Monday, November 24, 2014

When the Going Gets Tough...

I heard yesterday that stress can rob us of our spirituality - that when we're worried about the concerns of life, we have a harder time focussing on Christ and striving to be righteous. I don't know if this is strictly true, but it certainly makes sense to me. How many times have we gotten angry and lost the Spirit because we were stressed out or frustrated? Which came first - getting angry, or losing the Spirit?

I think that Satan is constantly trying to influence us by putting negative thoughts in our minds. Most of the time, the Spirit keeps him at bay, but life starts to feel like it's too much for us to handle, either we start thinking negative thoughts that drive away the Spirit, or we drive away the Spirit, and then the enemy is allowed to put negative thoughts in our minds. Either way, if we're stressed, we'll have negative thoughts and not the Spirit, but if we have the Spirit with us, we won't have (many) negative thoughts or be (as) stressed.

How we keep the Spirit with us when life is hard is the same as how we keep the Spirit with us normally - it's just harder to do it. We keep the Spirit with us by praying, reading the scriptures, doing good, and striving to be Christlike. This is harder during the trials of our lives because we have more pressing matters to take care of than our scripture study, and we have other things to worry about than how righteous we are or should be. These times are great times to pray, to allow God to calm your heart and mind and help you focus on the tasks at hand, but when we're in these situations, we're normally not in the mood to pray.

God lets trials happen to us for a number of reasons. Sometimes, two of those reasons are to test our spiritual strength and help us grow spiritually stronger. It's sometimes as if God says "You're pretty good at being righteous most of the time, but let's see how righteous you are when you're facing adversity." He does this not to torment us, but to strengthen us. God wants us to be spiritually strong enough to remain righteous no matter what, just as Job did.

The holidays are stressful times for most adults, and those of us who are in school may have noticed that we're starting to get closer to Finals. It'd be fairly easy to get stressed out and let a lot of negativity into our lives right now, which is ironic considering what the holidays are supposed to do to people's hearts. Instead, let's try to keep the Holy Spirit with us, and possibly catch the spirits of thanksgiving and Christmas while we're at it. Life is hard sometimes, and at those times, it can be hard to keep the Spirit with us, but if we can keep the Spirit with us, He can help us get through the hardships of life. It takes spiritual strength to do that, but we'll gain spiritual strength if we try. Let's try to be righteous through the holidays so we can gain the strength we need to also get through the other storms of life.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fake It 'Till You Make It

"We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day." - Richard G. Scott

I love this quote because it basically gives us an Apostle's permission to "fake it 'till we make it." It tells us that if we're not the way we want to be, we should try to act the way we would act if we were, until we are. Basically, he's encouraging us to role-play as a better version of ourselves until we actually become that better version. After that, we'll continue to act that way naturally, because that'll be the new definition of who we are.

I'm not a paladin, nor will I ever literally be a paladin (unless God pulls a few strings to make my afterlife that much more epic), but I can and should be like a paladin, and the more I act like a paladin, the more like a paladin I'll become. I can become virtuous, noble, just, and chivalrous by practicing those traits - by acting the way I would act if I already possessed them.

While this may seem duplicitous or hypocritical, remember that we're not pretending we're more righteous than we are, we're acting the way we would act if we were more righteous. We should be honest with other people about how righteous we really are if they make a comment about how good we are, and even if we really are that good, we should be humble about it and admit and continually work on our faults. We're not supposed to make a show of being righteous - we're supposed to practice it. That's why I think this practice is especially important when we're not being observed. It seems less hypocritical when no one sees how righteous we're trying to be, and I've heard it said that "What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue." - Preach My Gospel, 118

None of us are perfect yet, but we all can become perfect, and the first step is to try. Let's all try to be righteous, whether others are watching us or not. Let's try to become better people. The more we try to be better than we are, the better we will actually become.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Specifically Thankful - Name Them One by One

This morning, I was taught a lesson on prayer by someone less than half my age, which, in itself, is a lesson. We're never so experienced that there's nothing we can learn from another person, even if that person is much less experienced than we are. The specific lesson I learned this morning is that our prayers are much more meaningful if we pray specifically. Instead of saying "we're thankful for this food," he said "we're thankful for this delicious oatmeal." Also, he had faith that the oatmeal was going to be delicious, which it was. And instead of saying "we're thankful we had fun," he said "we're thankful we had fun..." and then listed a lot of the activities we had done up to that point. It was a good prayer.

Sometimes, when I hear that we should pray specifically, I think "But God already knows all that stuff." But do we? Do we realize that God has, fairly miraculously, provided the many blessings we enjoy? Do we really appreciate that the instant oatmeal we take for granted is a blessing that's unavailable to many? Do we know how blessed we are? By thanking God specifically for the food we have and for the energy and opportunities we have to do things, we're reminding ourselves of something that we frequently forget - those blessings come from Him.

We should strive to be grateful and express gratitude for all our blessings. Only then can we realize and appreciate just how blessed we are. I'm going to practice praying specifically and being grateful for everything. It'll take much longer than my prayers usually do, but time spent thanking God for our blessings is time well-spent, especially if it draws us closer to Him.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Leisure vs Idleness

One of the insights from Pathway last night is that there's a big difference between leisure and idleness. Leisure can be a good thing. It sort of resets your mind, giving it a break from its usual work, so that when you get back to work, you get back fresh and ready to concentrate and work effectively on the matter at hand. Idleness, on the other hand, is never a good thing. It wastes time and can distract you from your work. Rest is important. Idleness is important to avoid.

But here's the tricky part: Some activities are almost always idleness, while other activities could be leisure or idleness. The difference is in what the activity does to your mind. When you're done with the activity (assuming you're ever "done" with the activity), are you ready to focus again, or has your mind kind of shut down? Remember that a short break should invigorate your mind. And there's the key: duration. Many leisurely activities become idleness when you spend too much time on them. Taking a quick nap is sometimes a great idea. Taking long naps is rarely effective.

The idea is moderation. Work is vitally important, but if you work yourself too hard for too long, you can burn yourself out. Taking breaks can help you work more effectively and maintain balance, but resting too long can throw you out of balance again. We must be judicious about how we spend out time, including our leisure time. Some activities are more refreshing than others, and the amount of time you spend on any activity has a strong influence on whether the activity is beneficial to you or not. Make some time for leisure - but just make sure it's not too much time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

You Choose Who You Are

While I was still playing Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly, I stumbled on a Druid spell called Reincarnation, which can bring a character back from the dead. It's cheaper than the standard Resurrection spell that you can have a cleric cast to bring your character back to life, but Reincarnation has a catch: When your character awakens, they'll have taken a new, randomly-selected, humanoid form, meaning that your character probably won't be human anymore.

This "drawback" is actually something that appealed to me. I decided that if my character died, I'd want to have him reincarnated as an orc or a goblin - some race totally unsuited to being a Paladin - just to make it more interesting (and more heroic) when he goes on being a Paladin anyway.

In life, there are a lot of circumstances that we can't do much about. We can't choose our race, gender, or family. We have only a limited amount of control over where we work, who we work with, and how much money we have. We can't choose what our natural talents and weaknesses are, though through a great deal of effort, we can develop new talents and overcome old weaknesses, if we really want to.

Though our circumstances may not be completely in line with the kinds of lives we want to lead, we can still choose what kinds of people we'll be. We can't choose many of our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to our circumstances. We can't choose much about the outer part of who we are, but we can make almost every decision about the inner part of who we are. Just as my character could have chosen whether to remain a Paladin or to adapt to his new form, we can all choose whether we adapt to our circumstances or whether we stick to our own course, despite the hardships. While there's much to be said for adaptability, we should ultimately make our own choices and not let our circumstances define us.

You may not be the way you want to be right now, and there may or may not be a few things you can do about that, but even if you can't decide anything else about your life, you can decide the content and character of your heart. I can't ride a horse, wear armor, or learn to use divine magic (other than the real kind of divine magic), but I can still be a Paladin in my heart. I can still be bold and courageous. I can still be virtuous and good. I can choose to see and carry myself as a Paladin, even though I look just like a regular college student to everyone else. And importantly, the outside doesn't matter, but the inside does, "for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pathfinding for the Blind

Reading through some General Conference talks, I found this little gem: 

"We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see." -President Boyd K. Packer

Some people see those who belong to a church and strive to keep God's commandments (even when we don't understand them) as being "blindly obedient." They think that we don't know what we should do, so we just do whatever the big guy upstairs says. And actually, they're partly right.

We don't always know what's best for us to do, so we do frequently rely on God for guidance. But we choose to follow God and the teachings of our church, not because we picked their names out of a hat, but because they've proven to be trustworthy sources of sound advice.

The way I see it, we're all pretty blind, whether we blindly follow trustworthy guides or whether we blindly blaze our own trail. Either way, we don't really know which way our path is taking us, so we need to have a little faith. The question is whether we'll put our faith in ourselves or whether we'll put our faith in God.

Now, those who don't know who God is, how good and wise He is, and that we can trust Him, would consider it foolish to put their faith in an unknown and possibly imaginary being rather than in themselves, and there is some wisdom in that. We live in a world where we have a lot of choices, and the welfare of our souls depends on the choices we make. And to make matters much more difficult, not all of the voices that pop into our heads come from God. Some of those thoughts come from the devil, and some of them come from our own imaginations. When you don't know which voice is whose, it would seem insane to listen to the many voices in your head, and it very well might be. Logically, it would be wiser to shut out all those voices and make decisions for yourself.

However, for those of us who know God, or at least are acquainted with Him and know that He exists and that He's wise and good, following Him makes much more sense than trying to find our own way. He knows of the things we need to seek or avoid, and He's kind enough to share that wisdom with us. By following Him, we can avoid the pitfalls we might have blindly stumbled into, and find the gems we otherwise would never have found.

We don't follow God because we're too blind to find our own path. We follow God because we can see that His path is better than ours.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Gain Infinite Wisdom

Option One: Live Forever

In yesterday's blog post, I barely mentioned God's infinite wisdom, and then I thought "how could God's wisdom be truly infinite?" Wisdom comes with experience. Experience comes with time. Theoretically, by that logic, God would have to have existed forever for His wisdom to be infinite. But if God is just like us (only a lot farther along in His Eternal progression), then He must have been created by His Heavenly Father, just as we were created by Him. Before that time, He wouldn't have existed, at least not as a sentient creature, so the time He has spent having experiences and gaining wisdom is finite. Absurdly enormous, but still finite. How can God have infinite wisdom, assuming that I'm correct in thinking that He has only existed for a finite amount of time? I've thought of at least two ways.

Option Two: Get a (Few) Mentor(s)

Let's say that a young man is twenty years old. He has twenty years of experience, and the wisdom of a twenty-year-old. That's not all that impressive. But let's say his father was twenty years old when he was born, making the father forty years old now. The father has forty years of experience and the wisdom of a forty-year-old. That's better. And if the young man follows the counsel of his father, he'll still have only twenty years of personal experience, but he'll act with the wisdom of a forty-year-old. And let's say that this young man has a grandfather who's twenty years older than his father is. By gaining wisdom from him (perhaps through his own father), the young man can gain some of the wisdom of a sixty-year-old, and so on.

For us, this model has to stop somewhere, because great-great-grandfathers don't live forever. Eventually, they'll depart, and when they do, they'll take their wisdom with them. That's exactly what God did after His mortal experience, and exactly what His Heavenly Ancestors did after theirs. However, if our Heavenly Father still gets guidance from His Heavenly Father, and His Heavenly Father gets guidance from His Heavenly Father, and so on, then our Heavenly Father has a possibly infinite number of mentors with a collective, nearly-infinite number of eons of experience and wisdom between them. (Incidentally, we can link ourselves to this chain of wisdom by hearkening to the counsel of our own Heavenly Father, thus enabling us to make decisions inspired by the wisdom of a counsel of Gods.) That is an incredible amount of wisdom, but it's still possibly finite. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of having no beginning, and if there was a beginning, that means that there has only been a finite amount of time in which the creatures of the universe could gather wisdom, so only a finite amount of wisdom has been gained.

Fortunately, there's another way to gain wisdom, besides personal experience and word-of-mouth, and it is by this method that God has gained infinite wisdom in His own right. Even if there's no one guiding Him or given Him advice, and even if He has only been around for a few short eons, He still has an infinite - that's right, infinite - amount of wisdom. Here's how:

Option Three: Become Omniscient

In his message, Converting Knowledge into Wisdom, President Marion G. Romney defined knowledge as "acquaintance with, or clear perception of, facts," and wisdom as "the capacity of judging soundly and dealing broadly with facts, especially in their practical relations to life and conduct." President Romney also said that part of the reason we don't have infinite wisdom is because we don't have all the facts.

When I said that we gained wisdom from our experiences, I forgot an important piece of clarification. In truth, we gain wisdom from learning from our experiences. Experiences give us knowledge, which we can then convert into wisdom. If a person gains knowledge another way, such as by reading a book or becoming omniscient, they will have gained knowledge that they can convert into wisdom without having to have gained that wisdom by personal experience or by being given advice. Since God knows everything, He knows the wisest course of action in any given situation, and thus He has infinite wisdom.

Omniscience is, as I understand it, part of the package deal with Godhood. When we become Gods, we'll become omniscient, and we'll gain infinite wisdom. The "when" part of my previous statement might be optimistic, but part of what I meant to say was that we won't gain omniscience before then. Until then, we can gain wisdom by the previous two methods. We can learn from our own experiences, and we can learn from God. God will often share wisdom with us, and when He doesn't, it's probably either because He thinks we have enough wisdom to make good choices on our own, or because we think we do. Trusting in our own wisdom is foolish because our wisdom is very, very finite. God, on the other hand, has infinite wisdom, and He's usually willing to share. That's why "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalms 111:10); because being wise enough to listen to God grants us access to an infinite supply of wisdom. God does have infinite wisdom, and by being wise enough to follow Him, so can we.