Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The First Two Rs of Choice

I found this on Facebook yesterday. It's pretty powerful.


In a way, this is encouraging. In another way, it's discouraging.

It's encouraging to know that Satan cannot overpower us, that we are strong enough to successfully resist every temptation we face. On the other hand, it's discouraging to think of the times when we could have made the right choice, but we didn't.

This quote came from a talk titled The Three Rs of Choice. The three Rs are the Right of choice, the Responsibility of choice, and the Results of choice. This quote deals with the first two Rs. We have the right to make our own choices, and neither God nor Satan can take that right away from us. But with that right comes responsibility. Because no one can force us to make certain decisions or make decisions for us, we are the only ones who are responsible for every choice we make. Others can pressure us or encourage us, but ultimately, we are the ones that make our decisions, and we are the ones who solely responsible for those decisions.

But because I try to keep this blog mostly positive, I'm going to try to put a positive spin on this. Of course, it's awesome to know that no temptation can overcome us as long as we have a firm resolve. Satan can't make us do anything. We will always have enough strength inside of us to say 'No!' As long as we remember to tap into that strength and to put our foot down, Satan can't move us. That's pretty cool.

Also, taking sole responsibility for your own choices can be a good thing. Suppose you make a good decision. YOU were the one who made that decision. YOU were the one who did that good thing. God may have encouraged you through the influence of His Spirit, and there may or may not have been some positive peer pressure going on at the time, but if I may paraphrase a word or two, "No [encouraging], no pressure, no enticing can overcome [you]" or force you to do anything that you don't choose to do. YOU made the right decision, and you get the full credit for that. There may have been forces pulling for you, but there were also forces working against you, yet neither force had the ability to take the power of choice out of your hands. YOU made the decision, and you made the right decision. So good for you! You did good. You should be proud of yourself. I'm sure God's proud of you.

What I learned from all of this is that we're strong. We're strong enough to make good decisions, no matter what influences are present. With that strength comes the responsibility to use it. We have the power and responsibility to resist temptation every time it appears. But with that responsibility comes credit. When we make good decisions, it's all on us. Yes, God had an influence, and we should be grateful to Him, but we are the ones who make our decisions, and we can be justly proud of ourselves when we make the right ones.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Moving Forward Toward Your Dreams

There's an article featured on LDS.org called Defy Gravity: Go Forward with Faith. It talks about riding a bicycle, and it mentions the wondrous physics of how a bike maintains balance, defying gravity, as long as it keeps moving. This reminded me of an old blog post of mine, Riding the Bicycle, in which I said something similar.

In order to stay afloat amid the storms of life and not sink into despair, we have to keep moving in a positive direction. The good news is that if we can keep moving forward, life won't be able to drag us down so easily. There's a lot to be said for having ambitious (even unrealistic) goals and putting a considerable amount of effort toward achieving them. Even if their lofty goals are never reached, those who try to do the impossible often accomplish more than those who strive for, and achieve, what we might consider a more normal level of success.

Perhaps one of my biggest personal problems is that I'm not very ambitious. Despite the Tangled song's claim that everybody has a dream, I'm not sure that I do. And if I do have a dream, I'm not sure what it is, and I certainly don't know how to pursue it. My biggest problem with the concept of moving forward is that sometimes we don't know which way forward is. Those with dreams and goals can figure out ways to pursue them. They know which way they want to go because they have a guiding star that they can follow.

Theoretically, so do I. I have a desire to become more like Jesus Christ. I guess you could call that a dream. It gives me a whole list of Christlike attributes to develop, and I could easily make a bit of progress toward obtaining those attributes, but what I'm really worried about is real life. I'm in school right now, taking general education classes for a well-rounded education, and English classes because I'm good at them. I don't know what I want to do for a living, or how my skill at English could translate into any kind of job. I don't have any "career goals," like so many other people my age have. They have dreams about what kind of job they want to have, what kind of house they want to live in, and what kind of family they'd like to raise, and I don't.

I know I like helping people. I love making people happy. I actually enjoy cleaning things sometimes. It's something of a pet peeve of mine when I see something out of place in a supermarket, and I get a little bit of personal satisfaction out of putting things back where they belong. All of these traits add up to the possibility of excelling as a courtesy clerk, but that's not really much of a "dream." Nobody dreams of working at a grocery or outlet store, except maybe me. It'd make a great job for me for now, but what about the future? Could I work my way up the ranks in management? I can lead people, but could I learn how to run a store, to make business decisions? I'm not sure. Working at a grocery store would be a great step in the right direction for me, but where could I go from there?

Maybe I should just take life one step at a time, and have faith that God knows how to get me where He knows I should be. It just really stinks to know that He has a perfect plan for my life and I don't have the faintest clue about what that plan is or how to follow it. I'm a terrific follower, if only I could get the directions I need. Without that direction, I'm lost. I can't learn how to move forward toward my dreams simply because I don't have any dreams, so I don't know which way forward is.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Music is Good

This being the first day of school, I'd love to leave as soon as possible to make sure everything is in order and I get to my classes on time, so I'd love to blog about something quick (and probably kind of lame), and get going. In light of that, I'm just going to share a quick message that I've probably shared at least a dozen times before.

I like music, especially upbeat and uplifting music, especially hymns. As far as I can remember, I always have. And I think I'm now beginning to learn why. As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, I like happiness. I like feeling happy and I like making other people feel happy. Happiness is good. Music can make people happy, and I think that's because good music attracts the Spirit. Good music brings us closer to God, and being close to God brings us greater happiness. That's because God wants us to be happy, so the closer we draw to Him, the happier we'll be.

President Boyd K. Packer taught that music has a strong influence on our thoughts. Other Prophets have taught that our thoughts influence our actions and our actions ultimately determine our destiny. Good music can help us have good thoughts, perform righteous actions, and secure a desirable destiny for ourselves. And since these are all things that God wants us to do, He blesses us with happiness as we do them.

You know, for a long time, I thought that the love of music was just a psychological thing. Our brain picks up the patterns in the music and because those patterns are pleasing to the brain, it rewards us by producing whatever chemical represents happiness to our brains, so we listen to music just because it feels good. According to that way of thinking, any spiritual benefits to listening to good music are purely coincidental, or perhaps God created our brains to enjoy music because He knew that music would have that beneficial "side-effect." I'm no psychologist, so I can't really say. What I can say is that I no longer think that we like music just because it "sounds nice." It's not just pleasant patterns stimulating desirable chemical reactions somewhere in the backs of our minds. Now I think that if such reactions do occur, God intended that to happen mostly so we'd listen to music more, so we'd gain the spiritual benefits of music, which may be the entire reason we like music in the first place.

Music is good, and it helps us to be good. Maybe that's why I've always liked it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pretend You're Camping

My family just got back from a camping trip yesterday. It was lots of fun. There was hiking, campfires, s'mores, and we even played a few games together. But every once in a while, something would go wrong, and we'd ward off negativity by reminding ourselves and each other to "pretend you're camping." I've thought about that phrase a little bit over the past few days, and I wonder if it might apply to life.

We all came from heaven, where everything is pretty much perfect. Perhaps, on some level, we remember what it was like, and there are certainly times in which we miss it. Sometimes, things go wrong in life, and we could get negative about it, or we could pretend we're on some kind of challenging and slightly unpleasant adventure, like camping. And in many ways, we are.

We left the perfectness of heaven for the imperfection of earth, partly to gain experience, partly to prove ourselves, partly just to get bodies and learn how to use them, but being on earth is only temporary. When it's over, we'll go back home, take showers, wash our clothes, and we'll be back in heaven again, where the beds are soft and warm, everything is fresh and clean, and there's nothing that we need or want that we don't have ready access to.

Earth life can be a challenge sometimes, and sometimes things go wrong. But we can stay positive by maintaining a good attitude. This camping trip isn't permanent, and it can be fun while it lasts. Life is nothing like heaven, but that's okay. Make peace with the imperfection of life and pretend that you're camping

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Peaks and Troughs - How to Bounce Back

It's incredible that something I wrote with my own fingers just a few days ago can be exactly what I needed to read this morning. Then again, perhaps it's not so incredible after all. As someone who read The Screwtape Letters a long time ago, and heard it quoted in Elder's Quorum even longer ago, I barely remember a concept that C.S. Lewis shared about peaks and troughs. As we go throughout our daily lives, our spirituality naturally waxes and wanes. We have peaks, when we feel very spiritual, strongly committed to righteousness, and richly blessed, and then we have troughs, when we feel less spiritual, less committed, and less blessed. There are times when we're doing better, and times when we're doing worse.

This isn't a terrible thing, just like it isn't a terrible thing that the tides come in and go out. Waves come and go. The tides rise and fall. But the ocean's overall sea level stays mostly the same. Being in a trough doesn't indicate a permanent loss of spirituality any more than a low tide indicates a permanent loss of sea water. You'll bounce back. The true question is how quickly you'll bounce back, and I've learned a trick to help with that.

In addition to the basic tricks that can improve your spirituality whether it's low or high (reading scriptures, praying, singing hymns, etc), you can set a sort of anchor or bookmark on one of your spiritual peaks. By writing spiritual things on my blog when I'm on a peak, and reading them back to myself when I'm in a trough, I can pull myself out of the trough and back toward the peak where I was a few days ago. I can essentially remind myself of how I felt when I was feeling good and what caused me to feel that way. So when I felt slightly less spiritual and less positive, I was able to pick myself back up. And it gets even better.

If a person keeps pulling themselves out of their troughs sooner and sooner, their overall spirituality will improve. As their low moments become shorter and less low, and their high moments remain just as high and long, their average level of spirituality will grow higher. You can even build on your peaks to make your best moments even better, which will also help to improve your average.

Sometimes, people just endure their low moments. Sometimes they feel okay, and sometimes they don't, and that's just the way life is. But it doesn't have to be that way! Yes, bad things have to happen in life. There's always going to be stress and opposition, but it doesn't have to bring you down. Not far, and not for long. There are things that we can do to maintain or regain our spirituality, no matter what is going on in our lives.

So, in case you're having a bad day, or even just an okay day, know that you can make it better. And once you're feeling better, or if you're feeling good right now, find a way to hold on to that feeling or to record it so you can get it back when you need to. There are still going to be ups and downs, but with a little effort, you can make your up moments even better and your down moments not so bad. I promise that you'll be glad that you did.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Proper Time, The Proper Way

I have an infection on my finger. I've had it for a few days. It looks horrible - red and swollen. It's kind of painful, too, especially if something touches it. I want to pop it, to drain the puss (and hopefully some of the infection) out, so my finger can return to its normal size, color and level of tenderness, especially before the camp out.

By the way, I'm going camping soon, so if I miss a few days of blogging sometime soon, that's why.

I want to poke my infected finger with something sharp to let it drain and heal, but I know I shouldn't. It's not that it's a bad idea. In fact, I'm going to have it drained later this morning. It's just that it's a bad idea for me to do it right now, using just the equipment I have access to. Doing that runs the risk of introducing another infection, making it even harder for my body to stave it off. It'd be better to have it done at a hospital, by medical professionals using sterilized equipment and effective germ-killing soaps and solutions. It's not that the draining shouldn't be done. It's that it should be done their way rather than mine.

A lot of times, people have their own way of doing things. Usually, people want things to happen sooner than they should. God knows the proper time and place and method for everything, and for things that He wants us to do, He has given us guidelines on how and when they should be done. (He has also given us a list of things that should not be done, no matter where, when, or how we want to do them, but that's beside the point.) Sometimes, there are things that He wants to happen, like for someone to overcome and illness or to come home from their mission, but He wants them to happen at the proper time, and in the proper way.

Waiting for the Lord's time can be difficult. Or, for some things, acting on the Lord's time when we would rather wait or do something else first can be tough. But as always, God knows better than we do. He knows that some things should wait and other things shouldn't, and everything that should be done should be done the right way. Popping my finger myself with a safety pin? Not the right way to do it. It's far better to just wait a few more hours until my appointment to get my finger drained by the right people at the right time and in the proper way.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Coming Home to Happiness

For those of you who aren't on Facebook, or who aren't Friends with my mom or sisters, my brother, Ben, came home from his mission yesterday, and after a little bit of a wild goose chase at the airport, we welcomed him with open arms and tears of joy. I wonder if our final homecoming will be anything like that, minus the wild goose chase. Family and close friends waiting with open arms, tears of joy at the reunion... It sounds nice. But of course, it won't be nearly so joyful if it's clear by your life up to that point that, after Judgement, you're probably headed downstairs. Ben's welcome was so warm partly because we knew he was returning with honor.

In life, a lot of our happiness depends on our personal righteousness. That counts double for the afterlife. Ben's homecoming yesterday was a good experience (a fun experience, a learning experience, and a sweet experience). We can have a similar experience when our missions on Earth are over and we're reunited with our loved ones on the other side, but only if we're righteous.

I like happiness. I enjoy being happy, and I enjoy making other people happy. Maybe that's part of why I blog. When I blog, I try to remind myself and others to be righteous, and if we are righteous, we can have greater happiness in this world and especially in the world to come, or rather, the world we'll be coming home to.