Sunday, November 24, 2013

The New T-Shirt Syndrome - Thanksgiving

The excitement and novelty of buying a new t-shirt usually wears off after wearing it once or twice. It then just becomes another one my shirts. I stop giving it extra-careful attention while doing laundry and instead start treating just like I treat any of my other clothes. I've seen this happen over and over, but I always seem to think that the next new shirt I'm about to buy at the store will make me happier than it actually does.

While studying at the required 9-week training program, a missionary did nothing but talk about how much better life would be once he was out in the area he had been assigned to. Once he was in the first neighborhood of that area, he would talk about how he hoped to be moved to a different one. Or how being home was just the thing he needed. Once home, he was certain that once he graduated from school he would be happy. Or once he was married. Or, then, once he had a family. Or once his children were older.

She didn't like herself very much. She tried to be good and to do her best, but she was always discouraged by how she never seemed to get anywhere in regards to overcoming her faults. She couldn't seem to acknowledge all that she had already learned and become as she had lived life, simply because she was looking to the future, imagining a day when she would be finally be free from her own weaknesses and stupidity.

As he looked in the mirror he was discouraged. He was still too big. Sure, he was healthier than he had ever been in his life. But, just look! Once he had lost another ten pounds, yes, that would make him feel differently.

She sat quietly as her married friends tried to get their squirmy children into their pajamas. As they asked why she wasn't dating anyone and offered suggestions, she faked a smile and gave some sort of amusing answer. Once back a home, she sat in her car long after she had pulled into the parking lot, thinking about how different and happy life would be once she was married.

Dieter Uchtdorf said:

“So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness: a better family situation, a better financial situation, or the end of a challenging trial.

“We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available—all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect. 'This is the day which the Lord hath made … ,' the Psalmist wrote. 'Rejoice and be glad in it.'

“We are commanded 'to give thanks in all things.' So isn’t it better to see with our eyes and hearts even the small things we can be thankful for, rather than magnifying the negative in our current condition?

“The Lord has promised, 'He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold.'

Read Dieter Uchtdorf's complete sermon here:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

When One's Life is a Mess

My parents are doing some renovations on their house, so they had to take everything that was stored down in the basement and put it upstairs until the renovation is finished. So, everything is everywhere. My parents are tidy and organized people, so it's pretty unusual for things to be this way; for example, we had a mattress and a box-spring just sitting in the middle of the front room because there really was nowhere else to put it.

Once the basement is finished, however, everything will be back to normal. Well, actually, it will be better than our old normal because of what my parents have planned to do to the basement. The storage capacity of the basement itself will be improved and it will be a more useful space for my parents. Everything will fit nicely and there will be plenty of room for other things as well.

C.S. Lewis:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

So, God is at work with all of us. We know that He wants us to become like Him, and that that process can be painful, perplexing, and exhausting. But when things are in flux and God is actively focusing on a particular way of making us more like Him, certain aspects of our lives (relationships, time or ability to serve, school or job opportunities, etc.) can become unorganized and can start feeling messy. This messiness can be frustrating since it only seems to have arisen because we are trying to figure out and do what God is asking us to do. So then guilt and shame set in and we feel that we are failing, even though we are just trying to keep our hand in God’s and follow His plan for us.

But, really, there is nothing wrong with having a “mattress” in one’s front room, especially when one's self is under construction. Having the faith to follow God in His way and in His time while our lives seem to be falling apart or getting messy is a manifestation of one’s deep faith in God and His purposes. God is building us and He will help us work through whatever the physical, emotional, or spiritual consequences of following Him may be. He knew that messiness would be required as our own personal remodeling is going on. And I have felt a special love and gratitude from God when we are willing to give up our want for clarity and stability, or when we are willing to give up our will, so that He can do His work. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Guest Post: Natalie Tripp

Handling the What-Ifs

Regret is a word that instantly twists my stomach in knots. Either because a) I made a mistake and feel bad about making it and haven’t yet forgiven myself even though I’ve done my best to make the situation right again or b) because it gives me anxiety that I maybe I could have made a better choice somewhere down the line and will forever miss out on whatever opportunity I might have had. 

Opportunities come and go. There isn’t anything we can do to make sure we take every great opportunity that comes to us. But I’ve always struggled to reconcile with my past choices. I get anxiety over the “should’ve…could’ve….would’ve” moments in my life, and wonder if my life will ever be as good as it could have been if I would have just done things differently or ‘right’ the first time around, and now I must have condemned myself to a lesser state or something.

I’ve recently taken up biking, and enjoy riding around the streets of Provo. I frequently pass the construction site of the Provo Tabernacle/ City Center Temple. I often think back to the morning following the fire that destroyed the building. I was producing and anchoring a morning radio newscast and the fire was the big story of the day. A short time later, I was told that someone who dealt with security of the Tabernacle received notification that an alarm was going off in the building the night of the fire. That person checked with an advisor and was told not to worry about it. Even after a second alarm notification sounded, the warnings were left alone until it was too late. Some might say the warnings or notifications were disregarded, excused, dismissed, or "not heeded," until it was "too late." The result? One of the older church buildings of this dispensation burned into a hollow shell. 

I’m sure a number of people involved in the fire feel awful about a missed opportunity to check something that may have prevented the loss of the building. I can’t imagine the guilt and pain I might feel if I were in that situation. But less than a year later, something beautiful happened. In the 2011 October General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson announced the empty shell of the tabernacle would be restored and dedicated as a temple.

As a tabernacle the building served a wonderful role as a community gathering center for cultural performance. It was a landmark honoring the area’s faithful founders. I regret that I never took the opportunity to visit the building prior to the fire. But now as a temple this building will, in a sense, become perfect. It will be able to do so much good for so many generations of people. It will become a more holy and sacred place than it was before because of a missed opportunity.

I don’t know whether or not the church had plans to eventually turn the tabernacle into a temple and the fire just pushed those plans to the front of the line, or if the building would have just remained the great place it was before the fire. But I do look at it as an example that just because we make mistakes or we choose one good thing over another good thing does not mean that we will never be able to be as good or better than we would be if we’d chosen differently.

More recently I’ve been reviewing the last couple years of my life and wondered if I might be happier if I’d made few different decisions and avoided some mistakes. Thousands of years ago, a wise father once counseled his son “[God] shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” Mistakes have consequences, sometimes very serious consequences. I believe God doesn’t want us to knowingly choose the wrong path, because He understands the pain that path will cause us. But He also understands that we will make those mistakes, and we can learn and grow because of those mistakes. I’m grateful for a merciful God who can use my mistakes to turn me into something better than I was before. I believe that if I’m trying my best to do what’s right, I won’t have to wonder if I’m missing out on a better life. Just like the tabernacle, God can restore and perfect me.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Too Hard on Yourself

"If you treated your friends like you treat yourself, would you have any friends?"
-Ragan Lybbert

"We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies."
-Roderick Thorp

"Of all our infirmities, the most savage is to despise our being."
-Michel de Montaigne

"People are crying up the rich and variegated plumage of the peacock, and he is himself blushing at the sight of his ugly feet."
-Sa'Di

"Love yourself unconditionally, just as you love those closest to you despite their faults."
-Les Brown

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Studying God's Words Helps Us Get to Know Him


"We can and must go often and carefully to the word of God. If we become casual in our study of the scriptures, we will become casual in our prayers. We may not cease to pray, but our prayers will become more repetitive, more mechanical, lacking real intent. Our hearts cannot be drawn out to a God we do not know, and the scriptures and the words of the living prophets help us know Him. As we know Him better, we love Him more."
-Henry Eyring (read this sermon)

Waiting

“Submitting fully to heaven’s will…is essential to removing the spiritual pavilions we sometimes put over our heads. But it does not guarantee immediate answers to our prayers.

“Abraham’s heart seems to have been right long before Sarah conceived Isaac and before they received their promised land. Heaven had other purposes to fulfill first. Those purposes included not only building Abraham and Sarah’s faith but also teaching them eternal truths that they shared with others on their long, circuitous route to the land prepared for them. The Lord’s delays often seem long; some last a lifetime. But they are always calculated to bless. They need never be times of loneliness or sorrow or impatience.

“Although His time is not always our time, we can be sure that the Lord keeps His promises. For any of you who now feel that He is hard to reach, I testify that the day will come that we all will see Him face to face. Just as there is nothing now to obscure His view of us, there will be nothing to obscure our view of Him. We will all stand before Him, in person. …We want to see Jesus Christ now, but our certain reunion with Him at the judgment bar will be more pleasing if we first do the things that make Him as familiar to us as we are to Him. As we serve Him, we become like Him, and we feel closer to Him as we approach that day when nothing will hide our view.”

-Henry Eyring, member of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Read the complete sermon:

http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/where-is-the-pavilion?lang=eng


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I Have a Future. Right?

Sigh. I still don't know what career path to head down. And now I don't even know what direction to face. I have eagerly started down a lot of different ones, even feeling like God had led me to them, only to have opportunities fall through or me find out I don't actually want to head that way. I sometimes feel frustrated that there isn't clearer direction being given by God. And sometimes I feel like I am being left behind, stuck at the crossroads as others head off into the woods, waving goodbye to me as they walk off down their seemingly clear and exciting paths.

In response to these concerns, two experiences came to mind as I was in church the other day:

1 - A little while ago I thought I might be lactose intolerant. But, it turned out to be a corn allergy. I had assumed that my allergic symptoms were caused by one thing but they were actually the result of something else. I had assumed I knew what the problem was, but I didn't.

2 - My friend and I were driving back from the grocery store the other night when he passed the road that we normally turn down to head home. I didn't say anything. Perhaps he wanted to take the scenic route? But, as we kept going further and further in the seemingly wrong direction, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten that I had asked him to drop me off at my brother's house after we had finished shopping. I had been questioning the direction we were going because I hadn't remembered our destination.

While I may not know exactly what's going on now, a few truths have been repeatedly confirmed to me. God is my Father and He does have an individualized plan for me. He does know exactly what's going on. I may assume something is wrong, but what is currently going on might actually be exactly what needs to happen so that I can get to where God is leading me (and where I actually will want to go).

I am on earth to learn and to become like God, and nothing helps me do that more than times of trial, uncertainty, or difficulty.

And God has and does lead me through the Holy Spirit. I can clearly see how He has done that in the past. I am not where I am today because I knew where I was going; I am here because God knew where I needed to be and He knew how to get me here. He helped me make choices. He led me even when I didn't recognize that I was being led.

So, does remembering those things help me know where I'm going? No. But, it brings me peace as I remember that God knows. And He'll help me get there.

Prayer

I usually like praying. Though sometimes I anxiously feel the need to try to remind God that, despite my behavior, I actually am a good person. But, imagining that I need to convince God to love me shows that I am afraid that God can only love me if I have perfect behavior. And that simply isn't and never has been true.

I feel connected to God the most when I am just Eric. Just genuine. Because I want to follow Christ's teachings, there will always be ways to improve. But I want to, and I want to follow Him more than anything. And He knows that. So, I don't need to try to prove my heart's desires to God; He already knows that I am sincerely trying. 

One easy way to be more open with God is to tell Him about what is going on during the day. It makes it feel more like a father/son relationship. Because even though He already knows what's going on, He actually does care to hear about it. It's like when I talk to my nephews on the phone. Even though I know that they only do a couple of things every day I love to hear them describe it all. It's adorable and I love to hear them talk. Similarly, I have felt God's excitement for me as I have told Him about things I like, hate, and am doing. It helps me feel closer to Him. And coming closer to God feels good.

Learn more about prayer here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Guest Post: Emilie Gardner

Several weeks ago, I was driving on the freeway a distance that took about 45 minutes to drive. About 20 minutes from my destination, I noticed a truck following me very closely. Not only was this truck following me, but this truck also had its brights on. I changed lanes and then became frustrated because the truck changed into the same lane behind me! The truck followed me for about 10 minutes with its brights on. I started glaring into my rear-view mirror at the truck (that always works ;) ). Because the brights were on and I was glaring so intently, when I turned to look back at the road, I could no longer see. I was blinded by what was going on behind me. In fact, it took my eyes several seconds to be able to see what was going on in front of me again.

I thought about that experience and realized that Heavenly Father was teaching me a valuable lesson. And with a New Year approaching, I feel it is important to explore that lesson in a little more detail.

I believe that Father in Heaven was teaching me not to focus on the annoyances that are in my past. In fact, I think that's the point, they are in the past. They are behind me. I am on the road, in a car that is leaving those things behind. They are not current for me. They are behind me.

The Apostle, Paul, said, "This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13–14)."

When we make the past our focus, instead of the future, it indicates a lack of faith. As Elder Holland said, "I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead and remember that faith is always pointed toward the future. Faith always has to do with blessings and truths and events that will yet be efficacious in our lives." So yes, look back and learn, and then be done! When we have faith, we look forward and we let go of what is behind us. We let go of things people have done to hurt us-whether intentional or unintentional. We let go of relationships when it is time to let go. We let go of our own mistakes. We let go of anything that keeps us from moving forward and becoming.

It is time to let go of the things that are keeping us from safely moving forward. Do not be blinded by what is behind you. Look forward, stay safe, and live in faith.

"Look ahead and remember that faith is always pointed toward the future." -Elder Holland

Monday, July 16, 2012

Long but Good, or C.S. Lewis: The Three Parts of Morality

This is an excerpt from Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis:

The Three Parts of Morality

There is a story about a schoolboy who was asked what he thought God was like. He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was "The sort of person who is always snooping round to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it." And I am afraid that is the sort of idea that the word Morality raises in a good many people's minds: something that interferes, something that stops you having a good time. In reality, 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. That is why these rules at first seem to be constantly interfering with our natural inclinations. When you are being taught how to use any machine, the instructor keeps on saying, "No, don't do it like that," because, of course, there are all sorts of things that look all right and seem to you the natural way of treating the machine, but do not really work.

Some people prefer to talk about moral "ideals" rather than moral rules and about moral "idealism" rather than moral obedience. Now it is, of course, quite true that moral perfection is an "ideal" in the sense that we cannot achieve it. In that sense every kind of perfection is, for us humans, an ideal; we cannot succeed in being perfect car drivers or perfect tennis players or in drawing perfectly straight lines. But there is another sense in which it is very misleading to call moral perfection an ideal. When a man says that a certain woman, or house, or ship, or garden is "his ideal" he does not mean (unless he is rather a fool) that everyone else ought to have the same ideal. In such matters we are entitled to have different tastes and, therefore, different ideals. But it is dangerous to describe a man who tries very hard to keep the moral law as a "man of high ideals," because this might lead you to think that moral perfection was a private taste of his own and that the rest of us were not called on to share it. This would be a disastrous mistake. Perfect behaviour may be as unattainable as perfect gear-changing when we drive; but it is a necessary ideal prescribed for all men by the very nature of the human machine just as perfect gear-changing is an ideal prescribed for all drivers by the very nature of cars. And it would be even more dangerous to think of oneself as a person "of high ideals" because one is trying to tell no lies at all (instead of only a few lies) or never to commit adultery (instead of committing it only seldom) or not to be a bully (instead of being only a moderate bully). It might lead you to become a prig and to think you were rather a special person who deserved to be congratulated on his "idealism." In reality you might just as well expect to be congratulated because, whenever you do a sum, you try to get it quite right. To be sure, perfect arithmetic is "an ideal"; you will certainly make some mistakes in some calculations. But there is nothing very fine about trying to be quite accurate at each step in each sum. It would be idiotic not to try; for every mistake is going to cause you trouble later on. In the same way every moral failure is going to cause trouble, probably to others and certainly to yourself. By talking about rules and obedience instead of "ideals" and "idealism" we help to remind ourselves of these facts.

Now let us go a step further. There are two ways in which the human machine goes wrong. One is when human individuals drift apart from one another, or else collide with one another and do one another damage, by cheating or bullying. The other is when things go wrong inside the individual-when the different parts of him (his different faculties and desires and so on) either drift apart or interfere with one another. You can get the idea plain if you think of us as a fleet of ships sailing in formation. The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another's way; and, secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order. As a matter of fact, you cannot have either of these two things without the other. If the ships keep on having collisions they will not remain seaworthy very long. On the other hand, if their steering gears are out of order they will not be able to avoid collisions. Or, if you like, think of humanity as a band playing a tune. To get a good result, you need two things. Each player's individual instrument must be in tune and also each must come in at the right moment so as to combine with all the others.

But there is one thing we have not yet taken into account. We have not asked where the fleet is trying to get to, or what piece of music the band is trying to play. The instruments might be all in tune and might all come in at the right moment, but even so the performance would not be a success if they had been engaged to provide dance music and actually played nothing but Dead Marches. And however well the fleet sailed, its voyage would be a failure if it were meant to reach New York and actually arrived at Calcutta.

Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play.

You may have noticed that modern people are nearly always thinking about the first thing and forgetting the other two. When people say in the newspapers that we are striving for Christian moral standards, they usually mean that we are striving for kindness and fair play between nations, and classes, and individuals; that is, they are thinking only of the first thing. When a man says about something he wants to do, "It can't be wrong because it doesn't do anyone else any harm," he is thinking only of the first thing. He is thinking it does not matter what his ship is like inside provided that he does not run into the next ship. And it is quite natural, when we start thinking about morality, to begin with the first thing, with social relations. For one thing, the results of bad morality in that sphere are so obvious and press on us every day: war and poverty and graft and lies and shoddy work. And also, as long as you stick to the first thing, there is very little disagreement about morality. Almost all people at all times have agreed (in theory) that human beings ought to be honest and kind and helpful to one another. But though it is natural to begin with all that, if our thinking about morality stops there, we might just as well not have thought at all. Unless we go on to the second thing-the tidying up inside each human being-we are only deceiving ourselves.

What is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all? What is the good of drawing up, on paper, rules for social behaviour, if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them? I do not mean for a moment that we ought not to think, and think hard, about improvements in our social and economic system. What I do mean is that all that thinking will be mere moonshine unless we realise that nothing but the courage and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work properly. It is easy enough to remove the particular kinds of graft or bullying that go on under the present system: but as long as men are twisters or bullies they will find some new way of carrying on the old game under the new system. You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society. That is why we must go on to think of the second thing: of morality inside the individual.

But I do not think we can stop there either. We are now getting to the point at which different beliefs about the universe lead to different behaviour. And it would seem, at first sight, very sensible to stop before we got there, and just carry on with those parts of morality that all sensible people agree about. But can we? Remember that religion involves a series of statements about facts, which must be either true or false. If they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the right sailing of the human fleet: if they are false, quite a different set. For example, let us go back to the man who says that a thing cannot be wrong unless it hurts some other human being. He quite understands that he must not damage the other ships in the convoy, but he honestly thinks that what he does to his own ship is simply his own business. But does it not make a great difference whether his ship is his own property or not? Does it not make a great difference whether I am, so to speak, the landlord of my own mind and body, or only a tenant, responsible to the real landlord? If somebody else made me, for his own purposes, then I shall have a lot of duties which I should not have if I simply belonged to myself.

Again, Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse -so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be. And immortality makes this other difference, which, by the by, has a connection with the difference between totalitarianism and democracy. If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

It seems, then, that if we are to think about morality, we must think of all three departments: relations between man and man: things inside each man: and relations between man and the power that made him. We can all cooperate in the first one. Disagreements begin with the second and become serious with the third. It is in dealing with the third that the main differences between Christian and non-Christian morality come out. For the rest of this book (Mere Christianity) I am going to assume the Christian point of view, and look at the whole picture as it will be if Christianity is true.