Dealing With Failure- Personal Example #3

I am sure Satan is pleased when I do not commit to improve myself and instead accept complacency. But I also believe that he is pleased when I do make promises, but they are ones I cannot keep.

So many times I have tried to commit myself to perfection–“I will never do this thing again”–and so many times I have failed. Then I have said to myself “okay, so apparently last time wasn’t the last time…but this one has to be! So this time I’ll just have to screw up more moral resolve than before. I just have to grit my teeth and draw up more spiritual energy than last time to make this the most excellent commitment I can, one that would carry through forever!”

But then…I have slipped again. And what did I think then? Well, clearly I had to somehow find another great well of spiritual resolve within me, one even greater than the “even greater” last on…or else I obviously wouldn’t have a chance of succeeding this time either.

Over and over this pattern continued until I was all dried up. I simply could not find any more “even greater” wells of spiritual resolve. I couldn’t keep outperforming myself endlessly. So I became disheartened. I didn’t believe myself and the promises I made. It seemed that the best pledge I could come up with was meaningless, and I began to believe that I simply couldn’t improve. Other people could, but I couldn’t. I was stuck.

And I remained stuck until I was until I realized there was a better way. God interrupted my spiral to show me there was an “even greatest” well that I could be making use of. One that wouldn’t ever fail me.

The Doing Muscle- Prevention vs Cure

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Apparently Benjamin Franklin was referring to fire safety when he gave the above quote, but I find it is applicable to many situations, including that of self-improvement.

We have examined previously in this study how our moral resolve is like a muscle, with limited capacity, and a need to exercise and grow before it is strong. But it might be stronger than we realize, if we just started directing it more towards an ounce of prevention than towards a pound of cure.

In addiction recovery they teach that the best way to have a strong moral resolve is simply to not test it. The best way to overcome temptation is to be tempted as little as possible. Consider an alcoholic who goes to the bar with his friends for social reasons, but now must struggle the whole time to not get a drink. He will be quickly depleting his reserve of grit. Once every so often he might be able to pull off some moral heroics and keep himself sober, but most nights he will cave. Consider how much easier it is, then, for him to instead say “I’m just not going to the bar,” and never face its temptations to begin with. He is more sober by not testing his sobriety.

There is still some effort in that, of course. He must look his friends in the eye and say he can’t go when he used to go before, but it is an easier thing to do than see the beer and smell the beer, but not taste the beer.

In my own life I found that once I identified the unnecessary ways in which I was expending my moral fortitude, and circumvented those situations, that suddenly I had far more energy for actually making myself a better person. God works in miracles, it is true, but He expects us to work in prudence and reason.

The Doing Muscle- Galatians 6:9, Mosiah 4:27

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

COMMENTARY

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not
There is a reason I titled this study the doing “muscle.” Holding oneself to self-improvement takes a very real energy. And that energy is not infinite, it runs low and it runs out, it is more available after a good night’s sleep, and less so when exhausted. Sometimes we feel energized to do that work, and other times we just don’t have any resolve left in us. We can exercise this muscle, but we can also overdo it and crash.

And see that all these things are done in wisdom; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength
And frankly I have many times burned myself out because I didn’t view my resolve like a muscle. If I consider my literal muscles, then I know that if I sprint for too long I will feel fatigued, and I will know to bring my pace down to a more sustainable level. But how many of us have over-the-top New Year’s resolutions, ones where we don’t recognize the fatigue until we’ve completely fallen off the bandwagon?
In addiction therapy they caution against “white-knuckling,” where you try to force yourself to be totally perfect by sheer force of will. Force of will expends itself until it just isn’t there anymore, and then you fail again.
Yes we should improve and yes we should strengthen our moral muscles, but we will have much more success doing it in a measured, sustainable, steadily-improving sort of way.

All or Nothing- Socrates and Pearls

The story is told (likely not true) of a young man who came to Socrates desiring knowledge. Cryptically, the master’s only response was to invite the young man down to the river. Once there, he further invited the man to wade out to the middle of the stream, where the water came pretty high on them. Once there, Socrates seized the man by the head and held him under, nearly drowning him before finally letting him go!

When asked why he had done such a thing, Socrates proclaimed that the young man came idly seeking knowledge, but that Socrates could teach nothing until the man was desperate for it, as desperate as he had been for air when smothered in the river.

There are things that I am very passionate about in life, which I love to talk about at length with others. But whether I actually do so depends on if the person seems to really care, or is just making idle chit-chat.

“So, what do you do for fun?”

“Oh, I just like writing some stories and stuff.”

Socrates and I wished to safeguard that which was important to us, reserving it only for the sincere. Similarly, Jesus cautioned his followers not to throw their pearls before swine, as it deeply hurts when sacred things are treated with irreverence.

God safeguards His greatest treasures as well. Many may walk through the doors of the chapel to seek Him, but He will remain hidden until most of them grow weary two weeks later and leave. And once the last of the insincere disappear, then He will step out from behind the curtain and let the remaining few find Him. Remember that God wasn’t going to do miracles with Gideon’s army until he had filtered it down to the core faithful (Judges 7).

These are sacred things, and they deserve the utmost respect. If you don’t feel that your soul craves the word of God like your body craves air, if you aren’t dedicating yourself to Him for the long haul, if you aren’t ready to be serious about your faith…then there are just going to be things that do not yet receive, plain and simple.

That They Might Have Joy- Personal Example #1

One of the motivations for this study was that I have been feeling an increase of joy over the past year and wanted to examine the reasons why. As I’ve considered the matter I have identified three basic reasons. Today I’ll discuss the first.

My discipleship is in the best place it has ever been. A little over two years ago I decided to really try to be my best self. All my life I was raised in a religious environment, and I definitely “wanted” good things for myself and the world…but if you had asked me what I did to actively promote that goodness I wouldn’t have had much to say. That I just wished for goodness, maybe? Suffice it to say that I was a very passive follower of Jesus.

After some dramatic life events I knew it was time to take my faith seriously and finally listen to all of the things that my conscience was trying to say. I didn’t want to try and make one little change here or there, I felt a need to let the light of Christ pervade my entire life.

So I started exercising, I brought better focus to my work, I started meeting with a therapist, I made a habit of studying the scriptures with real intent, I decided to put my phone away and really be there for my wife and son. Most recently I’ve added reaching out to my brothers and sisters and nurturing a forgiving heart to the list.

Now I have a long way to go before I’m perfect in any of these practices. Several of them have been on-again/off-again, but I am making a point to not lapse back into complacency. I try, I waver, I recommit. And in that imperfect trying I already feel so much more awakened, so much more like I am living the way I was intended to live. It just feels so right.

Service to Others- Personal Example #2

My commitment yesterday was to try and reach out to that couple in my neighborhood again. I was glad that I made the commitment, because without it I don’t think I would have followed through. There was no great obstacle, mind you, just the general apathy that keeps me at home most days.

Things actually went almost exactly as before. That couple I was trying to reach wasn’t home again, so this time I left the plate of cookies on their doorstep with a quick note. Just something that said I was thinking of them and hoped they were well.

I had prepared two plates of cookies that night, though, and also made a visit to another couple that recently moved into our community. They were home and invited me in to sit down and chat with them for a half hour. It was a really nice talk, and I left feeling blessed from the interaction. I hope they did, too.

These have been fun experiences, and I like that they’re so sustainable. I could easily do a visit like this every week. I could also change it up, and perhaps instead of bringing cookies simply ask “Hey, our family is really hoping to help yours out for the next half hour. Could you give us some little task that we can take care of for you?” It’s certainly a bit unusual, but who is going to feel anything but positivity from that?

So I find myself wondering why has this been so difficult? I never doubted that it would be a positive experience, and yet I just didn’t want to do it. As I’ve thought about why that is I’ve been able to glean a few insights about myself. Truths about me that I think many others will be able to relate to as well. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about them.