It can get really hot in Arizona. Especially in the summertime. Not really news to anyone, just a basic fact, but somehow living in this desert gives you a better appreciation for how draining this hot can be. In the Arizona summer, as we open a door to go outside, it can literally become indistinguishable from opening up the oven to take a nice up-close look at baking cookies. No sane person would ever consider actually living in an oven, even with delicious cookies. So, for good reason, not a lot of outdoor activities are done here in the months of June-September. There is a reason why summer golf in Phoenix is so cheap.
Because of this temperature challenge, my stay-in-shape training has taken a back seat. I had been on a pretty good regimen while training to get ready for some simple triathlons over this last year. It was nice, almost perfect all throughout the winter, and up until my last race in St. George, Utah last May. After that, it got hot. Really hot. Arizona hot. I remember texting a picture of the dashboard temperature gauge to Riley one afternoon when it read 126℉. I nearly suffered 2nd degree burns just by putting my hands on the steering wheel that afternoon.
The problem with summers here, is that no matter what time of day or night, it feels like the inside of a toaster. “Why don’t you just swim in the pool during the summer?” you might ask. Well, that is a great idea right up until you jump in the pool, and instead of instant coolness, refreshment, and bliss, it feels like an overheated hot tub under a fast-food heat lamp. Instead of achieving solace from the scorching rays while floating through the water, it feels more like you are a piece of meat slow roasting in the crock pot. You don’t last too long swimming when the mist coming off the pool isn’t really mist, its more like steam arising from a pot of boiling water.
And that’s not all.
You may think, “Well, if you cant run or swim outside during the summer, maybe the bike would be better?”. “Maybe the wind blowing over you as you pick up speed would cool you down as you ride?” Yes, that would be a great idea, and, yes, there is a nice wind that is created, but it feels more like a industrial sized blowdryer set right at your face. So, needless to say doing any physical activity outside of scrambling from one air conditioned building to the next, is almost out of the question.
So, long story short, I took a bit of a break. The funny, not so funny part of that break, is that after the temperature “cooled” down to around 90℉ at 10:00 pm, and I started to try and train again, I noticed that because of my self-imposed break to wait out the summer fires of Hades, I had become out of shape. It was the consequence of inactivity.
Instead of running several miles and feeling great, I was lucky not to quit after just 1. It was almost like I had to start over. All the benefits of the months, and months of training had seemingly melted away just like an ice cube on Arizona asphalt. I felt like I had reverted all the way back to square one. I guess walking from Splash Mountain to Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t adequate triathlon training.
This has been a painful reminder that our fitness or “in-shapeness” really is something that is constantly changing, for better or worse. It never really is static. Just when we get comfortable, content, and happy with where, or how we are, we relax. And this little relaxation is when we start to slip. It requires constant, consistent, and repeated work to maintain ourselves with where we want to be. If you aren’t going forward, you’re going backward. And that is exactly what had happened with me.
As I was further contemplating my physical regression after just a few weeks, I realized that I was living out a vocabulary word that I had recently rediscovered in a Sunday School class. The word was “Entropy”.
This word is a shortened idea of a more sophisticated physics law known as the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I wont even pretend to be a physics guru, or attempt to explain the intricate details of closed and open systems, energy, or its predecessor the 1st law of thermodynamics. But, it has a simple definition. The one that fits the best in this case is….
“a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder”.
That is just a fancy way of saying that everything is constantly wearing down. Its kind of like rusting. Everything is becoming less orderly, and unless we put energy into reversing that natural process, it will take its toll, and we will digress, regress, and lose all the progress and order that we have achieved.
So, my “in-shapeness” had degraded, devolved, and definitely trended towards disorder. In even simpler more personal terms…
Unless I keep training to stay in shape, I become more out of shape.
Unless I put energy into improving, I get worse.
Unless I continue learning, I forget what I had learned.
The process is universal, and applies to all sorts of things. This concept may even be the most valid in a spiritual sense. This degradation can happen to each of us in our lives. There are times when we are in great spiritual shape, and we have been “training” hard, working on getting better every single day. During these times, we continuously work to build up endurance, feel strong, and healthy. Then, inevitably, there are the other times when we take some time off to rest a bit, and then, before we know it, we are feeling like are running around with a plastic bag over our heads.
King Benjamin knew all about this concept of spiritual entropy. He simply described it using different words. He understood that each of us needed to work continuously to become more like our Father in Heaven. It was something that doesn’t just happen naturally. In fact, it was the “natural” part that we had to fight. It is human nature to oppose God. It is human nature to only think of ourselves, and to drift constantly away from God, his plan, and his laws. It is human nature to be selfish, greedy, and secular. King Benjamin described this condition perfectly in the Book of Mosiah…
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh 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.” -Mosiah 3:19
But, just as I needed to get back into shape by working constantly, continuously, and repeatedly, King Benjamin explains exactly how we can fight the natural man, or spiritual entropy and stay in spiritual shape. He specifically singled out several words or phrases that can act as our workout list.
First, he said we must “..yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit…” This is tough in todays world. We need to listen. Not just hear. My wife has been trying to teach me this concept for 18 years. I must be a very natural man, because she still has to constantly remind me of this. Yielding means to allow the Spirit to work in us, to allow someone else to drive, to let the spirit guide us rather than depend on our own supposed knowledge. We don’t always have to be in charge, or know everything because, “His thoughts are higher than our thoughts” -Isaiah 55:9
Second, King Benjamin teaches that we need to become a “Saint”. Becoming a Saint is to be associated with, and bear upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ. This entails, or necessitates, using the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is only through his atonement that we can become something “unnatural” or improved. It is by utilizing his atonement that we become something better than we thought we could be. And, the only way that this is even possible, is to work on developing the character traits that King Benjamin lists in the same verse. These required traits are, “becoming as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient”, and being “full of love”. -Mosiah 3:19
These traits do not occur naturally. They must be developed. They need to be practiced. Just like running a marathon, or swimming 2 miles in the ocean, or riding a bike for 6 hours straight. We are not born with these traits. We cant just decide to be an ironman on Monday and race in the Kona World Championships on Sunday. They must be learned. They must be developed. We all have the potential to do these things, or become these things, but we need to work at them constantly and continuously. We need to practice, and we need the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Each of us needs to fight this entropy all day, everyday. There is a perfect phrase used in the Doctrine and Covenants that teaches us the best way to start, and keep going in our own spiritual exercise regimen.
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;” -Doctrine and Covenants 58:27
As we try our best to be anxiously engaged to do good around us, to be happy, to be kind, to look at people in a more loving, forgiving way, to look at life through a gospel lens, we will slowly be changing our character. We will be slowly getting in better spiritual shape. We will be fighting the “natural man”, and spiritual entropy. If we combine these efforts with a steady dose of the cleansing and enabling power of the Atonement of the Savior, we can be who we want to be, and stand on the highest podium at the end of our mortal race.
Our hearts and minds continually,
Are pulled by nature’s entropy,
Unfocused, dimmed, erroneously,
To earth, and not to Heav’n.
But, if we struggle faithfully,
And look up, kneeling, pleadingly,
And seek forgiveness constantly,
Our flaws can be forgiv’n.
And if we then walk steadily,
And try to live more righteously-
More loving, and more honestly,
A spark of Faith begins-
In Him, who suffered willfully,
So we can look up hopefully,
To see his hands spread willingly,
to bring us home again.