A Surety of Truth- Question

In my previous study I considered how each of us has our own personal beam or mote within the eye. As flawed humans we all have a bias, and as a result see patterns in the world that are not there. However we never see our own biases as biases, we see them as empirical truths, inseparable from the foundations of reality.

If we are lucky, one day we will have our perspective irreconcilably challenged, such that we cannot deny that we were wrong. There are few blessings as wonderful as realizing that we have been wrong. For knowing that we were wrong is a prerequisite to becoming better.

But in that effort to become better some confounding questions arise. Now we know that our personal truths were flawed…how can we have confidence that the next truths we settle on will be any better? If we humans are fundamentally flawed, then are we doomed to just always hold fractured philosophies?

With this study I want to consider how we go from a broken belief system to a sure one. How can be confident in our principles, after we were let down by our previous ones? How can we know when we know rightly? How can we not be paralyzed by the fear that we will still make mistakes even as we try our best? How can we accept the guidance of wise leaders, while also accepting that even wise leaders will have some opinions that are wrong?

I would be curious to see how you have dealt with these conundrums in your own life? How do you avoid crippling yourself with doubts? Have you ever had to reconstruct your beliefs after one of your pillars was toppled? What is the core foundation of your belief system now?

Our Own Reality- Summary

One of the reasons this study occurred to me was the deep conflict of opinions I have seen in the world recently. People has always found it simpler to vilify those that embrace a different reality from their own, rather than accept that “the other side” might have legitimate reasons for the reality that they perceive.

In my experience, though, the first step to improving world problems is to consider one’s own failings in that regard. Before I can try to bridge the gap between other peoples’ realities, I have to be able to understand my own reality, the reasons why I hold it, and whether it is valid. Because yes, some of my perspectives have been detached from truth, and I’ll never be the one to judge right from wrong until I have taken any beams out of my own eye first.

In this study I considered ways to recognize truth from error, how to correct my flaws, and how to know when I stand on truer ground. Here are a few of the principles I learned along the way.

Reality is Personal

The first thing I have come to realize is that the reality I perceive is far from objective. It is extremely biased. In fact I tend to view the world with the same lens as the one I view myself with. Thus the entire world becomes a place of deceit and suspicion when I am hiding personal shame, and the entire world becomes a place of potential and grace when I am forthcoming.
But of course coming to this realization is a tricky thing to do. Most often we deny that there is any bias to our perspective whatsoever. Our perspective, we maintain, is one based on common sense, the natural truth that anyone can see for themselves if they would just look. And anyone that disagrees with it must therefore be delusional or a liar, for they are denying fundamental truth.
Taken to the most extreme, we feel a deeply personal attack whenever another disagrees with our perspective, and then there is no greater cause than to get them to understand just how very, very wrong they are.
Matthew 7:4- Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Proverbs 21:2- Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

A More True Personal Truth

Fortunately, there is a way to live other than in this war of isolated realities. Because the way we view the external world is based on how we view our inner self, we can cultivate a truer perspective by first cultivating a truer inner self. In fact, putting our focus on the self first is the only way we’ll ever achieve a proper view of the world.
So if I want to see reality in a way that is objectively true, I need to cease living as a contradiction. Not only a contradiction in how what I do differs from what I say, but also in how what I do and say differs from what I think and feel. In short, I need to live with integrity.
The more aligned I become with that spark of divinity God put in me, the more I am living in harmony with my conscience, the more I am consistent in every facet of life, the more I will start to see the world in a way that is actually true. I will start to see the world the same way that God sees it.
Matthew 7:5- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Psalm 24:3-4- Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

Reality as a Choice

And so the reality we hold is ultimately a matter of choice, not of chance. It is a matter of choice in that the environment we choose, the sources we listen to, and the patterns we implement will all bleed into how we view the world. Whether we choose those thoughtfully or not, still we are choosing. And if we don’t make a conscious choice of it, then we are making an unconscious choice, one that is heavily influenced, and influenced by others that do not necessarily have our best interests at heart.
But also there is another way in which we choose our reality, too. For while our perspectives are usually altered slowly and imperceptibly, there are also key moments where we make a dramatic and conscious decision for what reality we will pursue.
These might come after our daily practices have softened our hearts to the point that we can accept a reality we had previously been averse to. It might come when we encounter a testimony that moves us powerfully, and makes us reconsider other long-held beliefs. These are critical junctures in life, and though we might make up all manner of reasons in them to not follow our conscience, we must be true to our better nature or else our growth will come to a stop.
Acts 26:27-28- King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

Alma 18:24, 33- And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

Our Own Reality- How Many Ribs?

One day I had a conversation with my wife, and in passing I mentioned the different number of ribs between men and women. She asked me what I was talking about, and I said “oh, you know, how men have one less rib than women do.” She smiled and told me that that wasn’t true, and a quick Google search confirmed that she was right.

And to be honest, I don’t remember how that notion ever got into my head to begin with. I assume it was some childhood misunderstanding based on the story of Eve being made from one of Adam’s ribs. The idea took hold, was never challenged (I mean, how often do you really talk out loud about how many ribs people have?), and so I never critically considered whether it was true or not.

It’s an embarrassing story I suppose, but I thought it worth sharing, as I learned an important lesson about human nature from it. It was a firsthand experience of how we intensely desire to hold onto our notion of reality, even when it is clearly flawed.

Because, you see, when my wife corrected me I felt like I would rather die than admit I was wrong. Even when the internet search backed up her claims, I didn’t want to believe the evidence I was seeing. Though it was irrational, I wanted to maintain that my reality was the right one and she and the rest of the world were still wrong. To be clear, I didn’t maintain that stance, but I wanted to.

And I don’t think I’m too unique in that. Many people exhibit that same desire to be right, even when it’s clear they’re not right. I have known people that repeat the same destructive behavior over and over, all while maintaining that things will work out better this time. I have known people that remain in toxic relationships, all while spinning a story about how things really aren’t so bad. I have known people who stay away from loved ones because they aren’t willing to admit that they were the one in the wrong.

So yes, It is actually very common for us to fabricate our own realities, deluded as they are, and hold firmly to them no matter what. Even when we know that they are wrong, it is hard to let them go. Even when we know what the actual truth is, it is easier to keep living the lie.

Our Own Reality- Question

There are eternal truths which we are powerless to revert. Things that will always be, and do not require our agreement to be so. However there are also things that we do get to choose about our reality. Thus if God exists, He just exists, and we cannot turn that off…but we can still elect to live a “Godless” life even so.

Indeed it is our common pattern to make up our minds about what we believe to be true, and then find the world reinforcing our opinions at every turn. Almost every situation is able to be construed to support both my reality, and also the exact opposite reality. The same event can be seen as proof that miracles are real and also as proof that only coincidences are.

With this study I would like to consider how we navigate this balance of truth vs personal lens. How do we tell the difference between God telling us something, and us just reaffirming what we want to hear? To what extent are we allowed to create our own reality, and what are the eternal verities that exist regardless of our opinion?

I’d be curious to hear how you have navigated between opinion and truth in your own life. How do you know when you stand on a foundation that is not just your own self? How do you answer those who would impose their reality over your own? How do you, in turn, share your truth without trying to force it upon others?

The Doing Muscle- 1 Corinthians 10:13, Matthew 6:33

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

COMMENTARY

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man
If there is anything that keeps us from doing the things we want to do, it probably exists under the umbrella of temptation. Temptation to go back to our old ways, temptation to procrastinate, temptation to just plain be lazy. If it weren’t for friction we would all do exactly what we intended to do, and temptation is the greatest source of friction out there.

But God is faithful, who will with the temptation also make a way to escape
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness
But fortunately for us, temptation has its cure. It’s easy to think that self-improvement can only be done by–well–the self. We assume that it is our personal cross to bear, unable to receive any outside help. However this isn’t the case. A change of heart does require effort from us, but it also requires a miracle from God.
And so the guidance in these verses is to seek the kingdom of God first. We should build up our connection to him, learn how hear His voice, learn how to invoke His blessings in our lives. If we build on that foundation first then we can work with Him on every other element of self-improvement together.

The Doing Muscle- Matthew 9:16-17

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

COMMENTARY

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for the rent is made worse
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break

Have you ever tried to make an improvement in your life and found that you not only fail to meet it, but also move backwards on other practices? Like a juggler who can keep three balls aloft, but when a fourth is added they drop the whole set.
I have certainly had the experience of feeling like I tried for too much too soon, and as a result lost what progress I already had. I have learned the wisdom of adding one small improvement at a time instead, keeping things manageable from one step to the next.

But they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved
But sometimes incremental improvements are not the solution. Sometimes the solution is realizing that the structure of your life will never be able to hold the changes that you need to make.
And so I have also learned the wisdom of occasionally throwing out the old bottle and starting again with a new vessel. I just let go of all the things that I “think I have to do,” resulting in a daily schedule that is devoid of anything at all. And then I start putting things in, the most important ones first, and being sure to include the new improvements that I know I need. At the end there are many old things left behind, but that is better than trying to cram it all in until the bottle bursts.

Personal Commitment: Month 4

August’s Review

At the start of August I stated my intention to maintain a healthy balance, even while working through the considerable task of moving out of our house. I committed to determine every two hours what I needed to be balanced, and make a conscious intention to accomplish that.

Overall I would say that August was a pretty good month. I did not remember this commitment every day, and I did not perfectly execute on it every day. But we did accomplish the move, and we did so in a way that I think was as healthy and as balanced as possible. There were moments of feeling overwhelmed, to be sure, but more so there was a calmness and steadiness through the entire process.

I began a new practice with my regular two-hour check-ins to help with this goal. In it I reviewed the interval of time that had just concluded, quickly jotting down every experience that had impacted me emotionally. There were ways I had let myself down, things I was proud of accomplishing, moments where others had mistreated me, moments where others had been kind, expectations that hadn’t been met, unforeseen blessings that had occurred, and so on. Anything that made an impact I took stock of, and in that moment was able to bring a sense of closure to the entire period.

Then I looked forward to the next two hours, and I listed out everything that I thought could be a challenge in it. I wrote down distractions that were likely to come my way, predispositions to failure, hurdles that I might not have the strength to clear. I tried to make specific intentions about how to meet each one, and deal with it in a healthy way. I wrote out clear hopes for what accomplishments I wanted to prioritize in this period as well.

This whole practice did not take very long, and I feel it helped me a great deal in having a clear intention for each new period of the day.

September’s Commitment)

Now that the move is over, there are a lot of practices that I used to be consistent in, that I want to get back into. Date nights with my wife, eating healthily, maintaining strong relationships with friends, and ticking things off my personal list of errands. I’ve tried maintaining each of these over the last month to some degree, but it was sporadic at best. Last month was about getting through a lengthy tidal wave, without losing myself entirely in it. Now I want to come out of survival mode, and start thriving again.

I am going to put together a list of my battle lines: what are all the good and healthy practices that I’m on the fringes of doing each day. What am I accomplishing some of the time, but would like to be accomplishing all of the time? Throughout this month I will try to push these lines forward every day.

Now I want to be careful to not set unrealistic expectations for myself. If I don’t hit every single area every day then I won’t stress too much about it. I’m not looking to be perfect in execution, but to be perfect in trying. I want to be making progress, and that is enough.

This particular goal is directly related to the study I am currently conducting on this blog. I am excited to take the principles of my research, and make them alive in my living discipleship. Come back on October 1st where I’ll give an update on my progress.

Thank you.

The Doing Muscle- Proverbs 28:13, Romans 10:10

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.

For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

COMMENTARY

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper
The effort of self-improvement is too great to also be burdened by unconfessed wrongs. I have had personal experience in trying to make myself a healthier, better balanced, more faithful person…while also harboring secret shames. It simply didn’t work. I felt that I was running on frictionless ice, flailing my arms and legs about valiantly, but all to no effect. My system was broken, and I simply could not prosper.

But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy
And with the mouth confession is made unto salvation

Eventually I made confession to God, to my family, to my spiritual leaders, and started attending therapy for my addictions. Shortly thereafter one of my spiritual leaders asked me how I was doing and I expressed that I had felt a wall breaking down. Suddenly all my efforts weren’t cursed anymore. Suddenly striving to improve myself actually felt like it was going somewhere.
Yes, confession had brought me mercy, and it had put me on the path of salvation. I had anticipated that. But what had come as a surprise was that now when I sowed, I finally had the opportunity to reap.

The Doing Muscle- Question

For this study I wanted to take a broader topic, one that I expect will take me to a plethora of different scriptures and examples. The motivation for this particular topic stems from a conversation I had recently, where I spoke about how scripture study agitates my conscience into wanting to be better, and how I still struggle to meet that desire.

With this study, then, I want to examine how one develops the power of actually doing. How does one take the knowledge in their mind, the desire in their heart, and turn these into the actions that they actually do? For it is abundantly clear to me that having knowledge is the first step to changing oneself, yet one can have a sound understanding of right behavior but not live a single piece of it.

I would be curious in the meantime to hear how you have faced this challenge in your own life. What do you do when you know what is right, but you just feel no motivation to do it? Have you ever attained your goals of self-development, but then struggled to extend yourself to new ones? Are there any core principles that you cultivated in your heart first, and from that found other practices naturally falling into line?

For Our Own Good- Personal Example

I never had trouble understanding why I needed to say prayers. Talking with my Father was clearly going to be the best way to receive guidance, and to draw my mind into spiritual reflection. And studying scriptures made perfect sense as well. How could I live his word unless I knew it? When I was young I struggled with boredom attending church services, but later in life came to understand the more you put into community, the more you get out of it. Tithing has never bothered me either. Sacrifice feels cleansing, and it feels good to give something away for the things I truly value, just like giving gifts to my loved ones.

There was one practice of discipleship that I never really felt the purpose for, though. Fasting. I heard other people say how it helped them to master their appetites, how it helped their spirit have the upper hand over the flesh, and I didn’t doubt that that was their genuine experience…it just wasn’t how it felt for me.

I became very hit-or-miss about the practice, and would go months without remembering to do it. I frankly didn’t feel very guilty about it, either, because it didn’t feel like I was gaining anything meaningful when I did try to do it.

And then, just recently, that changed. I really cannot say why, either. I’d like to be able to point to some key piece of understanding, or meaningful life experience, which made the practice fall into place for me, but I can’t.

Just one time I started feeling it, and I have been feeling it ever since. Maybe this was always here and I just wasn’t picking up on it? Maybe I just had to mature a bit more? I don’t know.

Interestingly, though, it isn’t quite the same experience for me that I have heard others share about. In my experience, it’s about going through the crucible. Because lately, without fail, every time I fast everything falls apart. Relationships become strained, everyone gets on their worst behavior, stress mounts up, and powerful waves of depression wash over me. It frankly feels like being cursed, where everything I touch just turns out wrong. And then, without fail, everything turns right at the very end of the fast. In those last hours pride dissipates, problems work out, stings are soothed, and I feel at peace. During the crucible I start to lose faith that things will work out…but then they always do before the end.

And I guess…I still don’t really understand fasting. Why is this experience happening this way? What is going hungry essential for God to show me this? I don’t know. But at least I can attest that it’s doing good things in me.