Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The (Foolish) Pursuit of Happiness

At first, I both agreed and disagreed with this quote. I disagreed with it because "happiness is the object and design of our existence" (emphasis added), but I agree with it because it sounds true. And as my mother pointed out when she shared this photo on Facebook, "If you strive to do and be these things, you will be happy."

God created us so that we could be happy, but the path to happiness isn't what many people think it is. Often, in the pursuit of happiness, people make choices that give them temporary happiness, followed by lasting unhappiness. God has shown us the path to true happiness, but because it's not easy or fun, many people have trouble following it. It's ironic that our desire for happiness pulls us away from the source of true happiness, and that if we forget about our own happiness and just try to make other people happy, we'll end up happier, too.

There's a lot of irony in the world, and most of it can be attributed to either Satan trying to trick us into thinking that evil is good, or God knowing that the path to happiness passes through the valley of sorrow. It's ironic that in order to get what we ultimately want, we have to put our own wants on hold for a while. In order to find true happiness, we need to stop looking for things to make us happy. Crazy, huh?

I want to be happy. Of course, we all do. But strangely, in order to gain happiness, I need to stop putting so much focus on things that I think will make me happy. Temporary happiness isn't important. Eternal happiness is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Valiant as a Lightbulb

Knowing that I'm one of the leaders of a bunch of 11-year-olds who call themselves the Valiant Knights, and knowing that I try to see myself as a Paladin, who are known for their valiance and courage, my mom, in parting, advised me to "be valiant." One of my brothers, being random, added "as a lightbulb." Mom ask him in what ways a lightbulb could be valiant, and I accepted the challenge to answer that question for him.

At first, I thought that blogging about lightbulbs would be easy. I could just borrow a few lines from Elder Bednar's message on Revelation, add a few lines of my own, and I'd be done. But being suddenly given a clear message through revelation, which is a rare occurrence, by the way, has nothing to do with being valiant.

Because I wanted to tell my 11-year-old Scouts what it meant to be a Valiant Knight, I looked up the definition of "valiant," and was slightly depressed by its linearity. (Side note: How is it that Spell-check is okay with "linearity," but doesn't like my spelling of "lightbulbs"? How else would you pluralize "lightbulb," which it doesn't think I misspelled?) defines Valiant as "Possessing or exhibiting valor; brave," and defines Valor as "Courage and boldness, as in battle; bravery." (Another side note: I love that the first example of valiant this dictionary gives is "a valiant knight.") So valiance is, uninterestingly, a synonym for bravery. What's so brave about a lightbulb?

Lightbulbs are best known for using electricity to generate light. They're also known for being fragile. Lightbulbs are hollow and made mostly of a thin sheet of glass. If you struck a lightbulb with sufficient force to say that you had struck it and not merely tapped it, it would likely shatter. It is perhaps in response to this vulnerability that lightbulbs show their courage. Lightbulbs are often encased in something that diffuses the light and offers some protection to the lightbulb, but even without such protection, a lightbulb will shine boldly. In fact, a lightbulb without such protection shines brighter than the others, as if to say "If you want to take a swing at a lightbulb, here I am! I'm right out here in the open, shining as bright as day. I'm not hiding. Take your shot."

Okay, maybe they're not that suicidal, but they're not shy. Lightbulbs, despite their weakness, don't try to hide themselves or their weakness from others. They stand boldly and brightly, shining their light for all the world to see. It sounds to me like they've got a testimony and they're not afraid to share it.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. 
Matthew 5: 14-16
Putting a candle under a bushel is like putting a lightbulb in a lampshade. It'll make the light seem less harsh, and it may protect the lightbulb from a glancing blow, but it also weakens the light and makes it less clear. It's true that we should be kind and sensitive to the feelings and beliefs of others, but we should still be bold in declaring ours. By trying to be non-offensive and politically correct, we hold back many of the truths that may resonate in our friends' hearts - truths that they remember from before they were born.

Not all people have kind opinions about Mormons, and I have to admit that we are pretty different from other Christians. We're so different, in fact, that some people believe that we're not Christian at all. Some people doubt Joseph Smith's honesty or the Book of Mormon's validity. Some people know our church's history or doctrine too well, and at the same time not well enough. Such people might take a swing at us once they find out who we are. That lampshade is starting to sound pretty good to me. Hiding behind the guise of being "Christian, and let's just leave it at that," may protect us from the attacks of others, but it also prevents us from sharing our light with them. Admitting that we're members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints takes the courage of a lightbulb, but it's the only way to "let [our] light so shine."

But let's say our light is limited. Most people's lights are. Let's say our testimonies aren't as strong as they ought to be, or that we don't know Mormon doctrine as well as we'd like to. Let's consider another use of the word Valiant and again consider the example of the lightbulb.

Because of energy-saving practices and regulations, lightbulbs have all but been replaced by florescent bulbs, which produce just as much light (once they finally get warmed up), and use less energy. However, there is one advantage that old lightbulbs have over most new, florescent bulbs: they're dimmable. (I know that, just a few paragraphs ago, I implied that dimming the light is a bad thing, but bear with me.) Lightbulbs generate as much light as they can with whatever amount of electricity they have access to. If they can, they'll shine brightly. If they don't have quite enough energy for that, they'll just shine as brightly as they can.

Not all of us have strong testimonies or eloquent arguments in favor of our beliefs, but that's okay. We all have at least some light in us, and it's our responsibility to share as much light as we have. Another way to say it is that even though our and a lightbulb's capabilities may be limited, we should each make a valiant effort and do as much good as we can.

By shining brightly despite their weaknesses and limitations, lightbulbs prove themselves to be surprisingly valiant, and we should follow their example. We should each try to let our light shine before the world by striving to be as valiant as a lightbulb.

Monday, November 24, 2014

When the Going Gets Tough...

I heard yesterday that stress can rob us of our spirituality - that when we're worried about the concerns of life, we have a harder time focussing on Christ and striving to be righteous. I don't know if this is strictly true, but it certainly makes sense to me. How many times have we gotten angry and lost the Spirit because we were stressed out or frustrated? Which came first - getting angry, or losing the Spirit?

I think that Satan is constantly trying to influence us by putting negative thoughts in our minds. Most of the time, the Spirit keeps him at bay, but life starts to feel like it's too much for us to handle, either we start thinking negative thoughts that drive away the Spirit, or we drive away the Spirit, and then the enemy is allowed to put negative thoughts in our minds. Either way, if we're stressed, we'll have negative thoughts and not the Spirit, but if we have the Spirit with us, we won't have (many) negative thoughts or be (as) stressed.

How we keep the Spirit with us when life is hard is the same as how we keep the Spirit with us normally - it's just harder to do it. We keep the Spirit with us by praying, reading the scriptures, doing good, and striving to be Christlike. This is harder during the trials of our lives because we have more pressing matters to take care of than our scripture study, and we have other things to worry about than how righteous we are or should be. These times are great times to pray, to allow God to calm your heart and mind and help you focus on the tasks at hand, but when we're in these situations, we're normally not in the mood to pray.

God lets trials happen to us for a number of reasons. Sometimes, two of those reasons are to test our spiritual strength and help us grow spiritually stronger. It's sometimes as if God says "You're pretty good at being righteous most of the time, but let's see how righteous you are when you're facing adversity." He does this not to torment us, but to strengthen us. God wants us to be spiritually strong enough to remain righteous no matter what, just as Job did.

The holidays are stressful times for most adults, and those of us who are in school may have noticed that we're starting to get closer to Finals. It'd be fairly easy to get stressed out and let a lot of negativity into our lives right now, which is ironic considering what the holidays are supposed to do to people's hearts. Instead, let's try to keep the Holy Spirit with us, and possibly catch the spirits of thanksgiving and Christmas while we're at it. Life is hard sometimes, and at those times, it can be hard to keep the Spirit with us, but if we can keep the Spirit with us, He can help us get through the hardships of life. It takes spiritual strength to do that, but we'll gain spiritual strength if we try. Let's try to be righteous through the holidays so we can gain the strength we need to also get through the other storms of life.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fake It 'Till You Make It

"We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day." - Richard G. Scott

I love this quote because it basically gives us an Apostle's permission to "fake it 'till we make it." It tells us that if we're not the way we want to be, we should try to act the way we would act if we were, until we are. Basically, he's encouraging us to role-play as a better version of ourselves until we actually become that better version. After that, we'll continue to act that way naturally, because that'll be the new definition of who we are.

I'm not a paladin, nor will I ever literally be a paladin (unless God pulls a few strings to make my afterlife that much more epic), but I can and should be like a paladin, and the more I act like a paladin, the more like a paladin I'll become. I can become virtuous, noble, just, and chivalrous by practicing those traits - by acting the way I would act if I already possessed them.

While this may seem duplicitous or hypocritical, remember that we're not pretending we're more righteous than we are, we're acting the way we would act if we were more righteous. We should be honest with other people about how righteous we really are if they make a comment about how good we are, and even if we really are that good, we should be humble about it and admit and continually work on our faults. We're not supposed to make a show of being righteous - we're supposed to practice it. That's why I think this practice is especially important when we're not being observed. It seems less hypocritical when no one sees how righteous we're trying to be, and I've heard it said that "What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue." - Preach My Gospel, 118

None of us are perfect yet, but we all can become perfect, and the first step is to try. Let's all try to be righteous, whether others are watching us or not. Let's try to become better people. The more we try to be better than we are, the better we will actually become.

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