Seeking desire

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session from the April 1973 Conference.
I talked about desire last week and now I'm going to talk about it again. I guess it's because I think a lot about this subject, so I'm extra sensitive to it when it gets mentioned! And President Romney has desire as a central theme of his talk, "Magnifying One's Calling in the Priesthood." He talks about the importance of desire—desire as a strong motivating force to help you do good and magnify your calling (and when I read "calling," I think of much more than current church calling—mostly my vocation as a mother and role as a disciple of Christ). He quotes this scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants: "And by their desires and their works you shall know them." (D&C 18:38—emphasis is President Romney's.)

It's all very well, and I DO have good desires as a "strong motivating force" in my life. To do as God wills. To submit to him. But I always talk myself into complicating things with "But is that really ALL I desire?"

The trouble is just that things are so mixed. I feel like none of my motivations are ever as whole and as pure as I'd like them to be. Yes! Of course I want to be good because I love God. I do, and I feel I am speaking totally honestly when I say so. But I also want to be good so that people will like me. And because I want heavenly rewards. I could say this about everything! When I give a talk or perform on the piano or write an essay, I try so desperately not to do it for the wrong reasons. "I want to do well so I can please Thee, and bring Thy spirit, and not for any recognition of my own!" I plead in my prayers. I don't WANT to want the praise of others. But I do, or part of me does. I want people to be impressed. In parenting it's the same. I know it doesn't matter what others think of my kids. I know my kids' personalities and talents are largely not my doing anyway, positive or negative! I know the only thing that matters about how I teach them and raise them, and even about how many of them I have, is whether or not those things fulfill Heavenly Father's wishes for me! And yet, even knowing this, and desiring to do it, I still DO want to feel praised and validated. I still do want to have people like my kids, and me, and not disapprove of my choices. I desire the children's welfare, truly, but I also desire to be right when I argue with them. I desire to learn and grow, but I also desire life to be easy and comfortable. And it frustrates me. I wish I could say, with total honesty, that my desires are pure! That my deepest, most true desire is to serve God. I WANT that to be true, but I don't know how I'd even KNOW if it were true, because my desires are often cloudy even to myself. Sometimes I'll ask myself, "But WHY are you acting this way? WHY does this scare/bother/anger you so much?" And I don't know. I sometimes don't even know.

In this talk, President Romney calls people out for "aspiring" to leadership positions. He says this isn't a righteous desire. And I know that. Goodness knows I don't want to hold important positions. They scare me! But even there I can't be sure my desires are pure, because just as we shouldn't aspire to positions because we want to be important—it seems to me we shouldn't aspire NOT to hold positions because we think it sounds hard and we would hate to have to put in so much time and effort. And yet that's basically what I'm doing.

It's not that I don't have desires to do good for its own sake. I do, and I feel like these parts of myself are deep and real. It's just that that isn't ALL there is to me. I've talked about this a lot and it's because I continue to wonder HOW to be purified. How to become wholly…well, holy!

Well, it's a great and thorny problem, and I know I can't expect to solve it in a day. But there are, I think, a few hints in the talk:
We should demonstrate that desire by living the gospel and diligently performing whatever service we are called upon to render. 
Nor is an effective desire a mere wish. It is not impassive; it is a motivating conviction which moves one to action. 
[I pray] that the Lord will help each of us…to acquire such a powerful motivating desire that we will…be led to magnify our callings in the priesthood.
And I even peeked ahead to the next session and found these words in another talk:
Live to be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. If you have its spiritual influence, it will bring conviction into your hearts. It will build testimony and create in you a desire to love the Lord. 
We should seek the desire, through righteous living, to once again dwell with [God].
So even though I still feel like a mass of contradicting desires, there are a few things I learned:
  • You can change your desires, and should seek good ones (pray for them?)
  • The Holy Ghost helps us create and maintain good desires (and eliminate bad, I assume)
  • God will help the good desires get stronger: "Let this desire work in you."
  • True desires motivate action--and I assume the action then reinforces the desire. So what I DO becomes what I WANT to do.
And I think maybe that last point is the most important thing I got from this talk. That the performance of a righteous action is the beginning of a cycle: action precedes desire which then precedes action. One can start, presumably, anywhere in that cycle—with either desire (nurturing the good desires that we already have, even if they are mixed with other less good desires) OR, if we can't find any good desires for that thing in ourselves at all, we can just start with the good action and trust the desire will follow.

So, to choose an example at random, if one is called to be a Cub Scout leader when one does not much DESIRE to be a Cub Scout leader, one could:
1. Call upon that part of oneself that DOES want to do it. This is the part that said yes to the calling. The part that loves God and is trying to trust Him and believe that He gives us challenges for our good. Focus on that part. Speak positively of the opportunity (again drawing, truthfully, on the good desires one has).
2. In addition to the above, one could also just start ACTING in the calling, trying to magnify it to the best of one's ability. One could attend meetings, and plan activities, and so forth, trusting in God that while the day-to-day desire to do these things was quite weak, the faithful doing of them anyway would at some point have an effect on desire, strengthening it.

Seems like good, practical advice from President Romney!

(UPDATE: Here's another talk that deals with this subject, and gives great counsel. It's by Elder Maxwell.)

Other posts in this series:

1 comment

  1. Oh this is all so relatable! Those other meddling desires! Grr. I am always struggling to use my gifts -- whatever they might be, and however developed or weak they are -- solely to be one with God and to further his work. But always there is pride or desire for praise trying to nudge its way in. But, I love what you said here, and, it is one of those things that while I maybe haven't seen overnight changes in myself, looking back over longer stretches of time I see improvement -- more purity in my desire, more awareness of the parts that I'd like to be rid of. It makes me think of what you often hear told to those who struggle with faith or whatever -- that to start, they don't even have to believe really! They just need a desire to believe. And that's enough for the Holy Ghost to start working in them. So this . . . desire for . . . the right desires :) and motivations feels like a good beginning.


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