, which, I’m so grateful we did, but I knew I would be entering the temple, and, after coming closer and closer to my Heavenly Father through praying and listening, I was able to prepare to make it one of the most sacred and holy experiences of my life.

You as well can have sacred and holy experiences in the temple. It is literally God's house, and He will visit you in clear and personal ways to ensure you are the most effective instrument you can be in building up His kingdom.

DON'T think about yourself
President Uchtdorf noted, humility does not mean thinking less of yourself, but, rather, less about yourself. Of course! When we think about ourselves all the time, we are always focused on our own well being, which, counterintuitively, means our well being will not be healthy. Elder Maxwell wisely said, “If we are always selfishly taking our temperature to see if we are happy, we will not be.”


This is especially true to me when I am concerned with my status at work. I have mentioned before how easy it is to compare and compete with my fellow writers when we are submitting scripts to our show. When I've gone two or three weeks without writing a real winner, it is easy to feel discouraged, useless, and envious. However, that will not make the show better! Every time I realize this, I feel so silly for wasting so much time in self-deprecation and pity parties. Elder Maxwell described the process as becoming "mired in the ooze of self pity" ("Meek and Lowly").

Let us break free from this ooze we let ourselves slip into when we are consumed with our well being! When we are meek and lowly, when we stop thinking about how well we compare to others, when we recognize that God loves us INFINITELY and that our worth does not change in His eyes, we can then make ourselves useful and do good!

DO think about others
Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave a wonderful talk about the process of conversion. In it, he stated,
To be converted, you must not only open your heart to a knowledge of the gospel and the love of God, you must practice the gospel law. You cannot fully understand or appreciate it unless you personally apply it in your life. Jesus said that He came to serve, not to be served. So it must be with you. You must look outward and care about others. You can be compassionate; you can be friendly; you can share; you can help others in a hundred small ways. As you do, the gospel of Jesus Christ will become a part of you. ("When Thou Art Converted," emphasis added)
I know that the times I am most happy are those when I am fixated on helping those around me. When I am always concerned with my brothers and sisters, I am less bogged down by my own trials. I am less discouraged by my own shortcomings. I am less halted by my own distractions. In addition to prayer and scripture study, this could be the most important way of getting out of the funks in which we've put ourselves. When you serve others, you take on the mindset that is most like our Heavenly Father's.

WHEW! I am sorry for such a long post. But I'm not. Because I've learned much from my research, and this is just the thing I've needed to jumpstart my enthusiasm for the Gospel and for my own progression in it! Feel the light and joy and peace that lift you up when you make good decisions! Recognize that that is the way of the Lord! I want to end with a focus on this happiness that comes from righteous living. As it says in Mosiah 2:41, “Consider on the BLESSED and HAPPY state of those that keep the commandments of God. For . . . they are blessed in all things . . . ; and if they hold out faithful to the end . . . they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.”

Sheri Dew muses on this scripture, saying, “Satan no doubt bristles at this principle, for happiness is something the ultimate narcissist will never experience. I have yet to meet the man or woman who is happier because he or she was dishonest or because they were addicted to something or because they were immoral. The Lord blessed us with covenants that keep us on the straight and narrow path because this road less traveled is actually the easier road. It is so much easier to be righteous than to sin.”

Friends, I promise you, the path of the gospel is so much easier, freer, and more joyful than any lost and stumbling trail we may blaze on our own. Kick yourself in the pants, light a fire under your bum. Get reading, get praying, and GET MOVING! Our loving Heavenly Father and His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, are waiting to bless you with unfathomable joy, peace, and power that come from the faith to follow them.




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Skittles on the left. Ahab on the right

By the way, we got two goats named Skittles and Ahab (pronounced "EY-HAB" from Moby Dick). They are my pride and joy and I love them. (:

2 comments:

Lisa Bacigalupi said...

Wow, thank you for sharing this! I really needed to hear this at this time! I am grateful for the Savior and His restored gospel. Thank you for all of the amazing reminders from prophets and apostles. I also appreciate your sharing of your personal goals, such great ideas. I hope my husband will want to join me in studying. ;)

Lisa Bacigalupi said...

P.S. Your goats are darling!!