Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Justice

Justice and mercy are not independent principles. Justice is merciful when you think about it. It would not be just to be tested on a subject you never learned or to be tried for a crime you did not commit. In God’s infinite wisdom and justice, He prepared a perfect plan for our progression and happiness. As part of that plan we experience tests and trials within the sphere of our capabilities that are designed to stretch us and refine us, and prepare us for celestial glory in the mansions of our loving Heavenly Father.

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Alma and the sons of Mosiah being rebuked by an angel. Photo courtesy of lds.org

Alma was a prophet in the Book of Mormon who understood justice and mercy very well. He felt the saving grace of the great Mediator of all mankind when he was “snatched” from sin (Mosiah 27). But, he also stood by and witnessed the martyrdom at Ammonihah (Alma 14), and declared, “therefore this life became a probationary state, a time to prepare to meet God” (Alma 12:24).
I love in Alma 29 when he is contemplating the justice of God and says, “Oh that I were an angel…that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 29). Wouldn’t it be great if we could all know and understand the gospel perfectly and be able to always act according to that knowledge?! Wouldn’t life be so much easier?
But Alma continues: “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.
I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire…For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true” (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 29).
Heavenly Father has in His infinite justice and mercy granted that we be free agents in directing the course of our lives and have the freedom to act rather than be acted upon.
I have been thinking about this principle a lot lately. I’ve been noticing a trend and a temptation to place some people above others and ourselves and attribute some hierarchy of righteousness or worthiness. Like a popularity thing where some are inferior to others based on their maturity and knowledge. I find that almost laughable if only I weren’t prone to do it myself. I’ve only recently been learning how to not compare my weaknesses to someone else’s strengths. I still need more practice.
The point is we are all on the same journey here in mortality. We are all treading the same course here together. We are not ahead of nor behind one another, we’re just experiencing different things at different times. That is why no calling in the church is more important than the others and why a Bishop can later be called into the primary. I was once in Relief Society presidencies and chairman of committees. Now I teach the Young Women and it is a great calling! None of us are ever going to be perfect in this life. We all have something to learn from each other. In the end I think we will all need each other to really be saved.
When Alma says we will learn the gospel in our own language, I wonder if it would also include learning it in our own spiritual language as well. Bear with me here. What one person considers a laborious trial, someone else might chuckle at their naïveté. I suggest we are all naive in one way or another. Some people can at least acknowledge it. That’s what humility is, and what becoming like a child means: to acknowledge God’s hand in everything and to never counsel Him but to take counsel from Him. We each receive that counsel differently. Some people need to hear a voice of thunder. Others need only listen to that Still, Small Voice. All of us are one or the other at different times and situations in life. Perhaps we’ll hear it in the temple, or during scripture study, or while listening to a talk, or a favorite uplifting song. Or maybe we’ll hear His voice through the voices of our children telling us what they need, or teaching us by their example. Whatever it is, it will come in a way we will individually understand because the Lord knows us each so well, He will deliver it to us that way.
That’s why the gospel is so perfect. The Atonement is both universal and individual. While the Savior died and lives again for all mankind to be saved, He also did it so that you and I might experience His redeeming love on a personal level. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you…I will…receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3, also Doctrine and Covenants 98:18). I believe our Savior has prepared a place for everyone who heeds God’s counsel one way or another. You and I cannot judge what place that is or at what point in this eternal progression another is on.
It blows my mind when people label others or place other people into neat little categories like that is even possible. I learned in my personality class that we have a tendency to judge other people by attributing a personality characteristic to them rather than judge the situation they are in. For example, you see someone driving recklessly, cutting people off and speeding. What do you think of that person? Most people would have special names to call them, or they would say he is a careless driver. How many of you stop to think that person maybe had a rough day, or maybe they are in a hurry because of an emergency? Why do our behaviors in different situations mean we are always that way? Do you always trust your first impression of someone?
I have been experiencing deep depression for the last couple of years. For a while I thought I was over it but my situation hasn’t changed and I feel it creeping back in on me. I cannot seem to convince the people around me who didn’t know me before my depression that I am not this person. I want to be who I know I am but I cannot rise above the mire. I usually feel like I am wading through it all on my own and no one believes in me.
I don’t know why I have to experience this. I don’t know what the Lord has planned for me. Again, I know we all experience different trials at different times and situations. I don’t consider myself better than anyone if I experience different trials. I recently learned of a friend of mine whose baby perished after she was born. Another friend is suffering from a temporary infection that has her in constant pain. Others suffer with cancer, or the inability to bear children. Are their trials better or worse than mine? I don’t know. I just know that a loving Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us. He knows each of us. He is teaching us and preparing us to meet Him in a way that each of us is sensitive to and will understand in the language that has the greatest impact on us. The answer won’t always be in this lifetime. All we can do is pray for the enabling power of the Atonement to carry us and lift us above our own capacity to manage.

Related posts and websites:

“My New Mantra” http://wp.me/p1zyo4-q
“The Merciful Obtain Mercy” http://wp.me/p1zyo4-6l
“Overcoming Adversity – What is the purpose of trials?” http://wp.me/p1zyo4-3w
Agency: http://www.lds.org/study/topics/agency?lang=eng

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Wednesday Willpower: The Waiting Place

When you’re young and naive and you are first reading this book, it sounds like encouragement!  It looks like Dr. Seuss is telling you all the great things you have ahead of you, and what an exciting journey it is!  Then, you grow up and get a little more experience, and you realize that Dr. Seuss is actually warning you about reality.  He warns about the times when you’ll fail, times when you’re lost, times when you will have to wait on something before you can progress.  He talks of loneliness and disappointment, trials and weakness.  And you realize then, he is really talking about real life, and we can only hope that our story really does end well.  At least Dr. Seuss is optimistic in the end.

The waiting place is where nothing is happening, and all you can do is wait. And wait…and wait…and wait.  It feels like we’re always waiting for something.  What a terrible place.  Is there nothing to be done to get out of this place?  I feel very familiar with this place…like my second home.

The waiting place makes you feel self-absorbed, self-conscious, helpless, discouraged, impatient, and doubtful.  What is to be done?  Have I been forgotten here?

In The Book of Mormon we read about a people who can only wait.  The people of Alma become enslaved by the Lamanites and the people of Amulon, a wicked man and former priest of King Noah (check out the book of Mosiah to learn about the history of this people).  Under the reign of Amulon, the people of Alma were laden with tasks, and were forbidden to pray aloud.  However, they continued to pray in their hearts.  In answer to their prayer, the Lord told them this:

“Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:13-15).

Notice that the Lord did not immediately relieve the people of their burdens.  Instead, He gave them the capacity to bear their burdens with ease, and to continue “cheerfully and with patience” to submit to God’s will.  They probably would have faithfully waited for the Lord to deliver them from bondage for as long as they needed to, and He would deliver them as long as they were faithful.

I always remember this scripture from my first year at EFY (Especially for Youth, like youth summer camp for a week) the year it was “Joy in the Journey”:

“Therefore, continue your journey and let your hearts rejoice; for behold, and lo, I am with you even unto the end” (Doctrine and Covenants 100:12).

We are never left alone.  When we are feeling trapped in the waiting place, the best thing we can do is to improve our attitudes, turn ourselves outward to serve others, and be better disciples of Christ.

Read also:

Alma 7:11-12
Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-9
Ether 12:27

More on this:

“We Can Find Happiness”: http://www.lds.org/plan/we-can-find-happiness?lang=eng
“You Matter to Him” by President Deiter F. Uchtdorf: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/10/you-matter-to-him?lang=eng
Mosiah chapters 2 through 4: http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/mosiah?lang=eng
“The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality” by Elder David A. Bednar: http://www.lds.org/liahona/2012/04/the-atonement-and-the-journey-of-mortality?lang=eng&query=atonement+journey+mortality
“Mountains to Climb” by President Henry B. Eyring: http://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/05/mountains-to-climb?lang=eng#footnote2-10405_000_010
“Forget Me Not” by President Deiter F. Uchtdorf: http://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/general-relief-society-meeting/2011/09/forget-me-not?lang=eng

Wednesday Wondering: Being a Peacemaker

What does it really take to be a peacemaker? Just wondering. Is anyone really good at being a peacemaker?

It says in the Guide to the Scriptures that a peacemaker is “A person who brings about or promotes peace (Matt. 5:9; 3 Ne. 12:9).” I get the part about promoting peace, but to actually bring it about is a little harder.

To understand more what it means to be a peacemaker, I refer to President Thomas S. Monson’s talk from the Priesthood session of General Conference in October of 2009 entitled, “School Thy Feelings, O My Brother.”

In President Monson’s talk, I learned that “Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything” (Lawrence Douglas Wilder, quoted in “Early Hardships Shaped Candidates,” Deseret News, Dec. 7, 1991, A2.)

We’ve all felt anger. It can come when things don’t turn out the way we want. It might be a reaction to something which is said of us or to us. We may experience it when people don’t behave the way we want them to behave. Perhaps it comes when we have to wait for something longer than we expected. We might feel angry when others can’t see things from our perspective. There seem to be countless possible reasons for anger.

To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry.

…we are all susceptible to those feelings which, if left unchecked, can lead to anger. We experience displeasure or irritation or antagonism, and if we so choose, we lose our temper and become angry with others. Ironically, those others are often members of our own families—the people we really love the most.

School thy feelings, O my brother;
Train thy warm, impulsive soul.
Do not its emotions smother,
But let wisdom’s voice control.
School thy feelings; there is power
In the cool, collected mind.
Passion shatters reason’s tower,
Makes the clearest vision blind. 8
This last poem reminded me of a section in my health textbook about emotional intelligence. I found it invariably profound to consider the discipline it takes to master emotions to this depth. But, I imagine many fights would be avoided if people could master emotion.

“Emotional intelligence can be defined as the degree to which we can skillfully and adaptively deal with our emotions and those of others.
“More specifically, this involves the following:
1. Recognizing feelings as they occur
2. Responding to feelings with neither impulsive, aggressive reactivity, nor suppression, denial, distraction, or avoidance
3. Being able to tolerate and contain strong emotions and soothe yourself in the presence of powerful feelings
4. Being able to use the energy of strong emotions to motivate yourself and respond skillfully to the situation at hand
5. Being able to perceive the content of feelings in order to connect the emotion to its source and understand why you are feeling a particular emotion
6. Being able to recognize and bear the feelings of others without needing to distance yourself or dissuade the other person from having their feelings
7. Being able to persist in the face of fear or frustration and cultivate resilience
8. Being able to delay gratification
9. Being able to be curious and stay open to feelings rather than close down, tighten up, or turn away from emotions
10. Being able to express a wide range of emotions in a way that is natural and to a degree that is appropriate to the particular situation

“How do you cultivate emotional intelligence? The key lies in the ability to develop the overarching skill of mindfulness – the ability to dispassionately observe thoughts and feelings as they occur and while they’re occurring. This skill is aided by culivating a “witness” or a “watcher” in your mind and noting the arising of strong reactions with a certain detachment. By holding our reactions in a larger mental space we can make more measured, wise, and skillful responses to the situation at hand.
“Mindfulness can be cultivated by simply paying more attention to the operation of our minds, slowing down our lives enough to make more detailed observations, and staying in the moment so as to maximize awareness of our selves and others. Although we often have a limited ability to control external events, it turns out that we have a great deal of ability to discipline, focus, and train our minds. With practice, we not only can become more emotionally intelligent but also may be able to cultivate an ongoing peace of mind that many people find so elusive” (Core Concepts of Health, Insel, pg 101).

No one is perfect, except for Christ. Only through Him can we truly possess the pure love of Christ: charity, and become peacemakers. I believe relationships can heal. It requires faith, and the willingness to bear the yoke of grace together with the Savior, and become like a child.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)

Sunday Spirituality: Wrestling in Prayer (Revised)

A thought occurred to me that maybe a lot of heartache and trial could be avoided when we take the time to commune with the Lord through prayer. Enos talks about wrestling with the Lord in prayer and received a remission of his sins. What does that really mean to me? Enos prayed MANY hours before he received his answers. Is it only a matter of time before we receive the answers we seek? Or is it a matter of the state of our mind, and heart? How often do I pray until my prayer becomes a conversation, and my mind and heart become enlightened by revelation? Usually this happens when I am anxious about something or am struggling for an answer. But what if my prayers were always full of anxiety that I might be always open to receive revelation? How much more would I be prepared to learn if I always had the capacity to receive it?

My favorite definition of prayer is in the Bible Dictionary:

As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

Heavenly Father is just waiting for us to ask Him for what we need.  I believe that when we open our hearts in prayer, the Spirit gives us the words to pray and prepares our hearts to receive the answers.