Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Power Of Gratitude

I believe that being grateful is not only necessary to please God but also a key to being happy. Its a natural tendency to come to expect the things that we experience every day. It is not a surprise that I have electricity, running water, heat, food, and so many other necessities. Does the fact that I always have them require that I lose all gratitude for them? I believe that we can cultivate gratitude in our lives, even for these basic necessities.

Grateful people experience the world fundamentally differently compared to ungrateful people. Obviously, most people are not 100% committed in either direction, but there are certain principles of thankfulness, and if we convert ourselves to them we will be much more likely to feel gratitude on a daily basis.

And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. - D&C 59:21
We depend on God for everything and do next to nothing in our lives completely independently. We should all recognize that we cannot control the world. We can plant crops but we cannot make it rain; we can graduate college but we cannot force job openings; we are constantly at the mercy of the unknown and uncontrollable. There is One to whom nothing is unknown or uncontrollable, and we should recognize His influence and guiding hand in our lives. When we accept that our successes are not ours alone, it becomes much easier to be grateful for them.

Another key difference is pride. We can consider the example of working to advance a career: one works for a few years and achieves a promotion. A prideful man may see the promotion was long overdue, minimizing any gratitude and joy for the improvement. A humble man will recognize that many things factor into a promotion: the company must be doing fairly well, have the money to increase payroll, efforts must be recognized, the boss must appreciate him, etc. Many of these things cannot be controlled and should be attributed to Grace. Humility has a myriad of benefits of which increased gratitude is one.

True gratitude makes life rich; the lack thereof can make even the rich poor. I testify that this is true and that I have experienced it in my own life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Connecting With The Lord

My belief is that the Lord is constantly attempting to speak to us and influence our lives. He has established many ways that He accomplishes this:

- Holy Scriptures or the writings of His prophets
- The teachings of His current prophets and local leaders
- The Holy Ghost
- Now, the Church has a youtube channel, several websites, and really uses every technology possible to reach out to us.

Why then, is it so hard to stay in tune and connected to the Lord? Why is it so difficult to constantly feel His influence and peace in our lives? How can we minimize these challenges?

For me, the biggest challenge might just be the pulls of daily life. I have a lot of responsibility at work and at home. My children keep me very busy and I have to help make sure my wife has personal time. My job can be very stressful at times and sometimes commands my attention even though I'm not there. Double that for children and thinking of them, plus wanting to have a social life, be a good friend to my friends, and get to play some sports to try to stay in some kind of shape.

God often doesn't confront. All of us will come face-to-face with Him one day, of this I am certain, but if I become lax in almost all of my worldly responsibilities, there is often an immediate reminder. My boss will remind me of essential assignments if I fall behind; my children will misbehave if I don't spend time with them; it goes on and on.

Instead, He speaks to me through the still, small voice of the Spirit. It truly is a still, small voice, and can therefore be a little too easy to ignore at times.

My solution, or what I attempt to do, is to seek regular time to reflect and pray. I need that contact with my Heavenly Father. I need His guidance throughout my life because I know that He knows what I need better than I do. My goal is to have some quiet time every day to connect with God. When I am consistently successful there are no words to describe what a blessing it is. Its constant reassurance and guidance, combined with peace like a river. When I lapse, which unfortunately is frequent, I simply cannot sustain those feelings. I want to do better at taking time to listen, to meditate, and to sing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Lesson From Nho Meriku

During my service as a missionary I remember a man named Nho Meriku (or Senhor Americo). He was a member of the local congregation of the Church there; he came to church every Sunday, and he tried to make sure his family attended as well. However, I felt regularly frustrated by his level of commitment to the Church. He didn't serve in any calling and he didn't really appear to do anything other than show up; he didn't even seem to teach his family the Gospel other than hoping they'd learn it at church. I often wondered what it would take to get him going, and why he appeared to not understand the beauty of the Gospel enough to be proactive about it.

At some point while I was in the area we visited his family and were talking with them about how the Lord is mindful of each of us, His children. Most of the time that we visited, Nho Meriku didn't say much, but this topic prompted him to share a story. He told us of a time when he was living in Angola - people from Cape Verde sometimes moved there to find work - and a militia was attacking the village where he lived. Everyone fled to the jungle to hide there until the militia would leave, and at the time one of his children was a baby. Nho Meriku desperately needed to find some powder to make milk for the baby, and somehow he found it. He said he was probably the only person to find a can of milk powder out there in the jungle, which he and I both feel is a fairly miraculous occurrence.

Nho Meriku probably said some more things, but I got stuck there thinking about the gravity of his experience. I couldn't shake the thought of how nothing in my life was even remotely similar to what this man had been through. How could I judge him for what I thought he ought to be doing when I had no hope of understanding his world? This was a major turning point in my life to help me see that I am not capable of judging another when it comes to spiritual things.

The Atonement means that if I do my best the Lord's sacrifice will make up the difference, and I could never know what Nho Meriku's best was because I didn't understand him in the way I needed to in order to know what his best would be. Perhaps if you've spent time fearing for you and your families' lives, having a house, food, and safety feels like you're already in the Celestial Kingdom.

Of course, this is a dramatic example. Most of the people I have trouble not judging these days grew up in the USA, just like me, and have probably also never had to run for their lives. However, the principle is the same: you never know what life someone else has lived, and you can never know what thoughts and feelings dominate their mind and heart. I can never know how to adequately judge another person.

In Matthew 7:1-2, the Savior warned:

1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
I now understand that to mean that when I judge others I am condemning myself because my salvation requires considerations I can't include in my judgments.

At the same time, I realize that not judging others makes me much happier. When I am judgmental I'm focused on others and what they are doing, which leads to envy and feelings of entitlement. When I'm generous in my thoughts and evaluations of others I worry about them less and spend more time thinking about things I can control and influence; this empowers me because I'm not focused on the infinite supply of what things I can neither change nor handle.

I know that our Father in Heaven roots for us and has given us the Gospel to help us be at peace, and the path towards judging less is certainly a path that makes us more at peace with the most important components of the world - the people in it.