Overwhelming Stress: Part One

Whenever we look at the root of our negative behaviors, we will most often find some form of stress lurking there. Powerful negative feelings fester inside of us and tend to come out sideways. But not all stress is the same. Some stress is inevitable and unchangeable, such as having a disability or a chronic disease, while other stress seems like it could be removed, whether by a change of environment or character. These changeable sources of stress are the subject for this series.

Two Kinds of Agitation)

Failing finances, becoming overweight, and having a messy house, these are all things that agitate us just by living with them, and then they agitate us again because we feel like we could resolve them if we just worked harder or smarter. Knowing that we could deal with these, but that we’re not, makes us feel guilty, ashamed, and weak. Our failure leads directly into our shame, and our shame leads directly into our negative behaviors.

I have certainly had my fair share of this sort of shameful stress. In fact, the three examples I just gave are all ones that are currently active in my own life. I have watched as the bank account became lower and lower, and the number on the scale became higher and higher, and the messes spread further and further. Each has brought its individual anxiety, and then each has been compounded with the embarrassment and shame of having ever letting things get into such a situation. Worst of all, I then indulge in unhealthy excesses to medicate this pain, and that excess further aggravates these very same problem areas.

The Fear of Destruction)

The key issue of these stresses is that they put in us the fear of our own destruction. Maybe there is still a little money in my bank account, but if it is trending negative, the eventual conclusion can only be financial ruin. And maybe I’m still able to get up and do what I want, but if my weight keeps trending upward the eventual conclusion can only be disease and a premature death. And maybe there are still some clean refuges in the house, but if the messes keep spreading the eventual conclusion can only be an entirely uninhabitable household. To see the train chugging towards a wreck and then discover that the brakes don’t work is enough to make anyone feel hopeless. They’re not ruined yet, but the crash is inevitable.

Under the shadow of inevitable ruin is a terrible place for one to take up residence. Is it any wonder we keep taking a vacation from here, even if only briefly, to the fantasy land of our indulgences? Of course, the fact that these indulgences only make the problem worse leads us to seek another vacation just as soon as we glimpse our home of harsh realities. We know that we’re not dealing with the problem, but it’s already gotten so heavy that it seems we couldn’t ever have the strength to lift all of it.

But let us take a step back to consider the facts that we have just uncovered. It is the recognition that our path leads to destruction that creates a constant sense of dread is un. It is the way a man’s life is trending that distresses him most, far more than the state he is actually in. So often we get caught up in trying to change our entire state, when really we ought to be focusing on simply changing our trend.

A man that is seventy pounds overweight longs to shed all of it, but his most pronounced anguish actually comes just from seeing that his weight is a mere 0.1 pounds higher today than it was yesterday. Being seventy pounds overweight is bad, but even more terrible is knowing that seventy pounds will look like a happy place compared to where he is going!

Shifting the Trend)

And in this realization we find our salvation! For which is the more manageable task, to get out of those seventy extra pounds, or to change the daily trend of 0.1 pounds plus to 0.1 pounds negative? Obviously shifting the trend down by 0.2 pounds per day is far more within reach than to suddenly melt away dozens and dozens of pounds!

And once again, I am saying all of this from my own experience. I am myself seventy pounds overweight, and 1,200 dollars in debt, and with six large messes spread throughout the house. And up until about a month ago I was inching further and further in the wrong direction in all of those areas and was miserable because of it. During this last month, though, I have started making small changes, so that I am now inching in the right direction in all of those areas. And at the end of that month, I am still overweight, and still in debt, and still have a messy house…but I am enormously happy! Why? Because the future is not inevitable destruction anymore, it is assured salvation! I have changed my trend and I am going the right way, and this is the peace I always wanted.

Charles Dickens probably summed it up best in his novel, David Copperfield (slightly paraphrased to a more familiar monetary format):

Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19.96, result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20.06, result misery.

Bring Your Worst Fears to Reality and be Free: Part Two

The Conflicted Soul)

In my last post I examined the reason why the addict doesn’t dare admit his secret shame, which is that doing so might jeopardize all the things he feels he cannot lose. His family, his job, his church, maybe even his ability to live outside of prison, he cannot stand to give up any of these things, and so he will accept a pretend life instead.

The addict tells himself that he doesn’t need to choose between confession and living a cursed life, he assures himself that he will overcome this behavior on his own. No one will need to know about it, and he’ll still figure it out. But year after year passes and he still hasn’t made the change, and through all the years his conscience keeps bringing to his mind that he really must confess.

So, which is he to listen to? The calculating, rationalizing brain that assures him healthy living is nothing more than mind over matter? Or the aching, broken heart that insists that somehow, someway, confession is the only road to healing?

Well, if he is content to have his life continue just the same as it has always been, then he can continue to listen to the same rationalizations that he always has, but if he ever wants to have a different outcome than every time before, then he must be willing to take a step that he has never dared before. At some point he has to make the leap from his head to his heart. He must accept the possibility of losing all the things he holds most dear as the price for his salvation.

Two Encouragements)

To the soul that is on the cusp of throwing in with the heart and making confession, may I offer two reassurances. The first is that the things you fear most may not actually occur. Our nature is to think up absolute worst-case scenarios, to assume that every turn that can go wrong will go wrong. Negative outcomes that seem a certainty, in truth are usually only possibilities.

Of course, I cannot promise you that every worst fear in your head won’t come true. Even if the most severe repercussions have only a small likelihood of coming true, one should accept that it might still be possible. That being said, I can tell you that I still have never met the addict who had things go even remotely as bad as they had anticipated. Certainly, there have been choppy waters and losses, but never the total capsizing that most of us envision.

The other reassurance is that even if the losses are dire, even if every bad thing in your imagination did come true, there will be interwoven with it a peaceful contentment that you probably have not accounted for. You will have a peaceful contentment that soothes every loss and pain so that they are never as terrible as you had imagined.

That contentment comes from the fact that now, for the first time in who knows how many years, you are your real self again. I cannot overstate just how much of a relief you feel when you bring forward the truth and are finally back to being your own self. You feel a way that you had forgotten you could feel like. It is like getting out of a bath and putting on fresh clothes. You feel warm and comfortable and clean and safe. You feel reassured that whatever comes, it will be alright, because you have you again, and that more than makes up for whatever else you have no longer.

I promise you that you will find greater joy being yourself in a miserable place than to be a fraud in comfortable surroundings.

And this is not all. The very things you fear to lose by telling the truth you probably don’t even have anymore, anyway. I will examine that concept more in my next post, but for now I’ll simply say that you truly have little to nothing to actually lose, but you do have everything to gain. See what the analyzing, calculating mind makes of that arithmetic!

Optimism in a Falling World- Faith, Hope, and Charity

Over these past few days I have considered the roles of faith, hope, and charity. Specifically I have considered how each of them is integral to being invested in this world, rather than stepping aside and letting it fall to ruin.

These three qualities are definitely linked to one another. We must first have hope in God and His purposes. We must have hope that He is able to reclaim our own soul from ruin, and then we can foster hope in His ability to reclaim the souls of our brothers and sisters as well. With that spark of hope we can then act in faith, investing in our communities and nations, trying to bring some good into them, even when we’re not sure how we will succeed. And integral to all this work is to have genuine charity for those we work with. We need to have an unconditional love, even for those who do not give us a reason to love them.

And it is important to note that none of these qualities can be taken for granted. It might be tempting for us to say “well I’m a Christian, of course I live with charity,” when in reality this is not a given. I called myself a “christian” for many years, and all the while had a hopeless outlook on my own soul. Having no hope, I was incapable of investing faith to care for myself. And as I was unable to give those kindnesses to myself, I certainly didn’t have the capacity for charity for my fellow-man. Having the label of a “baptized christian” meant absolutely nothing about me. It certainly did not mean that I was actually a Christian.

Possessing these qualities does not come cheaply. Perhaps some of us are more naturally inclined to one of them or the other, but I think it is fair to say that all of us have a great deal of work ahead if we mean to achieve all three. None of us are born a full and complete Christian, we have to work our way into it.

I also want to emphasize that if there are any of us who are giddy for the destruction of the wicked, then they we do not possess charity and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who wish the world was better but are not willing to do the work to help it be so, then we do not possess faith and are not true Christians. And if there are any of us who have just given up on the world, then we do not possess hope and are not true Christians. Faith, hope, and charity are not things a Christian should have, they are things that a Christian must have, or they are not a true Christian.

And I do not mean any condemnation by that. I used to be devoid of these qualities as well. I was not a true Christian, but I was able to become one, and so can anyone else. In fact, even true Christians must continue striving to become ever more so.

Optimism in a Falling World- 1 Corinthians 9:10; Mark 7:18, 20

Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;
And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

COMMENTARY

He that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope
There have been times when I have proselyted the gospel from a sense of duty only. I did it because it was what I was supposed to do, with very little sincerity behind it. I did not expect to make any real impact in the lives of others, which resulted in a passionless effort, which resulted in a self-fulfilling failure.
You can plow all you want on rock, but you’re never going to raise a great crop on it. And you can proselyte in pessimism, but your ministry will never flourish. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, then you might as well not do it. For the work alone is insufficient, what matters is whether the heart lies in it.
If ever we want to reap the fruit of hope, we need to do our work in hope as well. Not begrudgingly and not half-heartedly, but sincerely and with all our hearts.

That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man
And if we cannot plow in hope and cannot thresh in hope, then the problem lies within us, not the work. If we reach into ourselves and find only pessimistic, half-hearted efforts to offer, then we need to pause and ask ourselves what is wrong with us. Before we can do our duty to our fellow man we’ve got to sort ourselves out first. Only when we’re right inside will there be good things that can come out of us and be shared with others.

Optimism in a Falling World- Moroni 7:40-42

And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.

COMMENTARY

How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? If a man have faith he must needs have hope
In my previous post I spoke of the need for faith, and how it is to be exercised before we even see the path to success. Faith is not founded upon knowledge. As these verses suggest, it is founded upon hope. For while we may not know how good will triumph over evil and a lost soul will be saved, to act in faith we must hope that these things can and will happen. God does not unveil to us His master plan, but He often does show us a corner of it, enough so that we can have hope in the rest.

And what is it that ye shall hope for? Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal
And as with my last post, our hope is not meant to be founded upon anything earthly or mortal. Frankly what makes us believe in the salvation of mankind is not what we see in mankind, only what we see in God.
This verse speaks of having hope in the atonement and the resurrection, in being brought from this fallen state to one of eternal life. And first of all we are meant to have that hope of reclamation for ourselves. Then, when we feel the reality of it, we are meant to have that hope for all our fellow man as well. For if I was once able to be so lost, yet was found, then these others are not beyond hope either.

Optimism in a Falling World- Jonah 3:4-5, 10

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

COMMENTARY

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not

The exact sins of Nineveh are not detailed in the account of Jonah, but evidently they were of such significance that God was prepared to destroy the entire city! When we consider the example of other cities that received such a divine retribution, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, then it seems safe to say that the wickedness in Nineveh must have been extremely pronounced!
Yet for as fallen as the people might have been, it turns out that they were not beyond reclamation. After all, why send a prophet to them, even with a message of doom, unless there yet remained some hope that that doom might be averted?
From this story I learn to look at the sort of people I might consider to be a lost cause, and I realize that they are actually far from it! Truly there are places of deep evil today, and I am sure there are individuals who are ripe for destruction, but these are most definitely the minority. By and large, people are still basically good, still within the reach of hope. There are many who are waylaid, but that are the same sort that Jesus vouched for with the words “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And instead of trying to push these confused souls towards their destruction, we should be inviting them back to the fold.

Optimism in a Falling World- Question

I have always meant for these studies to be based around universal and timeless questions, rather than obsess over whatever the latest social controversy is. But of course I am a member of this world and I cannot help but feel affected by the great, rolling movements that disturb it.

And in all these passing tumults I have often seen a repeated theme of discord. I have an overwhelming sense of sides unwilling to work together, of a world falling apart, and of an impending fallout looming ahead. And as one man in a sea of billions I feel helpless to turn that tide. Even the scriptures foretell of our world falling to ruin before the second coming of Jesus Christ.

When I consider thoughts like these I find it very difficult to invest in what appears to be a losing battle. What would be the point? Shouldn’t I just take care of myself and let the world fall away?

But that doesn’t feel right to my heart either. Despair has never been one of the virtues championed by the gospel! With this study I want to examine how we can remain optimistic in a world falling away. What exactly is our duty to society as it becomes increasingly disinterested with our mission? How did the early disciples remain motivated in the face of apostasy and martyrdom? What can we do to increase our sense of hope, and what is that hope founded in?

In the meantime I’d love to hear about your own experiences dealing with cynicism. Have you ever lost faith in humanity, but then found it restored? Or are you even now struggling to keep your “perfect brightness of hope” alive? What have you asked in prayer and done in your actions to help with this matter?

Influence and Persuasion- Alma 20:20-22, 23; 22:5, 15

And he stretched forth his hand to slay Ammon. But Ammon withstood his blows, and also smote his arm that he could not use it.
Now when the king saw that Ammon could slay him, he began to plead with Ammon that he would spare his life.
Now the king, fearing he should lose his life, said: If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee whatsoever thou wilt ask, even to half of the kingdom.

Now the king said unto them: What is this that ye have said concerning the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, this is the thing which doth trouble me.
And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.

COMMENTARY

Now the king, fearing he should lose his life, said: If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee half of the kingdom
My wife pointed out to me how a story in the Book of Mormon applies very well to this topic of study. In it, a king is hostile towards a missionary and tries to kill him. But when the missionary gains the upper hand and the king sees that his own life is in danger, he immediately tries to bargain. As we see in this verse, he is motivated by that fear to give up an entire half of his kingdom, which would make his assailant as powerful as he is. Fear is a powerful way to pressure people into doing things.

And after Aaron had expounded these things the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life? I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
Of course the missionary does not kill the king, which catches the king by surprise. Later, when the king meets the brother of that missionary, he requests to be taught. For the first time the king hears the gospel message, and at this point he is filled with hope, not fear. Now he makes another offer, this time for his entire kingdom, which would leave himself powerless, if only he can have the goodness that his heart desires.
This story is a wonderful example of how fear is a powerful motivation, but hope is even greater. People that are inspired by hope will always be able to do more than those who are driven by fear.

The Need for Law- Isaiah 51:4-6, 8

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.
For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

COMMENTARY

For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner.
To understand the need for God’s law, we need to appreciate that we are under another law already: that of mortality. And the final fulfillment of that law is spelled out in total clarity: heaven shall vanish away, earth shall wax old, and all of us that dwell therein shall die. These are the commandments of the earth and they are immutable.
We try to medicate ourselves into longer life, we try to cryogenically freeze our cells, we try to create a legacy to outlive us. We do all of these things to defy the doom of earth’s law, but they are, at best, very temporary solutions. If nothing else gets us, the universe is set for total entropy, which will ultimately unmake any edifice that we try to preserve ourselves in. Whether we live for ten years, a hundred, or find a way to live for a thousand, we will still die.

Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
But my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.
And now, under that context of dark gloom, God gives His divine law as a light, to provide us a hope that was impossible by any worldly means. It offers another outcome, a different destination than the silent grave.
Who can deny the worthiness of this? On these facts alone, it is a law that we should all subscribe to. It honestly wouldn’t matter what its principles and commandments were, we would be fools to not adhere to them. Any cost that it asked would be worth the outcome.

What Chance Do I Have?- Moroni 10:20-22, 1 Corinthians 9:10

Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.

Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

COMMENTARY

Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair
If we are unable to live in hope of our success, then all our discipleship will crumble in despair. If I have no hope of triumph, how could I act in faith? It would feel like a vain effort, and I would consign myself to inevitable ruin.
Hope is therefore not just some nice virtue to make our lives more pleasant, it is absolutely essential for our spiritual survival. For many, the entire struggle of discipleship is the struggle to simply maintain their hope.

He that ploweth should plow in hope
In which case one must understand that hope is not some vague thing that you either have or don’t have. Hope, like faith, can be exercised, can be cultivated, and can be grown. We must dare to hope, work ourselves up to it, strive for it continually. Even if you have only a little hope, plow and thresh in it, and the promise is given that you will partake of more.