Personal Commitment: Month 11

March’s Review

For March my intention was to have a resurgence in saying a prayer and then doing the first good thing that came to mind, all to invite God’s spirit into my life. I also set a reminder on my phone, just to be sure that I didn’t forget what goal I was actually supposed to be working on.

And I did remember my goal, and I did try to implement it throughout the month, but if I’m being completely honest I was pretty halfhearted in my efforts. I believe that when the initial excitement of a new ritual fades, if I haven’t established a regular routine to carry me through the doldrums, it then becomes a monotony to keep carrying forward. That’s exactly what happened here.

In other words, I struggle in the department of making small, lasting changes to my life. And while I know I must continue to rely on grace for my heart to be truly changed, I also believe that a person is capable of carrying out one small improvement after another until they have become something greater than what they once were.

To be sure, I have been able to make some real, lasting changes in the past. This whole blog is one of those changes, and through it I have had the most regular scripture study of my life. But where that particular change was a success, many others have fallen to the wayside, including this one of a pray-and-do-something-good ritual.

April’s Commitment)

So I stopped to consider where the weak link is in that pray-and-do-something-good ritual, and I realized it was in the very first step. The fact is I have had some heartfelt, meaningful prayers in my life, but never as a regular practice. I am too often distracted, or self-conscious, or anxious about getting on to other things in my day.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. One of the foundational pillars of spiritual practice has always been prayer, and that is one area that I have been consistently lacking. So I will make this month’s commitment very simple: to pursue deep, meaningful prayer on a consistent basis. I still like the idea of my pray-and-do-something-good ritual, but I need to exercise myself in its first half before the whole thing can be complete.

Now in order to have more meaningful prayers there are two specific aspects of prayer that I will be working on. The first is praying out loud. Whenever I pray out loud I am more able to connect to the moment. I am very self-conscious about it, though, and so that it means taking the time to find a private place where I am unlikely to be overheard. This will be easier in some places than in others. While I am at work will be particularly tricky, and I’m going to have to spend some time figuring out a solution there.

The other aspect I will be focusing on is to remove the temptation to finish my prayers quickly so that I can get on to the rest of my day. I am in such a rush to take care of all my errands and hobbies that I forget that they will be performed better if I have taken the time to set my foundation first. I want to get into the habit of putting the rest of the world on hold when it is time to be with God, not the other way around.

On May 1st I’ll let you know how this journey is going. I will let you know how I did at finding secret closets to pray aloud, I will let you know how I did at setting aside the to-do lists that distract me from the moment, and I will let you know how my prayers are shaping up as a result.

Thank you.

The Epic Life- Summary

Many of these studies have begun when I feel myself caught between two competing ideas, each of which seems worthy, and each of which I suspect is correct in its own sphere. In this case I was caught between my desires to live a life that is grand and purposeful, and the sense that I should be content with the simpler things of life.
On the one hand I didn’t want to fall into complacency by never striving for something greater. On the other hand I didn’t want to fall into vanity by overlooking the good I already had. As is often the case I found a happy medium between two extremes. Because yes, it is possible to have inappropriate cravings and it is also possible to have inappropriate passivity, but there is also a quiet passion in between.
Here are a few of the main points I learned from this study. They highlight the common pitfalls that lay on either side of that middle path, and what we can expect to find by following that strait and narrow road instead.

The Good Life

First and foremost I learned that God expects us to live with passion. God expects us to be doers. He wants us to accomplish many good things in this life, to be an active and essential piece in His plan. After all, are we not all called to join the body of Christ? And is not the body of Christ a vehicle for doing? Does it not have a mission to reach out and save the entire world? And how is the body to accomplish this, if not by all of its parts surging to the cause?
God loves heroes. He is the inventor of heroes. God raised up Noah to build the ark, Moses to part the Red Sea, Jonah to reclaim the people of Nineveh, Esther to plead for her nation, Samson to fight the Philistines, David to topple a giant, Elijah to call down fire from heaven, Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and His own son to reclaim us from death and sin. And that same son, the greatest hero that the world has ever known, he attested that those “that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12).
If you are here in earth life then you are here for a reason. If you can feel God’s spirit move upon you then it is to move you into action. God has not lost His need for heroes, He has not lost His need for workers in the field, and He has not stopped offering His strength to those that will champion His cause. If you are willing to clean yourself and apply wholeheartedly for a position you will find that He still has a great mission in reserve for you. He has yet another epic tale for your voice to speak.
2 Timothy 1:7- For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Nephi 1:23- Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.

The Counterfeits

Satan always has counterfeits for God’s virtues. Where God is love, Satan is lust. Where God is confidence, Satan is the thirst for control. Where God is joy, Satan is diversion. And certainly Satan has his counterfeits to distract us from the truly epic life as well. In my study and personal experience I have been able to identify at least two of these counterfeits.
The first is the fame of the world. God has given to us an incredible energy that is meant to be spent in our great calling. But if we do not have a great calling to pour our strength and devotion into, then that strength and devotion must go elsewhere, and in many cases it has gone to a shrine of gold and glory. We covet possessions and conveniences, titles and recognition, adoration and attention. We hope to stand as king of the hill for a moment, vainly assuming that if we even managed the feat we would be remembered for it.
Another of Satan’s distractions is in complacency. It is true that there is a place in the gospel for quiet repose, a greatness from doing the small and simple things, a building up of the kingdom just where one stands. But truly doing the small and simple things with any degree of consistency is itself a very challenging undertaking, one that the complacent will never succeed in. Never make the mistake of believing that contentment and humility are the same as complacency and passivity. God might very well invite you to focus your strength locally, but never so locally that it doesn’t escape your own orbit!
Mosiah 12:29- And again he said unto them: If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches? Why do ye commit whoredoms and spend your strength with harlots, yea, and cause this people to commit sin, that the Lord has cause to send me to prophesy against this people, yea, even a great evil against this people?
2 Nephi 28:21- And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

The Cost and Reward of Greatness

Having considered these counterfeits to the truly epic life, it is important to acknowledge that Satan possesses one great advantage. It is that the truly epic life always come at great cost. Frankly none of us fit the gate, in one way or another we are out of shape. Some of us are too proud and must be humbled. Some of us are too passive and must be pushed out of our comfort zone. Some of us are too wounded and must accept healing. Some of us are too guilty and must endure purifying. Perhaps the one constant is that each of us are blocked by the fear of whatever it is God is asking us to do. Fear alone is enough to kill any hero before they are born.
No wonder we are told that “wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat,” while on the other hand “narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
But no matter the ease of the first path, its destination is made perfectly clear: destruction. And no matter how difficult the second, its destination is also made unambiguous: life. There is no convenience worth dying for and there is no cost that life is not worth. It is not an easy way before us. In fact, without grace it is an impossible way, and even with grace it still is just plain hard. But if it were not hard, neither could be it truly great. Nothing of substance comes cheaply.
Doctrine and Covenants 58:28- For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
Luke 14:27- And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

The Epic Life- 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Ecclesiastes 1:14

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

COMMENTARY

They will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind
I have considered the basic desire to live a great life and how it is often secured behind a difficult choice. Those that fail to make the required sacrifice still want to have a life of meaning, though, so now they are left to seek it by less genuine means.
And to this wanting comes many, many counterfeits. Our fascination with fame and worldly glory is perhaps the greatest of these, and this obsession is little more than our misplaced desire for true greatness. We do not see our way to spiritual significance, so we redirect our attention to worldly significance instead.
Of course few that seek fame do gain it, and those that do will find it a valueless currency. Having obtained it there is nothing more for the world to offer, your progression has reached its ultimate. And then, as occurs with all things world-based things, that fame will fade, decay, and ultimately die. Some fame may last longer than others, but all of it is fundamentally transient and will eventually evaporate.

The Epic Life- Romans 7:14-15, Acts 9:1, 4-6

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

COMMENTARY

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord
And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Yesterday I mentioned that we might be kept from our great life only by a decision that we are unwilling to make. I suggested that we come across an action that is essential for us to do, but which feels like it would break us to make.
I believe Paul’s words describe that situation very aptly. “What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” These sentiments apply both ways between our spirit and carnal natures. These sides of us are in constant conflict, despising the actions of the other, doing the things that the other forbids.
Saul had a life as a persecutor of saints. He hated the gospel of Jesus, he spent all of his energy to destroy it. But through it all he “kicked against the pricks,” wounding his spirit, denying the epic life that he was meant to live.
For him to live that great life would require him cross that fundamental divide and break the man he was. He must become the very thing he hated: a disciple of Jesus. Amazingly he did it, and Saul (the part that hated Jesus and would not follow him) had to die along the way. Saul ended, and now began the great and epic life of Paul.

The Epic Life- The Cost

I started this study by considering our universal desire to live a great life, to lift ourselves from mediocrity and into a cause that truly matters. But yesterday I considered the young ruler, who was one choice away from living such a life, but wasn’t willing to bear the cost that it required. For as much as he wanted eternal life, he didn’t want it enough to clear that one, last hurdle.

Earlier I spoke of Moses being called to lead Israel out of captivity, but initially he shrunk from that calling as well. Fortunately he faced his insecurities and extended himself into the role that God was trying to give him. Imagine the incredible life he nearly turned away from!

Jonah, too, was reluctant to meet his great calling. He literally ran from his purpose and tried to sail away from the voice of God. He was given the great opportunity to save the souls of an entire city and tried to revoke the offer!

Esau had a wonderful birthright, yet he sold it all for a mess of pottage. He may have gained some worldly comfort, but he lost his legacy.

Even Jesus had his moment of pause when facing the great atonement. It was the act that he had been born to perform, but still he asked whether it was possible for this cup to be removed from him. Thankfully he paired that request with “not my will, but thine, be done.”

So yes, we dearly want to have our great and important story, we want to do something that is legendary and lasting. But we have to realize that true greatness is hidden behind great sacrifice.

This was true for me as well. I always wanted to have a great purpose, yet it was years before I was willing to face the hurdles of confession and addiction recovery that stood in my way. Any time I tried to raise myself to a life in partnership with God I saw those looming ahead and quickly ducked back out of view. At times I thought mediocrity was all I would ever lay claim to in this life. It felt like it would kill me to face any true healing.

And in a sense, it did. When I finally decided to stand up to my challenges and submit to God’s will I paid a great price. I felt my old self dying away and it was a genuinely terrifying and painful thing. I can honestly say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

However…it was worth it. Before paying the price I wasn’t sure that anything would be worth such a cost. Now I know that the reward was deserving of any cost whatsoever.

The Epic Life- Matthew 19:16-17, 20-22

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

COMMENTARY

And, behold, one came and said unto him, what shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
And he said unto him, if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

Here is a story of a young man who is on the cusp of entering into a great and epic life. He is seeking the greatest life of them all, in fact: eternal life. And he has apparently already been seeking it for years, given his statement of faithfully following all of the mosaic commandments. Yet for all this he feels that something is missing. He is basically good, but he is not extraordinary. He knows there is something better out there for him and he sincerely wants to find it.

Jesus said, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and come and follow me.
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

So Jesus details the one thing he has left to do: give up the last of the world and become a disciple. Both the end of his old life and the beginning of his new in the same moment. After all, how did he hope to have a new life while still holding onto the threads of the old one?
Sadly, this was a task that the ruler was not willing to face. And he went away sorrowful, still the same man as before, or perhaps even worse for having seen his greatness and turned from it.

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- 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.

Personal Commitment: Month 9

January’s Review

For January I recommitted to regular, two-hour checkins to ground myself and to refresh my efforts to live as my best self. Throughout the month I found a great deal of vitality enter my spiritual life through this practice.

During this month I also shared an epiphany that I had through the process. I had been striving to invite God’s help, but not following it with an immediate effort to do some small, good thing. Over the past weeks I have tried to correct this by beginning a new ritual where I invoke God’s help, but then pair that request by doing whatever my conscience is currently prompting me to do. It is usually a small thing, and many times I don’t understand what good is even going to be accomplished by it, but it just feels right so I do it. There is a strong sense in this of putting an offering on the altar, giving a small sacrifice to deepen the sincerity of my intentions.

Just this last week I had a moment where I was already feeling tired and depleted, but I knew the right thing was to start playing with my children. I paused to ground myself, prayed for God to come into my heart and make me alive for the task, and then paired that request with my own effort to invent a new game to play with them. And as I was in the process of giving what little I could, I felt the vitality flowing back into my heart and I was able to really lean into the moment and have a wonderful time with my children.

I want to keep chasing experiences like that.

February’s Commitment)

And so this new ritual will be my guide during the month of February. I will start every day with this pattern of prayer and doing the first good thing I can think of. I will do it again each time I change my setting, such as when arriving at work or back at home. I will do it any time that I realize I am slipping into an autopilot mode of apathy and distractedness.

My goal is to make this practice become the new baseline for me. I want to repeat it so many times that it becomes routine, as standard a part of life as studying the scriptures became through doing this blog. This is the next step in my permanent development.

As with any lifestyle change, I assume this will take a lot of work and a lot of recommitment to really stick. So I’m approaching it with the mindset that this a long term effort, not just an exercise for February. In future months my checkin will likely be to modify this commitment as necessary and refresh my resolve to it. Come back at the start of March to hear how it’s going.

Thank you.