Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Earth is Beautiful

Every once in a while, I see a Facebook photo of a beautiful landscape like this one, and I think of what a beautiful world this is. When God made the world, He filled it with such a magnificent variety of wonderful things. This is a wonderful world to live in. So, as much as I may go on about how breath-taking Zendikar is, and as much as I may wish to visit it or another of the fantastic worlds I've heard or dreamt of, I really can't complain. God made earth (and especially California) a beautiful place to live, and I'm lucky to have been allowed to live here.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Keep on Believing in the Atonement

One more post from Elder Randall K. Bennett's talk, Your Next Step, before I move on. On the subject of believing in dreams, Elder Bennett had an experience where he met a group of people who had stopped.
My heart sank during a recent meeting with wonderful Latter-day Saints. The question was asked, “Who desires to live with Heavenly Father again?” Every hand went up. The next question was “Who has confidence you’ll succeed?” Sadly and surprisingly, most hands went down.
Going back to live with our Heavenly Father again is one of the great goals of mortality. To achieve this goal , one has to be worthy of it, which typically involves being very righteous. That's where we mess up, I think. We think that the entire plan hinges on whether or not we can behave perfectly, and we can't, so even though we wish with all our hearts that we could live without Heavenly Father again, we don't think we can do it.

And we're right, almost. We can't be perfect; it's too late for that. We have all sinned and become imperfect. Even when we consider that God cares much more about the future than about the past, we're in trouble. Many of us struggle to be as righteous as we think we need to be, and we don't see ourselves making any progress in the future. We're not perfect now, and we don't think we'll ever be perfect, so the dream must be impossible.

Miraculously, the dream of becoming perfect and living with Heavenly Father again is not impossible. It'll take diligent effort on our part and repeated forgiveness on God's part, but both of those things are achievable. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven for all our sins, as long as we try not to repeat them. As long as we never stop striving for perfection in our behavior, we never have to fear that we'll never achieve it.

The dream is possible. We just have to keep working at it. And to do that, we need to keep on believing in the infinite power of the Atonement.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Keep on Believing

This evening, I went to see a play in which my brother's sister-in-law (or my sister-in-law's sister) was performing. It turned out to by a double-feature; before the play I had gone to see, Bye Bye Birdie, there was a children's performance of Cinderella. Both plays were very good, particularly the singing.

If you've seen Disney's Cinderella, you probably remember that, toward the beginning of the film, the title character sings a song about dreams. "A dream is a wish your heart makes," she sings. She goes on to sing, "No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true." Though the performance of that song was beautiful and mesmerizing, I couldn't help thinking afterwards that there's a lot more to it than that.

Believing that something will happen isn't enough to make it happen. It takes effort and dedication to make dreams come true. However, I also kind of get Cinderella's point. That much effort requires a strong source of motivation, and one source of motivation is a belief that you can succeed. It's easier to chase a dream when you believe that you can catch it. In fact, if you don't think that the dream will ever come true, you might not be able to muster the motivation to pursue the dream at all.

Believing in our dreams isn't enough to make them a reality, but it is a good place to start. Having motivation is essential, and believing that we can make our dreams come true may give us the motivation we need to actually make it happen. While we can't just wish and hope and wait for our fairy godmothers to magically make our dreams come true, we need to believe in our dreams, and keep on believing in them, in order to make them come true ourselves.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Hold Your Ground

During the war chapters of the Book of Mormon, the Nephites were mostly on the defensive. They sometimes fought to retake cities that they had lost, but they spent most of their time just trying to keep the cities they had or had retaken. This was especially true at a certain point in the war, when their government was facing internal struggles that prevented the Nephite armies from getting much-needed supplies.

When we face hardship, it can be difficult to make progress, but during those times, it may be wiser to simply try to hold our ground, rather than risking burning ourselves out and backsliding. Sometimes, just not losing ground is victory enough.

This isn't true all the time, or course. The usual, day-to-day amount of adversity is meant to be overcome, so we typically try to forge on through them. But if our trials are much stronger than normal , and we run the risk of moving farther away from the completion of our goals, it may be best if, to ensure that we don't lose the progress we've made so far, we focus on just holding our ground.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Trees in the Wind - Learning from Adversity

In his April 2014 General Conference talk, Spiritual Whirlwinds, Elder Neil L. Andersen shared an interesting science lesson about trees and wind:
In nature, trees that grow up in a windy environment become stronger. As winds whip around a young sapling, forces inside the tree do two things. First, they stimulate the roots to grow faster and spread farther. Second, the forces in the tree start creating cell structures that actually make the trunk and branches thicker and more flexible to the pressure of the wind. These stronger roots and branches protect the tree from winds that are sure to return.
Naturally, there's a lesson in here about how adversity can strengthen us, but that's not what I'd like to focus on this evening. That's a lesson we've all heard a dozen times before. Instead, the lesson I really want to share is that our trials can teach us where we need to improve.

In an area without wind, a tree might think that the best way to grow would be to stretch their branches as tall and as wide as possible, so they could collect more sunlight, but this could make the tree top-heavy and may even cause it to fall over, even without wind. But if the tree experienced wind while it was growing, the tree may feel the need to shift its priorities from growing higher and longer branches to growing deeper and wider roots. It may seem funny to think of a plant making decisions about its priorities based on its circumstances, but it certainly makes sense for us.

We have full control over how we live our lives and what areas of our lives we develop. There are those who devote their lives to gaining more intelligence or more strength, for example. In the gospel, it's intended that we eventually develop all of the Christlike attributes, but it can be important to know which Christlike attribute we most need to work on right now, and adversities can help teach us that.

A tree that grows in a windy area needs to grow strong, deep roots, while a tree that lives in a cloudy area may be better off focussing on its branches. A tree that gets little water would try to grow its roots as long and as deep as possible, to collect as much water as it can, while a tree that grows where parasites are common would do well to build up defences against them.

Similarly, the trials we face can help us learn which Christlike attribute we personally need most at this stage in our lives. By testing our abilities, our trials can show us our weaknesses and the areas in which we most need to improve. They can help us adjust our priorities so we develop ourselves in a healthy and balanced way.

I don't know what Christlike attribute you most need to work on right now, but God does, and you can bet that if this is what it takes to show you what attribute you need to work on, God will send you a personalized trial that will teach you just how badly you need it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Rejoice in Every Effort

My favorite sentence from Elder Bennett's talk is "Our loving Heavenly Father rejoices in each and every faithful step, and if we fall, He rejoices in each effort to get back up and try again."

Think of it: Any time we do something right, no matter how small, He rejoices. Any time we fall short, but decide to try again, He rejoices again. He rejoices every time we take a step in the right direction and every time we even just attempt to take a step in the right direction. As long as we are making any attempt at all to follow Him, He's happy.

So why aren't we? Maybe we focus on our shortcomings rather than on our victories. Maybe, with the limited perspective of mortality, we think that we only have a limited amount of time to reach the goal of total perfection, and we think we're not making progress fast enough. Maybe we think we're backsliding faster than we're moving forward. Whatever the reason we think we're not good enough is, we're wrong.

We don't have to be perfect right now. We don't even have to be "good" in the sense of doing what we might call the "bare minimum" of what we think a good person should do. We just have to keep trying to take steps in that direction.

For example, I'm willing to say that most of us don't have exceptionally meaningful scripture study every day. Do we at least think about the scriptures sometimes as we read them? Do we read the scriptures regularly, or even occasionally? Do we ever read, or even just think about, any scriptures at all? No matter how small our steps toward righteousness are, God rejoices in them. If we ever read or think about any scripture or other spiritual truth at all, that's a good thing and God will appreciate it. Maybe we should, too.

In life, it's easy to get discouraged. It's easy to think of something we did wrong or something we didn't do as well as we could have. If we focus on our failures, it would be easy to think that we're not doing very well at all.

Thankfully, God doesn't do that, and neither should we. God focusses on the positive, and we can, too. Instead of kicking ourselves over the things we do poorly, we could praise ourselves for what we do well. I don't mean that we should become complacent, be we don't have to feel discouraged, even if it doesn't feel like we're making any progress. God, who knows exactly where we are and where we're going and how long it'll take us to get there, rejoices whenever we take even the smallest step in the right direction. Even when we fall, spiritually, God rejoices whenever we try to get back up.

Life has a lot of ups and downs. We're always taking two steps forward for each step back or one step forward for every two steps back. However many steps forward or backward we take on a given day, God rejoices in every step forward, whether we're truly making progress or just trying to recover from a backslide. Every faithful step forward brings us one step closer to Him. And according to Him, even a small victory like that is enough of a reason to rejoice.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Not Content With Crawling

Like other Apostles before him, Elder Randall K. Bennett compared our attempts to become like Heavenly Father to a toddler learning to walk. In His General Conference talk, Your Next Step, he shared the example of his youngest grandson:
After learning to crawl and then stand, he was ready to try walking. During his first few attempts, he fell, cried, and gave a look that said, “I will never—ever—try that again! I’m simply going to keep crawling.”
Of course, with some coaching from his parents, Elder Bennett's grandson did try again, and I'm sure that he has learned to walk, and even run by now. But I'm equally sure that we sometimes feel as hopeless as that child apparently felt. We all stumble and fail. We all sometimes see how far we have to go and get discouraged. When that happens, we're tempted to give up, to quit trying, and to be content with being imperfect. But God knows that we can accomplish much greater things than the crawling we manage to do down here. So, just like any other father, He continues to reach out to us, urging us to keep trying to walk in His footsteps.

We can't give up. We can't afford to. Giving up on our eternal and infinite potential would be much like a child giving up on ever learning how to walk. To remain as we are, in light of what we can become, is unthinkable. We can become so much greater than we are now. We have to try.

The hard part is that we do try, and we fail far more than we would like to. That's why I'm thankful for a Heavenly Father who keeps pulling for me, who keeps working with me, and who "rejoices in each effort to get back up and try again." He is the light at the end of the tunnel. His are the arms that will embrace me when I get there. He is the one who encourages me to get up each and every time I fall short of my true potential. Right now, I may only be able to stumble a step or two before I trip myself up, but I'm making progress. Slowly but surely, God is teaching me how to walk in His light.