A Reason for Suffering

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All of us on earth go through hard times.  Each one of us has a gamut of difficulties that we go through.  Some are short lived, some are chronic, and some seem to be permanent.  All of them are hopefully teaching us a lesson, but there also happens to be the trials, struggles, difficulties, and pain that just won’t go away (or the continue to reappear) that we just can’t shake no matter what we try.  We plead with heavenly father to be free from them or to overcome them, but to no avail – they just linger and we wonder to ourselves why this must be, or why we as individuals are selected to suffer so much.  We may even agree to suffer through them but plead for a clear answer why.

Beyond the normal answers like 1) opposition provides us with joy, and 2) struggles bring us strength, there is something that I discovered a few weeks ago that I hadn’t realized before that helped me understand why some of these difficulties seem to never leave (and the Lord may never intend for them to leave) – even after the person suffering has likely learned plenty of great lessons about suffering and/or dealing with trials, exercised much patience, and even submitted fully to the Lord’s will.

Alma 17 is the beginning chapters outlining the missionary service of the sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites.  In verses 10-11 the Lord is speaking to Ammon and his party (on the eve of them splitting up to preach) and “visits them with his spirit” and tells them to “be comforted”.  Then the Lord gives Ammon some instruction that I think is fascinating.  He says: “ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls”.

For the first time, I understood very clearly that there are people in the world just like Ammon, who are or have been instructed by the Lord to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions” (some of which may not ever be schedule to subside), just so that I can see their good examples of righteousness while they are ‘in the furnace of affliction’.  This thought was a light bulb for me, and I began to think of the many people who I have seen deal with trials, hard times, struggles, and a multitude of outside circumstances that aren’t a direct result of poor choices and yet they seem to show forth their good examples of patience and long suffering over the years – and now I am even more inspired when I think that they agreed to this trial and are enduring it well, just so that I can be provided with their example and have my faith strengthened.  Unbelievable.

This thought also helped me read through the remaining stories of Ammon and his brethren in a different light.  For example; Alma 24, Alma 28, and Alma 30 all contained stories that could be directly tied to how one individual’s faith filled and kind actions (a.k.a patience in long-suffering during a hard time) is what caused the spirit and subsequent conversion of another to take place.

I also started to look at my own life and those around me, and I asked myself the question – are my trials teaching me something?  Maybe.  But if my trials or hardships are recurring or seemingly unending, does that mean I’m missing the point repeadetly?  Not necessarily.  It might just mean that the Lord trusts me and expects me to be patient, kind, and good all along the way so that other people may see my example and be inspired.  Thus, when we continue to look for the end of a particular struggle, we may be looking for something that will never ever come.  Talk about a lesson in patience in long-suffering.

Part of why the scriptures, and the Book of Mormon in particular resonate so strongly with us is that they are filled with stories about people who wrote about their daily and repeated struggles with hardship, and were able to keep the faith and inspire other people all along the way (which happens to inspire us many years later).  After all, isn’t that why the Lord places us in families, and wards, and neighborhoods? So that we can watch each other suffer, and be inspired by their examples?  I never thought of it that way, but I definitely have been inspired by them.

With that in mind, and the idea that other people’s struggles are in place (partly) for us to be inspired, there is another scripture passage that I would like to share.  It comes from Alma 53 where the people of Ammon were almost ready to break their covenant of peace (where they buried their weapons of war) in order to help the Nephite army.  Helaman convinces them not do that, and by not breaking their covenant, and by not joining the army, the record indicates that they (the non-fighters) were “compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time”.

These uber-righteous, and faithful saints who just wanted to help their friends were left to watch these Nephites, who had already sacrificed so much on their behalf “wade through their afflictions” during this dangerous circumstance.  Imagine with me the mental pain and suffering that these great people endured just by watching their brethren suffer.  It is no wonder that their children were then inspired to join Helaman’s army.  I don’t know if Helaman knew that helping them to keep their covenant would cause greater suffering, which in turn would cause greater conviction and motivation in those who were watching – but that is how sacrifice works.

One of the blessings of the spirit is that we have the ability to “see things as they really are”.  And ‘things as they really are’ include a whole lot of suffering.  Every single day and every single week in your neighborhood and in mine there are people (old and young) who are in the absolute throws of suffering.  But you and I wouldn’t necessarily know it because maybe we don’t look for it, we misunderstand it for something else, or because of how well they are showing their patience in long-suffering – and they do it because they love the savior, and they trust him, and their faith is so strong.  I can promise that if you pay attention, the Lord will bless you with the eyes to see, and the heart to feel the unlimited love that he has for these faithful saints as they continue to come and worship him.  You will be inspired by them and their strength, and you will see their example “in him”.

The Lord Jesus Christ went in to the garden of Gethsemane and suffered unspeakable pains and anguish.  This left the rest of human history with the opportunity and charge to “behold [our brother] wade through [his] affliction, in [his] dangerous circumstances.  From this one event, and his perfect love and unselfish action during his most intense suffering we are inspired, and we feel love, and we feel gratitude.  Although his sacrifice satisfied all of the necessary elements (justice, sin, death, etc.) for salvation and for our path home – I imagine that Heavenly Father indicated to him at least once or twice that a large part of his mission here on earth was to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them”.  He is the ultimate example of love and sacrifice – and he is the one who can accompany us during our hard times because he has felt them, and he will feel them, and he wants us to know him.

I hope that the next time we are suffering, stressed out, full of grief, or burdened by weights we feel are too heavy, we can look around and think of the people who are looking at us, who are watching us (they are watching), and who – through our faith filled actions – will see the savior and his love overcoming the trials.

Retain in Remembrance

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You know all the images that we’ve seen of family scripture study right?  The ones with reverent children sitting peacefully on the couch listening attentively to the one reading? Yeah, I do too…..

Our family scripture study efforts are probably a lot like your family scripture study efforts.  What I mean by that is that it’s not anything like the one in the pictures. Sometimes I wonder if what my kids are hearing and reading actually goes into their brains.  I wonder that because I see all sorts of things going on during our study time (other than silent and diligent study).  Our 1 year old is usually running around growling and slapping people, our 6 year old is usually wrapped up in a blanket watching videos or playing a game, and most of the time our 9, 11, and 14 year olds have their books out and do their best to not pay too much attention to our 1 year old who is a lot more entertaining than the books in their hands.

Case in point – I want to share two real life situations from our scripture study not long ago.  We happen to be reading Alma chapter 5, which as we know is totally amazing.  Alma is asking some soul piercing questions to the people of Zarahemla, which happens to be his first main sermon after giving up the judgment seat in order to devote his full time and attention to preaching the gospel to the people.  As I recapped what we had read the previous day (the earlier part of chapter 5), and outlined this I was naturally expecting them to be glued to the edge of their seats and scream out “tell us more, this chapter has been so excellent”!

Yet, what happened is that instead of being riveted by the words in the book, all of my children were riveted to the donuts that were being guarded by my 14 year old.  Every verse or two my 11 year old would indicate to the rest of the group that his big sister was still not sharing the donuts, that he wanted some, and that life wasn’t fair.  This continued as we read through verse 28, when my 14 year old (the one with the donuts) seemed to see an opening.  She asked her own question in a fairly loud voice “Luke, are you crying?  Over donuts”?    She pointed to him (claiming to see tears in his eyes) – to which he naturally defended himself with a loud “no”.

I hope that you can all imagine this scene in your minds.  Two tweenaged children escalating to level 8 on the sibling fight scale over some mini powdered donuts – right in the middle of scripture study.  Pretty normal day at the Alexander house.  As a note, we make an effort to apply or liken the scriptures to our every day lives and sometimes that works out really well, and other times it doesn’t, but on this day there happened to be a miracle in store – because the next verse to be read was 29 which asks the question “is there one among you who is stripped of envy”?  Naturally I took the time to explain what envy was (using a real life example of my 11 year old expressing his envy towards the donuts that happened to be in the possession of his big sister).  Pointing this out to the group seemed to please his big sister all the more – until we asked her to read verse 30.  “Is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?”  It was fun to see (and point out) that by Alma asking all these questions, it allows us to ask ourselves how we are doing….and not necessarily pointing out everybody else’s flaws.

Now, the spirit that we felt that day as we read the scriptures wasn’t the bawl your eyes out kind – it was the have some fun and laugh really hard at our crazy family kind.  And I for one was amazed (again) at how specific reading the scriptures can be.   And if I am honest, they will probably remember Alma 5 and the day that they really understood what Alma was asking them – more than if we had just read it peacefully.

The second experience was from a day or two days earlier, when we happened to read verse 6 (still in Alma 5).  It’s the first question (3 questions really) that Alma asks: Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers ? Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them?  Have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?

Now, that’s a lot of retaining in remembrance, right?  We thought so, and somehow after that verse (I honestly don’t recall how it got to that point), it was (humorously) suggested that when we pray as a family we start including the phrase “help us to retain in remembrance the captivity of our fathers, and their subsequent deliverance”.  It came up at least 4 or 5 times the next couple of days as the kids asked “what were those words again?” as we were preparing to pray.  It never actually made it into a prayer, but it helped us remember that our kids really were (and are) listening and that hopefully at some point – they will understand exactly what that phrase really means.

I say at some point because that’s exactly what happened for me (the one who should already be better and understand it).  I was encouraged and reminded during that week to “retain in remembrance” that specific phrase, which happened to help my mind “remember” the deliverer a little more.  With that added emphasis, I discovered something that I hadn’t seen before. Something that I thought was great.

I happened to be reading in Mosiah 27 in my own personal study shortly after the events of this week – and I read the account of Alma the younger and his visit from the angel (while he is out and about with the sons of Mosiah being naughty).  During this latest reading, I happened to notice the command from the angel to Alma.  The angel says “Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers…for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them.”  I hadn’t understood the implications of that command, or the significance of it before.  Honestly, I hadn’t remembered it at all.  But because we had recently read Alma 5, and because we had been focusing on “retaining in remembrance the captivity of our fathers” – I was able to see where Alma’s question came from – which added additional context to chapter 5 as well.  He had been told that very thing by the angel, which happened to be the crucial turning point in his own conversion.  We all know that he then spent the rest of his life being good – and “bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.”   He “retained in remembrance” the cycle of bondage and deliverance – and wanted everyone else to remember it as well because it makes us focus on the one who is doing the delivering.  That’s why the very first (3) question he asks in chapter 5 are “Have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance”…  He asks these questions repeatedly during his ministry (Alma 5, 29, 36 to name a few), and it happens to be a major theme of the record – All because that’s what the Angel told him to do.

So, the whole point in this particular entry, is for myself and all of us as parents to “sufficiently retain in remembrance” a few things.  1- Scripture study is awesome.  It’s important, and it’s a wonderful time to relate the scriptures to our own lives – even if it’s with donuts and making a mockery of your brother and if we look for lessons there, we will find them.  2 – It (family scripture study) is worth the effort.  I can promise that our kids will “retain in remembrance” our best efforts, and they listen and it will make a big difference in their lives.  I do know that they are listening, and that this study time is incredibly beneficial.  I have been surprised and will continue to be surprised (and grateful) when they recall things that we have discussed during our scripture study. 3 – let’s not take ourselves and this scripture study too seriously.  What I mean by that is don’t think because they aren’t glued to your every word that it’s not effective – it is.  Don’t think that because they aren’t completely silent that they aren’t listening – they are. 4 – Just because it’s awesome doesn’t mean it’s easy.  In fact, because it is awesome, we should expect it to be really hard.  Just keep trying.

Learn to Lose

 

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Over the last few weeks, my four-year-old son has discovered the amazing sport of baseball.  He has a giant blue plastic bat, and a few oversize whiffle balls (if the neighbors have thrown some back over the wall).

Every day after I get home from work, he comes and asks to go out in the back yard and play “hit ball”. It does sound a bit like what Tarzan might call it, but, it is indeed baseball. He loves it. There is only one slight problem. He’s not used to, nor does he enjoy, losing.

It’s the same story in every aspect of his little guy’s mind. He always has to be first. He has to win, or he acts like someone is trying to pluck out his fingernails with a pair of pliers. He has to be the first one back in the house when we get back from a car ride anywhere. He has to be first back home after a bike ride. He has to be first to finish his cereal. He has to be first to buckle his seatbelt. Everything is a make shift competition. Unfortunately, this little quirk that seems to drive his every action, somehow does not apply to bedtime. He’s happy to drag his feet then.

So, we as a family have had to make a decision. Do we let him always win these little perceived competitions? Or do we deal with the dramatic weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, of a four-year-old 2nd place finish? Seeing how he is child #4, and we as parents are now nearly beaten into submission, he tends to “win” so we can keep the peace, our hair, and our sanity.

But, I guess the game of baseball has given me another chance to teach him a valuable lesson….How to lose.

The first couple of days when he would get tagged out, he would get that super frowny cry-face that kids can get. He acted like you just stole his ice cream cone from his hand and ate it in front of him. He’d start to cry, whine and complain while skulking off into the shrubs to try and elicit pity and sympathy from everyone around him.

Its a hard lesson for a four-year-old. And sometimes, it can be a hard lesson for a 38 year-old.

Getting out is part of baseball. Striking out is part of baseball. Failing is part of baseball. In fact, getting a hit only 3 or 4 times out of 10 up to the plate is considered hugely successful! The earlier my little four-year-old can grasp and understand that, the better. The sooner that the rest of us old people can understand that life also works in much the same way, the better.

We are here on this earth to struggle. To lose. We aren’t here to win every time, get a trophy and go home to our Heavenly Father with nothing but blue 1st place ribbons draped around our necks. We aren’t here to return home to Heaven having never tasted anything bitter, never felt loss, heartache, disappointment, pain, anguish, anxiety, inadequacy, or discomfort.

In fact, its quite the opposite. We are here to experience exactly all of those things. We need to learn to lose.

When we are allowed to lose, struggle and fail, we increase the spectrum of feelings we have experienced. Only with the lowest lows, can we then be able to savor the experience of winning, overcoming, and succeeding in a much more meaningful way. How much better is that slow trot around the bases after a home run, when our previous 3 at bats were strikeouts?

When we struggle, or face a fight we just cant seem to win, sometimes we just need a new perspective. For me, the perfect pep talk comes from Moroni. When I feel knee deep in the middle of slump, or when I feel like I am 0 for my last 50 at bats, he provides the best reality check there is. He uses the Lord’s words to explain the origin, source, or reason for our weakness and struggle.

“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.”   -Ether 12:27

It is interesting to me that the Lord, in this scripture, teaches us that it is He himself that gives us our weaknesses. Our weaknesses and struggles are not heaped upon us by a malicious adversary. They are lovingly placed upon us by our Savior in order to mold us into what he wants us to become- humble and submissive. He wants us to depend on Him. And, if we do humble ourselves and have faith in him, our weaknesses not only vanish, but become strengths.

If the Savior is the one who places these weaknesses upon us, then He is certainly willing and capable of removing them. His master plan includes struggles, and burdens, and it always has. But, it is always for a wise purpose. It can bring us closer to Him.

“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”  Mosiah 24:14

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Losing is part of life. Struggling is part of life. But, we can’t get discouraged. We have to realize and recognize that those obstacles or weaknesses we struggle with are actually placed there by our loving Savior. We have to try and see these big obstacles in our way not as stumbling blocks to hamper our progress, but as stepping stones to promote it

Being thus overcome

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A long time ago, there was a (goodly) guy who was probably really busy just like us, and I imagine that he had a lot of things on his plate.  He was a father, which means he had a family to support – which also means he had a job, he had a place in the community, and he cared about other people.  In his city (Jerusalem), there happened to come “many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed”.1 This threat of destruction and the need for repentance from these prophets had stirred up some strong feelings of love and action from this man, so immediately – and on top of everything else that he already had on his plate – he started praying “even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.” As he prayed “there came a pillar of fire… and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.”2

Perhaps “these things” which Lehi saw included the impending destruction of Jerusalem, the city he loved, or the upcoming trials that would test his family.  Perhaps it was a glimpse of the additional responsibilities the Lord had in mind for him as a prophet/leader (in addition to his current load).  Perhaps it was a detailed account of his children and their future rebellion, or maybe even a glimpse at his own associates soon trying to kill him.  Any way you slice it, we can rest assured that what he did see and hear, wasn’t just all the amazing blessings that were headed his way, because (these things he saw) caused him to “quake and tremble exceedingly.”

What happens next gives us a great phrase into Lehi’s state of mind.  It also helps us understand a pattern that occurs pretty frequently in the scriptures, which means we should pay attention.  The record reads: “And it came to pass that he returned to his own house… and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.”3 The next verse starts out “And being thus overcome” reminding us that what happens is actually during his state of being overcome.  One synonym or definition for overcome is to overwhelm.  Lehi felt overwhelmed at his responsibility and his immediate future. How many of us can relate to that?  How many mothers see and hear ‘these things’ that don’t ever stop that are just a part of motherhood and feel a bit overwhelmed?  How many fathers are overwhelmed at the exact same thing?   Life can often be overwhelming.

Well, the good news, that’s not where the story ends, because the pattern shows us what great things can happen when we find ourselves “being thus overcome”.

Lehi, being thus overcome, was carried away in a vision, where he saw the heavens, God, and numberless angels so that his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled4 – in other words, the Lord somehow replaced Lehi’s quaking and trembling with joy and love and peace.

Note that Lehi’s vision didn’t change what the Lord was going to ask Lehi to do, nor did it change his present or future responsibilities –  all it changed was Lehi’s perception and motivation – because after this experience, Lehi had the strength and courage to go forward and prophesy to the people, and to declare “concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.”5

For the past 11 months or so, there has been a particularly stressful situation involving my work life.  And those of us who happen to be like Lehi, and who are charged with the heavy responsibility to “preside over [our] families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for [them]”6 understand how work, and everything that comes with the word “work” happens to be a large portion of our lives (every day, every week, all year long) and can affect our feelings – not to mention that it’s our “work” that pays for and supports everything else (house, cars, food, family life, etc.) we enjoy.  It’s sort of a big deal.

This particular issue started out as a typically small/normal problem to solve, but over the past year it has grown to become a potentially catastrophic one. It has brought me to the same point as Lehi – where I can honestly say that I have seen and heard much; and because of the things which I have seen and heard I am beginning to quake and tremble exceedingly.  I don’t know if I’ve cast myself upon my bed quite yet, and thrown in the towel, but I do happen to find myself sympathizing with and relating to Lehi and his state of being ‘overcome’ more and more as this situation drags on and on and on.  I also find myself wishing that this particular trial/struggle had not come to me at all.  I would eagerly pass it on to someone else.

The past two weeks have been particularly bad, to the point where I have been battling to find a proper balance in my various responsibilities (husband, father, church calling, work) and honestly, it’s been a battle even gathering my thoughts to focus on the things that I want to focus on (rather than this glaring problem dominating my thoughts and being a continuous distraction all day and night) while attempting to still make time to actually do real “work” or to work off some stress (that’s code for train/work out or relax with the family), which ironically adds stress in the event I miss scheduled time off or fail to completely give all my attention to the things that matter most.

All of this brings me to a hope that by somehow recognizing this pattern, and where I currently find myself in this pattern, I can and will be able to see or experience something great and enlightening (like Lehi) while or since or because I am “thus overcome”.  I also realize that there is a possibility that it may be two more years before I am fully ‘overcome’ or that this situation is resolved (if ever) which is frightening and sobering at the same time.  Yet, this passage also highlights the simple, yet incredibly difficult way to work through this type of burden.  Lehi, and later his son, teach us that when the going gets tough, we should just start praying fervently for other people – and then acting on those prayers to actually help them.  This for me the past several months has been easier to preach and much harder to practice.

This passage helps me remember that I have often been missing this key component to Lehi’s successfully being shown great things while he was “overcome”.  That by forgetting (or not worrying about) my own problems in order to help someone else with theirs – I will actually solve my own problems.  It’s the same way the Savior approached his monumental task in the garden of Gethsemane.

It is also probable that until I learn how to do that, I won’t be able to see clearly that all along the way there have been repeated moments of joy, “to the point where my soul did rejoice, and my whole heart was filled” – just like Lehi’s – and that I don’t need to continue waiting until some imaginary end of this trial to be happy.

So here I am, writing this to myself as a reminder to be like Lehi, who was being like Jesus.

 

 

Notes

1 1 Ne. 1:4

2 1 Ne. 1:6

3 1 Ne. 1:7

4 1 Ne. 1:8-15

5 1 Ne. 1:18

6 The Family: A Proclamation to the World (p7)

I will not suffer my name to be polluted

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My little brother Riley tells a lot of funny stories about his high school days, but one in particular involves a somewhat poorly made cabinet/dresser that he put together in wood shop.  He tells the story that during this semester in class he disregarded most of the detailed and mundane instructions that the shop instructor gave because he didn’t have time for them (or maybe because he was pretty sure he could just figure it out on his own).  Either way, the semester came and went, and the time arrived for their ‘projects’ to be completed, passed off, and then taken home.  At this point the exchange between Riley and Coach Lunt (shop teacher) went something like this:

Riley: (as he gathers his wooden project and heads towards the door) “See you later coach, thanks for all the good times”.

Coach: “Woah, where do you think you are going with that (pointing to Riley’s project)?”

Riley: “Home – I’m finished with it”.

Coach: “No.  There is absolutely no way on earth that thing is leaving my shop.”

Riley: “What are you talking about – it’s totally fine”

Coach:  “If someone sees that leaving my shop, I will probably lose my job”

Riley: “Well, I think it’s awesome”

Coach: “Bring it to me…..right now.”

Following this exchange, Riley watched while Coach Lunt performed an entire semester’s worth of rehabilitative and reconstructive wooden surgery on Riley’s project in order to make it not only functional, but appealing.  Glue was no longer the primary material and most of the lines were straight and the drawers would actually open.  At which point, Coach Lunt was at least willing to let it leave his shop – essentially with his name on it.

There is a scripture passage that we can relate to this idea; it is found in 1 Nephi 20: 10-11.

For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.  For mine own sake, yea, for mine own sake will I do this, for I will not suffer my name to be polluted

Short, simple, yet so amazing.

We need to remember at the outset that he is currently (like right now) refining us, which by necessity places us in situations and circumstances that we don’t like or want to be – yet they force us to deal with frustration, anger, exhaustion, or anxiety.  He terms this place the “furnace of affliction”.  Don’t forget that while we are there (in the middle of the despair) – he wants to know how we will act, what we will choose, what we will say, and if we rely on him and trust him and continue to be kind, patient, loving, faithful, etc. while he is seemingly gone from before our face.  If we continue to choose him, we make ourselves eligible to be chosen by him.

But why does he do this?  Why does he not allow a shoddy excuse for a cabinet to leave his shop?  Well, because he will not suffer his name to be polluted – just like Coach Lunt.

The Lord is a master craftsman, a shaper of souls, and a maker of men (and women).  If we try and waltz out as a (self-proclaimed) completed project before he thinks we are ready – we’ll have a conversation similar to the one Riley had with Coach Lunt – and he will remind us that even though we may think we are pretty awesome, that we have made some progress, or even if we are totally satisfied with our current state, in his view we haven’t spent nearly enough time in the furnace to burn off all that crud and he’s not allowing us to leave his shop until he’s made some more improvements.  So let’s all just hang tight, get as comfy as we can, and watch him work (and try as best we can to help him help us).

Be More Than You Are

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Like most parents these days, we have found that one of the most essential tools in preventing degenerative insanity while driving in the car with the entire family is the car dvd player. I have no idea how we as children survived. Not only did we have to endure oppressive hours of boredom during longer trips, but we had to do it all while in closed quarters proximity to each other. For the Alexander kids, it also meant someone had to go to the rear facing, nausea inducing back seat of the Caprese Classic station wagon, also known as “purgatory”.

While we usually piled into the car at the beginning of the trip not wanting to strangle each other, it most certainly required regular divine interventions, and some not-so-divine interventions, to ensure that our actual family size was not diminished by the end of each trip. Today, however, the threat of self destruction during family trips is much, much lower thanks to this life saving technology.

As the years of parenting have gone by, I haven’t actually “seen” a lot of the movies that have played for our kids, but I’ve certainly heard enough of Grease, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Open Season 1 and 2, All the Toy Stories, Monsters Inc. and each Kung Fu Panda to be able to recite them almost word for word. I’m sure this knowledge will be very useful to me someday.

Interestingly enough, sometime between the 78th, and 79th rerun of Kung Fu Panda 3, I caught a line or two that proved to be almost prophetic. It has been probably the longest running movie in our car over the last few years, and for once, something quite profound popped out. This prophetic message taught by Master Shifu not only impressed me as a movie line, but also ended up being played out in real life only a few weeks later.

The scene in the movie of which I reference is when Po, the main character, a Panda, and unlikely hero and recent graduate Kung Fu master, had been tasked by his master, Shifu, to further train the “Furious Five” who are his colleagues, and the best of the best that Kung Fu has to offer. Needless to say, he fails. Miserably. He can’t train the already trained Kung Fu Masters. He feels that he is the most unqualified person ever for the job, and that he won’t ever be able to be as good as they are.

Here is the clip

 

Master Shifu, the wise, experienced Master that he was, gave Po some great advise. He taught, “If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are”.

This line is a perfect description of many of our lives. We allow ourselves to feel like we aren’t good enough, or that someone else is always better than us, or they were simply blessed with more ability etc. So, we stay safe. We settle. We don’t want to  stretch to reach higher, be uncomfortable, or try to expand our abilities. We stop trying to be better because its hard, or difficult, or so far out of our comfort zone, that we feel like we are in outer space.

This concept isn’t new, and it’s frequently taught, and it’s all fine and dandy in a movie, or a catchy Facebook video, or a motivational speech by Toni Robbins. But this time, I was able to see it in action.

A little over a week ago, my wife was asked to speak in church for the following Sunday. Not a huge deal right? Well, maybe not for some people, but my wife hates speaking in church. Like, really, really hates it. She has said on multiple occasions directly to the bishopric that she would rather walk outside, stand in the road and get run over by a speeding semi than to speak in church. And she was dead serious.

And thats not even the hard part. This wasn’t a normal day at church. It was the adult session of Stake conference. Still not enough? This session also would have a visiting general authority (a member of the seventy), as well as the mission president of the Gilbert Mission (who is also a seventy). Thats like going from 0 to 120 mph in no time at all. I can count on 2 fingers the times that I remember my wife speaking in church. Period. And we’ve been married 17 years.

But what happened in that moment when she was asked to speak, and really, the whole week leading up to that very intimidating situation, was amazing to see. She was calm, collected, and faithful. She immediately accepted.

I was so impressed by the huge change in not only her willingness to do something so intimidating and miles outside of her comfort zone, but also in the way she had complete faith that she could do it. Of course she had the moments where she wondered why in the world she was asked, when there are so many other great people available, just like we all would. But she worked through all those thoughts and feelings and went on to do an amazing job that night.

It was simple, meaningful, heartfelt, and honest. It was everything it was supposed to be. She expressed her concern for our kids and how we have always tried to teach them what is right, and how now, as they are getting older, we just want them to develop a relationship with the Savior, above all else. She bore her testimony that the Savior has made all the difference in her life, and that we, as parents, need to learn how to trust our kids enough to allow them to make their own decisions. Which isn’t always easy, especially with teenagers.

After the rest of the speakers were done, Elder Jones, the visiting seventy, got up and spoke. Looking back, it’s interesting to me to see how perfectly orchestrated our lives are in the symphony the Lord is playing. I say that because, as Elder Jones began his remarks, he took a few minutes and addressed each of the previous speakers individually. He shared comments, scriptures, experiences, and testimony while turning around at the pulpit as if having a personal conversation with each person who had spoken. For Catie, he shared a scripture along with his testimony,

For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh…God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Reedeemer.”
-2 Nephi 10:2

To hear that directly and personally from a general authority was amazing. I can’t help but think, that Catie was asked to speak that night, not necessarily for everyone else, but specifically so she could hear that response from Elder Jones. We had been talking, and praying a lot over the last several months about this same worry. Sometimes the answers to our prayers are quiet and private, and sometimes they come when we least expect it, right after we speak in stake conference.

It was a special day, and I have been able to just sit back and enjoy it. Its fun to see how my wife has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. If you would have spoken with her 3 years ago, and told her that she would be called to serve as the Young Women’s president, and then speak in stake conference, she would have laughed at you, but here we are today.

Just like Master Shifu taught Po, “If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are”, My wife has shown me that this is more than a cool line in a kids cartoon, it’s the honest truth. She has taught me that literally anything is possible if you trust in the Lord, and leave it up to him. She has become so much more than she ever thought possible. I have always seen this in her. Now, I guess the secret is out.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LordBlessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust…”
-Psalm 40:1-4

“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe
-Proverbs 29:25

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.”
-2 Nephi 22:2

“Blessed be the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.”
-Psalm 28:6,7

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Just Breathe

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In November of last year, for reasons beyond my comprehension, I decided that I was going to try and do a triathlon. That rash decision was a direct result of me being shown up big time by my little brother Tyson. He had just finished a full Ironman triathlon, and made it look easy.

As has been well documented in this blog, competition among us brothers has always been, and will probably always be, in the forefront of our relationships. Let’s at least try and call it “healthy competition”. We push each other to be better. Or, we push ourselves to try to be as good as the other guy. This triathlon thing though….?

Last time I wrote about this, I described the initial attempts I had made in the swimming pool. These initial forays trying to swim didn’t go smoothly. They instead made me feel more like I was in that Gravity movie with George Clooney and was spinning out of control in a punctured space suit, hurtling and cartwheeling towards the black abyss of outer space. Tyson had warned me about that and kept saying that I would eventually get it. But it wasn’t happening very quickly.

When trying to swim the right way, or trying to emulate the way the real swimmers do it, you have to alternate breathing by turning your head either left or right, while you are pulling your way through the water. All this while your head is probably halfway submerged in the water. The official way to do this is during every third stroke. Thats how they teach it on youtube anyway, and thats where I learn to do everything.

If I wanted to be a good swimmer, I was supposed to take a stroke with my right, left, then quickly inhale a breath while turning my head to the left on the third stroke. I was then supposed to repeat and alternate ad nauseam until I either passed out, drowned, or made it to the other side of the pool. The pros make it look easy, but its not. Its not, because swimming is a very “aerobic” exercise in a very anaerobic (underwater) environment.

For the first several months I made small improvements. I went from an initial limit of around 100 meters, to being able to go to almost 400 meters without stopping to perform life saving measures.  That may seem nice, but when you consider the length of the swim on a “half” ironman triathlon is 1.2 miles or 1,930 meters it puts a damper on your excitement. It makes you feel like you have to clean the entire bathroom with only a toothbrush, and only using your teeth. Not pretty. I started to see myself as being the only one needing to swim with Dora the Explorer arm floaties during the triathlon.

I was pretty discouraged, I couldn’t seem to be able to build up enough endurance to even sniff what I was supposed to be able to do. I would go to the pool almost every single day, and the same thing would happen. I’d swim 450 meters, nearly pass out, get nauseous, and see stars for the next 3 hours while I recovered on the couch (which was not exactly getting me prepared to bike for 3 hours, then run for an hour and a half immediately after I swam).

It was about this time that a timely phone call to Tyson changed everything. We were talking about techniques and things, and he passively mentioned that he took a breath every other stroke, not every third. I decided to try out this super secret, highly advanced technique of breathing more often instead of tempting death and nearly drowning each time I entered the pool. It turned out that breathing more often was a good idea. Funny.  So I guess if you’re suffocating under water, breathing more often is helpful. Why didn’t I think of that?

The next time I went to the pool, I tried it. I took off, and took a nice deep breath every other stroke, and kept going. I passed my old record of 500 meters, and kept going. I passed 750 meters and kept going, then 900, and all the way to 1000 meters. I stopped only because I had to pinch myself and make sure it was real.  It was. I shook my head and wondered again why I hadn’t previously thought of breathing more when I was out of breath. It was just that simple.

The next day, I decided to see just how far I could go, and made it to 2000 meters without stopping. I just laughed at myself to think that such a simple change had made such a drastic improvement in what I was doing. I decided that every “how to swim” video on youtube should have Pearl Jam singing the theme song, “Just Breathe”.

 

As I contemplated this improvement, and as I was swimming for those longer training days in the pool, I kept thinking about how much better my life was now that I had a steady supply of oxygen, or breath. I thought about the similarities of having enough “breath” in all the aspects of my life. I thought about the significance of spending one day a week concentrating as much as possible on the good things in life, my Savior, and the gospel. It reminded me of how Sundays, and everyday really, could be that breath of fresh air.

Sometimes its easy to get caught up in trying to do to much of our everyday stuff, that we seldom take the time to spiritually breathe. We are here on this planet for a purpose. That purpose is not to make the most money, have the best toys, or be the most successful in our chosen field. We are here to learn to be like God.

He puts us here for that reason alone.

As I have been through my daily, weekly and yearly routines, I have been guilty of trying to tough it out for too long without taking a breath. I have struggled to make it even a few hundred meters before I felt like I couldn’t keep going. I was seemingly doing the right things, I just wasn’t “breathing” often enough.

Our physical bodies need oxygen to survive and function. Our spirits also need constant spiritual oxygen for nourishment. When its continuous, it feeds us in a way that enables us to continue progressing and we become stronger and stronger. We become a smoother swimmer so to speak. We feel more comfortable, excited, and familiar with our purpose on earth. If we go too long without it, we tend to struggle, and sometimes find ourselves on the couch seeing stars.

Every day I should be breathing in the lessons taught in the scriptures, praying, and thinking about my real purpose on this planet,  and taking in big deep breaths with my spirit. It makes a difference. If I  do it daily, as the “professional swimmers” have counseled us to do, I will have plenty of spiritual oxygen for endurance.

Breathing gives us life. It sustains our mortal lives, but the frequent breathing in of spiritual oxygen is just as critical to our spiritual survival and endurance. After all, thats really the hard part, enduring to the end.

“The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.”
Job 33:4

Cappuccino, Coke, and Courage

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“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
-John 7:17

When I was 16 years old, I was invited to play on an all-star baseball team along with several other kids from Utah county. I didn’t really know the other guys that well, but we had a really good team and we started to become friends over the few weeks we were together. The team was put together to compete in an all-star tournament in Salt Lake. Even though we had only recently been put together as a team, we somehow won the whole thing. Because we won, we advanced to the regional tournament. Lucky for us, it was in Arizona. Yuma, Arizona. In July.

So, we had a road trip. We piled in together in a couple of big vans, and hit the road. The logical place to stop halfway from Utah county to Yuma was, of course, Las Vegas. The coaches got us checked into our rooms, and left us there. The slots, or blackjack tables must have been calling. Now, as you can probably imagine, 15 teenage boys left on their own about a mile from the Vegas strip with 14 hours before the vans left again for Arizona was mischief waiting to happen.

We were set to leave for Yuma early the next morning, but 15 year olds don’t usually sit and read books in hotel rooms, so we put all of our teenage brain cells together and decided to take in the sights.

After a few minutes, we left and walked all through the night, up and down the strip, seeing the sights, walking through the Caesars palace mall, and soaking it all up. After several hours, we were exhausted. I still don’t know who, if anyone really, came up with that brilliant idea, but It wasn’t a good one. And, unfortunately, I just went along with the crowd.

About 5 a.m. we finally realized we were super tired, and someone decided that rather than sleeping, we just needed caffeine. So we stopped at a small fancy coffee shop in Caesars Palace somewhere. I sat there staring at the menu not knowing really what I was doing. I remember feeling way out of place.

What was I supposed to order at a coffee shop anyway? Well, coffee is what you order at a coffee shop. And so, one by one, every one of the other players who were with me ordered a cappuccino. Apparently it’s stronger than coffee, so it was perfect for anyone who happened to have stayed up all night walking.

I found myself in a spot I had never really been in before in my entire 16 years. I had never been offered a drink, a cigarette, or anything else that was against the Word of Wisdom. Peer pressure wasn’t really something I had ever dealt with either. I knew a good Mormon kid wasn’t supposed to drink coffee, tea, or cappuccino, even if I did stay up all night.

I sat there and had to decide if I was going to go along with everyone else who had already ordered or do what I had been taught. I had to decide for myself. Mom and Dad weren’t there, the bishop wasn’t there, no one who really knew me was there. It was completely up to me. I could take that first step in either direction. As seemingly insignificant as that choice in reality was, the principle was huge. Which way would I choose to go?

It took me only about 5 seconds, and maybe my lack of money helped, but I decided I would go with the $1.95 coke, instead of the $6.99 cappuccino. After I ordered, all the other guys kind of looked at me sideways and wondered why I had ordered coke at a fancy coffee shop, but I felt happy that I did.

A few minutes later, I learned that the Lord has our backs when we do what he asks. Even on little tiny choices that may not seem like they mean a whole lot in the big picture. He knows me, and all my little personal battles, choices, struggles, and temptations. I had broke ranks with all the guys around me to try and do the right thing. I had stepped out on my own, and the Lord rewarded and taught me in a way that I would understand even with my teenage brain.

As the cappuccino cups were all handed out to the other players, It looked like Mrs Nesbitt’s tea party in Toy Story. The cups were tiny. They couldn’t have held more than 6 oz. I, however, was rewarded with a gigantic 64 oz towering container full of delicious Coca Cola. It looked more like a giant fish bowl, than a cup (think of the time the Hobbits found out what a “pint” was at the Prancing pony in Lord of the Rings). At that very moment, all the other players were jealous of me and my choice that morning. I remember feeling totally justified, and rewarded for that little, tiny, almost insignificant moment in my life. For me, it was a lesson I would never forget.

seven_drink_02

It wouldn’t have been the end of the world had I ordered a coffee that morning. But, the lesson I learned was that I could be strong on my own. I was able to do what I knew or believed was right, regardless of what everyone else was doing. I also learned that it was my choice, not anyone else’s, that would determine who I would become in the future.

This lesson of taking that first step out on our own is a lesson we all have to learn. It has been necessary since the beginning. One of my favorite examples of this principle is the one we learn about in Alma 56.

This is the famous chapter where we learn from Helaman all about his 2000 stripling warriors.  These young men, Helaman describes as being “very” young, had never fought. Even though they had zero experience fighting, they volunteered to be soldiers and join the Nephite armies as long as Helaman was their commander. They joined because the Nephites desperately needed help, and their fathers had previously buried their weapons of war in a sacred covenant, vowing never to fight again.

Helaman’s 2000 were a welcome sight to the Nephites, even thought they had no experience, and were likely a bit scrawny. Because of this, the Nephite commanders probably had to use them in a way that would minimize their physical disadvantage. So, they came up with a plan, a plan that would use them like bait. Like worms on the hook.

Helaman’s boys finally received their marching orders. Their mission was to march past the city of Antiparah, which held the largest Lamanite army in that part of the country, and draw them out of their fortified city by looking like easy prey.  This probably wasn’t hard, because they actually were easy prey. If the Lamanites came out, their job was to run away faster to avoid getting slaughtered. Pretty simple, right? It was a perfect assignment for some fresh legged, young new recruits.

The plan worked. Just as the Nephite armies had hoped, the Lamanites took the bait. They poured out of Antiparah. All of them. They then took off in hot pursuit of Helaman’s 2000. The second part of the plan was to have Antipus and his men then take off after the Lamanites, catch them, and engage them out in the open, instead of the fortified city. But, this plan took a full 3 days to take effect. Tyson explained this unique prolonged footrace in a previous post here.

After basically running from the Lamanites all day for 3 days straight, Helaman noticed that the Lamanites suddenly stopped chasing his little band of 2000. But, they were not sure as to the reason. It could have been a trap, or Antipus could have finally caught up with them. It was unclear. Those 2000 young men, who had learned all about faith, courage, and trust and had also seen it in action from their parents, were now faced with a decision. A choice. A much harder, more difficult, and life threatening choice than choosing between a cappuccino or a Coke.

Helaman presented this choice to his “sons” this way…

”Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare;“

“Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?¹”

Helaman was leaving the choice up to them. He had been a commander. He had been in battle. He was intimately familiar with what the likely outcome of a choice to fight would be for those young boys. Those young men knew their job was to be bait for the Lamanites, not to necessarily fight with them. But now, they had to decide what they wanted to do. They needed make their own choice. Mom and Dad weren’t there. Which way would they go? Forward into battle? Or wait it out in supposed safety far away.

They had been taught by their mothers to believe in God and his power. They had seen it demonstrated by their fathers in their covenant with God. They had seen or heard of the ultimate sacrifice of many of their lives honoring that covenant. But, their mothers were all hundreds of miles away. They were out on their own.

Helaman described his reaction to the choice these young men made…

”And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites²”

They made their choice. Helaman’s boys would fight.

They knew they had no experience and had never fought before, but they also believed the Lord would protect them. They took that step of faith for themselves, and decided to exercise it. This was their answer to Helaman…

“Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus³.”

Their choice to fight given their lack of experience required a lot of faith. A lot more than my choice to avoid coffee, and a lot more dangerous. But, the principle is the same. We all need to, at some point in our lives, step away from what we have been taught, and make our own choices that will affect the rest of our lives.

The wonderful testimonies of others can guide us, encourage us, set examples for us, but eventually we all find ourselves in a spot just like Helaman’s boys were. We are in a place where we need to make a step in one direction or the other. We will either leap in faith towards the fight, or ease quietly away in the opposite direction.

The Lord knows us perfectly, he knows exactly what our anxieties are, he knows our concerns, our fears, our struggles and every little detail of our lives. He is the one that orchestrates these opportunities and moments of truth. He wants us to step out in faith. If we take that step, he will support us. He will strengthen us, protect us, and bless us. It’s how we learn. It’s how we develop our own testimony independent of anybody else. This hard fought, and experienced testimony is the only one that is ultimately strong enough to withstand the onslaught of a world that will challenge us.

Helaman’s 2000 took that step, and survived multiple hard fought, and bloody battles against older, more experienced and hardened Lamanites. Not one of Helaman’s “sons” were killed. It was nothing short of a complete miracle. There is no way that should have happened. But, because they were willing to step into the fight with faith in the Lord’s protection, he preserved them. The most important step they took, was that first one. That first step when Helaman gave them the choice to step out on their own, and exercise the faith that they had been taught.

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We all read this story and marvel on their faith, their courage, and dedication. We try and put ourselves in their shoes and contemplate if our answer would be like theirs in that moment. We may not be asked to take up arms against a powerful opposing army, but we can try and emulate that same courage, dedication and faith.

We may not face a literal army of Lamanites, but we all face an army of those who wish to harm us spiritually. We do face an opposing force that will stop at nothing to destroy us and our faith. Let’s take the lessons we have learned, the testimonies we have heard and felt, and allow them to bolster us into taking those first steps on our own to face the enemy with our hearts full of faith. We will be protected. We will be strengthened. Our faith will grow.

When we add action to our beliefs, our testimonies will be solidified. We will know the gospel is true. We will feel closer to the Lord. We will then know and understand more completely the doctrine of Jesus Christ, because we will be doing his will, and that is exactly what He promised us…

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

-John 7:17

 

  1. Alma 56:43,44
  2. Alma 56:45
  3. Alma 56:46

Being Child-like

 

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When our Heavenly Father wanted to save the world, He didn’t take over a country or develop a militia. He sent a helpless child to a choice and worthy woman and a humble and believing man living in insecure circumstances in a conquered land occupied by a hostile force. The harsh geopolitical and military circumstances of Christ’s birth should remind us that Heavenly Father can bless us even if the external circumstances of our lives aren’t necessarily easy or peaceful.1

Jesus taught: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God”2 and “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”3

King Benjamin explained that we must put off the natural man and “[become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father”4

That is quite a list but for now, I am going to focus on two qualities. 1) Being full of love, and 2) Being willing to submit to all things which the Lord inflicts upon us.

It is easy to find examples of these child-like behaviors in the scriptures.

Now…

Paul, after he explains charity, states: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”5

To be child-like is not the same as being childish. There is an important distinction there. Obviously, as we learn, practice, and develop, our behavior should change. Child-like qualities of innocence, humility, simplicity, faith, and love should grow and mature into traits like wisdom, leadership, accountability, dependability, and self-mastery.6

Examples of child-like behavior in the scriptures:

We have to start with our perfect example in all ways, Jesus Christ. We celebrate the baby born in Bethlehem not simply for the miraculous birth, but also for his selfless life, infinite atonement, and perfect resurrection. Christ grew in wisdom and stature, he performed miracles and commanded the elements, but he never became full of himself or slothful. Isaiah described his as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”7, but our Lord and Savior never complained, murmured, nor shirked his exceptional responsibility. He didn’t constantly groan under the weight of His office.1

He served others, shared joy, and became the light of the world. He was, (as King Benjamin taught) full of love, and willing to submit to the Father. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”8

Another example, this time from the Book of Mormon: The people of Alma were oppressed, beaten, and had heavy burdens placed upon their backs. When they prayed, they were threatened with death, but they continued to pray in their hearts. Their prayers were heard. “And it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord”.9

The people of Alma demonstrated child-like qualities of love and submission to God’s will. They were blessed with strength to endure and overcome the afflictions placed upon them.

We can all think of someone that we know who demonstrates these child-like qualities.

My friend, Sean Thomas has been described as ‘stubbornly optimistic’. And he is.  He radiates happiness, and no matter what life throws at him, he is smiling right back. He has a child’s love and happiness. He is child-like in the best ways.

Grandpa Ralph is a man who is full of love and willing to submit to the will of our Heavenly Father (and to the will of his wife). He did not always have an easy go at life, he has endured trials while lifting and teaching others, all while maintaining a cheerful attitude.

To fully appreciate this brief story, you have to have known Ralph and Deon, and their awesome and inspiring relationship. The following exchange can be found on family search submitted by Grandpa Ralph himself:

TIME: Some time in the 1980’s.

HITCHCOCK HOME PHONE RINGS: RALPH ANSWERS: “Hello, this is the hen pecked husband at the Happy Hitchcock House… May I help you?”

DEON: (over hearing the salutation) ” !! RRAALLPPHH !!

RALPH: “It’s Helen, and it’s for you.”

RALPH: (Unstated comment to himself) “Being a happily hen pecked husband is one of the pillars of our good marriage. But, because Deon did her hen pecking with such a style and precision that I not only accepted it, (most of it) and depended on it to benefit our marriage. But, I had to let her know that I knew what she was doing.”

Grandpa Ralph liked to tease his true love, he liked to laugh… as did Deon. Now, before you get upset, you should know that every person who ever saw my Grandfather interact in any way with my Grandmother, knew that he loved her dearly. He would do anything for her – no question. There is no way that anyone could deny that. He was cheerful.

My little boy Blake is a tangible example to us of child-like behavior. He can’t talk or give sermons on Christ-like attitudes and how we can achieve them. He does, however serve others and spread happiness. He likes to smile at people. When he does, he spreads love and light, it is really neat to see. It is something so simple, but smiling when we see others really can make a difference.

Joseph Smith, while in Liberty Jail wrote to the saints: “a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves. Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God”.10

We celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Lord for what Jesus grew to be and what he has done for us. With the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the power of his grace and atonement, we can change, we can grow. We can strive to be as children and cheerfully submit to His will, because, as Pual taught: “When we are weak, then we are strong”11

————————————————————————-

  1. Scott E. Ferrin, Christmas and Christ’s Invitation to Become as a Little Child: What Manner… BYU Speech Dec. 10, 2013.
  2. Luke 18:16
  3. Matthew 18:3
  4. Mosiah 3:19
  5. 1 Corinthians 13:11
  6. Derek A. Cuthbert, The Meaning of Maturity, General Conference, Oct 1982
  7. Isaiah 53:3
  8. Luke 22:42
  9. Mosiah 24:15
  10. Doctrine and Covenants 123:16-17
  11. 2 Corinthians 12:10

The Gadianton Robbers of Doctrinal Mastery

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Recently, the CES (Church Educational System) outlined a new approach to help its students learn how to recognize, understand, and apply gospel principles in their lives.  It’s called Doctrinal Mastery.  It is a supplement to the previous Scripture Mastery program that we had as curriculum back in the 90’s.  Instead of just memorizing scriptures (which is still an excellent idea by the way), the CES is helping and teaching and encouraging the students to learn how to search for and answer their own questions.  I encourage everyone to go here and read all of the material available (but especially the talk by Elder Ballard, Chad Webb, and the 2016 annual  broadcast), because it is outstanding information and is well worth your dedicated and repeated study time (not to mention how great it would be for FHE and/or other family discussions).

In case you don’t follow the link above right away and hope that I will recap some of the main points, below is an overview:

Principles

  • Students acquire spiritual knowledge and are better prepared to respond to questions as they follow the principles and patterns that Heavenly Father has established for us to learn and understand truth.
  • Students will deepen their conversion and commitment to Jesus Christ, be protected against the influences of the adversary, and be better prepared to bless the lives of others as they come to understand, believe, and live according to the Savior’s doctrine.

Desired Outcomes

Learning and applying divine principles for acquiring spiritual knowledge and responding to questions by

  1. Acting in faith
  2. Examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective
  3. Seeking further understanding through divinely appointed sources

 

Each one of these three desired outcomes is outlined in great detail in the various talks/devotionals/messages that are available through the link above, and each one of them is worth spending hours reading/learning about, but for the purpose of this particular message, I want us to understand number 2 – Examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective.

An eternal perspective means not limiting our questions or our concerns or our doubts to our own little tiny 20th century timeframe, nor to our little tiny understanding of a particular principle/application.  Part of examining concepts in this eternal perspective is the acknowledgement that opposition and temptation have been around since the very beginning of what we call time, and the understanding that we certainly are not the first ones to struggle or deal with a particular issue – no matter what it is.  Even if our pride thinks it is.  We need to understand that the scriptures (the divinely appointed sources referenced in item 3 above) are in fact a compilation of scenarios, situations, stories, that produced the entire gamut of burning questions and riveting answers – all recorded by righteous individuals with the express intent of being available for us to “examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective”.

Maybe the next time we have a doubt, or a serious question, or something that makes us ‘wrestle’ with the Lord – no matter what it is – let’s ask ourselves a guiding question that will start our search for answers on the right path: “Has someone already asked this question before”?  “Has someone in the history of recorded time struggled with an issue similar to this”?  Has someone then “acted in faith” and “sought further understanding through divinely appointed sources” and received an answer – and then recorded that answer”? In most cases the answer is yes.  As a note, that’s what the scriptures are – the most true and correct FAQ document the world has ever seen.

A “yes” answer to the questions above places some of the question finding responsibility on our shoulders because I doubt the Lord loves when we ask a question that he has already answered – especially when that answer has been asked, answered, and then recorded in the scriptures.  After all, most successful companies refer you to the FAQ section before they connect you with a representative right?  Right.

To help us understand exactly what and how awesome the scriptures really are – which will in turn help us really feel the possibilities that it holds for us – let’s think of some of the times that angels have come down from heaven to visit the earth to deliver a particular message – or when a beloved prophet is sent to do the same.  Moroni comes to Joseph Smith and quotes some scriptures.  Abinidi gets sent to King Noah and ends up quoting/reading scriptures (Isaiah).  Christ himself (not to mention Nephi, Jacob, and many other prophets who wrote in the Book of Mormon) comes down to minister among the Nephites and spends a whole lot of time reading and expounding the scriptures.  Talk about answering questions – maybe he was making sure they really did have all the scriptures, so that when they recorded the Book of Mormon, it would ensure that we really do have the full set of FAQ.

There is a scripture passage that helps us solidify how we should approach and deal with any questions that we may have surrounding the gospel.  The setting is approx. 29-23 BC and the Lamanites are the good guys and the Nephites happen to be the bad guys.  At this time, there was an especially bad group (secret band of robbers) who were led and named after their especially bad leader Gadianton.  It’s found in Helaman 6:37-39:  So, when we read this passage, and understand how these two groups dealt with the robbers, we can understand and liken it to the two options we have when questions or doubts arise in our hearts – because the doubts we have about the gospel are in fact, the robbers of Gadianton.

The Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.

And it came to pass on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.

And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.

The Lamanites preached the word of God among their doubts and questions, until they were utterly destroyed.1  I expect this preaching of the word of God (pure, scripture truth) was not a one-time sermon, but more of a repeated, continual effort that took place over time.

On the other hand, the Nephites did build them up, and support their doubts until they had overspread all the land, seduced the more part of them, until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them.  If we build up and support our doubts, it won’t be long until they overtake all our land, and we will come down to believe in their works, and partake of their spoils (please notice how enjoying fruit is the end goal of Lehi’s dream, Jacob 5, and Alma 32, yet spoils are the result of Gadiantons plundering and Satan’s offering to us).  Worse yet, if we to continue to build them up, these doubts will have “sole management of the government” – and they will drive away all faith, hope, and love until we become cynical, bitter, and then we trample under our feet all of the things we once loved.

 

 

Notes

1 Questions are good – critical even.  They lead to answers.  They lead us to and through the process of becoming a seeker of truth and a seeker of answers.  So much of our history (both ancient and modern) is the result of diligent searching for answers.