Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dumping our Excuses

We all have numerous excuses for not attending to our duties, attending church, or putting off what we have committed to do in taking upon us our ordinances with their associated covenants.  Discouragement due to unrealized expectations; nervous that we are not accepted because we are too old, too young, too poor, too whatever; perhaps there have been serious mistakes that are known to all and we feel uncomfortable; I may seem to have it all together, but God knows my dirty little secrets; I have a disagreement with another member or a leader in the Church.  I think you get the idea.  There are plenty of excuses to go around. So, why don't we take advantage of these excuses and drop out?  Unfortunately, some do.

We choose not to because we know that is not where the promised blessings will be found.  We sometimes wonder why our prayers are not answered right away or not at all. We discover that God is not our butler.  Sometimes we get tired of the search and take the attitude to God, "Just show me or tell me what you want and I will do it." We discover that God does not need us to be his butler.

In his talk in the April 2012 General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about the parable of the landowner and the workmen.  He pointed out that there was an area in the market place where men who needed work could go to find employment as day laborers.  Here the landowner or his agent came several times during the day to get men to perform the harvest. (See also Matthew 20)

Most would expect that the harvest would begin at the break of day, so they would be there early.  The householder chose from among the men who were there and agreed to pay them the appropriate wage for a day's work.  I suspect that there were those who came late, saw that the workers had been chosen and left in discouragement.  Others, who were there on time may have thought, "I have done all I can to make myself available, but the lord of the harvest has chosen someone else.  Isn't that just the story of my life," and in discouragement also left to beg or find some less profitable work.  Others, however, stayed on in the hope that some other grower will need their help or that the householder will return as the day wears on to acquire more laborers.

Some of those were rewarded for their patience and faith as the agent returned again at 9:00, at noon and even at 3:00 in the afternoon.  Incredibly, he returned again at 5:00.  These other shifts were only told that they would receive a fair wage for the time they worked.  When they were all paid at 6:00PM, they all received the same wage as the first laborers. All were incredulous for one reason or another.  The first, because they had born the heat of the day and had labored 12 hours and yet received no more than the last who had worked only one hour.  Those who came later in the day because they only expected a fraction of the wage those before them had earned.

To the early arrivals the lord of the harvest said, "I have paid you a good wage and one to which you agreed. As to the others, am I not free to spend my own money has I see fit?  These others were there when I needed them and I was glad of the assistance.  Otherwise, the harvest may have been lost."

Envy and its close cousin covetousness rob some of the blessings God has in store for us.  I recall that early in our married life another couple with whom we were close could not have children.  The wife was sad and disappointed, but never envious.  We were with them when another of our acquaintance announced that she was pregnant with their second child. Quietly, our friend said to my wife, "I truly am happy for her." 

This young couple continued faithful in the Church and did all they could despite their unfulfilled desire to enlarge their family.  Sometime after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the plight of the Romanian orphans came to light.  This couple had been very successful in business, so they had the means to travel to Romania and adopt a child.  When they arrived, they discovered that the child had a sibling just a year older, so they arranged to adopt them both.  Because of the unrest in the country, they were not able to fly out and had to travel across the continent in the famous Orient Express.  Now I became envious.

We are not diminished because someone else has good fortune.  In the end, we are promised that those who receive the Priesthood (follow the inspired counsel of the brethren) receive Christ and that all who receive Christ receive the Father.  All those who receive the Father receive all that the Father has. (D&C 84:36-38)  If you receive all that the Father has, what is left for me? Put that way, we see how ridiculous the notion of envy is.

We cannot allow discouragement to destroy our lives any more than envy.  In the end they have the same root.  They are used masterfully by the same being.  Neither leads to an increase in faith, patience to endure, serving the needs of others or finding the will of God in our lives.

On the other hand we are promised that when we forsake our sins, call on Christ's name, obey His voice and keep his commandments will see his face and know that he is and that it is his light that gives us our light. It is that light that allows us to grow from grace to more grace (the enabling power) until we achieve the fullness. Like the workers who chose to become agents to the wrong master, our agency can be our condemnation.  We will receive some wages, but they will not be the fullness. (D&C 93:1,2,12,13,19,20,31).  "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

That is why we dump our excuses.

When Principles Colide

Many years ago, I heard Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone talk about the problem of what he called “hobby horses.”  He said, in effect, that then people get involved in a particular issue to a point that it dominates their thoughts it becomes their hobby horse.  Too often, they will saddle their particular hobby horse and ride it out of the Church.  I cannot find the reference, unfortunately, but I wanted to give him proper credit. 

     I have seen this pattern over and over again; sometimes in situations very close to me, personally.  It varies in scope, but can include some of the current issues in which the Church is at the center of controversy such as gay marriage, today; the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s; the “liquor by the drink” issue in Utah when I attended BYU; and other issues of the type.

     It can also involve issues in the doctrine or practices of the Church that are held to in a fanatical manner.  These might include food storage and self reliance; preparation for the last days; genealogy; the fact that we no longer practice polygamy; the fact that we ever did practice polygamy; historical documents and differences from today’s practices; the priesthood being denied to black people, etc.  A former district leader of mine, met up with a former assistant to the president when they were both at BYU. They started looking at the Semitic writing style called chiasmus and finding it in all the scriptures, not just the Old and New Testaments.  After a lot of time spent on this project, they concluded that chiasmus was the mind of God, that is, God thinks in chiasmus.  They published a paper to that effect which almost no one in the academic community or the Church took seriously.  They could not leave it alone, however, and eventually both either left the Church or were excommunicated.  I saw my old district leader in the supermarket at that time and engaged him in conversation.  I only wanted to catch up with an old friend; he could only talk about how narrow minded the Church leaders were.
     The pattern is always the same, with minor differences. The focus turns from what is fundamentally true to what is perceived to be a gap in doctrine or policy.  Next it is assumed that the brethren (whom all the uninformed masses of the Church ignorantly sustain) are either ignorant as well or that they are evilly forcing a conformist agenda for their own self interest. These conclusions now justify finding camaraderie with other like-minded people who may favor the same issue or a different one, in criticizing the leaders of the Church. Eventually, the fault finding justifies violating consciences, breaking covenants, and eventually leaving the fellowship of the Church.  Because these justifications never fully soothe the conscience, they embrace the failings that others have found, seek the companionship of those others who are even more invested in their opinions and grow more and more bitter. It can even (and often does) get to the point where godly, pure-hearted men like Thomas S. Monson, Spencer W. Kimball and Gordon B. Hinckley are accused of being uninformed, or even calculating and evil.

    What is the approach of the truly pure in heart when they are faced with the dilemma in their own lives?  I have heard the advice to just “put it on the shelf” until there is greater clarification from sources we do not yet know.  That is good advice, but it sounds like a cop out to some. There is only one reason that this would be appropriate for anyone.  They must be truly striving to become pure in heart; to love God and serve Him with all their hearts.

     We know that what we nourish, tend and cultivate grows and what we starve and ignore eventually dies. Some things do not die easily, I know.  I recall losing some fruit trees to Texas Root Rot in Arizona.  In every case, the year they died they gave off a bumper crop of fruit; they did not go out with a whimper. The person who dwells on their low self esteem, their emotionally stingy mate; their physical disability, their sexuality, their lack of opportunity or whatever unfairness with which they have been born or later acquired is nourishing the bitter seed that will grow into an unsightly tree. That tree will eventually bear bitter fruit.

     The person who acknowledges his weakness or the unfairness of the circumstances he has been given, but builds on his strengths, will see the weaknesses become less important and his strengths compensate, and then grow. He will come to realize that he has been blessed beyond his dreams.
I may be quadriplegic, but I have a bright mind.  How can I use this gift to serve God, build the Kingdom of God and improve the circumstances of those around me?  I may be in an unhappy marriage, but dwelling on that will lead to adultery, destroy the family and damage the children.  I still have the capacity to love and show affection.  What can I do to more deeply understand my mate, support my children in their positive endeavors, and serve the Lord, his Church and those around me? I may be homosexual, so I may never qualify to serve a mission, marry or have children in the sealing covenant.  If those limitations are what I dwell on, I will grow bitter, eventually violate my covenants, fight against God and lose the promises that, deep inside, I desire above all those issues.  On the other hand, I have the ability so serve wherever I am called, so I will do so with all my heart.  I have talents, intelligence and empathy that can be turned to serve the God I love and trust.  I can be turned to serve God and I can bless the lives of his children and build his kingdom.

     I take compliments with a grain of salt, but I cannot let go of criticism.  If I allow myself to dwell on my lack of self esteem, I will never exceed my current, pathetic achievements.  On the other hand I know I have gifts.  I have a bright mind (others’ are brighter, but I can use what I have got), I have the ability to listen deeply to others, I can receive promptings and, with a little courage, I can act on them.  I have talents (others’ may be greater, but I can apply what I have) so I will use those talents, my ability to see the needs of those around me and bless the lives of others.  Most of all , I know that I have a loving Father and a Savior who has experienced these feelings to a greater depth than I, so I will always have a friend who understands where I am and will support my efforts to improve.

     Nourish strengths and virtues; starve unhealthy appetites, and spiritual weaknesses.

     We know life was never intended to be fair, but that God, our loving Father, is ultimately fair.  Maintain an eternal perspective.  The person who, despite exceptional challenges, remains true to his testimony, keeps his covenants and constantly nourishes his spirituality will receive all that God has. 

     The person who uses his challenges as justification to violate his covenants and nourishes his perceived misfortune will not grow what is starved and will receive less than all God has.  While it may seem that our situation is hopeless if we only get what we deserve, because we are constantly falling short, that is true only if we cave; if we fail to keep trying and to keep improving.  As long as we discipline our bodies, control what we allow to remain in our minds, act on promptings to love and serve others and constantly repent, we will not get what we deserve, we will get what Christ suffered, died and atoned for.  We will get all that the Father has.

     We have a choice or a series of choices that lead us to an end.  Compare Cain with Spencer W. Kimball (or anyone you know of who has had serious challenges).  Cain observed the prosperity of Abel, his brother.  As Abel’s flocks increased and his life seemed blessed, Cain bristled at the fact that he got crops instead of herds.  The obvious unfairness worked on him until he drew away from God, listened more to Satan and eventually took his brother’s life.  In his mind he would now receive his brother’s wealth; or, if not his wealth, at least the satisfaction of knowing that his brother would no longer be able to flaunt his wealth and his piety in Cain’s face. Seeing his brother dead, Cain exultantly exclaimed, “I am free!”

     Such rebellion always turns out badly, and its adverse effects seldom affect only the rebellious individual.  It usually destroys families, keeps children from fully embracing the full benefits of the Gospel and breaks the hearts of loved ones.

     Spencer W. Kimball was a short, somewhat frail boy whose father, while faithful to the Church was usually absent from the home.  He desired to serve his country in World War I, so he enlisted in the Army.  Within a short time he “washed out” because of physical limitations.  Such men in those days were all painted with the same broad brush as “slackers.” He was not handsome, even as a young man.  He had every opportunity to nourish these weaknesses and eventually die as a less than ordinary man.  Instead, he determined to nourish what he had.  He determined to work beyond his being exhausted, a trait the Lord used in building the Kingdom.  He determined at a young age that he would never receive promised blessings if he never nourished his testimony, so he began what would become a lifetime habit of reading and memorizing scriptures.  Putting scriptures on small cards, the boy, Spencer, would review and memorize them while milking the cow.

     While serving as an apostle, he suffered throat cancer and virtually lost his voice.  Because he lacked volume, even with a special microphone, he maximized his ability to tell stories that illustrated his points.  The stories were not only compelling, but written and delivered in the most beautiful prose.  Read the story of the mistletoe, for example.

     Because he nourished his strengths, he never exclaimed, “why me?”  Instead, as he stated in a general conference, that we may have enormous challenges to meet in these times, “…but I am want to say, ‘Lord, give me this mountain.’”  He died as a man who was truly free.  

     What we will become will depend upon what it is that we choose to focus on.  What we choose to nourish is what will grow.  Who we become will be determined by whose we become.