Saturday, November 22, 2014

Specifically Thankful - Name Them One by One

This morning, I was taught a lesson on prayer by someone less than half my age, which, in itself, is a lesson. We're never so experienced that there's nothing we can learn from another person, even if that person is much less experienced than we are. The specific lesson I learned this morning is that our prayers are much more meaningful if we pray specifically. Instead of saying "we're thankful for this food," he said "we're thankful for this delicious oatmeal." Also, he had faith that the oatmeal was going to be delicious, which it was. And instead of saying "we're thankful we had fun," he said "we're thankful we had fun..." and then listed a lot of the activities we had done up to that point. It was a good prayer.

Sometimes, when I hear that we should pray specifically, I think "But God already knows all that stuff." But do we? Do we realize that God has, fairly miraculously, provided the many blessings we enjoy? Do we really appreciate that the instant oatmeal we take for granted is a blessing that's unavailable to many? Do we know how blessed we are? By thanking God specifically for the food we have and for the energy and opportunities we have to do things, we're reminding ourselves of something that we frequently forget - those blessings come from Him.

We should strive to be grateful and express gratitude for all our blessings. Only then can we realize and appreciate just how blessed we are. I'm going to practice praying specifically and being grateful for everything. It'll take much longer than my prayers usually do, but time spent thanking God for our blessings is time well-spent, especially if it draws us closer to Him.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Leisure vs Idleness

One of the insights from Pathway last night is that there's a big difference between leisure and idleness. Leisure can be a good thing. It sort of resets your mind, giving it a break from its usual work, so that when you get back to work, you get back fresh and ready to concentrate and work effectively on the matter at hand. Idleness, on the other hand, is never a good thing. It wastes time and can distract you from your work. Rest is important. Idleness is important to avoid.

But here's the tricky part: Some activities are almost always idleness, while other activities could be leisure or idleness. The difference is in what the activity does to your mind. When you're done with the activity (assuming you're ever "done" with the activity), are you ready to focus again, or has your mind kind of shut down? Remember that a short break should invigorate your mind. And there's the key: duration. Many leisurely activities become idleness when you spend too much time on them. Taking a quick nap is sometimes a great idea. Taking long naps is rarely effective.

The idea is moderation. Work is vitally important, but if you work yourself too hard for too long, you can burn yourself out. Taking breaks can help you work more effectively and maintain balance, but resting too long can throw you out of balance again. We must be judicious about how we spend out time, including our leisure time. Some activities are more refreshing than others, and the amount of time you spend on any activity has a strong influence on whether the activity is beneficial to you or not. Make some time for leisure - but just make sure it's not too much time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

You Choose Who You Are

While I was still playing Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly, I stumbled on a Druid spell called Reincarnation, which can bring a character back from the dead. It's cheaper than the standard Resurrection spell that you can have a cleric cast to bring your character back to life, but Reincarnation has a catch: When your character awakens, they'll have taken a new, randomly-selected, humanoid form, meaning that your character probably won't be human anymore.

This "drawback" is actually something that appealed to me. I decided that if my character died, I'd want to have him reincarnated as an orc or a goblin - some race totally unsuited to being a Paladin - just to make it more interesting (and more heroic) when he goes on being a Paladin anyway.

In life, there are a lot of circumstances that we can't do much about. We can't choose our race, gender, or family. We have only a limited amount of control over where we work, who we work with, and how much money we have. We can't choose what our natural talents and weaknesses are, though through a great deal of effort, we can develop new talents and overcome old weaknesses, if we really want to.

Though our circumstances may not be completely in line with the kinds of lives we want to lead, we can still choose what kinds of people we'll be. We can't choose many of our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to our circumstances. We can't choose much about the outer part of who we are, but we can make almost every decision about the inner part of who we are. Just as my character could have chosen whether to remain a Paladin or to adapt to his new form, we can all choose whether we adapt to our circumstances or whether we stick to our own course, despite the hardships. While there's much to be said for adaptability, we should ultimately make our own choices and not let our circumstances define us.

You may not be the way you want to be right now, and there may or may not be a few things you can do about that, but even if you can't decide anything else about your life, you can decide the content and character of your heart. I can't ride a horse, wear armor, or learn to use divine magic (other than the real kind of divine magic), but I can still be a Paladin in my heart. I can still be bold and courageous. I can still be virtuous and good. I can choose to see and carry myself as a Paladin, even though I look just like a regular college student to everyone else. And importantly, the outside doesn't matter, but the inside does, "for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pathfinding for the Blind

Reading through some General Conference talks, I found this little gem: 

"We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see." -President Boyd K. Packer

Some people see those who belong to a church and strive to keep God's commandments (even when we don't understand them) as being "blindly obedient." They think that we don't know what we should do, so we just do whatever the big guy upstairs says. And actually, they're partly right.

We don't always know what's best for us to do, so we do frequently rely on God for guidance. But we choose to follow God and the teachings of our church, not because we picked their names out of a hat, but because they've proven to be trustworthy sources of sound advice.

The way I see it, we're all pretty blind, whether we blindly follow trustworthy guides or whether we blindly blaze our own trail. Either way, we don't really know which way our path is taking us, so we need to have a little faith. The question is whether we'll put our faith in ourselves or whether we'll put our faith in God.

Now, those who don't know who God is, how good and wise He is, and that we can trust Him, would consider it foolish to put their faith in an unknown and possibly imaginary being rather than in themselves, and there is some wisdom in that. We live in a world where we have a lot of choices, and the welfare of our souls depends on the choices we make. And to make matters much more difficult, not all of the voices that pop into our heads come from God. Some of those thoughts come from the devil, and some of them come from our own imaginations. When you don't know which voice is whose, it would seem insane to listen to the many voices in your head, and it very well might be. Logically, it would be wiser to shut out all those voices and make decisions for yourself.

However, for those of us who know God, or at least are acquainted with Him and know that He exists and that He's wise and good, following Him makes much more sense than trying to find our own way. He knows of the things we need to seek or avoid, and He's kind enough to share that wisdom with us. By following Him, we can avoid the pitfalls we might have blindly stumbled into, and find the gems we otherwise would never have found.

We don't follow God because we're too blind to find our own path. We follow God because we can see that His path is better than ours.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Gain Infinite Wisdom

Option One: Live Forever

In yesterday's blog post, I barely mentioned God's infinite wisdom, and then I thought "how could God's wisdom be truly infinite?" Wisdom comes with experience. Experience comes with time. Theoretically, by that logic, God would have to have existed forever for His wisdom to be infinite. But if God is just like us (only a lot farther along in His Eternal progression), then He must have been created by His Heavenly Father, just as we were created by Him. Before that time, He wouldn't have existed, at least not as a sentient creature, so the time He has spent having experiences and gaining wisdom is finite. Absurdly enormous, but still finite. How can God have infinite wisdom, assuming that I'm correct in thinking that He has only existed for a finite amount of time? I've thought of at least two ways.

Option Two: Get a (Few) Mentor(s)

Let's say that a young man is twenty years old. He has twenty years of experience, and the wisdom of a twenty-year-old. That's not all that impressive. But let's say his father was twenty years old when he was born, making the father forty years old now. The father has forty years of experience and the wisdom of a forty-year-old. That's better. And if the young man follows the counsel of his father, he'll still have only twenty years of personal experience, but he'll act with the wisdom of a forty-year-old. And let's say that this young man has a grandfather who's twenty years older than his father is. By gaining wisdom from him (perhaps through his own father), the young man can gain some of the wisdom of a sixty-year-old, and so on.

For us, this model has to stop somewhere, because great-great-grandfathers don't live forever. Eventually, they'll depart, and when they do, they'll take their wisdom with them. That's exactly what God did after His mortal experience, and exactly what His Heavenly Ancestors did after theirs. However, if our Heavenly Father still gets guidance from His Heavenly Father, and His Heavenly Father gets guidance from His Heavenly Father, and so on, then our Heavenly Father has a possibly infinite number of mentors with a collective, nearly-infinite number of eons of experience and wisdom between them. (Incidentally, we can link ourselves to this chain of wisdom by hearkening to the counsel of our own Heavenly Father, thus enabling us to make decisions inspired by the wisdom of a counsel of Gods.) That is an incredible amount of wisdom, but it's still possibly finite. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of having no beginning, and if there was a beginning, that means that there has only been a finite amount of time in which the creatures of the universe could gather wisdom, so only a finite amount of wisdom has been gained.

Fortunately, there's another way to gain wisdom, besides personal experience and word-of-mouth, and it is by this method that God has gained infinite wisdom in His own right. Even if there's no one guiding Him or given Him advice, and even if He has only been around for a few short eons, He still has an infinite - that's right, infinite - amount of wisdom. Here's how:

Option Three: Become Omniscient

In his message, Converting Knowledge into Wisdom, President Marion G. Romney defined knowledge as "acquaintance with, or clear perception of, facts," and wisdom as "the capacity of judging soundly and dealing broadly with facts, especially in their practical relations to life and conduct." President Romney also said that part of the reason we don't have infinite wisdom is because we don't have all the facts.

When I said that we gained wisdom from our experiences, I forgot an important piece of clarification. In truth, we gain wisdom from learning from our experiences. Experiences give us knowledge, which we can then convert into wisdom. If a person gains knowledge another way, such as by reading a book or becoming omniscient, they will have gained knowledge that they can convert into wisdom without having to have gained that wisdom by personal experience or by being given advice. Since God knows everything, He knows the wisest course of action in any given situation, and thus He has infinite wisdom.

Omniscience is, as I understand it, part of the package deal with Godhood. When we become Gods, we'll become omniscient, and we'll gain infinite wisdom. The "when" part of my previous statement might be optimistic, but part of what I meant to say was that we won't gain omniscience before then. Until then, we can gain wisdom by the previous two methods. We can learn from our own experiences, and we can learn from God. God will often share wisdom with us, and when He doesn't, it's probably either because He thinks we have enough wisdom to make good choices on our own, or because we think we do. Trusting in our own wisdom is foolish because our wisdom is very, very finite. God, on the other hand, has infinite wisdom, and He's usually willing to share. That's why "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalms 111:10); because being wise enough to listen to God grants us access to an infinite supply of wisdom. God does have infinite wisdom, and by being wise enough to follow Him, so can we.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Then Fauna Helped Kill Maleficent

One thing that I couldn't quite cope with as I was blogging about Fauna feeling sympathy for Maleficent was that Fauna actively contributed to Maleficent's death. She didn't give Prince Philip the sword that slew Maleficent, but she did contribute some magic to it before he threw it straight into her heart. That wasn't exactly a loving thing to do. Yet sometimes, such actions are necessary. War was a necessary evil many times in Nephite and Israelite history, and at one point in particular, God told Nephi that sometimes wicked people have to die so that God's righteous purposes can be accomplished. Maleficent had to die in order for there to be a happily ever after for everyone else, but I'm still having a hard time wrestling with Fauna's decision to help Prince Philip kill her. She was, in my opinion, the most caring of the three good fairies, having initially suggested that they try to reason with Maleficent, noting that "she can't be all bad." In fact, no person who ever lived on the earth was 100% evil. And yet, some of them were evil enough that they had to die.

Part of my justification for Maleficent's death was that she was, at that moment, trying to kill Prince Philip, who was loved by his father and probably his kingdom, too, and who was the only hope of awakening Princess Aurora, who was loved by her parents and her whole kingdom. If Prince Philip had died in his fight against Maleficent, a lot of people were going to be upset by that - many of them heartbroken. And once Prince Philip lost his shield, either Maleficent would die (or at least be defeated) soon, or he would. Since Maleficent was too powerful to subdue in any non-fatal way, the fairies, including Fauna, had only one choice. Still, that must have been a hard choice for Fauna, who had probably never harmed a living soul before in her life.

I hold on to the belief that Fauna had a great deal of sympathy for Maleficent (at least, she had a great deal more sympathy for her than anyone else had). I'm trying to gauge what her feelings were at the time she enchanted the sword, but I can't see her face very clearly on our copy of the video, and from what I can see, the artists had left her expression blank. I guess they thought that no one would try to dig into the emotional conflict of a character who mostly keeps to the background and contributes more to the comedy of the movie than to the plot. Silly them. But still, I imagine that Fauna felt a little bit torn when she helped enchant the sword for Maleficent's death. Or maybe that slightly-sad on her face is Fauna's resting facial expression. I'm sure I would have been torn if I had as much sympathy as she had.

God has far more love for His children than Fauna had for Maleficent, but sometimes, in His infinite wisdom and eternal perspective, He sees fit for some people to suffer and die. And yet, I still believe that everything He ever does, He does because He loves us. How can He kill someone out of love? Partly, He could kill one person out of love for others. That's what happened to Laban, whom God commanded Nephi to kill. And that's also what happened with Maleficent. Sure, it's tragic for Laban and Maleficent, but they kind of had it coming to them, and it would have been far worse for everyone else if they hadn't died.

It's still kind of hard to accept that a being so pure and good could be even partially responsible for the death of anyone, no matter how evil they were. Re-reading my blog posts from the last time I blogged about this battle, I was reminded that there is Always hope for people, even after they lost their virtue, so it's tragic whenever anyone dies before they change their hearts and choose to repent. But any being who is committed to the cause of good has to be committed to the greater good, and sometimes that means ending the life of someone who theoretically might have repented later, had they lived. It's a tough judgement call for anyone. Luckily, the final judgment is the Lord's. For the rest of us, hopefully we'll never be put in the position that Nephi and Fauna were put into, but if we ever are, I pray that we'll have the Spirit with us to help us make the right decision, whether that means sparing a life or ending one.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Maleficent Quote

I'm terribly sorry that this is so late! I ran out of time to finish the blog post this morning, and I forgot all about the blog post by the time I got home. Fortunately, I was reminded before the end of the day. Better late than never, right?

While the three good fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Meriweather, were discussing what to do about Maleficent's threat to kill Princess Aurora, Meriweather complained that they couldn't come up with a plan that Maleficent wouldn't have anticipated, because she, Maleficent, "knows everything." Fauna responded by saying that she didn't.

"Maleficent doesn’t know anything about love, or kindness, or the joy of helping others. You know, sometimes I don’t think she’s really very happy.” – Fauna, Sleeping Beauty

There are at least two good insights we can gain from this, and I probably only have time to share one of them. Luckily, the first one is obvious and you already know all about it: Love, Kindness, and Helping Others brings joy into our lives. Doing good makes you happy. Inversely, "wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10). Since most of us are familiar with these principles, I'll only touch on them lightly, which I already have.

The other insight to be gained from this quote stems from one word of the quote, and it's probably not the one that you're thinking of. The word is "sometimes." "Sometimes I don’t think she’s really very happy.” This implies two things. The first implication is that sometimes Fauna doesn't think Maleficent is happy, and sometimes she does. I doubt that. The other implication is much more logical, and much more in tune with Fauna's nature. The word "sometimes" in this quote implies that Fauna has thought about this before.

Is sometimes difficult to consider the feelings of others. Thinking of others requires a certain amount of sympathy, which we usually reserve for our friends and families. We may care about their feelings, and that's good. But what about others? Many of us meet countless strangers over the course of our lifetimes. Do we really care about them? Do we consider their feelings and want them to be happy? Not often. It's sometimes hard to care about the feelings of others, especially when you hardly know them or don't know them at all.

But Fauna did know Maleficent. She knew she was an evil-doer and an enemy, which made her sympathy for her even more impressive. Jesus said to "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44), and Fauna did. She considered the feelings of villain of the story, and expressed sympathy for the villain's lack of happiness. Jesus Christ had an attitude like that. The rest of us aren't quite so Christian.

The good news is that we can be. God never gives us a commandment that we can't keep. Loving our enemies is difficult, but not impossible. Fauna could do it, Jesus could do it, and so can we.