Which Way Do I Face?

Hello, all! And Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! What a wonderful season, it is. (:

Whew! Been a while since the last blog. To be honest, I've stewed and stewed over posting for the last... wow! I just looked at the last spiritually-minded post I made (in JULY!) Okay! So, I've been slacking. But not just because of laziness--though, that most certainly is a weakness of mine that could've factored into the duration of my absence--but, no. More recently, I've wanted so much to post a blog on here to recharge my spiritual batteries! I gain so much from writing out my thoughts and reckoning my weaknesses so that I can gain a stronger resolve to strengthen those weaknesses and become more like Christ. However, I've recently been guilty of worrying about my surroundings, and how my thoughts might affect them. I know, I know, how very egocentric of me, but I worry some might see my posts as too preachy/didactic/ignorant/sappy/self righteous/brainwashed/old fashioned/"Utah"/et cetera, et cetera....

This fear has lurked in the back of my mind where I try to pretend it's not there and go about my business. However, I've realized that my own progression in the Gospel has been slowed, if not, reversed! I am not diligent in my scripture study, my prayers, or my patience/charity/love of others. Instead, I have ebbed and flowed in the habits I know bring me joy. I know that when I focus on following the teachings of my Savior, I am happier! My marriage is better! My job is more rewarding! I put exclamations at the end of these because even in studying to write this post, I feel like I've treated Stephen (and loved him) better today than I have all week (because I can be a Grumplestiltskins). Is that not proof enough that I should keep on keeping on?!

At any rate, I want to write again, if nothing but for myself, because it is one of those things that keeps me in line with everything else. Although, I attended my sister's ward a few months ago and she mentioned in her YW's class that she reads my blog, and that gave me some confidence that I can reach at least a few people. So I'm going to address the very problem that kept me from writing for so long:

fear and cynicism

First, the fear. I've already addressed this a little, but in church today, we talked about Elder Lynn G. Robbins' talk from October General Conference titled, "Which Way Do You Face?" He discusses at length the issue of overcoming fear of man when we know what God expects of us. It seems like such a biblical issue, doesn't it? Jonah feared preaching in the land of Ninevah, Peter feared the people who asked him if he was an Apostle of Jesus Christ's, Aaron lost hope that Moses would come down from Mount Sinai and built a golden calf, there are many examples that go way back. But this happens every day!

When I was younger, I used to be so proud to say, "I'm a Mormon!" I'd tell everyone I know. This was 1. Because I lived outside of Utah where Mormonism was a novelty. And 2. Because our church was known for humanitarian aid, Donny Osmond, and for sticking to our beliefs. Now, it's known for bigotry, discrimination, misogyny, homophobia, etc. Now, it's not always as easy to tell someone I'm Mormon because, frankly, I'm scared to face someone's judgment. I'm scared that people will accuse something I deem so sacred to be so foul. But, with this fear, I keep most of my beliefs to myself, and, in turn, ignore moments to share it, to ponder it, and to let it grow into something that is more than what it was. Elder Robbins says, “The true badge of courage is overcoming the fear of men.” I wholeheartedly agree. Which is why I'm sharing what is sacred and near to my heart. We must face our fears, because, as John Bytheway said, fear is nothing more than False Expectations Appearing Real.

Elder Robbins also discusses matters surrounding the leadership in our church, which is under considerable scrutiny. He says, “The scornful often accuse prophets of not living in the 21st century or of being bigoted. They attempt to persuade or even pressure the Church into lowering God’s standards to the level of their own inappropriate behavior, which in the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, will ‘develop self-contentment instead of seeking self-improvement.’” Oh! Elder Maxwell just puts it the best, doesn't he? And this is completely accurate! I am most offended at correction when it hits my core, when it strikes a nerve--when it is true and needed. We too often seek validation, justification, rationalization, and tolerance. Instead, we should be seeking motivation, purification, progression and challenges to better us as we meet them head on. We should not stay stagnant, but should ever be searching where we can improve.

Now, this process of ever searching can be a tiring ordeal, which is why we have help. I always forget that we have help:

The Holy Ghost (From the Church website)
The Holy Ghost works in perfect unity with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, fulfilling several roles to help us live righteously and receive the blessings of the gospel.

He reveals and teaches “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).

His communication to our spirit carries far more certainty than any communication we can receive through our natural senses.

The Holy Ghost can guide us in our decisions and protect us from physical and spiritual danger.

Through Him, we can receive gifts of the Spirit for our benefit and for the benefit of those we love and serve (see D&C 46:9-11).

He is the Comforter (John 14:26). As the soothing voice of a loving parent can quiet a crying child, the whisperings of the Spirit can calm our fears, hush the nagging worries of our life, and comfort us when we grieve. The Holy Ghost can fill us “with hope and perfect love” and “teach [us] the peaceable things of the kingdom” (Moroni 8:26; D&C 36:2).

Through His power, we are sanctified as we repent, receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, and remain true to our covenants (see Mosiah 5:1-6; 3 Nephi 27:20; Moses 6:64-68).

He is the Holy Spirit of Promise (see Ephesians 1:13; D&C 132:7, 18-19, 26). In this capacity, He confirms that the priesthood ordinances we have received and the covenants we have made are acceptable to God. This approval depends on our continued faithfulness.

The Savior taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). To the Nephites He said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Nephi 18:20).

Heavenly Father hears our prayers. He may not always answer as we expect, but He does answer—in His own time and according to His will. Because He knows what is best for us, He may sometimes answer no, even when our petitions are sincere.

Answers to prayer come in many ways. They often come through the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost (see “Revelation”). They may come in the circumstances of our lives or through the kind acts of those around us. As we continue to draw near to our Heavenly Father through prayer, we will recognize more readily His merciful and wise answers to our pleadings. We will find that He is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

The Enabling Power of the Atonement
We... need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us. I think most of us know that when we do things wrong, when we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to be made clean through His redeeming power. Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints—for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. I frankly do not think many of us “get it” concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.

Brothers and sisters, the gospel of the Savior is not simply about avoiding bad in our lives; it also is essentially about doing and becoming good. And the Atonement provides help for us to overcome and avoid bad and to do and become good. There is help from the Savior for the entire journey of life—from bad to good to better and to change our very nature. (David A. Bednar)

PART TWO: Cynicism

This has been a big weakness of mine. As Maxwell put it, “Just as doubt, despair, and desensitization go together, so do faith, hope, and charity. The latter, however, must be carefully and constantly nurtured, whereas despair, like dandelions, needs so little encouragement to sprout and spread. Despair comes so naturally to the natural man!” And cynicism really is a form of despair. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Stephen Colbert. He says,
Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”
Cynicism, when inhabiting the mind of someone who is "too clever" can be very dangerous, indeed. Maxwell elaborates, “One of the great risks of murmuring is that we can get too good at it, too clever. We can even acquire too large an audience.” It can turn any good thing into something not good enough. It can sap the exquisite joy from life's moments that are so ripe and full of rewards. It can turn any form of sincerity into a joke that makes us none the better for laughing at it. I know this. I know it, I know it... and yet I think this is one of my biggest temptations. So, for lack of a better method, I'm going to tackle my personal areas of cynicism by working through them with a different lens, perhaps a more accurate lens.

1. "Ignorant People"
I put this in quotes because who am I to deem people ignorant? But, I struggle with being cynical about people who seem less apt than me at a subject I believe in. Part of this comes from my passion for the subject at hand, but most of it comes from pride. For example, I love going to church. I love listening to good speakers and feeling rejuvenated while studying the words of God. However, I do not love sitting through a jokester on the stand who thinks he/she is there to make people laugh rather than to deliver words of God. I do not love people who teach straight from the manual and do not budge to make room for students in every stage of discipleship who might learn better from a more tailored lesson. I do not love listening to the tenth comment made by the talkative, opinionated, loud person in the front who wants everyone to know that he/she knows a lot. I want to go to church to learn. But, as a man in our stake presidency said in a Christmas fireside last week, we do not go to church to learn. We go to worship. And part of this worship consists of treating others as our Savior would treat them.

My stake leader went on to quote from "The Crucible of Doubt," written by Terryl and Fiona Givens. I haven't read this book, but I want to now. This is what he referenced:
We know that the main purpose of Sabbath observance is to partake of the Lord’s Supper. But we sometimes grow frustrated with all the peripherals. Lessons and talks are to some Mormons what cafeteria food is to teenagers–not just in the way they can be bland and boring, but in the way that they sometimes bring us together in mutual griping rather than mutual edification. But what if we saw lessons and talks as connections to the sacrament rather than as unrelated secondary activities? What if we saw them as opportunities to bear with one another our infirmities and ineptitudes? What if we saw the mediocre talk, the overbearing counselor, the lesson read straight from the manual, as a lay member’s equivalent of the widow’s mite? A humble offering, perhaps, but one to me measured in terms of the capacity of the giver rather than in the value received. 
Wow. I love looking through this lens. It makes so much more sense with my spirit that church is not a place to be prideful (nowhere is, in fact), but to worship together. It's as Elder Maxwell said,
When people “leave their nets straightway,” they come as they are—though in the initial process of changing, their luggage reflects their past. Hence, discipleship is a developmental journey that requires shared patience, understanding, and meekness on the part of all who join the caravan. Together we are disengaging from one world and preparing ourselves for another and far better world.
2. Clich├ęs
For some reason, I find it harder and harder to be affected by something I deem unoriginal. I always need something new and exciting to keep my attention, otherwise, it's easy to brush away an experience with the thought, "Don't get too into this like a high school girl who doodles the words, 'DREAM BIG' all over her binder." No, really, I've had thoughts like this, mostly because I was that girl in high school who liked to revel in what now seems like stupid things. In fact, I had a whole list written out of my favorite things. I found it in my files with the title, "Fancies," and have included it below for your viewing pleasure.

Now, my first reaction to this list is, "Ugh." However, why should I be so ashamed of things I legitimately loved when I was 15? Why should I ever look down on something just because it seems hackneyed or trite? It's a feeling! Feelings have been around since the beginning of time, and they've always been honestly felt. This is especially true of my testimony and feelings about the gospel, which brings me to my final cynical target...

3. Spiritual experiences
Don't get me wrong, I don't make it a habit to diss on people's spiritual experiences, but I've definitely adopted an attitude that deems ("Deem" is apparently the word of the day) some spiritual experiences to be "better" than others. I remember the moment I gained my first shred of self-sustaining testimony. I was 9 years old and my family and I were on a road trip. Our tire blew out while we were in the middle of nowhere and gave us all quite a scare. We didn't know if we'd make it to the next town to reach a mechanic and get the tire changed. I prayed that we would make it to town, and we did. Thus, I felt the Spirit give me peace and reassure me that God was looking out for us. It was a simple testimony, but I was sure of it.

Today, that experience may not communicate that principle to me as powerfully as it did. It might seem too simple, or too flimsy of an experience to sustain me to keep making the right choices. Similarly, when I hear people express gratitude for being there to see a streetlight turn off and see it as a sign that God is mindful of them, my first instinct is to scoff. I think, "That's what has fueled you in these turbulent times?" But, good gracious! Our God speaks to us all in ways that lift us up. Some ways are simpler than others, but we are all experiencing this mortal journey. We are all finding our way back to our Heavenly Father. We must not be so calloused as to rank the method with which our Father communicates to us what we need to hear!

It is during these musings that I wonder if these aspects of cynicism might be particularly tempting to people in my generation, especially those of us who are in the height of self discovery and have yet to find a path that demands more of ourselves than what is comfortable. Take having children, for example. A friend of mine (who has the best Instagram feed) posted something very insightful about her twin boys. She said,
"Sometimes I feel frustrated that my kids aren't more awestruck by things like the Grand Canyon- but the truth is, to them everything is amazing. The Grand Canyon isn't more magical or exciting than leaves changing color or finding a worm in the garden. The whole world is beautiful, incomprehensible, and full of wonder. The Grand Canyon is cool, but so is everything."
This makes me wonder if some of these opinions I battle will dissipate when I give of myself to something that requires more passion, service, and work than I know myself to have. Perhaps I will be less cynical when a child of my own discovers a street light turning off, or when they utter simple prayers that matter. I hope for this, but I still would like to start combating my follies now in case they do not change with the tides of life.

So, now I end with sincerity, and with new resolve to overcome my fear. Do not scoff at sincerity and the expression of it. Don't be afraid of the reaction of others to your sincerity. The gospel is sincere. It is real. In order to change you for the better, it requires of you real feelings of passion, devotion, and love. As President Monson cited from Sarah Ban Breathnach, “Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend.”

Although fear and cynicism are things with which I struggle greatly, I can already feel twinges of excitement as I think about my life ahead, how many truly beautifully and sincere experiences can touch me if I open my heart to my God and dive in head first.


Kelly said…
Thank you for this post Whitney. I especially like your thoughts on how we have our own spiritual journeys in life and what may mean the most to me, would not to someone else. Never really thought of that. Keep writing. And thanks for reminding me that I do too.
Pops said…
Wonderful post. I especially applaud your desire to open your eyes a bit more to spiritual experiences, no matter how they come packaged. We should never hesitate to recognize and treasure the hand of God, no matter how insignificant the miracle may seem. Because one of the greatest miracles is the fact that when we open our eyes, we find that every day is full of miracles from him...some big, some not so big... all of them testifying that he loves us. And isn't it awesome to think that we matter that much?
Mark said…
Great post Whitney! Cool to read spiritual musings from you! Fear and cynicism are tough challenges and I know I face them daily! Keep sharing goodness!
TAB III said…
This. This! This post hits on so many things that I relate to and know I need to improve on. The least of those is that I should probably write a proper blog post for the first time in almost two years, and the most is that I really need to stop looking down on... anyone or anything, really. So, thank you for the reminders.

By the way, you're definitely reaching people on this blog. Thanks for continuing to write here.
Emily said…
Your a Christian!?!?!
That makes watching your videos even a bigger blessing than before!!!
Hannah Calkins said…
Hello Whitney! My name is Hannah, I'm a big fan of Studio C and I just discovered your blog today. I am an aspiring writer and I recently started a blog of my own. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I have recently done a little research into the beliefs of the church of latter day saints. I know we differ on several beliefs, but I was wondering if there is a good way to start conversing with you a little bit? I would love to ask you some questions. My blog is also one of spiritual content and I'm wondering if you would even consider reading it? I know you keep busy, so I totally understand if you can't. Anyway I want you to know that I pray for you and the rest of the Studio C team and I hope to get to know you all better in some small way. If you want to check it out, my blog is shootingstraightblog.blogspot.com. Or you could even email me at shootingstraightconvos@gmail.com. :)
Beautiful looking-into topical spiritual issues. I have enjoyed reading the article! May God bless you for even more productive work!

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