This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session from the April 1973 Conference.
As I've been doing the reading for this General Conference Odyssey, sometimes one talk will strike me particularly in its entirety; more often a paragraph or two will set my mind to pondering a certain theme. This week it was the juxtaposition of two paragraphs from two different talks that made me think about something in a new way. Here is the first paragraph, which comes from President Kimball's talk about families:
Shakespeare said, “No profit comes where there is no pleasure taken.” You can’t do very well that which you don’t enjoy doing. If we don’t get great pleasure out of our families, we should repent, because we are doing something wrong. If the work of the Lord seems burdensome and makes us weary, or if we don’t get exhilaration and uplift out of that part of the work of the world that life has given us to do, then we should repent. We need some more powerful satisfactions from life.
As I read that paragraph, I thought about how it might be misconstrued or criticized. I've heard many people talk about how when they are discouraged or depressed, the feeling that they ought to be happy, they ought to be enjoying themselves and feeling gratitude for their blessings—just makes the depression MORE overwhelming. Now they feel like, not only are they sad and depressed, but they are SINNING by being sad and depressed. And I can imagine someone reading this paragraph and thinking exactly that. "Repent?! For not getting 'exhilaration' and pleasure out of my difficult life? That's crazy!"

But yet, I find great wisdom in this counsel. I can't say how anyone else ought to manage their thoughts about it, but for me, it's empowering to think of ways I might take this to heart. How might I "repent" for not enjoying various mundane tasks? How might I turn those tasks into things that DO "exhilarate" and "uplift" me? 


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:

Expanding symmetry

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session from the April 1973 Conference.
Because my life consists primarily of teaching children these days—both formally and informally—I'm often trying to distill concepts into their essence; to find elementary crumbs of meaning and then examine them to see if they hold true as they expand. I've noticed that, surprisingly, many simple concepts become more complicated as we delve into them; that the most basic questions can suddenly become baffling with a little more knowledge—things like how electric current travels, or what makes up the character of light. With more intense study, the pattern continues—additional knowledge answers some questions and simultaneously brings up others! I'm not advanced enough in scientific matters to see many iterations of this pattern firsthand, but I've seen it in my gospel study. There's an expanding symmetry to it, like fractals. Simple truths take on greater meaning and spring into elaborate detail as we "zoom in" or "zoom out"—and then they can become clear and simple again—and then again more complicated. We can find truth and clarity and simplicity at many different levels, but the elegance and complexity is there too, making up the very fabric of those simple truths. 

"We know that little children can learn spiritual truths," Elder Packer says, and proves his point by addressing the children themselves in his talk. And unlike many who say they are speaking to children, he actually talks in a way a child could understand! That's a difficult thing to do—most people are either condescending and sickly-sweet, or they mistake simplicity of vocabulary for simplicity of ideas—and I gained an even greater admiration for Elder Packer, seeing that he could do it so well. It's a side to him I didn't know about. He shares a profound spiritual experience he had at age 6 or 7, and I kept thinking as I read it, "I must remember how much children can learn and feel! I must not underestimate their capacity!"

In the Chicago airport a couple months ago, Sam and I got into a conversation with an earnest girl who belonged to a Baptist church. She learned that Sam taught at BYU, and that started her off. She was making a heroic effort to be civil and I admired her for it, but you could see her heart was just racing at the chance to confront a real live Mormon. She kept asking questions prefaced by "and I'm totally not trying to be confrontational or anything, but I'm really just wondering if you actually believe ________ doctrine?" [you save yourself by works, Christ's salvation isn't free, etc]

She was chiefly talking to Sam and I felt like I'd just make things worse by shoving my oar in, so I mostly just listened, but it made me think about how important (and difficult!) it is to establish common ground within the vast range of definitions and understandings for a single word like "salvation." The sweet girl kept jumping in, when Sam started to talk about how we are all saved by Christ's grace and mercy, and the ordinances of the church allow us to progress toward becoming like him—with "But I'm saved already, by the grace of Jesus!" Well, yes…maybe…depending on what you mean by "saved"! It just seemed like a silly thing to get hung up on: at what precise point one is "saved" and whether or not one is being good with hope of reward or not—but that's because from my perspective, the quest to become like God is the most important thing, and the journey toward him requires that I grow, obey, experience, suffer, and love. As Elder Maxwell says, "How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, “Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!”

Anyway, as we ended our conversation at the airport with this girl, my primary emotion was of gratitude, that I have been taught the simple truths of the gospel. There is much to them I don't understand, because I'm still a child myself in so many ways, but I sense the Lord's loving hand in the way he has sent scriptures and prophets to help unfold them. I am simultaneously comforted by their simplicity, and challenged by their depth. Whether my "salvation" begins at birth because I am His child and all mankind will be resurrected—or if it's when I am baptized because that constitutes "entering in at the gate"—or if it's when I truly "accept" Him in my heart—or if it's when my calling and election is made sure, whatever that means—I don't know, but it doesn't particularly trouble me. I just want to, at some point, become like God! That simple truth—that such a thing is possible!—is a gift our Baptist friend didn't seem to yet possess.

Elder Packer's whole talk is elegant in its simplicity. He speaks clearly of death as a separation, and says (quite beautifully, I think),
 "Death is a separation and is according to the plan. If the plan ended there, it would be too bad, because we came to obtain a body and it would be lost…
Little children, our Heavenly Father knew that we would need help. So, in the plan, he provided for someone to come into the world and help us. 
This was Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is a spirit child as all of us are; but also, Jesus was his Only Begotten Son on the earth. I speak very reverently of him. And he it was, my little friends, who made it possible for us to overcome death and get things put back the way they should be. 
You are learning about him in Sunday School, in Primary, and in family home evening. It is very important that you remember him and learn all you can about what he did.
He overcame the mortal death for us. Through the atonement, he made it possible for our spirit and body to be one again. Because of him we will be resurrected. He made it possible for us to be resurrected, for the spirit and the body to be put back together. That is what the resurrection is. That is a gift from him. And all men will receive it. That is why he is called our Savior, our Redeemer."
This much, our Baptist friend seemed to know. But then Elder Packer continues, 
"There is another separation that you need to think about--not the separation of the body from the spirit; rather, a separation from our Heavenly Father.
If we remain separated from him and can’t get back to his presence, then it would be as though we were spiritually dead. And that would not be good. This separation is like a second death, a spiritual death. 
…We must find a way to keep ourselves clean, spiritually clean, so that we will not be separated from our Heavenly Father and may return to where he is when we leave this earth life. 
We are sure you will overcome mortal death. You will be resurrected because of what Christ did for us. Whether or not you overcome the spiritual death--that separation from the presence of our Heavenly Father--will depend a great deal upon you.
This is just what I wished I could have said to our Baptist friend at the airport. It's so perfectly, beautifully simple. What ultimately happens to us, our salvation or exaltation or position in heaven or whatever name you wish to give it—it will depend a great deal on us! Not because, by our own power, we can do anything. Not because we are deserving or self-sufficient. Of course we need a Savior! Of course all is lost without him! But it will depend a great deal on us because we will, ultimately, get that which we most fundamentally desire. "[We] shall return again to [our] own place, to enjoy that which [we] are willing to receive…"

I think this post captures that truth very well. Of course we have conflicting desires at times, and sometimes we wish weakly for something while not being willing to actually sacrifice for it, but the fundamental truth about agency is that we WILL seek that which our heart most longs for. And we WILL obtain that which we seek.

Elder Packer concludes, and I could feel his love as I read it, 
"There will be times when you will make mistakes (and all of us make mistakes). There will be times when you will wonder if you can live the way he taught we should live. When you are tested, when you are disappointed, or ashamed, or when you are sad, remember [Jesus Christ] and pray to your Heavenly Father in his name. 
Some men will say that he did not come to earth. But he did. Some will say that he is not the Son of God. But he is. Some will say that he has no servants upon the face of the earth. But he has. For he lives. I know that he lives."
And that is the beauty of the gospel. I keep using the word "beautiful" and I mean it very literally—I find these truths, like snowflakes or tree branches, orderly and designed and beautiful. Distance and closeness, trust and blessing. There is a depth to them, as they spread and recur like fractals, where they both transcend and underlie the realities of mortal life. And ultimately, like a child, I hold on to this: God loves me, and I reach Him when I love Him back.

Other posts in this series:

Fresh as a Daisy

We sure love our fields of daisies here, the very daisies Daisy was named for. And we've been taking these pictures for a long time now! My little flower girls seem to get nicer every year. :)
We count Junie as a flower too, of course. Her obligatory juniper tree pictures usually happen while we're hiking! :)

Little Wild Horse Canyon

We haven't ever hiked a slot canyon before, but I've always wanted to! Little Wild Horse is near Goblin Valley, and everything I read said it was a good place for families and little kids, so we were excited to try it out. I thought, based on its designation as an "easy" or "beginner" slot canyon that it probably wouldn't be as cool as some of the "advanced" canyons (the kinds you have to rappel into or whatever)—but I thought it was great! Beautiful narrow slots, and gorgeous light streaming down from above, and interesting sand dune lines and ripple marks on the rocks. I can hardly imagine how there could be a more beautiful place!

It was really hot the day we went, and the slot sections were SO nice—you could even feel the cooler air coming off the rock walls before you walked in. There were some really narrow squeezes, but nothing TOO difficult, and even Goldie (who is three) managed it all okay, with a couple boosts here and there when we had to climb over big rocks. I was walking with her most of the time, and there were a few places when squeezing myself, and the camera around my neck, AND Goldie, through the  rocky passages was a bit tricky. But we just took it slow and we were fine.

I would LOVE to hike this again on a cool fall day. It's on our list of places to revisit for sure!

The hike starts out in this wide sandy wash. This was the hottest part! It was a relief to get into the (relatively) shady canyon area.
We carried our lunch up just past the wide part, then ate and left our cooler there to pick up on the way down. There were just a few of these large overhanging rocks to provide shade.


Counting and Sacrifice

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session from the April 1973 Conference.
Elder Hinckley's talk in this session has me thinking about counting. When and how am I counting up sacrifices? What kind of counting would God have me do?

I'm sure you've heard the advice that in a marriage, husband and wife should each plan to contribute 100%. It's slightly counterintuitive, because it seems like each person could just do half the work and it would all get done, but in practice that fails. If each person plans to give 50%, there is a constant accounting, a weighing, a concern with equity and reciprocity. Each feels put-upon and underappreciated. Neither wishes to do more. But if each partner is willing to do ALL, there is no need for measuring and counting. Both can rest and be at peace.

Then there's the "forgive others until seventy times seven" passage in the New Testament. I had a religion teacher who pointed out that "490 times" isn't really what Jesus is saying there. 491 is not the magic point of offenses at which we can suddenly begin to hold a justified grudge. No, by using "seventy times seven," Jesus is saying: "DON'T COUNT!" A willing and unrestricted forgiveness frees us to leave judgement in God's hands and find peace!

As I read Elder Hinckley's conference talk, I realized suddenly that the same principle applies in our relationship with God. We have to stop counting, and just give! Elder Hinckley describes our religion as "a religion which requires devotion, which asks for sacrifice, which demands discipline." It echoes Joseph Smith's statement that
"A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation." (Lectures on Faith 6:7).
It dawned on me that of course a good relationship with our Heavenly Father MUST require the sacrifice of all things, because He gives all things. It doesn't really matter who, in our relationship, is actually giving more (hint: it's Him)—because worrying about whether or not you have "given enough" or been treated "fairly" or whether or not you "deserve" your situation—just as with a marriage—misses the whole point! God wants our whole mindset to change. He says, in essence, "Don't count!" He simply wants us to be willing to give all for Him, as He does and has for us. 

There's something else, though. As Elder Hinckley puts it, 
There is another side of the coin, without which this [willingness to sacrifice] is little more than an exercise. Discipline imposed for the sake of discipline is repressive. It is not in the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is usually enforced by fear, and its results are negative. 
But that which is positive, which comes of personal conviction, builds and lifts and strengthens in a marvelous manner. In matters of religion, when a man is motivated by great and powerful convictions of truth, then he disciplines himself, not because of demands made upon him by the Church but because of the knowledge within his heart that God lives; that he is a child of God with an eternal and limitless potential; that there is joy in service and satisfaction in laboring in a great cause.
In other words, the best relationship with God will come from not just being willing to give all—but from SEEKING to give all, because we WANT to and because we love God. I'm starting to see that God asks us to sacrifice because He wants us to feel the joy that comes from giving out of love alone. The pain and the hardship of sacrifice may refine us. It can be useful. But it is not the goal. Joy is the goal. 

Let me try to say why I think so, because there are two ideas here, apparently in tension with each other. The first idea is this "sacrifice of all things" perspective—the idea that the sacrifice requires doing MORE than we are comfortable with, because until it FEELS like a sacrifice, it's not enough. This idea also says that the harder a sacrifice is, the more it can refine you (e.g. the Abrahamic test).

Elder Hinckley tells a story that illustrates the hardship. It's about a man whose wife was investigating the church. 
One evening she indicated that she wished to be baptized. He flew into a fit of anger. Didn’t she know what this meant? This would mean time. This would mean the payment of tithing. This would mean giving up their friends. This would mean no more smoking. He threw on his coat, walked out into the night, slamming the door behind him. He walked the streets, swearing at his wife, swearing at the missionaries, swearing at himself for ever permitting them to teach them.
For this man, the sacrifices required to live the gospel felt too demanding. Even had he acknowledged that there would be benefits as well, he had counted up the cost and found it unbearable. He might be willing to give something, but not all this! In his current mindset, nothing God did for him in return would be worth such great sacrifice! It's easy to see why someone feeling like this wouldn't be able to have a fulfilling relationship with God. And you could say, hearing this story, "Well, that man ought to be willing to give those things up. It will be hard, but if he does it, it will be good for him."

But the story continues, and it turns out that hardship is NOT the main theme:
As he grew tired, his anger cooled, and a spirit of prayer somehow came into his heart. He prayed as he walked. He pleaded with God for an answer to his questions. And then an impression, clear and unequivocal, came almost as if a voice had spoken with words that said, “It’s true.”
 “It’s true,” he said to himself again and again. “It’s true.” A peace came into his heart. As he walked toward home, the restrictions, the demands, the requirements over which he had been so incensed began to appear as opportunities 
Then, before the congregation to whom he told this, he spoke of the gladness that had come into their lives. Tithing was not a problem. The sharing of their substance with God who had given them everything seemed little enough. Time for service was not a problem. This required only a little careful budgeting of the hours of the week. Responsibility was not a problem. Out of it came growth and a new outlook on life. 
And so the second idea is the "When we truly love God, giving to Him is a joy and not a sacrifice" view so beautifully illustrated by this story. It is King Benjamin's "unprofitable servant" mindset. When we're aware and grateful for God's gifts to us, how can anything really be a sacrifice? How can we consider giving our time or our talents to God "sacrificing" them, when those things were already gifts to us from Him?

Maybe it doesn't really matter which mindset we have, because both have the same underlying point: we must give our all to God. In his talk, though, Elder Hinckley weaves the two ideas together, showing a kind of progression in them. It made me think that the two perspectives build on each other. Yes, we should "give till it hurts." And we will indeed be asked to give up many things that hurt. But as we move forward from this place of difficulty, giving painfully when asked, Elder Hinckley describes the change that will occur. Far from feeling forced into grudging sacrifice against our will, he says "[We] will be inclined to discipline [ourselves]"! And this because we have a "knowledge of the meaning and purpose of life, of [our] great responsibility to [our] fellowmen, of [our] responsibility to [our] famil[ies], of [our] responsibility to God."

In other words, we will want to sacrifice! In terms of the marriage analogy earlier, we will be willing and even eager to give 100% to the relationship, without thought of whether or not our efforts are being reciprocated. This pure love is what allows us to stop keeping score, to stop counting, and just GIVE—and this in turn allows us to have the joy that such giving brings. Most miraculous of all, like the man in the story, we will find that many things that we thought were sacrifices are really blessings from God.

There are different motivations for obedience; we can give out of fear, out of duty and hope for reward, or out of love. And of course, we all know that the best and highest motivation is love. But I had not before considered the corresponding response in OURSELVES when we sacrifice under these motivations! If we sacrifice out of fear, our sacrifice will feel painful. If we sacrifice out of duty, we will feel unfairly treated or uncompensated when our blessings don't seem to outweigh our sacrifice (this is obviously a perspective problem, but our perceptions will make us believe we really do have a grievance!). But if we sacrifice out of love—no matter what follows, it will be a joy. Just as giving 100% to a marriage brings freedom, so giving 100% to God brings true joy.

In practice, I think the two perspectives, the pain and the joy of sacrifice, probably come in cycles for even willing servants of God. We are asked to do something difficult and uncomfortable, and we do it even though we hate it. As we obey and sacrifice, we begin to see why it is good for us, it becomes less difficult, and we start to count it less as a sacrifice and more as a blessing. Then the Lord asks something else that stretches us even further, and we feel reluctant again. But I think our eventual aim is to spend less time resenting the sacrifice and more time being grateful for it, because according to Elder Hinckley, it's when we count the sacrifice a joy that we learn and grow most from it! Again, 
Discipline imposed for the sake of discipline is repressive….But that which is positive, which comes of personal conviction, builds and lifts and strengthens in a marvelous manner.
No wonder Heavenly Father wants us to stop counting and give out of love. He asks us to sacrifice but in the same breath he explains how the "sacrifice" is all in our interest anyway:
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. (D&C 88:33-34)
This must be why Elder Hinckley titled his talk "The True Strength of the Church." Willing, joyful sacrifice is the strength of the church. It is the law which the Savior followed to redeem us—and it is the same law which will, if we embrace it, perfect and sanctify us until we become like Him.

Other posts in this series:
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