Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Encouragement and Caution Regarding Self-Study

In his Saturday Morning Session General Conference talk, President Deiter F. Uchtdorf related the story of a time he had received medical advice from his doctor, then searched for more medical advice on the internet. "I suppose I expected to discover truth of which my doctors were unaware or had tried to keep from me." President Uchtdorf then quickly acknowledged the folly of what he had been doing, but aren't we encouraged to do approximately the same thing? When we receive spiritual instruction or guidance, in General Conference, for instance, we're encouraged to study it out for ourselves, as if our own understanding and feelings about an issue could be more certain than the word of God, as spoken by His prophets. Just as a doctor gives better medical advice than the internet, the prophets and apostles have a better understanding of gospel principles than we do. But here's the catch: We're supposed to understand it for ourselves as well.

When I was taking my most recent Algebra class, I was taught many formulas, but every time I was shown a new formula, I wanted to know its "proof." I wanted to know how and why each formula worked. It wasn't that I doubted my teacher; I just wanted to really learn what my math professor was teaching me.

We can do the same thing with gospel principles. We're often told spiritual truths, but instructed to study it out and pray about so we can gain a testimony of those truths for ourselves, rather than simply believing it because Brother, or Sister, or even President So-And-So said it was true. Studying the gospel for ourselves is a very good idea - as long as we don't put more faith in our own understanding than in that of the General Authorities.

"Of course, researching these thing for ourselves is not a bad idea," President Uchtdorf said of his medical study, "but I was disregarding truth I could rely on and instead found myself being drawn to the often outlandish claims of internet lore."

The General Authorities provide us with spiritual truths we can rely on. The counsel and understanding of other people, or even ourselves, isn't quite as sure. If something I've written with my own limited knowledge or "wisdom" disagrees with anything any of the General Authorities have said, I am the one who is wrong. Their knowledge and wisdom is limited as well, but theirs are greater than mine, and they often aren't speaking just from their own knowledge and wisdom. Much of the time, their words come from God, and His knowledge and wisdom are infinite.

While we're encouraged to study things out for ourselves, it doesn't discredit the General Authorities when our findings conflict with theirs, nor should we pit our wisdom against their counsel or our opinions against their testimonies. Some may think me blind for saying this, but they know better than we do, even when we study things out. God's truth is indisputable, and it comes to us through His prophets. We heard a lot of things at General Conference a few days ago, and while we may wish to study them out to find out their truth for ourselves, I would be sceptical of anyone or anything that claimed or seemed to disprove them.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Time to Study Again

Now that General Conference is over, it's time to really study the talks. I enjoyed General Conference, and I tried to get the most out of it by listening intently, taking notes, and trying to record my impressions, but despite all that effort, I have already forgotten most of what was said. That's only natural. Ask any college student, and they'll tell you that sitting through a lecture, even if you take notes, isn't going to guarantee that you'll remember everything from the lecture. To retain or regain a remembrance of what we've heard, we'll have to study the talks again, one by one, and carefully consider their messages.

Unfortunately, the text of the talks haven't been posted yet, but we can still read the talk summaries and rewatch the talks. Doing that, along with reflecting on the notes we took, should help to remind us of the things we heard and the insights we gained, and it should help us to remember those lessons for longer than if we had only listened to the messages once. We might even catch a few things we missed the first time.

The more times we review the Conference talks, the more we'll learn from them and the longer we'll retain what we've learned. I look forward to reviewing the General Conference talks each at least once, and blogging about some of the insights I gain, especially once the full text of the talks are posted. I know that reviewing the talks again and publicly sharing the lessons I've learned will help me apply the principles taught in Conference and will help me become a better person. I've already seen how my life has improved by reviewing and blogging about past General Conference talks. I look forward to repeating the pattern of study and self-improvement.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Notes by Laptop or by Hand

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I took notes in General Conference on a laptop. It was very easy. I was able to write several pages of notes and even share quick quotes on Facebook every once in a while.

However, I found that there were some drawbacks. Since I could take notes more quickly on a keyboard than by hand, I found myself copying more of the Apostles' exact words and not so many of my own thoughts and impressions. Also, while sharing inspired thoughts on Facebook was fun, having quick access to Facebook and to the rest of the internet was distracting to me.

Today, I decided to take notes by hand, as I always had, and it went great. I recorded more of my own thoughts, or the thoughts the Spirit gave me, I'm not sure which, and they told me how I could apply the words of the Apostles to my own life. It helped me answer some of the questions I had brought to Conference, and it helped me feel the Spirit more than I had yesterday.

I still brought my laptop, on which I'm blogging right now, between sessions, but I won't be using this laptop during the Sunday Afternoon Session. I'll avoid the distraction of the internet and the temptation to copy down every quotable phrase I hear. Instead, I'll record the most personal and important impressions of a piece of paper by hand.

A bit of a disclaimer, though: Many of my family members use their laptops to take notes, and there's nothing wrong with that. There are many advantages to taking notes on a computer. All I'm saying is that I've tried it, and I've found that it's not what works out best for me.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Better Advice for How to Be Happier

When Eva asked her Great Aunt Rose for the secret of her happiness, she first responded by advising Eva to look for the good. Toward the end of this teaching opportunity, Aunt Rose told Eva another secret:
“It is love—the pure love of Christ,” Rose said. “You see, everything else in the gospel—all the shoulds and the musts and the thou shalts —lead to love. When we love God, we want to serve Him. We want to be like Him. When we love our neighbors, we stop thinking so much about our own problems and help others to solve theirs.”
“And that is what makes us happy?” Eva asked.
Great-Aunt Rose nodded and smiled, her eyes filling with tears. “Yes, my dear. That is what makes us happy.”
 Loving and serving God and others will help us have the spirit with us in our lives, which will give us feelings of joy and make us happy. While we may find some happiness when we seek happiness for ourselves, we will gain even more happiness when we seek the happiness of others. That was how Eva's Aunt Rose gained enough happiness to prompt Eva to ask about it, and it's how we can gain more happiness than we can imagine. We all want to be happy, but it's by putting other's happiness before our own that we can gain the most happiness for ourselves.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Good Advice for How to Be Happy

During the General Women's Session of this General Conference, President Deiter F. Uchtdorf shared the following, possibly paraphrased, quotes from two possibly fictional people:
Eva said, “you can’t just flip a switch and go from sad to happy.”

“No, perhaps not,” Aunt Rose smiled gently, “but God didn’t design us to be sad. He created us to have joy! So if we trust Him, He will help us to notice the good, bright, hopeful things of life. And sure enough, the world will become brighter. No, it doesn’t happen instantly, but honestly, how many good things do? Seems to me that the best things, like homemade bread or orange marmalade, take patience and work.”
We can't always just decide to be happy, but we can decide to look for things that can help make us happy. There are many things in the world, like "blue jays... spruce trees... sunsets and... stars," that are gifts from God that can help lift our spirits. If we pray to Him, He will help us see the things that will fill our hearts with peace and joy.

We can't always control how we feel, but we can choose to focus on the good. Eva's Aunt Rose had another piece of advice on how to be happy, but this is a good place to start. Whatever your emotions are right now, I know that if you make a conscious effort to look for the good in today, it will improve your mood.

I'll share some even better advice for happiness tomorrow.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Stronger Than Stone

Just before the climax of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, things looked pretty grim for our heroes. Quasimodo was in chains, Esmeralda was tied up and about to get burned at the stake, and all of Quasimodo's other friends - other than his gargoyle friends - were in cages, awaiting their own executions. In spite of this, Quasimodo's gargoyles urged him not to give up. Making reference to Quasimodo's impressive strength, they encouraged him to break the chains and save his friends. But he informed them that he had already tried and failed. Defeated, he told the gargoyles to leave him alone. "Alright Quasi, we'll leave you alone," they said, "After all, we're only made of stone. We just thought you were made of something stronger."

And they were right. We are stronger than stone. The scriptures are filled with examples of this truth. Several prophets reported that they or others were able to command mountains to move, and the mountains obeyed. Many times in the scriptures, a man of God would be bound, but would pray for strength or some other miracle, and they'd be able to break their bonds, or their bonds would simply fall off. In the strength of the Lord, we can become physically stronger than stone.

But what about mentally. When I said that Quasimodo was defeated, I didn't mean that it was because he was in chains, about to watch his friends die. He was defeated, mentally, because he had given up. Will we always be defeated so easily by our circumstances? Spyro wasn't, but he was fictional. What about us? Can we stand strong as mountains in the face of daunting challenges?

Of course we can. Human beings are capable of incredible resilience. If we set our minds on completing a task, no amount of discouragement can dissuade us. We can possess incredible will-power, and our resolve can be much stronger than that of stone.

Part of the reason we can be so strong is that we are children of God. His strength is in our spirits, if not in our blood. We have the potential to become just as strong as He is, and He is all-powerful. Given our heritage, it's no wonder that we both are, and can become, much stronger than stone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Does Our Media Meet God's Standards?

Sister Linda S. Reeves, Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, listed some of Satan's tools, most of which involved media, and warned us that "We cannot play with Satan’s fiery darts and not get burned. ...When we are involved in watching, reading, or experiencing anything that is below our Heavenly Father's standards, it weakens us."

This makes me wonder which movies, TV shows, books, songs, and games meet our Heavenly Father's standards and which ones are tools of the adversary? The latter half of the question is easier to answer. Satan could use almost anything, even some good things, as a weapon against us, by using them to distract us from the things that really matter. For example, a card game or a movie might distract us from doing our schoolwork, and focusing too much on our schoolwork might distract us from reading our scriptures and cause a level of stress that is harmful to our spirits. It's no wonder that Sister Reeves urged us to be careful when Satan has so many tools at his disposal.

On the other hand, what are God's tools? What media meets His standards? Or, in other words, if God Himself were to watch a movie or TV show, read a book, listen to music, or play a game (if you can imagine a God that plays games), what might He choose to watch, read, listen to, or play? Certainly, it would almost have to be something uplifting - something that teaches eternal truths, inspires Christlike feelings and aspirations, or in some other way pleases the Spirit. It would be something that helps make the receiver of the media a better person.

Recently, I watched a Let's Play of The Legend of Spyro, A New Beginning. It's a 3D combat and platforming game where the player collects gems to level up their elemental attacks. On the surface, it's a long and dull series of combat encounters, which a person might play just to take their minds off other things. Naturally, that's not why I watched it. The story of the game centers around Spyro, a young dragon who was separated from his family before his birth, and thus escaped a genocide that destroyed the rest of his generation. Once he learns of his great potential, Spyro sets out to reclaim his homeland, rescue a council of elder dragons, and defeat the forces of a being called "the Dark Master."

Through it all, Spyro's optimistic and positive attitude, his perseverance, and his commitment to doing the right thing, regardless of how intimidating or difficult that was, was kind of inspiring. Every time Spyro died in the video game, he would respawn saying something encouraging like "Let's try again," or "I think I have the strength to go on" which I believe was sometimes more of a positive affirmation than an honest self-inspection, but it was usually probably both. Even though his challenges were great, he never let his circumstances defeat him mentally, even when they defeated him physically. It made me think, if I had that kind of attitude, what could I accomplish? What dreams could I achieve, what goals could I reach, if I followed Spyro's example of perseverance and optimism?

Looking at that game both ways, it could be an encouraging story or a mindless distraction. Like many things, it could be good or bad, depending on what we take from it and how much time it takes from us. This is why it's important that we evaluate the time we spend with games and media, to make sure that the time we spend seeking uplifting media doesn't take too much time away from other uplifting things or from things that are important. Even if a thing is good, it might not be good enough to meet God's standards.

Evaluating our media based on whether or not it meets God's standards means that we're going to have to cut back on some things. Spending too much time with any media, even the best kind of media, is a bad thing. Since our time on Earth is limited, we should also limit the amount of time we spend watching movies and playing games. And when we do watch movies and play games, we should try to make sure that they're uplifting enough to be worth the time they take.