Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Teachers (like me) that Talk Too Much

In Alma 18:20-23 King Lamoni speaks words worth gold to a teacher or a missionary. After inviting Ammon to speak boldly, Lamoni assured Ammon "Yea, I will believe all thy words." I think Ammon's actions up to this point had all helped Lamoni to prepare his heart to receive his words. Ammon practiced patient teaching, which I think is one of the most difficult teaching skills that we can learn.

It is amazing to me that up to this point Ammon still hasn't preached anything. He still hasn't taught or rebuked or testified. His actions have done all the talking and everyone around him is confused by his power.

I think that by speaking up too soon he would have undermined the preparation of the people's hearts. The longer he went serving and living and acting by the Spirit, the more and more they wondered what his purpose and message was.

I wonder if occasionally we undermine our own efforts by saying too much and doing too little. I think that Ammon could have really weakened the Spirit's working on Lamoni by cutting him short in the preparation of his heart. Even after Lamoni asked him a question, Ammon still didn't immediately go into preaching mode. He answered it simply in a way that led to even more questions.

I think that the success of Ammon and all missionaries can only come when the hearts of those they teach are broken and ready. For a king who had committed so much sin, Ammon continued to wait for his heart to break until well after most of us would normally wait. I think this is what makes teaching an act of faith. It is an act of timing. It is not a science but an art!

I think that I need to learn the skill of patience. I need to learn how to listen and observe until Spirit says move, then move.

The patient teacher changes lives, while the hasty one can undermine the Spirit in fulfilling it's role. As we are patient and avoid rushing, we can better help others to prepare their hearts to receive. The Spirit can help us to know what we need to do to help others receive the gospel.

I believe I need to find more ways to share the gospel with others. But I can't do it in the world's way, I have to do it in the Lord's way. I think Ammon is a great example of how to prepare others to hear the gospel. He started with love and acceptance, then used the gospel to overcome challenges and to help others. He then proved his own character by both remembering and executing the king's commands, he then let the king ask questions and he didn't rush in and preach his ears off once he showed some interest. He also was ok to wait for a long time and listen closely to the king's questions and concerns.

I've always loved this paragraph under "Listen" from chapter 10 of Preach My Gospel:  
"While others talk to you, avoid the tendency to think about what you are going to say. Make sure you are really concentrating on the person speaking rather than planning your response. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught: “More important than speaking is listening. These people are not lifeless objects disguised as a baptismal statistic. They are children of God, our brothers and sisters, and they need what we have. Be genuine. Reach out sincerely. Ask these friends what matters most to them. What do they cherish, and what do they hold dear? And then listen. If the setting is right, you might ask what their fears are, what they yearn for, or what they feel is missing in their lives. I promise you that something in what they say will always highlight a truth of the gospel about which you can bear testimony and about which you can then offer more. … If we listen with love, we won’t need to wonder what to say. It will be given to us--by the Spirit and by our friends” (“Witnesses unto Me,” Ensign, May 2001, 15; italics in original).

Teaching moment: Set an example of being a good listener by fighting the tendency to interrupt people, cut them off, or finish their sentences for them. Ask genuine questions rather than trying to make comments or share your own similar experiences. Get comfortable waiting quietly and attentively for others to finish their thoughts or share additional thoughts. In an appropriate moment, teach the importance of this skill to a child. Help them practice asking questions that invite others to talk rather than talking about themselves. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

No More Treating Others "Fairly"

"15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.


16 And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption."

(Alma 34:15-16)


Mercy overpowers justice but cannot rob it. Maybe a better way for me to think of it is that mercy overshadows or covers justice. It doesn't overpower justice by disregarding or ignoring it. It can overpower justice only because justice is satisfied. In other words, justice is the foundation upon which mercy is built, it cannot be ignored or destroyed, it can only be covered by mercy. 


I think as far as my life goes, I could almost completely focus on being merciful and trust that the Lord will take care of justice. If I am going to make a mistake on one side or the other I would be best off to err on the side of mercy and allow the Lord to deal out justice. I already know that justice will be satisfied in my case either by my own payment or by the Savior's. What remains to be seen is how much mercy I will receive. We know from the scriptures that we can actually influence our own judgement. The Lord taught that we will be judged with that same judgement with which we judge others. When the Lord goes to measure out rewards, He will use the same scale with which I have measured out judgment in my life. If I have been abundantly merciful and generous with my forgiveness and compassion, it is just for Him to use the same measurement in His judgment of me! 


In this way, it is fair for Him to use an unfair scale, because it is the scale I have always used in my judgment of my fellow men. This is how we qualify for mercy, by being merciful. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Christ taught that if we forgive men their trespasses, the Lord will forgive us our trespasses, but if not, we will not receive forgiveness. 


This is one reason why it is not only required, but wise of us to forgive all men. It shifts the scales in our behalf and allows The Lord to apply mercy in our judgment. It is only fair that He judge us using our own scale. That is the only just way. 


There is a Proverb about how to treat your enemies. It says something about how being kind to your enemies heaps coals upon their heads. While it is not my goal to heap coals on the heads of others, I do desire to have the coals of judgment removed from my head. The Savior also taught us to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile with he who compels you to go one, and to give the cloak also to the man that sues you for your coat. This counsel all makes sense when you consider these truths about mercy and judgment. If you hope the Lord will give you better than you deserve, you should give others better than they deserve. The more merciful you are to those who have treated you poorly, the more you shift the scales in your favor.


The Lord has told us that judgment is His. In fact He employeth no servant there. I am so grateful for this truth. I'm so glad to know that I will not be put in a position to be the judge for another, God will take care of that. Knowing this, I can do my very best to judge righteously, erring on the side of mercy, and trust that He will take care of justice. What a huge blessing and relief. I don't want to treat others fairly, I always want to err on the side of treating others much better than I think they deserve.


Teaching moment: Have a child evaluate someone else's performance of a job/chore. Invite them to find everything that has been done wrong or poorly. Invite them to do it again and look for everything that was done well or correctly. You could have them decide how much of a reward/payment ought to be given to this person after each evaluation. Ask them which way they would rather be rewarded by the Lord. Teach them that God judges us based on how we judge others (Matthew 7:2).


Alma 34:15-15, 27-29

Matthew 5:7, 38-48

Matthew 6:12-15

Matthew 7:1-5

Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew 25:31-46

Proverbs 25:21-22

D&C 64:8-11

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Is this a Prompting or am I just Paranoid?

One of the most common questions that is asked about the Spirit is how we can tell whether or not a prompting is coming from the Spirit or whether it is simply the product of my own thoughts. The most common answer that is given is that if a thought leads you to do good, follow it. If you feel a prompting to take a treat to a neighbor, whether it comes from the Spirit or oneself is irrelevant because every good thing (or thought) originates from Christ anyway. This answer is simple and true, it seems to remove all questions regarding recognizing the Spirit. However, the question continues to be asked, how can I tell? This is because not all promptings are obviously good or bad. The prompting to visit a widow or help someone with a car problem can be easily attributed to the Spirit, but what about the prompting to go to the grocery store at 2:00 AM? What if you feel like you should return home early from a trip or avoid a trip altogether? What about the promptings to back out of a home purchase before signing the contract or to move to a new city? These kinds of promptings can have major consequences that range from inconvenient to disasterous, yet they are not so easy to judge as good or bad. Going to the store at 2:00 AM isn't inherently good or bad, it's morally neutral. I believe these are the promptings that confuse us and prompt the questions about recognizing the Spirit.

The truth is that voice matters more than message. There is no real pattern (other than the one already mentioned) that you can apply to the prompting to know whether it comes from God. You won't always be able to know by the message, sometimes the only way to know is by the voice that gives it. We must become so familiar with the Lord that we recognize His voice clearly and distinctly from all other voices. This is a process that takes a lot of time and effort.

It reminds me of the story told by Elder Allan F. Packer:
“When I was a young man in high school, one of my passions was American football. I played middle linebacker. The coach worked the team hard, teaching us the basics. We practiced until the skills became natural and automatic. During one play against our biggest rival, I had an experience that has helped me over the years. We were on defense. I knew my assigned opponent, and as the play unfolded, he moved to my right into the line of scrimmage. There was a lot of noise from players and fans. I reacted as the coach had taught us and followed my man into the line, not knowing if he had the ball. To my surprise, I felt the ball partially in my hands. I gave it a tug, but my opponent didn’t let go. As we tugged back and forth, amid all the noise I heard a voice yelling, ‘Packer, tackle him!’ That was enough to bring me to my senses, so I dropped him on the spot.

“I have wondered how I heard that voice above all the other noise. I had become acquainted with the voice of the coach during the practices, and I had learned to trust it. I knew that what he taught worked.

“We need to be acquainted with the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and we need to practice and apply gospel teachings until they become natural and automatic. These promptings become the foundation of our testimonies” (“Finding Strength in Challenging Times!” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 17).

In Elder Packer's story, the right action wasn't discernible by an analysis of the many messages being shouted but because he recognized the voice of his coach. 

I think that the question "how do I know whether a prompting comes from God or not?" is fundamentally flawed because it focuses on the prompting itself rather than the voice which is the only true way to know. Perhaps it would be more useful to ask, "how can I better recognize the Lord's voice when He speaks to me?"

Answers to this question come much more readily and in abundance, I have a few thoughts in response. 

1. Failing doesn't make me a failure
Remembering that the Savior's Atonement means that there is no mistake I can make that He can't fix gives me the freedom to fail without being a failure. "Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free." How do we honor the freedom Christ purchased with His sacrifice? I think we stand fast in freedom when we replace the fear of ruining things with the faith of trying things. For example, while the prompting to share the gospel or my testimony is obviously good, I have at times wondered whether what I say or how I say it will offend someone and therefore cause negative results. When I understand that Christ can fix any unforeseen consequences, I am free to try to do what's right without having to fear permanent damage. In other words, Christ purchased the freedom to try. To stand fast in that freedom means to not attempt to seek answers by thinking that ought to be obtained by doing. Faith means action and there is no shortcut to recognizing God's voice. It cannot be done by study alone, but also by faith, or action. This means that in the situation I mentioned, I share my testimony and trust that if I fail, God can fix the problems and I can learn a better way to try it next time.

2. Move your feet and keep your ears open.
We must learn to keep walking and continue to listen. Sometimes the answers to our questions are not visible from our current position. We may keep praying for the Lord to tell us which way to go when if we would only take two steps in any direction we would realize that we were standing directly behind a tree and the way to go would become obvious. Sometimes the answer is movement, or a change of position. Too often we fall victim to paralysis by analysis. We can debate all day about what could or couldn't be behind the tree or we could take two steps and know for sure. There is no substitute for work and motion.
“What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of [Heavenly Father’s] trust. When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust. As you are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, one of two things will certainly occur at the appropriate time: either the stupor of thought will come, indicating an improper choice, or the peace or the burning in the bosom will be felt, confirming that your choice was correct. When you are living righteously and are acting with trust, God will not let you proceed too far without a warning impression if you have made the wrong decision.”
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign, May 2007, 10.
3. There is no substitute for time on the lake.
When my dad first took me fishing he taught me that I would know when I had a bite because the tip of my pole would pull down or shake. I would watch and wait and when it would move I would yank the pole and start reeling like crazy. Most the time I found no fish on my hook. I soon learned that a pull on the rod could be actually be caused by many things, including waves, snags or a brother kicking the pole from behind. While I have not become as much of a master fisherman as I would like to be, I have learned that there is no substitute for time on the lake. Others can describe to me exactly how the pole will react or how I should respond, but in reality I will not learn to be a great fisherman until I get the feel for fishing. 
A few weeks ago I fished with my brother who fishes almost on a daily basis. I caught two fish. Both times I was not even sure I had caught anything until I had reeled the fish for a while. As it grew darker I strained to watch the line to see when it grew tight. I stooped close to the water to try to see my line in the sunlight. As he stood upright and reeled like a normal person I asked him how he could see his line. He told me he doesn't really look at the line, he just feels the fish when they bite. While I struggled to fish in the dark he went right on fishing as usual. I realized that while he could describe to me what I would see and feel when I had a fish on, the only real way to know was to spend time in the water learning to feel the difference. I would probably reel a lot of bites with no fish and probably catch a few fish I didn't know were biting, but in the process I would learn to recognize the difference. I believe the same is true of the Spirit. We can ask what it feels like and others can describe it, which helps, but the only real way to know is to "spend time on the lake." 
Teaching moment: take your child fishing. Explain to them that fishing takes time and practice. Encourage them to set the hook and reel if they feel they think they might have a bite and that they will soon come to recognize the difference. Discuss parallels to promptings of the Spirit.
Have a child stand behind a large obstacle. Ask them if they know what is behind it. Invite them to guess. Have them step to the side and look behind the object. Explain that while we should ask for help, sometimes the true answer will only come after we move in faith and that often the direction of the movement doesn't matter as much as the fact that you're moving. Dicscuss how faith is a willingness to act or move.
Possible scriptures:
Mosiah 5:14
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Alma 5:37-38
1 Kings 19:11-13 
Galatians 5:1


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Will I Be Happy When I Die?

The other day I was reading about how the wicked who die will enter a state of misery and sorrow in the next life. I have also read many scriptures that teach that the spirit which possesses us when we die will be the same spirit and that those who are happy will be happy still and those who are miserable will be miserable still. I've wondered how it's possible that both of these teachings could be true. How can we continue in whatever state we are in and yet the wicked be miserable and the righteous happy. In many cases it seems that the wicked are quite content with their lives, even happy. What happens when they die? Do they enter a state of misery or do they continue in the state of contentment and happiness they experience here?

I think the answer lies in our understanding of what happiness means. Happiness is the health of the spirit. What we usually refer to as happiness is not actually happiness. What we often describe instead are the symptoms of happiness, how my mortal body feels.

Just as I might say I am healthy because I see no signs of poor health, I might say I'm happy because I don't feel any of the symptoms of unhappiness. In both cases I may be right or wrong, what I am calling health or happiness is actually my best guess  at how happy I am based on my symptoms. I may have a serious medical condition that, if I were aware of it, would change my assessment of my health entirely.

The same is true of happiness. While I may feel no symptoms of unhappiness, I do not have a full knowledge of how happy I am right now. There is a delay in the signal from my Spirit to my mortal senses. Sometimes I do not realize that my spirit is unhappy until long after it has become unhappy. Alma said wickedness never was happiness. That means that as soon as I've sinned, I have become less happy. I do not always sense that immediately though because I have a body which delays that message. This delay is a great blessing. It allows us to correct our unhappiness before the full pain of the consequences takes effects. It also is the only way that we can learn to live by faith. The body is the main faith-building tool we have. Without it, I could immediately see that my spirit is happier when I obey and less happy when I disobey. This would mean that I make choices based on immediate consequences and never gain the ability to see using my eyes of faith. 

This is why I believe both statements about death are true. Those who are happy will be happy still, but those who are miserable shall be miserable still. The truth is that while wickedness may not always feel unhappy, wickedness never was happiness. The health of the Spirit is immediately influenced by the good and bad choices we make. 

The Lord prolonged our days so that the consequences of our choices would not follow immediately, thus we could learn to use our faith. We were given mortal bodies which delayed and veiled our full understanding of the condition of our spirits. 

So why will the wicked be miserable when they die? It is because they will no longer have a body to soften and veil the symptoms of their unhappiness. In essence, have a body allows us to numb ourselves to the condition of our spirits, like a painkiller. 

While painkillers can be a blessing so that we can fix injuries while alleviating pain, they can also be a challenge when they are used to shield ourselves from the truth about our health. In the same way, the body can be used to numb the pain of sin, which can be a blessing as we seek to repent, but we can often abuse the body's numbing power to shield us from an awareness of our own spiritual health. 

There are all kinds of ways to distract oneself from the pain of sin. Most of them involve turning up the volume in some form. Music, laughter, activity, video games, distraction, anger, aggression, pride, pleasure, lust, hunger, drugs. Many who are unhealthy in spirit will increase the volume in areas like these so that they don't have to hear the whisper of the Spirit, telling the truth about their condition.

When the wicked die, they lose access to their painkiller (the body). They can no longer numb themselves or hide the condition of their spirit because spirit is all they are. The full effect of their wicked and unhealthy lifestyle is now immediately brought upon them. It's not that the Lord imposes some form of outside punishment on them, but that they are punished by their own choices. 

Those who have taken the time to address their spiritual health and care for themselves continue to enjoy the happiness they had developed in life. Losing their body (painkillers) does not bother them because they maximized their time in life by healing the conditions rather than numbing the symptoms. 

Teaching moment: teach a child the difference between medicine that heals the problem and medicine that numbs the pain. Explain that without healing the problem, numbing will only work temporarily and can actually lead to greater pain. The dentist might be an easy example to use because the numbness very noticeable and most people have experienced it.

Scriptures:

President Henry B. Eyring
"Every person born into the world receives the Light of Christ, which helps us see and feel what is right and what is wrong. God has sent mortal servants who can, by the Holy Ghost, help us recognize what He would have us do and what He forbids. God makes it attractive to choose the right by letting us feel the effects of our choices. If we choose the right, we will find happiness—in time. If we choose evil, there comes sorrow and regret—in time. Those effects are sure. Yet they are often delayed for a purpose. If the blessings were immediate, choosing the right would not build faith. And since sorrow is also sometimes greatly delayed, it takes faith to feel the need to seek forgiveness for sin early rather than after we feel its sorrowful and painful effects." (A Priceless Heritage of Hope)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Amulek Could do what Alma Couldn't

I have wondered why this sermon had this particular effect on the people and especially on Zeezrom. It seemed like a pretty awesome talk on the Atonement and the judgment. I'm sure the truths of the judgment and remembering our guilt were impactful but I'd think Alma would already have taught them that they would be judged by their works. I think the effect of this sermon is a result of multiple factors. I think there are at least three reasons why this sermon astonished them and made them tremble. 1) what was said 2) who said it and 3) how he said it.

Like I mentioned, I could see how this content would be meaningful in this situation since the people are wicked and Amulek speaks of the judgment and the Atonement. But also like I mentioned, I don't think this information was new or that it hadn't already been taught or told to them by Alma. 

I think that part of the powerful effect of this sermon was due to who gave it. Amulek was one of the people of the city. He was not a stranger or a foreigner. He was not a general authority of the church. He was a local business man. He knew the ways of Ammonihah and was a part of that culture. I believe that part of the power in his message came from the fact that he was just some guy who people knew that was now speaking with power and conviction. The people had known Amulek before Alma showed up and this new Amulek was different. He was powerful, knowledgeable and courageous.

The biggest part of his power came from the way he delivered his sermon. This story has mentioned over and over again that Alma an Amulek taught only that which the Spirit directed them to teach. Amulek's message was exactly what The Lord wanted to be said. He was speaking by the spirit and so he spoke in the name of Christ and the people could feel it. This, combined with the fact that Amulek was a local businessman astonished the people. They could not believe that they were being taught with such power by one with so little formal spiritual training and gospel knowledge. It is interesting that Amulek took on Zeezrom first. Alma didn't jump in and say "hey I'm the prophet, I've got a bit more experience, maybe I should take this guy on and you can do some street preaching later or something."

Alma didn't jump in and help, he let The Lord show the people that their strongest most learned man couldn't outsmart the weakest and commonest man when he had the spirit of God with him.

This is what I think astonished the people, a weak and common man speaking by the Spirit could not be tricked, bribed or deceived by their greatest and most knowledgeable and talented lawyer. Something impossible had happened before their eyes and they could not deny it. They had no choice but to reevaluate their beliefs about the world because it was so obvious that what they believed was absolutely incompatible with reality. What had just happened was incompatible with "what they knew", but because they couldn't deny that it had happened, they had no choice but to question "what they knew."

Alma could not teach these people before because the fact that they didn't know him and that he was the leader of the church (a fact which they reminded him of and used as a source of anger towards him earlier) made it easy for them to dismiss his testimony and ignore his spirit. 

When Amulek joined the cause, he made it impossible for them to deny. His conversion was indisputable. Amulek, a common man, a local, and one who had previously been uncommitted to the cause of the gospel had now become the gamechanger. He did something Alma could not do, not because Alma wasn't good enough, but ironically because he wasn't weak enough. Amulek's weakness is exactly what showed the people God's strength. Because his weakness was a stark contrast with the power of his words, the people were astonished.

I believe there are things that can only be done by the Lord's weakest servants. His greatest, strongest, most refined and learned servants sometimes cannot do what a weak, young, inexperienced yet converted servant can do. For no fault of the servant himself, the experience and wisdom of the refined servant can make it easy for people to dismiss his words because wisdom and experience are too closely tied to the way men view strength from a mortal perspective. It is too similar too the way the worldly persuade. God's way of persuading is much different than the worlds, He needs fools and weaklings so that the world cannot so easily deny the miracles done in His name. 

Fools and children like Moses, Samuel, Daniel, Joseph Smith, Enoch and Amulek. People who the world calls weak. That is the Lord's way. Weakness is His strength.

I saw this recently in stake conference. Over two days I heard many talks from powerful leaders in our stake. They gave inspiring and wonderful messages. The one that moved me most though was given by a humble, ordinary looking member of our stake. He had no calling of importance that I know of, he had no special training or mode of speaking. His entire talk was really more of a testimony. He spoke of how how after hearing a talk by our stake president, he felt inspired to transform his casual approach to scripture study into a passionate quest. He spoke of the way he had changed. He had created a study room and a study process that he used to feast on the word of God. His testimony was powerful but it was humble. It was direct and to the point and it was honest. It was not eloquent, just true. I particularly remember him taking about how he had been an avid fly fisherman before and since the change in his study he said that this hobby had pretty much disappeared. He lost interest in it, he didn't need it anymore. For some reason this was one of the most interesting parts of his talk. I think when he talked about fly fishing, I may have felt about him similar as some people felt about Amulek. I thought "this is such an ordinary guy." This gave his testimony the power I felt. 

While I loved all the messages at conference, it was this modern day Amulek who touched me deepest.
I had not considered, but now I can see, that my weakness is my greatest strength. It is what allows the Lord to show His strength. As Paul said, "when I am weak, then I am strong."

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Learning Pattern of Acting

Learning by study and also by faith. Real learning is an act of both the body and the mind. In fact, while we mostly associate knowledge with the mind, it is usually best produced by the use of our bodies. The use of the body shapes the mind and prepares it to receive and retain light and knowledge. Preparation and application are the keys to gaining light and truth.

I have been pondering how important it is to identify specific actions that I can do in order to act on what I know. I have realized that so much of the power of my scripture study is lost when I fail to convert it into action that changes me. For example, I might say after studying my scriptures that I will be more kind. While I might say I have set a goal to act, all I have done is made a wish about how to react because I'm too lazy to or don't know how to make a commitment to act. If the goal is to bind ourselves to act, then I must have something real to bind myself to. How do I bind myself to act "more kindly?" There is nothing concrete to anchor my commitment to, it is a wish about how I will react. So how do I turn a wishful reaction into a concrete action? I must seek inspiration to specify my goal. For example, to whom will I be more kind? When? And how? What will I do? If I can answer these questions then I am much closer to a true action. 

I have found that the Lord has provided a perfect learning laboratory in which I can constantly practice my gospel actions. It is called the family. This is the ideal place to apply gospel principles. Almost always when I ask the questions "to whom will I be kinder?" "When will I be kinder to them?" And "what will I do to show more kindness?" The first answer that comes to mind relates to my family. For me, usually my wife. 

I think this pattern of acting to become what I am learning is really essential to my growth. For example tonight I attended a fireside in which President Brown spoke about family history. I left feeling that I should do better at family history. But I did not set a goal. I simply said, I will do better. When will I do better? How will I do better? What specifically could I do to be better? I realized that I rarely set real goals based on what I've learned. Most of my goals are actually wishes. I am not binding myself to act in holiness, I am wishing I was better at reacting in all holiness. I think that this approach requires that I recognize two objectives that lead to change. Knowing which one I am struggling with will show me what path to take towards improvement. 

The first objective is the formation of a habit. For many of my problem habits and behaviors, the solution is to develop a counter-habit. Good habits are an effort to tame the natural man, to reign him in. This is the value of a check yes or no approach to obedience. It provides a natural man incentive to defeat the natural man. The other objective is to make our habits holy, or to translate them to a higher plane. At this point I am not as focused on reigning in the natural man as I am on developing the strength of the spiritual man. This is where I move beyond the yes or no box into the realm of good better best. 

I must evaluate whether my struggle is one with bridling the natural man or of strengthening the Spiritual man. Obviously these two objectives are intertwined and affect each other. They are not separate, but by noticing the nature of my goal I can prescribe the appropriate remedy. For example, my goal is to be better at doing family history. Right now I believe my greatest resistance to that goal is in my natural tendency to procrastinate and be lazy. I tend to be lazy in the mental effort it takes to prioritize my time and to be lazy in the effort it takes to actually do the work. I believe I have a testimony of family history and temple work but it has reached it's highest potential growth based on the action I have put into it. My next course of action is to bridle the natural man. So I will set a specific goal to at least log in to my family search account once a day. This one small action may seem insignificant, but to be honest, it is much more than I am doing currently. And ironically the reason I am doing so little now is that I feel there is far too much to do! When I have mastered my natural man to the point that logging on once a day is not difficult at all, I may choose to increase the level of effort to looking up an ancestor at least 5 generations back. That's all! 

I might see a goal like this and think it is useless because it accomplished nothing. But to be honest, while my goal is the taming of my natural man, I will be doing more than many are doing and infinity times more than I was doing before. Following this pattern I continue to bridle the natural man. In the mean time, I am attending my meetings, studying my scriptures, saying my prayers and strengthening my spiritual man. So I am working in both directions although my focus at this point is on the habit. 

As another example, I am currently in the habit of praying, reading, and writing in my journal every day. Those actions are second nature now and require little thought and usually much less willpower to at least do. So my goal with these is not as much to develop a habit as it is to strengthen the Spirit and improve the habit. This will lead to different goals and more experimentation with better methods. For example, because I do not need to worry about whether or not I will be saying my morning prayers today, I can set goals and try methods to improve them. Like pondering what questions I could ask the Lord to make my prayers more effective. Or how might kneeling upright, or speaking aloud or praying in a different location change my experience? What could I do to get myself into the proper mindset and the right attitude to have a meaningful conversation with God? What could I study in the scriptures to strengthen my understanding of how prayer works? These are all avenues I can explore to improve my prayers, which are now habitually ingrained. If I fall out of a habit, I start back at the place were I need to to redevelop it.

It is important to remember that we do not need to run faster than we have strength because this is one of the most tempting things for us to do and one of the most common reasons we fail to change.

When I first started running, I found a lot of excitement in seeing my fitness progress. Too soon I started focusing on beating my run times and running started to become something I dreaded. I stopped feeling a desire to go because I was too worried about beating my time. When I realized this I decided that instead of focusing on how fast I ran, I would just focus on enjoying developing the habit. I would work first on subduing the natural man until running itself was no longer daunting. I stopped timing each mile and focused instead on pushing myself at a slightly uncomfortable pace for a certain period of time. It wasn't about minutes per mile anymore it was just about minutes. Once I made this commitment, running became fun again and I started to feel less dread about going. My focus had changed because I realized that my natural man needed to be subdued before he could be chiseled.

Possible scriptures:
John 7:17
Ether 12:6, 12, 18
D&C 43:8-9

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Memories that Move Us

As Alma preaches to a falling people, he first reminds them of the captivity and struggles of their fathers. I find his questions interesting. "Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance?" Why did he ask that question instead of "do you remember?" How much remembrance must we retain in order for it to be sufficient? I think sufficient remembrance is enough to change your behavior. You have sufficient memory when memory moves you. 

In the way Alma is teaching it, memory is not something you have, it is a faith filled action. It is something you work to develop. I don't simply remember things, I seek to remember and I choose what to remember. My mind and my memory are shaped by the choices I make. 

This again comes back to agency. Memory is not thrust on us, especially a memory of righteous things. We work to create that memory and expand it. We shape it. We plant and nourish and reap the garden of the heart.

So is memory based in the mind or in the heart? I'm guessing both. The facts are stored in the mind but the emotional connection is stored in the heart. So in order to have a memory that changes me, I need to choose to take an experience from the realm of facts to the realm of feelings. The Spirit can do this for me. It can create an emotional charge to my memories that leaves an impression on my heart so that a memory now has emotive power. I read today that the word emotion means to move to action. It is emotion that moves us, not fact.

This also makes me think that sufficient isn't actually in reference to an amount of remembering but of a type, location and depth of memory. A memory that is sufficient to change me is one that is charged with feeling. It is emotive, meaning it moves me or puts me in motion. This means that a memory has sunk deeper into my soul than the thinking brain. It has sunk down into the heart. At this point gospel knowledge becomes gospel fuel that motivates-it is emotive. 

While Enos hunted in the woods he said that the words which he had often heard his father speak sank deep into his heart. I like the idea of his memories "sinking in" because there is not really a better way to describe the process of a thought or word slowly moving from the mind to the heart. This is the movement from knowledge to understanding. Every memory has two parts then, the facts and the feelings.

For Enos, the gospel which he had always known was sinking to a different location. This leads to my other thought about how to get a thought or memory from knowledge to feeling. I think it's another way to interpret Alma's question "have you sufficiently retained in remembrance?" I picture a chamber in the thinking brain labeled memory. I also picture that it has a sandy base into which thoughts can slowly sink. Whatever thought or memory is in this chamber represents what I am currently thinking about. When Alma says to retain certain events in remembrance sufficiently, I picture this thought or memory being allowed to remain in the chamber of thought long enough that it begins to sink. Distraction means I pull the thought back to the surface and momentarily replace it with another. When I return to the thought I must start afresh to let it sink in again. This is why distraction is so dangerous. It is also why pondering is one of the most powerful tools of learning. It is retaining a particular thought in remembrance with focused effort long enough to allow a thought to sink.

This describes well the experience of Joseph Smith. 

"Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture."

It was only after lengthy reflection and continually retaining this thought in remembrance that Joseph came to the conclusion to act on it.

I think I need to work on not only remembering things, but retaining them in remembrance until things (factual) become fuel (emotive). I will need to develop greater self discipline to keep distractions from uprooting my sinking memory.

Teaching moment: While baking a meal or treat, point out that in order for the ingredients to become what they're supposed to be, they must be allowed time to be changed by steady and constant heat. Putting the pan in the oven for 2 minutes 30 times does not have the same effect as baking it for 60 minutes. Discuss how the mind is like an oven and the importance of pondering and retaining inspired words and thoughts in remembrance. Discuss how distraction is like switching pans in and out of the mind and can prevent us from growing or being changed.

Possible ideas to teach: scriptures, study, church, faith, the Holy Ghost, pondering, repentance, change, testimony, learning, memory, habits, goals, change

Possible Scripture References:
Enos 1:1-8
JSH 1:8-14
2 Nephi 4:15-16
Deuteronomy 4:9
D&C 138:1-11
D&C 76:15-20
1 Samuel 3:1-10
3 Nephi 11:1-7