Saturday, April 26, 2008

Now Let Us Rejoice!

Mormons are becoming known all over the world for their humanitarian service. We show up in mass after hurricanes, floods, fires and we donate and assemble newborn kits, school kits, hygiene kits, quilts and anything else that is needed around the world. But that isn’t all, we turn out in neighborhoods whenever there is sickness, accident or even just to welcome new neighbors. We exchange home baked bread, cookies, casseroles, and make sure every family has plenty of ham and funeral potatoes after a death of a loved one.
Those of us who have grown up in the Church are very aware of the compassion and helpfulness of our brothers and sisters in the gospel and recognize this wonderful trait as a defining feature of our religion. When I was eleven, our house caught fire and neighbors and friends met our every need. Kind people supplied food, lodging, emotional support, and washed the smoke out of everything we salvaged from the fire. It was an amazing experience that left a lasting impression on my young mind.
As I grew older, I discovered that this ability to “weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15) and the desire to “bear one another's burdens, that they may be light,” and “to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort”, (Mosiah 18:8-9) are the marks of a good Christian. But in the New Testament, Paul also said that a good Christian should “Rejoice with them that do rejoice,” (Romans 12:15). I’m not so sure we are as good at that.
I noticed on the Relief Society website the other day a criticism of the Good News Minute. Some one said that it had turned into a brag session. Maybe that is true, but it has been my experience that if someone expresses a negative reality such as “I’m sad,” or “I’m lonely,” or “I just failed my math exam,” everyone is empathetic and goes out of their way to help. But if someone states a positive reality such as, “I’m happy,” or “I’ve got friends,” or “I got an A on my exam,” we call it bragging and turn away from them.
We have a need in our culture to learn to rejoice and to let others rejoice in their good fortune. It is a way of showing gratitude. Yes, sometimes rejoicing can turn into boasting, but wallowing in bad fortune can also turn into self-pity. The solution isn’t to label all good fortune boasting and try to stop others from rejoicing. The solution is to learn to share in the joy around us. As we do this it may surprise us how rejoicing with others increases our own joy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our Mentor, The Holy Ghost

The final principle we need to learn, exemplify, and minister is "How to yield to the influence of the Holy Ghost." The Holy Ghost has not yet received a physical body. He is a personage of spirit and a member of the Godhead. His job is to testify of the Father and the Son and guide, comfort, and sanctify us. The Light of Christ is given to all people to prompt them as to what is right and wrong, but the gift of the Holy Ghost is only given to those who are baptized and confirmed. The gift of the Holy Ghost entitles one to receive the companionship of the Holy Ghost whenever one is worthy. When the Holy Ghost is with us, he changes us from natural, carnal people to spiritual, holy people. As Parley P. Pratt once explained the Holy Ghost, "expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them by the gift of wisdom to their lawful use. . .It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feeling. It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, invigorates, and gives tone to the nerves. In short it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being." (Key to the Science of Theology, pp. 96-97)
It is easy to tell when the Holy Ghost is with you because negative emotions diminish. You don’t feel envy, jealousy, hatred, ill-will, discouragement or harbor desires to hurt anyone or to lie, steal, cheat, or do anything wrong. The adversary may tempt you with such thoughts, but if the Spirit is with you, you quickly dismiss negative thoughts and entertain only that which is good.
The mistake we often make, however, if that sometimes we tend to think that when the Holy Ghost is with us everything will be rosy and wonderful. But often the Holy Ghost pushes us out of our comfort zone and into new realms where we can grow into better people. If we trust in the Spirit to lead and change us, we will experience some stress, but it will always lead to being a better person. If we resist the Spirit, he leaves us and we are left to our own resources to survive in this world. The Spirit will guide us to overcome all negative traits, but we have to yield to his promptings in order to experience the mighty change.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Our Savior

In our quest to find peace in this life and exaltation in the future, the next thing we need to learn, exemplify, and minister concerns the mission of Jesus Christ. We need to know who He is, what He has done for us, and why we need Him. We learn of Him as we read scripture. Reading and rereading the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament are especially informative. As we read, we experience the Savior’s compassion, love, wisdom, and goodness. We catch a glimpse into His intense suffering, “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18).
As we read His words and the words of His prophets, we feel the magnificence of His Atonement, but what we sometimes miss is why we need Him. We take for granted the life He has made possible for us. We experience his grace and mercy daily and don’t stop to think about what life would be like without those blessings. As Jacob explains, if there had been no Savior, no Atonement, there could be no progression from misery to happiness, from death to life, and that would mean eternal bondage. “If the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself” (2 Nephi 9:8-9).
To really comprehend this, think about the very worst time in your life. Think about how terrible you felt, the darkness of the experience, the weight and horror of it. Now multiply those awful feelings by a hundred and that is what existence would be like always and eternally if there had been no Atonement.
Now think about the happiest experience of your life. Concentrate on the feelings of joy and light and love that happy experience brings to you. Savor it for a moment and then imagine how intense those feelings would be multiplied by a hundred. That is the light and joy of eternity that the Atonement of Jesus Christ made possible for us.
Without Jesus Christ our lives now and forever would be filled with darkness and misery. Because of Jesus Christ our lives are filled with grace, mercy, love, and peace. As we learn more about Him, live in a way that exemplifies what we know, and reach out to help others come to know Him, we grow in the very happiness He makes possible.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Agency and Others

When we understand agency it opens up whole new vistas of gospel knowledge. As I learned these things, it changed how I parented. I realized that I wasn’t the monitor of right and wrong. That’s the work of the Spirit. I also realized that when I manipulated or coerced or lectured too much I created so much "noise" my children couldn’t hear the Spirit speaking to them. My job wasn't to "pour" knowledge into them, but to create an environment where the Spirit could teach and direct them.
One of my first experiences with this was especially interesting. Breana was always a picky eater and I tried everything I could to make sure she got the proper nutrition. One day we came home a little late from running errands. Quickly I made her a tuna sandwich and then, to encourage her to eat it in time to leave for kindergarten, told her she could have ice cream as soon as it was finished. Then I went to the nursery to put the baby down for a nap.
Seconds later Breana came into the nursery and told me the sandwich was gone and could she have her ice cream. I knew she hadn’t eaten the sandwich, and at this point I would have normally begun to lecture her about honesty, the importance of good nutrition, being obedient, etc. But I had just learned about agency and realized that the light of Christ was working in her own heart and telling her what to do so instead of lecturing, I looked her in the eyes and said, "Breana, you know what is right and you know what is wrong." Then I went back to the baby.
What happened next astounded me. When I lectured, Breana always responded with a corresponding fit. You know how it goes, arguing that grows into demanding and down on the floor kicking and screaming. But this day she stared back at me as if I’d learned how to fly and quietly walked out of the room.
I finished putting the baby down and then filled with curiosity at the silence walked back to the dining room where I found Breana sitting on the floor Indian style eating the sandwich right out of the garbage can. While I try not to think about the sanitation aspects of that moment, I do think about what happened. Breana’s conscience (the light of Christ) led her to do what I had tried on countless occasions to do and had failed at. To this day (she is now in her late 30s!) she tells me how much she hated it when I told her it was up to her. She fast learned that it is much easier to argue with someone you think is imposing something upon you than it is to argue with your own heart. I learned that instead of helping my children, my behavior actually interfered with their ability to hear the Spirit speaking to them.
As we trust the Spirit to guide and facilitate that Spirit to speak to our children, spouse, friends, co-workers or anyone else we are dealing with, things work out better. Yes, sometimes they will choose incorrectly, but even that can be a great learning experience if we allow it to be.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Some News!

Just wanted those of you who are coming to the BYU Women's Conference to know I will be speaking on Friday May 2, at 11:00 in the Varsity Theatre on being a Life-Long Learner. I will also be speaking this year at BYU Education Week on "Good News!" I don't know the time or place for that yet, but when I do I'll post it! Thanks for all your comments and emails!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Agency - How It Works

In addition to spiritual consequences, the principle of moral agency also includes accountability and responsibility. To facilitate this, God has given us the light of Christ or what the world calls conscience. (See Moroni 7:16). Every healthy person has this light that tells them what choices are good and which are not. When we follow the light, we are at peace with ourselves and free to move forward. When we discard the light we are troubled and in chaos. We know we did something that betrayed our own heart (the light within us) and we don’t like living with the inner turmoil this causes. At this point we have two more choices. (1) We can repent and put ourselves back in the light, or (2) We can try all kinds of things to get the inner turmoil to stop. Two of the most common things we do to ease our conscience are to justify ourselves or try to forget what we have done. To justify ourselves, we rationalize that what we did isn’t all that bad, that other people are doing worse, that it is only this once, that we are really a good person–we just don’t always act that way, etc. We try to forget by indulging in pleasures. We eat chocolate, go to a movie, watch TV, go shopping, take a bubble bath, go golfing, or a myriad of other things that take our mind off what we have done. But pleasures are a diversion not a cure. The problem never goes away.
In either case if we choose not to repent, life becomes a constant battle. We are always working to prove ourselves, to increase our self-esteem, to create a self-image of us as a good person. It is a never ending job! It is emotionally and psychologically exhausting. On the other hand, when we do what is right or when we repent and set things right, the Spirit justifies or defends us. We don’t need to defend our own behavior because there is nothing to defend, and so we are at peace and in that state of peace we slowly take on the image of Christ. We become like Him.
Agency is a gift given to us to use. How we use it determines what we will become.