Monday, May 8, 2017

What the Scriptures Teach About Love

There is a connection between my obedience to commandments and my ability to love. 

King Benjamin taught his people to obey the commandments "that they might rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men" (Mosiah 2:4). Alma counseled Shiblon to bridle all his passions "that ye may be filled with love" (Alma 38:12). Paul taught that "the end of the commandment is charity" (1 Timothy 1:5). As we control our carnal desires and obey the commandments of God, our capacity to love is enhanced. The more I obey, the more I am capable of true love. For this reason, any effort in the world to promote love that is in opposition to God's commandments will not increase love, but destroy it.

Why does obedience bring love?

Paul taught that love is one of the fruits of the Spirit. This means that true love is not something I conjure, create, or stumble upon, it is a divine gift that is given by the Holy Ghost. True love goes beyond psychology, sociology or biology. It is spiritual in nature. 

Understanding this helps us see the connection between love and law. If love is a gift given by the Spirit, then that which invites the Spirit more abundantly will also increase my capacity to feel and show true love. On the other hand, Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught that sin "evicts the Holy Ghost from our soul. We lose the great value of His companionship, because He cannot abide in a sinful soul. And without His help, we then become less useful, less perceptive, less functional, and less loving human beings" (Reasons to Stay Pure, March 2003).

C. S. Lewis compared human souls to machines. He explained that commandments, or moral rules, are  "directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction in the running of that machine" (Mere Christianity, 1978 ed. p. 69). Not only does disobedience evict the Holy Ghost from the soul, but it also damages the soul itself. 

When I was a teenager, I remember seeing a Mormonad with a picture of a young man sitting at a piano wearing boxing gloves. The caption at the bottom read "Living with unresolved sin is like playing the piano with boxing gloves—because sin blunts our ability to feel. Let’s free up our lives and then play our part with style" (January 1986). Elder Maxwell said that "When we lose our capacity to feel, it is because we have destroyed the taste buds of the soul" (Reasons to Stay Pure, March 2003). 

Sometimes we are tempted to think that we must choose between love and keeping the commandments. The world often argues that commandments get in the way of love. It also argues that if I don't accept a dangerous behavior as acceptable, I am being hateful. It's frustrating to see a culture so obsessed with the idea of love that they completely disregard and reject the conditions that lead to love. As Elder Maxwell observed "To [commit sin], in the name of love, is to destroy something precious in order to celebrate its existence wrongly" (Reasons to Stay Pure, March 2003). This attitude about sin and obedience probably flows from a misunderstanding of the purpose of obedience. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf suggested that we might need to change our perspective about obedience.

"But perhaps there is a different metaphor that can explain why we obey the commandments of God. Maybe obedience is not so much the process of bending, twisting, and pounding our souls into something we are not. Instead, it is the process by which we discover what we truly are made of.

"We are created by the Almighty God. He is our Heavenly Father. We are literally His spirit children. We are made of supernal material most precious and highly refined, and thus we carry within ourselves the substance of divinity.

"Here on earth, however, our thoughts and actions become encumbered with that which is corrupt, unholy, and impure. The dust and filth of the world stain our souls, making it difficult to recognize and remember our birthright and purpose.

"But all this cannot change who we truly are. The fundamental divinity of our nature remains. And the moment we choose to incline our hearts to our beloved Savior and set foot upon the path of discipleship, something miraculous happens. The love of God fills our hearts, the light of truth fills our minds, we start to lose the desire to sin, and we do not want to walk any longer in darkness.

"We come to see obedience not as a punishment but as a liberating path to our divine destiny. And gradually, the corruption, dust, and limitations of this earth begin to fall away. Eventually, the priceless, eternal spirit of the heavenly being within us is revealed, and a radiance of goodness becomes our nature" (He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home, April 2016).

To see obedience in this way, we must have faith in God. We must do as King Benjamin counseled, which is to "Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend" (Mosiah 4:9). We must understand what the Lord meant when He said "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9).

When we don't believe or obey the commandments because we don't understand them, or because we think we have a better idea, it is often because we lack faith in Him- which is probably why faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. We sometimes assume that we actually know better how to care for the "human machine" than the one who created it. Infinite commandments don't always seem to make sense to finite minds. God is love, His commandments prepare us to love as He does, without the selfish and proud motives of worldly love.

In a talk about cultivating divine marital intimacy, Sister Nelson highlighted the importance of righteousness and purity for true love.
"Personal purity is the key to true love. The more pure your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions, the greater your capacity to give and receive true love" (Love and Marriage, January 2017).

Not only is the marital relationship enhanced by purity and obedience, but righteousness allows a depth of feeling and love in all our relationships that cannot be experienced by a sin-calloused spirit.

The two great commandments are "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind...And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39). As I draw closer to God, I become a more refined and loving person. Love of my neighbor grows from my love for God. I want to strive to draw closer to God so that I can also be a better husband, friend, brother and neighbor.

In my efforts to be a more loving person, I believe my greatest strategy would be to search my life for the areas in which I am either evicting the Spirit from my life or the areas where I am failing to invite Him as fully as I could.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Blessings Help, Gratitude Heals

Yesterday I read a talk by Elder Nelson titled "Thanks be to God." He began with a story and an observation that struck me.

"Recently, Sister Nelson and I enjoyed the beauty of tropical fish in a small private aquarium. Fish with vivid colors and of a variety of shapes and sizes darted back and forth. I asked the attendant nearby, 'Who provides food for these beautiful fish?'

"She responded, “I do.”

"Then I asked, 'Have they ever thanked you?'

She replied, 'Not yet!'

I thought of some people I know who are just as oblivious to their Creator and their true 'bread of life.' They live from day to day without an awareness of God and His goodness unto them. How much better it would be if all could be more aware of God’s providence and love and express that gratitude to Him...Our degree of gratitude is a measure of our love for Him."

The story of the fish tank and Elder Nelson's observation really impacted me. For most of my life I have been the fish in the tank that never even thinks to look up and see where my blessings are coming from. In fact, most the time I don't even stop to think about the fact that they are blessings.

Sometimes we become confused with thinking that because we've always had something, we have a right to it. To the fish, food wasn't a gift, it was an expectation. With this attitude we become entitled. I have spent most of my life asking God to give me what I don't have. I have rarely had the maturity or humility to really thank Him for what I already do have.

I looked this talk up yesterday after reading the story of the ten lepers. In that story, ten lepers plead with Jesus to heal them. He sends them to the priest to be pronounced clean. As they went, they were cleansed. Only one of those ten turned back to glorify God and thank the Savior. He recognized the great blessing he had been given.

The Savior told this man to go his way, "thy faith hath made thee whole." I thought about the difference between being "cleansed" and being "made whole." All ten were cleansed, only one was made whole.

As I pondered this, I realized why. How long would those 9 be satisfied with their lives? How long before they forgot the great blessing they had been given and again became dissatisfied? Would their rejoicing last? If they did not learn how to turn back and recognize God's hand in their lives, their joy would likely be temporary and short lived.

I believe that blessings help us but gratitude heals us. Receiving a gift makes us happy for a moment, gratitude for our gifts will make us happy forever. Without gratitude, no amount of blessings will be enough. With it, everything is enough.

I'm grateful for this story from the Bible. I'm grateful for the powerful message it teaches. I believe that getting what we want will make us happy for a moment, wanting what we have will make us happy forever.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"But Ver is Yo Powah?"

Several years ago, my wife, Tiah, got mono, and it completely drained her of her energy and strength. She was in a continual state of fatigue and lacked the strength for even the simplest tasks. Getting out of bed, eating, talking, working and even thinking were exhausting. After a few weeks, her strength began to return and eventually things went back to normal. I have also experienced illnesses that have made me weak. The very simplest tasks suddenly become very taxing and some become impossible. I remember during one illness passing out in the hallway as I was walking to the other room. I was amazed that I could be made so weak by such a small illness. These experiences have taught me a few lessons and came to mind as I studied today.

1) we usually don't appreciate the strength we live by until it is taken from us. I usually assume that I am in control of my strength and live by my own power-until it's gone.

2) often we don't realize that our strength is gone until we try to call upon it in a time of need. In other words, I didn't realize how weak I was while laying in bed, it was when I needed to walk that I learned the extent of my weakness.

Today I read a story where the prophet Nephi taught a people that had experienced a time of great economic and social success. Life was great for them. And because life was great, they did not need help. They became very wicked and rejected and ignored God. Nephi gave them a warning that really stood out to me. "The Lord will not grant unto you strength, as he has hitherto done, to withstand against your enemies."

In other words, "although life seems good right now, someday you will face challenges, enemies. When that time comes, you will find that you have no strength because you haven't fought these spiritual diseases. You have allowed yourselves to become vulnerable and weak." Of course at this time the people didn't believe him because they didn't know they were weak. Life was very easy for them and they didn't seem to lack anything they needed. They didn't need strength to lay in bed all day. But soon great challenges would come to them and they would find that walking in a storm requires much more strength than laying on a bed. The strength they thought they had would be completely insufficient.

President Packer told the story of a young man who learned that he did not have power when he needed it. 

"Years ago a family gathered at the bedside of an aged little Danish woman. Among them was her middle-aged, wayward son. For the past number of years he had been living at home.

Tearfully he pleaded, “Mama, you’ve got to live. Mama, you can’t die.” He said, “Mama, you can’t go. I won’t let you go.”

The little mother looked up at her son and in her broken Danish accent said, “But ver is yo powah?”--where is your power?"
(The Power of the Priesthood April 2010)

Jesus's disciples once felt that. Although they had done many mighty miracles and cast out devils in His name before, they encountered a boy with an affliction they could not heal. They could not cast the devil out of him. Jesus then came and cast the devil out. I can picture the disciples asking the same question as the little old mother "but where was our power?" Jesus told them that this particular affliction required greater strength. This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. Even the power to heal and perform many miracles had not been enough to prepare them for this greater challenge. We must never stop developing spiritual strength. 
(Matthew 17:14-21)

I have felt that too. When Tiah had mono, she asked me to give her a blessing. In that moment I realized that I had not been working very hard to develop my spiritual strength and I did not feel I had much power with which to bless her. That realization scared me. I never wanted to be left without sufficient power again. 
I learned that the spiritual strength I need to stand during a pleasant weather system in life is not enough when the storm rolls in. If I do not prepare in advance, I may find myself unable to stand. I must remind myself that the smartest builders build structures that will withstand the worst weather, not just the current weather. That is because life, like weather, changes. And if we build only to suit current conditions, we won't be ready for the storms.

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.


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)