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As I think about my own life, I have many reasons to rejoice: I am blessed with a knowledge of Heavenly Father’s perfect plan, I have a wonderful family, and we have an abundance of blessings. I can’t think of anyone with greater reason to be joyful. And yet, even though I wouldn’t consider myself depressed, I feel as though I am far from the level of joy that I could and should experience.
There are probably several reasons for my lack of rejoicing- perhaps I fail to truly recognize the significance of all of the blessings that I have been given (gratitude will probably be a topic for a future post). Perhaps my expectations for joy are unrealistic- after all, even those who strive to keep the commandments are not exempt from weaknesses or trials. Perhaps I suffer from the “grass is greener” syndrome where I compare myself with others that seem to be so much more happy than me, although I really have no way of knowing what they really experience. There are other contributing factors to my situation, but the one I want to focus on here is my heart.
For as long as I can remember, I have always made a conscious effort to do what is right. But, as I think about it (and I don’t think I’m much different than anyone else), whether it was going to church, participating in service projects, trying to be obedient, serving in various ways, etc., I believe that my main motivation was often (and still is to some extent) a desire to please my parents, to comply, to obey for the sake of obeying, and perhaps to “look good” to others.
I suppose it is better (although even that is questionable based on Moroni 7: 6-9) to do what is right even with less than pure motives than it is to not do what is right, but I’m beginning to learn that our motives and desires are often more important than our actions.
I like this quote from Elder Oaks: “From such teachings we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.”
So, what are your ideas? How do we learn to not just do the right things, but to do them for the right reasons- out of love? How do we become truly converted? How do we purify our hearts?
I think part of my frustration is because I’m “results driven” and want to see some kind of progress, but perhaps this process of change is so gradual that I am not even aware that I am changing. This quote from President Benson has the answer: “…we must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.”
“But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” (3 Ne. 9:20; italics added.)”
“We must not lose hope. Hope is an anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. But we must not lose hope. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him. Though we may see that we have far to go on the road to perfection, we must not give up hope.”
So, I guess the simple gospel really is the answer: we have faith in Christ and trust in his redeeming blood; we repent, which literally is a change of heart and mind; we make covenants and strive to keep them; we seek the blessings of the Holy Ghost in our lives; we endure to the end.
A while back I wrote about a fairly well known fable about the long-handled spoons. That ability and desire to serve and to meet another’s needs without thought or concern for one’s own needs is charity. To me, charity, like other Christlike attributes, cannot be obtained through sheer willpower alone. In fact, it may be that the more we exert our will to become charitable, the more ellusive it becomes.
“Divine attributes simply cannot be forced. We must open our hearts to the influence of God and “let [our] bowels . . . be full of charity towards all men . . . and let virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly.” Only then shall our “confidence wax strong in the presence of God” and in a consistently unforced manner, “the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon [our] soul[s] as the dews from heaven.” (D&C 121:45; emphasis added.)”
I generally read “let” in this context as a command- “to cause or to make.” But the author seems to imply that another meaning is possible- “to allow” by submitting our will to God’s.
There are other valuable insights in this article titled “It Takes More Than Willpower.” See here for the full reference or to read the article.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is great example of charity and compassion. Jesus gave this parable after answering the lawyer’s question about how to obtain eternal life: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” When the lawyer asked “And who is my neighbor?”, Jesus gave the parable that we refer to as the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10: 25-42)
Much has been written about this great parable. I particularly like this post from “Dr. Wally’s” blog and this article from the Ensign titled The Good Samaritan: Forgotten Symbols by John Welch. As I learn more about the rich symbolism in Christ’s words I am amazed at the masterful teacher that he is. Elder Wirthlin’s excellent talk “The Great Commandment” is also worth re-reading.
Our challenge then, is to develop the same compassion, charity, and love as the Samaritan (typifying Christ) demonstrated. This pure, unconditional love is the kind of love that God has for his children, and he asks us to have this same kind of love: “As I have loved you, love one another.” I think it is not coincidental that Jesus’ request “Be ye therefore perfect (complete, finished, fully developed)” is preceded by instruction to love others and specifically to love those that may be difficult for us to love.
Although I don’t believe we can develop charity strictly by our own will, I do believe that this is something that we need to seek. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here. In Moroni we are instructed to pray to be filled with this love. In the same verse we read that this love is bestowed upon all that are true followers of Christ. As we pray for this blessing and especially as we selflessly serve others (as true followers of Christ), our hearts and our perspectives are changed- we begin to see the needs of others and to care more for them than for ourselves. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I see the development of charity as a process. I can’t say that I have the pure love of Christ, but I have glimpses of charity when I am able to forget myself in the service of others.
The following scripture from Moroni 7 sums up the importance of charity:
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
If a tree falls in the woods but no one is there to hear it, does it make any sound? If you post something that is never seen by anyone, does it do any good?
I say this mostly in jest. Realistically I knew that only a handful of people would ever visit my blog. I tend to be fairly idealistic though and envisioned that I would have more and better posts, more participation, etc. The reality is that I have spent little time at this, and what time I have spent has mainly resulted in several yet-to-be-published drafts. And I am amazed at the quantity and the quality of LDS-authored blogs. There are literally thousands of great blogs out there with very talented and insightful writers.
My main hope in starting a blog was to be able to exchange ideas and to learn from the perspective of others. I have been surprised that a few have visited and commented here, and I hope they will continue to do so. While I enjoy the writing process, I hope that eventually I will have more discussion-oriented posts and that more dialogue will occur.
Today is my 17th wedding anniversary. It seems like just yesterday I was a kid in school, and the thought of being married and having a family seemed eons away. It really is incredible how time flies. Read the rest of this entry »