Personal Commitment: Month 10

February’s Review

Well…I’m feeling very embarrassed as I write this review for last month’s commitment. There were a few times this month that I realized I had slipped from my commitment and tried to refresh it. But I did so from my memory of what that commitment was, and just now as I sat down to write this review I realized that I had been remembering it incorrectly!

I was remembering January’s commitment: doubling down on two-hour check-ins to ground myself to the moment. Which is still a great practice, and one that I do want to continue with, but that’s just not the commitment I actually made for February!

For February I had wanted to establish a ritual of prayer and then doing the first good thing I could think of. The intention was to pair my faith with action, and thus invite God’s spirit into my life. I had wanted to do this every morning, every time I changed my setting, and whenever I had felt like I had slipped from my spiritual connection.

But given that I didn’t even remember this commitment, I really didn’t follow it.

March’s Commitment)

Well, I’ll just try it again. I knew this practice would take some time to become regular habit. Missteps on the path of improvement were to be expected. The proper way forward is to pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue as before.

So for March I will be renewing my commitment for February. I am going to pair it with a new reminder, though. I have set an alarm on my phone that will go off every Monday and instruct me to go and read my commitment, just to be sure that I am remembering the plan correctly and acting on it.

On April 1st I’ll let you know how I did at actually remembering the commitment, how I did at performing it, and what I saw as a result of doing so.

Thank you.

The Epic Life- Personal Example

I’m a romantic. I constantly daydream. I am always caught up in fantasies. I see old allegories and fairy tales being played out in everyday reality. I believe in old adages like “true love conquers all” and “good always triumphs over evil.” I write stories as my way of journaling.

And given the prevalence of story in my life, I’ve always wanted to live a great one. I know that I’m not unique in this. We romantics balk at the label of “puppy love,” and insist our teenage romance is the greatest love story since Romeo and Juliet. We view our petty squabble with our coworker as the heart-wrenching betrayal of Fernand Mondego. We view our purpose in life as world-shaking as Frodo leaving the Shire to destroy the one ring.

We magnify the emotions of each small moment to fill the entire heart. In a word, we exaggerate.

And, if you are like me, you also have another part of you that tries to shake the dreamer back to wakefulness. The part that says “you’re vain and unrealistic! Start living life as it actually is. A lot of it is just going to be plain and mundane and that’s okay.”

I’ve had some time to reflect on these two parts, and in the end I believe the truth lays at the intersection of these two voices.

On the one hand, it is self-deceitful to try and make every humdrum moment into something epic. It’s alright to admit that some days, even many days, are just “ordinary days.” Otherwise we can become obsessed in things that really don’t matter, get an emotional tunnel vision, and pursue mediocrity to the expense of actual greatness.

On the other hand, having accepted that the life the world has given us is not epic, we should pursue another life that truly is. There is no need to surrender our desire for a role in a story that is rich and full and really matters. Only by calling out the elements of our life that are lackluster can we start to replace them with elements that have genuine spark. And as I will explore in the rest of this study, that genuinely epic life is the one that God offers to us. All other narratives are a forgery.

The Epic Life- Question

There is something stifling about the idea of living an “average life.” Each of us wants to have a story that is significant, unique, and even epic in some way. Perhaps not every aspect of it has to be the most dramatic, but we want at least one area that is truly special.

We read stories of people that walked this epic path many times throughout the scriptures. Moses working miracles before Pharaoh, David slaying Goliath, the Israelites shouting down the walls of Jericho, Jonah swallowed by a whale, Daniel playing with lions, Samson with his incredible strength, Jacob serving fourteen years for the woman he loved, and Esther petitioning for her people.

All these examples would seem to suggest that the epic life is divinely approved. All these people came to their greatness while in the service of God. And that the epic life is such a common desire would further suggest that it comes to each of us from the same heavenly source. If this desire is baked into our very souls, if it is part of our birthright as children of God, then no wonder we crave it like food and water.

But at the same time, there are also many stories of men and women today who chase for greatness at the expense of their families. They try to accomplish something great in their career, or in their education, or even in their church, and all the while their family is left lonely at home.

I want to consider where this desire for the epic life comes from. How this desire is appropriately wielded, and how it is misused. I want to examine how one can properly go about finding their divine purpose and not be caught up by vanity along the way.

In the meantime, I would love to hear where your own journey for a life of significance has brought you. How did you come to know what your own purpose was? Or are you still looking for it? Have you been hurt by another’s negligence while they sought their own great story? What do you feel is the proper balance between reaching for more versus being content with what you already have?

Solemnity and Joy- Summary

Recently I considered the different rituals we observe in life, and the different attitudes we have towards them. We have cheerful birthday parties and solemn sacraments, happy chatting around the newborn baby and soft condolences in the funeral hall, times where we are expected to be joyful and times where we are expected to be solemn.
And as I thought about these different moments I had a sensation that this was good. It seemed right to me that some times were reserved for solemnity and some for joy. I wanted to explore that concept further, though, and I began this study to examine the correct application of each expression. I also wanted to consider the incorrect application of each expression, too.
At the end I gained a greater vision of what gospel life is supposed to look like. I saw how a disciple who has a full appreciation of all the different walks of life would feel moved by them in a natural and healthy way. Here are a few of the main takeaways I had from this study.

The Value of Joy

We are meant to experience joy. We are meant to feel truly and deeply happy. Angels came to declare “glad tidings,” Israelites were commanded to have feasts and celebrations, and Jesus encouraged his disciples to glory in his presence. We do not have to shy away from our genuine happiness.
In fact, the word gospel means the “good news.” It is brought to cheer us from the otherwise certain doom of our fallen world. It gives us hope in a better life. It is an expression of love from a Father who wants to save us. It empowers us to become a better, truer version of ourselves.
What sort of response could be appropriate for all of this except joy? Those that have the realities of these messages in their hearts have a cheerfulness as their natural resting state. Though they may still experience sorrows, though at times they may be caught in waves of grief, beneath it all is a resting state of gladness.
Numbers 10:10- Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God.
Luke 2:10-11- And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

The Value of Solemnity

But we are also meant to have solemn moments. Just because all challenges will end in victory does not mean that the pain before that triumph is negligible. It really does hurt, and that really does matter. Jesus knew that Lazarus was going to rise from the tomb, but that did not make him impervious to the pain of temporary loss. He wept.
And while we are told God will “wipe away our tears,” it is not as though our sorrows are cheaply swept under the rug. They are significant, and they are only healed by a significant process. The overcoming of our death and sorrow comes at great cost. It comes through a Savior that endured all of those hurtful moments in his own body and spirit so that he could overcome them and know how to cater to us in them.
And that brings us to the other great reason for solemnity: sacred reverence for what great deed has been done for us. Of course we often feel a sadness when we observe the sacrifice of Jesus, but even deeper than that is our quiet awe for it. We feel the great gravity of it, and we wish to show it proper respect.
John 11:34-36- And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
Alma 7:11-12- And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

The Fulness of Life

So life has joy. It has a happy ending and many sweet moments along the way. We can show our joy without shame. But also we are meant to embrace the sad and somber moments that give life its gravity. Between our joys are times to pause, reflect, and even shed a tear.
There are inappropriate times for a joke and there are hypocritical displays of somberness. We should not try to make light of heavy matters, nor should we try to make heavy of light matters. The full-hearted disciple is perfectly capable of experiencing the full spectrum of emotion.
Because, after all, coming to Christ is meant to bring us to a life that is full and rich. The soul is not to merely meant to be expanded in a single direction, as we learn in Ephesians 3 it is meant to feel “breadth, and length, and depth, and height.” Thus if there is a sector of life that we are denying to ourselves, then we are not embracing the completeness that God intended. All these different slices of life are part of the whole. God has always meant for us to have the whole, but we cannot receive it without embracing the separate parts.
John 10:10- The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Ephesians 3:17-19- That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Solemnity and Joy- Matthew 6:16-18

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

COMMENTARY

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance
Yesterday I looked at examples of inappropriate levity, and today we consider inappropriate solemnity. Already in this study we have considered Jesus approving Mary and his disciples for joying in his presence, even though there were others that were calling for a more serious attitude.
But in today’s verses Jesus discusses another situation. He mentions a time when it is totally appropriate to be solemn, such as when fasting, but how it is hypocritical to exaggerate one’s solemn demeanor for everyone else to see. The fact is some of us get the mentality that being somber is better than being happy, so we strive to show as much somberness as we possibly can.
I’m sure all of us can recall times that we or others became extremely pious, not for God’s sake, but for the sake of our fellow worshippers. We wanted their admiration, we wanted them to appreciate how serious we were in the cause of right. “Holier than thou” moments are not the only example of this, either. Even outside of religious circles we often bemoan how busy we are with so much duty and work and responsibility, looking for a pat on the back for carrying so much burden. In our society it is often seen as a virtue to be overworked and overstressed.
I’ve been guilty of these exaggerated displays of solemnity myself. As a general rule, I try remind myself that if I am sad, it is okay to be sad, and if I am solemn, it is okay to be solemn, and if someone asks me about these troubles I can speak of them honestly…..But, if I am exaggerating my outward expression of sadness and solemnity for the express purpose of gaining the attention of others, then I am passive aggressive, and I am treating emotions as a currency, something we don’t ever want to do.

Solemnity and Joy- Ecclesiastes 7:6, Doctrine and Covenants 88:69

For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.

Remember the great and last promise which I have made unto you; cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you.

COMMENTARY

For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool
Cast away your excess of laughter far from you
Thus far we have considered the worthiness of both joy and solemnity, the different times that call for each. It also seems worthwhile now to mention the inappropriate application of each. Today we will look at inappropriate laughter.
There is nothing wrong with being happy, enjoying a moment of good feelings, smiling, laughing, and pleasantly being with those we love. But I’m sure we can all think of situations where others or ourselves have taken it too far. Consider, for example the screeching, forced laughter of someone trying to get everyone to look at them at a party.
That behavior reminds me directly of this verse from Ecclesiastes. It is an older expression, but the crackling of thorns is in reference to how throwing thorns on a fire would result in an immediate and loud blaze, which quickly consumed all of its fuel and then died out without providing any lasting heat. It was flashy, but it was worthless for heating whatever you had in the pot.
True joy means something, it bubbles out in warm laughter that has a real depth beneath it. But raucous screeching has nothing of substance behind. It comes only from a place of desperate vanity. It flashes, it crackles, it calls for attention…and then it evaporates into emptiness.

Solemnity and Joy- Revelation 21:3-4

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

COMMENTARY

There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
I mentioned before that times of mourning are not the only reason for being solemn, but they certainly are a reason. All of us live in a fallen world, and now and again the reality of that impresses deeply on our hearts. We gradually come to appreciate the hard facts of life. Concepts like death and decay become more than just concepts, we start to feel the reality of them, the totality of them, and the certainty of them. How can we not be solemn then?

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes
The miracle, it would seem, is that we can still be happy in the face of such heavy fates. It is wondrous that we are beings of hope and not despair. All our senses perceive a complete end in the image of a corpse, but the spirit inside denies any end. Never mind what illusion the body shows, the spirit knows that it is made of more eternal stuff.
In the fallen world we have doom and despair. It is real and it is sobering. But in this fallen world are also infinite souls which solemnity can have no permanent hold on. Our souls are in the hands of their Father, and He wipes away the transient tears to uncover the natural, eternal joy that remains beneath.

Solemnity and Joy- Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

COMMENTARY

To every thing there is a season
A time to be born, and a time to die
A time to kill, and a time to heal
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh
A time to mourn, and a time to dance

We have been discussing the need for times of solemn reverence and also times of unfettered rejoicing. Is it any wonder that we would need both, given the fractured, dual-natured world we live in? As these verses illustrate, we pass through all manner of different experiences, the entire spectrum of good and bad. We get to welcome new babies but also bury old friends. We build things, but we must break things as well. We have times of health, but also times of pandemic. To deny an entire side of this reality for the other would be deluded.
Does living in the gospel give us a hope for a happy ending, and does that hope instill us with an abiding joy and peace? Yes, but Jesus still wept when Lazarus died. And are there times when we are treated unfairly, hurt and offended, some of us even killed unjustly? Yes, but Stephen still passed away rejoicing, surrounded by the glory of his God and Savior.
We are complex beings in a complex world. There is not only space for the entire spectrum of emotion within us, it is necessary for us to embrace them all. We should let each have dominion over its proper season.

Solemnity and Joy- 2 Samuel 6:14-16, 20-21

And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.
So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
And as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!
And David said unto Michal, It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel: therefore will I play before the Lord.

COMMENTARY

And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And Michal saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart
Today we have the example of King David when he was caught in the rapture of praising God. He had just concluded a campaign against the Philistines and capped it off by bringing the Ark of the Covenant back into the heart of Israel.
He was evidently very joyous in this moment and took to dancing “with all his might.” Biblical commentaries have stated that this sort of vivacious dance was by no means an unusual practice, but that it was typically performed by a priest. This is likely why Michal felt the king was debasing himself by performing it, she felt he was acting beneath his royal station.

Michal came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!
And David said unto Michal, It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, therefore will I play before the Lord.

A rift grows between the two of them, but David maintains his reasoning for showing such levity: it was done as an honor to God, and when honoring God called for joyous cavorting, that was simply what David was going to do.
As I have already stated, sometimes honoring God calls for quiet dignity, and that is what one should observe in those moments. But sometimes it calls for displays of rapturous joy, and in such cases there is no evil in embracing that spirit. Of course that doesn’t mean we loosen our morals and become obscene, but we are welcome to freely display our joy without shame.

Solemnity and Joy- Luke 10:38-42

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

COMMENTARY

But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things
Martha was very dedicated to taking care of the business of her home and serving her guests. Furthermore, she was feeling flustered because her sister was seated at the feet of the Savior instead of being as busy as she was.
I have always felt that Jesus’s response to Marth is very compassionate. I do not know the actual tone of his voice in the moment, but the doubly-repeated name is often used in the scriptures when showing great care and affection to the one being addressed. Beyond that he also shows immediate recognition for the care she has been showing to her duties.

But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part
But then Jesus makes a definitive statement that what Mary is choosing to do with her time is greater than what Martha is choosing to do with hers. The fact is Martha is preoccupied with her chores by choice. She could also be choosing to sit with her sister and Jesus.
Sometimes errands are the right thing to prioritize, but sometimes they are a distraction. Sometimes we need to work hard and clear out the clutter that is blocking God’s light from reaching us, but sometimes the light is already there and we need to stop agitating and just bask in it!