Posts Tagged ‘mind and heart’

Hey there! I’m not really back to blogging, but the last month or so I’ve had two posts swimming in my head. I have almost a day on a plane and bus, so I have a little time. One post would include reflections of my most recent stint as Relief Society president in my singles ward. I was recently “released” from the position as we call it.  In this same post I want to write about an evening I attended addressing surveys of Church members experiencing faith crisis. The New York Times just published a piece on the man who prompted the survey and who I heard speak. See that article at “Some Members Search the Web and Find Doubt.” I appreciated journalist McKay Coppins’  response “Why the Internet Hasn’t Shattered My Mormon Faith.”  I’d like to write about my own sense of betrayal as I learned more about Church history and how I navigated through it. Make that how I’m navigating through it.

The other is this post about dating, prayer and choices. I’ve gone back and forth with myself about doing it. Then I re-read a few of my posts about dating, which made me smile because I forgot about them and realized this one fits right in. It makes for an interesting read and I hope that as I’m real, it can help others see how faith works in daily life—not just idealized in disconnected church sermons.

Here’s the point: Committed love is not inevitable. It comes by a series of choices to get there and then a series of choices to remain there. God helps us along the way if we ask. We have to ask because He works according to our faith and asking prepares us to receive what He will give.

(If this gets too long for you, just skip to the last section about prayer. That’s the best part of this post.)

“Web of Contingency”

It seems inevitable that my parents ended up together. I mean, I can’t imagine life without my family, or my mortal existence for that matter! Of course it was going to work out between them.  But that sense of inevitability only comes with hindsight. Of course Americans would win their independence. Of course American slavery would become illegal. Of course the Mormon pioneers would settle the Salt Lake valley.  Of course women would obtain the vote.  Of course the Nazis wouldn’t win the war. There’s a sense of inevitability that comes with looking backwards into the past. But these events brought with them great uncertainty and struggle.  So it is with marriage. Looking back on it for couples who are way passed the uncertainty and struggle of the decision process makes it all seem inevitable that they’d end up together.

But it wasn’t.

I like to think of achieving marriage in terms of how David Hackett Fischer describes the crossing of the Delaware River during the American War of Independence in his book Washington’s Crossing. When you read the words “this book,” think “marriage” and you’ll catch my drift.

We have seen how it happened: not in a single event, or even a chain of events, but in a great web of contingency. This book is mainly about contingency, in the sense of people making choices, and choices making a difference in the world. It is not primarily a story of accidents, though there were many along the way. It is not about what might have been, though that question is always in the background. This is a story of real choices that living people actually made. To study an event in these terms is to discover a dense web of contingency, in which many people made choices within a structure of relationships. (364)

Mormons heavily emphasize the concept of free will. God created us before we came to earth, the Mormon narrative begins, and we came into the world to choose God and gain experience. We grow into obtaining our eternal potential as we receive Christ’s Atonement and absorb His power to make us holy.

I once heard a bubbly Church speaker say that God has a path for each of us, we just have to discover it and follow it. I didn’t think that exactly aligned with how Mormons understand the purpose of life. It’s more like God has His gospel path for everyone and Christ is the gatekeeper. But, once on that path and received Christ, there are thousands upon millions of good paths we can choose while still on that gospel path.  What job you end up in, where you’ll live and even what partner you end up with isn’t predetermined. He can see some are better for us than others and will guide us toward those if we ask. He wants us to develop our ability to make good choices. We counsel with Him about possible paths on the gospel path while He gives us feedback from His omniscient perspective. “He approves more than He assigns” to quote a popular Mormon youth speaker.

Since we’re all making choices, it creates a “dense web of contingency” and it exists within a “structure of relationships.”

This means that Mormons don’t believe in predestined soul mates. But they do believe that once you choose a spouse, that person becomes your soul mate.

The Intersection of the Venn Diagram 

I think of potential partners in terms of a Venn diagram. One circle includes the men I could match up with. The other circle comprises those who could want to be with me. There have been men in my life with whom I wanted a deeper relationship, but they didn’t want it with me. Then there have been some men who were interested in a deeper relationship with me and I wasn’t interested. The great potential for a partnership lies in mutual interest—the intersection of the Venn diagram.

There’s not just one person in the intersection who is the destined one. Lots are possible, though the circle is not so big to include everyone who is single. Some people have large intersections and others small, but I believe there are sufficient amounts of possibilities for most everyone. Progressing to marriage happens through a series of choices within the intersection.

God works according to the faith we offer Him. If we ask Him for help in finding someone in the intersection, He will. Then once you’ve found someone in the intersection, He can advise you along the way if you ask. He cares about our lives and that includes our relationships.

God’s will, your will or both? Being willful? 

I think of God’s will in terms of my relationship with my Dad. It’s his will for me to be faithful to my knowledge of the gospel. He wants me to grow up and be a self sufficient adult who maintains a relationship with Him and still relies on Him for love and support. I think people often think of God’s will in very narrow terms, seeking to know the one thing they’re destined to be so they can be it.  My Dad wants me to be successful and there are lots of ways to be successful while still living according to my knowledge of the restored gospel. I believe God’s will is similar. The key is counseling with Him along the way so we can hear His feedback on our choices. God wants us to align our will with His. His will looks more like a good father than a dictator.

Then there’s being willful, meaning you make yourself unavailable to His Spirit and do whatever you want because it’s what you want.  Are you willful?

Women and Power in Dating

It’s hard to know who is actually in the intersection. That takes action and a willingness to be rejected. In other words, you gotta try.

I’m currently not sure how much true power Mormon women have in the dating process, beyond the power of prayer, which I’ll get to. I believe I have power over my own choices, but I’ve found relationships only progress if the man is actively moving it forward and I’m accepting or declining the forward movement.  What am I supposed to do then, just wait around for someone to pick me?  That seems so paternalistic. I do believe women  have power to encourage and create opportunities and show interest.

For example, there was one particular guy I thought was so amazing. He was deeply reflective and incredibly smart, polite, kind and opinionated . He was spiritual in a faithful, yet sometimes unconventional way (as I view myself to be).  But I didn’t know all those things at first. I just knew he was good looking. He started talking to me at our ward retreat. After a while they announced the last BYU/Utah football game was up. It was quite the feat to get the satellite signal to function while in the mountains near Camp David. To receive signal, it had to be set up on the lawn, so viewers grabbed chairs to relocate into the cold night air to see the large projector screen. I invited him to join me to watch, which he did. It was very cozy as we shared my blanket and continued talking while half watching the game. He had his arm around me. Or was that just his arm on my chair? I wasn’t sure. I think it was around me. We’d talk at subsequent Church activities and I invited him over a few times, but it never went much beyond that. Looks like he was in my circle, but I wasn’t in his. It’s too bad because he was so great, but at least I was trying—and doing what I could see was in my power.  You gotta try. Committed love isn’t inevitable. It comes about through the struggle of our choices.

Then there was another man. We were no longer dating because of his choice, but he’d left it open. And I didn’t want it closed. We ran into each other at a party and there was no way I was going to talk to him. I wasn’t over him, but that was deliberate. I could have gotten over it for good if I wanted to, but I didn’t want to. I figured I would when I had to, if I had to. He came up to me, making it a point to touch me, bringing up things we had done together and updating me on his life.  He seemed different and I hoped that it could be different. At that point in my life I’d developed the belief that if a man likes you, he’ll do something about it and I’d already made enough of a fool of myself over this guy that if he did want to ask me out, he’d do something about it. I hoped he would for a while, but he never did and I tried to forget about it and sort of did. Then, months later I could bring a guest to an annual Christmas meeting for Temple workers in the upper room of the Washington, D.C. Temple. I’d attended this meeting before. It’s a moving experience. Everyone in attendance wears their Temple whites and the Spirit is very strong as faithful Temple workers sing gospel  hymns and listen to sermons on the role of the Savior. I thought through people I could invite and really wanted him to join me. I decided and then undecided to ask him for about a week and finally landed on the go for it side. I stared at my phone for about 15 minutes before actually doing it. My voice was a tinsy bit shaky as I asked. The answer was no  (well, it was “not now” which is neither here nor there at this point), but it was worth it to me to try. You gotta try.

More recently I was hanging out with a particular man, but I would have rather been on a date with him (see the difference between dating and hanging out at “Stop Hanging Out with Women and Start Dating Them” on the Art of Manliness and “Dating Versus Hanging Out” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks). We’d been on a date before. He’s really smart with lots of initiative and passion and he likes to hear my perspective on ideas he’s exploring. Our bishop had recently done the lesson on dating/marriage, which happens about twice a year or so in singles wards and we were talking about it. (That lesson happens apart from the weekly Relationships Sunday School class. Yeah that’s a thing.)  I told him if I were a (Mormon) man, I’d be very active at dating. I’d ask women out until I found someone I liked and then pursue a relationship with her. If it didn’t work out, I’d move on and keep moving until it works out. I told him I envied the Mormon man’s prerogative in the dating scenario. It’s true that other cultures have different norms, so our model doesn’t have to be this way. However, I believe that culture influences emotions and to be countercultural in this instance doesn’t seem to work out for too many women. Too bad our dating norms are strongly in the favor of the man. He said that we probably had different perspectives on how to be active about it and continued with saying, “But, there’s no better way to get Mormon women to respect you, than to ask women on dates.”  That made me laugh and I smiled in agreement. There are as many perspectives on dating as there are people who want to date. You gotta keep trying until it works. There are enough people, I believe, in each person’s intersection that it can eventually work out, but you gotta try. Committed love isn’t inevitable. It comes about through the struggle of our choices.

Someone’s Choice Does Not Change Your Worth

When I read again my post “God Knows That Dating is Tough,”  I remembered this important point. The way others treat us often has a direct influence over our self esteem. It’s hard to still feel good about yourself when you’ve decided to let someone in and they decide they don’t want to be there. Self-esteem is how we view ourselves, but our worth is eternally constant. No matter what others choose, how God feels about us never changes. Each of Heavenly Father’s children was worth the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. That’s priceless.

The Lord said it this way in a modern revelation:

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” Doctrine & Covenants 18:10 

Just because someone isn’t in your intersection or is in your intersection and chooses someone else, it doesn’t mean you don’t have tremendous worth.

Asking God to Help with Dating

Now to what inspired this post in the first place. A few years ago, the Prophet spoke on marriage  in the priesthood session of general conference and this talk became a recurring theme in my singles ward. In the talk, he expressed concern about single Latter-day Saints hanging out in large groups and not going about purposefully searching for a spouse. I got sick of hearing about it because I didn’t think this applied to me, but I didn’t want to feel like the Prophet’s counsel didn’t apply to me. I prayed sincerely to know what I should do about dating. I really wanted to know if I would never get married so I could grieve the loss of the dream and quit waiting around for something to happen that wouldn’t and move on with my life. After lots of work in the form of prayer and humbling myself, I got an answer to “be patient and trust me.” I was happy to receive a clear answer, but also felt like He wasn’t answering me as I asked. Hello?! Does being patient and trusting mean I should give up on this marriage hope or not? But pursuing that felt bratty. I decided to let that go and just pray for help to be patient and trust. I’ve been consistent with that since, though many mornings and nights it was more to just check the box (hey, praying for the same thing for years can lead to your fervency to wane). God did bless me with the patience and trust for which I asked. Gratefully, after a while I lost my angst about dating.

But, a few months ago things happened that motivated me to revisit the “What should I do about dating?” question.

I couldn’t sleep because I was replaying old tapes in my mind and it was seriously upsetting me. After earnestly praying what I should do about the dating thing, I felt better and went to sleep. The next day during my scripture study on the Metro a very clear answer came into my mind to “pray he’ll have the courage to pursue me.” This made sense to me and I started meaningfully including it in my prayers with faith. The next day someone I had previously dated emailed me and wanted to talk. I didn’t think much of it. Essentially the last time we talked apart from in-the-hall-at-Church-chit-chat was a train wreck. I felt like he was making choices based on assumptions about me without just asking me in the first place. When I said I just wanted someone who wanted to be with me and then you decide the life details after that, I didn’t take well to his response.  Now he was looking for some feedback. Over the years at various times, I’ve sought feedback from men I’d dated after time passed and we were on friendly terms. I was looking for info to help me change for the better. It was never a bad experience. He appeared to be doing the same. Because he wasn’t asking me out, I didn’t feel the need to make it a priority. About a month passed before we ended up chatting and then only briefly.  At the close, I wished him luck.

A few weeks later he asked to meet again. This time it was different. He said essentially since we had that terrible ending (my words), which was about six months previous, he’s been thinking of me and more generally of what he should do about dating. He’d received some impressions from the Spirit and subsequently had a “paradigm shift.”

Then he went on.

Then I responded.

Who knows what will happen with this. Committed love isn’t inevitable, it comes about through the struggle of choices. But here’s some thoughts that come to me about it from the benefit of hindsight:

His humility was absolutely disarming to me.

I had nothing but respect for him for the tremendous courage it required to tell me what he did.

Because of the humble confidence he carried by acting on what the Spirit inspired him to do, I changed from hardly caring to see him to finding him very attractive. Worth noting, right?  :)

I’m also humbled about the timing. He’d been thinking about it for months and right after I prayed with faith and the Spirit gave me to “pray that he would have the courage to pursue me” he contacted me.  1. Cool he’s so responsive to the Spirit and 2. Cool the Lord gave me specifically what to exercise faith about.

I believe others would have similar experiences through acting on answers to prayer and trusting God.

You’re almost to the end of this mega-long post!

I learned many, many things this round as a Relief Society president. The most valued thing I learned was a re-learning. It is how to exercise faith in prayer, receive an answer, recognize the answer and to act upon it.

Most everyone dreams of committed love.  If you involve God in the process, I believe He can help guide you to someone in your intersection. Then you have to continue to make choices. Ask Him for help in those moments too.

God cares, even about dating which can seem silly, but actually has consequences that reach into forever.

May you reach out to Him as He reaches for you, so your forever can be eternally learning the true meaning of the commitment of love.

Related posts:

Can’t you see the I’M the answer to your prayers? 

Mormon Apostle: Question Your Guts Out 

God Knows Dating is Tough 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hi!

Thanks so much for reading this blog.

I appreciate that someone actually reads it! I started this venture a few years ago. For a while there it was a billboard in the desert. Then BAM! The Mormon Moment happened and there was much more to say. Er, write. And lots more interested people. I’ve been trying to get it to be a billboard in the city. Right now it’s hanging out somewhere in the suburbs.

But, I’m about to stall its momentum.

You see, blogging is a lot of work. You have to think up stuff and then compose that stuff into some readable form. Some people can crank out substantial content like it’s no big deal. Good for them. It takes me a bit.

When I started this project I was working full time and doing my Mormon thing. Since then, I added evening grad school to my full time job and was called as one of the lay ministers for the women in my congregation (ward), the Relief Society president. Depending on the week, I spend about 10-15 hrs fulfilling this responsibility.   Full time work plus grad school was demanding, but doable. Adding in being RS pres makes it very difficult. As I rely on the Lord, I feel Him enabling me to do what I need to do. That’s His grace for you.

This talk by a modern Apostle has helped me tremendously:  “Real-Life Education.”  Here Elder Eyring describes his experience in his demanding grad program. It was Harvard, but he doesn’t name it. At this stretching time, he was called as a branch president, which is an even more time intensive calling than I have. He felt disadvantaged because his classmates were studying while he was serving people in the Church. As he put the Lord first, he was able to both serve Him and be successful in his program.

As I’ve done my best to set my heart first on serving the Lord, I have felt similarly blessed.

Need help being successful? Try it. What He’s done for Elder Eyring and for me, He’ll do for you. He’s no respecter of persons. He works according to your faith. If you offer it, He’ll work a miracle with it.

So why a blogging break?

I need the brain space. I’m starting the thesis phase of my master’s, which is very demanding. When I’m blogging, I usually think about various ideas for a while and then finally carve out time to compose one of them. I need to sweep out my brain to make space for thoughts about religious liberty in Early America, not about how to communicate a modern Mormon worldview online. Plus, for revelation to happen, I have to give it brain space. Revelation is when God speaks to my mind and my heart by the Holy Ghost (Doc & Cov 8:2-3). It’s a process and God requires that I offer faith by thinking and praying about what I want help with before I receive His communication (Doc & Cov 9:7-8).

It was this week that I realized I needed to take a break. One of my counselors in my Relief Society presidency is moving to Manhattan for a job, so I need to pursue inspiration on who should take on her role when she leaves. This last week, I’ve been thinking about how to write about Mormon views on sexuality.  I haven’t given the new counselor question the thought that would prompt revelation.  I’ve also spent some more time than usual this week doing Relief Society work and I didn’t get to work on my thesis at all. It was then I decided I wanted to table this for a while. I’m just clearing out some brain space.

I have two semesters to finish my thesis. Don’t worry, it will go by so quickly, you will hardly miss me.

Please don’t cry. That could be bad for your computer. Oh come on, dry those tears. There, there. It will be okay.

I was percolating several ideas for posts that I never wrote.

  • I never composed a post about Mormon views on sexuality. I was especially considering this the last two weeks. It was entitled “Sex, Pork, and Porn.” It was going to be a good one, but time consuming to do. I was going to do it this last weekend, but didn’t get to it.
  • I also never wrote about how and why Mormons abstain from alcohol and how I navigate that as a professional in Washington when it’s generally part of building rapport.
  • I never wrote about American Exceptionalism in Mormon thought in the early Church and the form it has taken in the present.  I believe this to be different from the American Exceptionalism of the Republican party.
  • I never wrote part 2 of this post about Black Mormons. A post related to this, but not necessarily a part 2 can be found here. It discusses the  New York Times op ed by John Turner. Also, this related HuffPo article on the topic is very good.
  • Lastly, I wanted to write about  the contraception requirement in the HHS mandate as an affront to religious liberty. Many in the media represent opposition to this requirement as men making decisions about women’s bodies or a fear  of an increase in female promiscuity. Stephen Colbert represents this view here. The beef is not that contraception, including abortion, is already readily available to women, but that it’s a violation of conscience to require Catholic employers to provide contraception, abortion and sterilization benefits to employees when it has long been in their faith tradition to reject it.  It’s also an affront to require tax payers to fund these procedures when it violates their conscience. I share the Becket Fund’s view on this.

I wish I could have cranked those out. Maybe I’ll hit those first when I return.  Also, when I return, I’ll have a lot to say about religious liberty since I’ll be thinking, researching and writing about it for the next six months.  I’m considering doing some vlogs where I give brief talks on religious liberty. I’ll revisit that idea later.

I’ll still be reading my daily Google news alert for “Mormon” and tweeting articles worth reading. You can check that out at my Twitter account.  Hopefully things will die down after this election. *fingers crossed*

This really isn’t goodbye. It’s until next time. So, until next time be good. Stay out of trouble. God is a reality. Learning  through the Holy Spirit the reality of God’s nature is the greatest adventure of mortality. It’s worth the pursuit.

Try it.

Tags: , , , , , ,

My parents are worried about me being in another country. Washington, DC is far enough for them. I’m posting some pics for them to get a sense of where I’m staying. It’s a gated community kind of place.

Margaret Rockefeller Strong Larrain donated the Villa Le Balze to Georgetown University in 1986. When she inherited it, she wanted to donate it for an educational purpose. She invited universities to submit proposals and Georgetown beat out the likes of Harvard, Yale and Stanford for the chance to educate their students here. It could have been because her lawyer was a Georgetown alum.:)

The garden courtyard.

The view, part of it. My camera’s zoom is really good.

The greenhouse

The dining hall where we eat almost all of our meals prepared by Italian cooks. Lunch has two courses, starting with pasta and dinner has three courses, starting with pasta. Seriously, my jeans are already a bit snug by this point.

One of the two libraries. This is the room where I’m currently sitting.

Upstairs hallway to some of the bedrooms, including mine.

The bathroom

Our room, there’s just two of us, so it’s not as cramped as it looks.

The view from the bathroom.

There’s also a classroom space for our evening lectures and we’re locked up inside gated walls. Not too shabby.

I’m really grateful to be here and I appreciate fellowshipping with Georgetown students. They’re very bright and many of them are faithful Catholics, which I appreciate. There’s not much of a religious presence on Georgetown campus apart from their values banners and usually empty chapel. Since I go to school at night after work, I don’t get to interact as much with my peers as I would have in a daytime program. However, it still draws people of faith. This weekend we went to Assisi where St. Francis lived, served and died and now holds a huge basilica in his honor. Our conversations the whole weekend were full of theology and open, authentic respectful discussion. When everyone else was drinking wine and I consistently declined, it came out that I was LDS (Mormon) which only adds to the the discussion.

Learning for me is a spiritual experience. Hearing others’ views  expands that process. That’s beautiful to me.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve been corresponding with a man who came across this blog and found it beneficial, especially the posts about doubting.  I just emailed him a talk I gave in my singles’ ward about six months ago. Now I’m thinking, I’ll just share it more broadly. It’s mega long as far as posts go, but you can take a bathroom break midway.

It’s extremely personal, but faith is personal and I prefer to provide an example of someone working through the development of faith.

Welcome into my head and examples of my dating life.:) (As if you weren’t already there.)

Here are links to previous posts about doubting

Doubting and Wrestling

Doubt: Religion’s 4 Letter Word

Why I’m Not Disillusioned by Sketchy Scriptures

My Current Explanation of Life’s Purpose

I’m just copying and pasting what I wrote for myself to deliver it. I’ll go back and edit it soon. Well, maybe not soon. Maybe sometime.

Talk starts here:

My topic is “A Nation Where the Gospel Can Flourish”

The fullest blessings of the Atonement are only possible through priesthood power. The greatest potential God has in store for us lies in a covenant relationship with Him, which comes through priesthood.   I could speak about how the creation of the US Constitution fostered an environment that made possible the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and priesthood. If this was my direction, I’d be sure to note that America was only the cradle for this work. God’s purpose was to bring all the world access to the full blessings of the Atonement of His Son.

However, I’m going a different direction.  I wanted to share some ideas that you could put into practice when you leave Church today. We’re in this nation where the gospel is flourishing, now what? Mormons are starring in politics and on Broadway these days, so people want to know what they believe.

How do you talk about your faith with others who do not share your conviction in the Restoration?

You have GOT to figure out what you will say and how you’ll say it. How do you explain why some Christians don’t accept Latter-day Saints as Christians? How do you explain the garment? These are recurring questions and there are many more. You need to prepare and prepare well. I’m not going to talk about this either, but I invite you to take the approach of simply educating others about what Latter-day Saints actually believe. For ideas, you can go to my blog about LDS beliefs, mormoninsider.com. As you take this educating approach, you’ll help others overcome stereotypes and misconceptions and you’ll have more opportunity to share with those who are sincerely searching to know God.

So what AM I going to talk about? I’m going to talk about how I personally cultivate my faith, including how I respond to doubt. I believe as you think more deeply about why it is you believe, you will be better equipped to talk about it with others. I’ll also talk about how I seek to recognize the Spirit.  Because I think it may be a topic of interest to some of you, I’ve chosen dating examples to illustrate what I mean by these two topics.

When I saw the Tony performance of “Just Believe” from the Book of Mormon the Musical I was conflicted. It made me laugh and cringe at the same time.

In a June 27 CNN interview, Richard Bushman who is a Mormon Studies scholar at Claremont and the media’s go-to faithful Latter-day Saint spokesman said the musical is like “looking in a fun house mirror; the reflection is hilarious, but not really you.” I agree with him. What I found most disconcerting was how Elder Price resolves his crisis of faith. He rejects his concerns by repeatedly telling himself to “just believe.” From the song:

I allowed my faith to be shaken. What’s the matter with me? …I must be completely devout, I can’t have even one shred of doubt…I am a Mormon! And a Mormon just believes.

From the Bushman interview:

Specific doctrines aside, the lines that will most distress Mormons in the Price lyrics are the repeated phrase “just believe.”

Poor Elder Price has had his confidence shaken and doesn’t know how to react to his dawning disbelief.  All he can do is repeat over and over “just believe.”  To prove himself valiant, he must turn off the lights and shut the door on his doubts.

For me “just believing” meant turning the light on, not turning it off. (end of quote)

This was Elder Price’s style of responding to doubts. How do you? Do you have doubts? I do. When I hear people say they don’t have any doubts, I wonder if they’re thinking deeply about their faith.  I suspect they’re either not digging deeply enough or they’re at a Brother of Jared level of faith. Maybe there are other options.

Yet, God commanded us not to doubt, “Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not” (Doc & Cov 6:36), so what’s a girl to do?

Doubt and questioning are different.

Doubt means distrust. Questioning with faith means you trust God or have confidence in Him.

In doubting you reject God until He gives you an answer. By questioning with faith, you trust He will provide , according to His perfect judgment.

Moroni 9:21 “…whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him, and this promise is unto all…”

The most oft repeated invitation in the scriptures is “ask” and is almost always coupled with the promise “and ye shall receive.”

A faithful Latter-day Saint believes in personal revelation. Instead of not thinking of concerns by putting them out of your mind, I invite you to ask God about them, expecting He will help you understand.

One of the leading purposes of the Restoration was to restore an accurate knowledge of the nature of God, namely He is not an essence everywhere and nowhere without parts or passions, but He is a well involved Father who grieves over His children, as Moses chapter 7 shows us. When we better understand who God is, we can begin to trust Him or have faith in Him.

From the third Lecture on Faith speaking of God’s character:

“…unless [we understand the goodness of His character] the faith    necessary for salvation could not exist; for doubt would take the place of faith.”

So here’s the first dating example.

After conference, with its emphasis on marriage, I was frustrated.  I think this is part of Church culture and not necessarily how Heavenly Father wants us approach it, but there’s this sense that if you’re not married in the Church, it’s because you’re doing something wrong.  Once you fix it, then you’ll be able to fulfill the commandment of marriage. There’s another sense that if you’re not married it’s because you don’t value it or you are playing around or too focused on your career or whatever. (As if a promotion at work could kiss you goodnight.)

It turns out, in order for a marriage to happen there has to be two people where both are willing to develop a relationship and make this sacred commitment together. It’s a matter of agency.

After conference, I was reviewing my past dating experiences and wondering if I should have done something differently at one time or another. Because I had this agency focus and because I believe God wants us to gain experience, which often comes through struggles, I felt alone in the process. I began to be resentful toward the Lord that He left me alone when I’ve always done my best to stay close to Him.

During this time, I was praying to know what I should do with this message of marriage from conference.

Then my brother visited with his 3 yr old daughter.  As we were hanging out on the Mall after the Natural History museum, she was all over the place spinning around in circles and pulling up grass, hiding behind trees and my brother was letting her play.  When she went too far, he’d chase after her and bring her back close to him. She was then free to choose which activity she wanted to do.

I had the thought, which I believe was from the Spirit, that this how God cares for us.  He’s not far removed, leaving us alone in our struggles. He lets us choose what we want to do. We can play with the grass or spin around in circles. There are lots of options. But He’s always close by, watching attentively, as any good father would. When He sees we are heading in a direction that could be harmful for us, He comes after us.

It is part of the Restoration that God is our Father and is deeply involved in the lives of His children.  When Heavenly Father revealed Himself with Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, He in part was opening the dispensation to restore the knowledge about Him.

As this thought came to me and I made this connection, I realized my worry and frustration came from doubting God’s character. I did not trust that He was involved in my life and that He would have stopped me from making a poor choice, even though I have always sought the Spirit.

So I changed my mind to align with what the Spirit brought to my attention.  He’s well involved and watches attentively over me.

So how I deal with doubt, when I have them?

  1. I remember past witnesses of the Spirit. Such as the times I have felt and understood by the Spirit that my sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ’s Atonement. And the times I’ve felt that same Spirit through the pages of the Book of Mormon. I remember that Joseph Smith translated that Book of Mormon, which is evidence he was a prophet. And I remember times when the Spirit has witness to me the reality of God as my Father.
  2. I take this knowledge and put it into practice with faith. In other words I make the decision to trust God.
  3.  I ask for more knowledge by the Spirit with faith.

I invite you to address your doubts with this process.

I must add that after I had this change of mind, which is also known as repentance, I remembered an LDS friend of mine who I greatly admire once told me about a revelation she received. This was when she was single, she’s eternally married now. It was after she diligently questioned with faith to receive a time frame of when she would marry. Would it be sooner or more like when she was 40 or 50 or even in the next life? She’s fantastic, and I’d say, a hard woman to match. I think she intimidated a lot of men. As she told me about it, I recognized that this personal revelation was how she could have such peace and confidence about marriage and dating, even in a culture that seems hyper occupied with it.  She could even have this peace when she didn’t have any prospects.

I believed that God would do for me what He had done for her. He’s no respecter of persons. I started questioning with faith for myself on the same topic.

My question was different than hers and I received my own answer.

I testify, as I changed my mind from doubting the Lord, to trusting Him asking Him with faith, I received my own revelation on the topic, personalized for me. Responding to doubt with this approach will give you confidence to move forward with faith. God wants to provide this kind of communication to you, so your faith could increase. And this way, you can break up without going to pieces.  In addition to being our well involved Heavenly Father, He is able to arrange introductions between people who will use their agency to choose each other.

I invite you to respond to doubt by directing your mind to the true nature of God and asking Him in faith what you should do to receive the desires of your heart.

Further, you have to be willing to act. You can’t expect this kind of revelation and help if you want God to do your work for you. As Elder Bednar said in his morningside to us:

Do not pray as objects,

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Last night I was frustrated.

It all started on my metro ride home when I was thinking about the things I needed to do for the evening. Before I could get to them, I thought, I need to address unresolved tasks for my Church calling (responsibility) that I had worked on tying up on Sunday, but couldn’t connect with the people I needed. I’d called them several times since. I also emailed them. I hadn’t heard back.

As I walked home, calling one back and again reaching only a voicemail, I was getting more miffed.

They had approached me at Church for something they needed my help with so they could fulfill their calling.  I went through the work of doing just what they asked for and now they weren’t returning my calls? I know you love your smart phone, show it some love and use it to call me.  It feels like such a waste to keep trying and not getting results for the same issue. Everyone’s busy, I know, but couldn’t they take 30 seconds and compose a text, at least? Go ahead, I have unlimited texting. If it was more of a priority for them, they’d respond to me. These thoughts all ran through my head.

Then this morning I was listening to this talk as I was getting ready for the day (there’s nothing like listening to a modern prophet’s voice while doing your make-up). This talk was directed to priesthood holders and their responsibility for service, but like most of the time, the content of the talk sometimes isn’t what does it, but it’s seeking to learn more of God through that scripture puts my mind in the state to receive messages from Him through the Holy Ghost.

“You don’t always call me back, either, you know,” was the thought that came into my mind (I might have been putting on eye-liner at the time).

I stopped.

What?

Then I made the connection.

I had felt sorry for myself for too much of the previous evening because people wouldn’t call me back. But there are lots of times I get promptings from God through the Holy Ghost and I don’t respond to Him.

For example, almost nightly recently, I’ve had the idea I should improve my prayers, specifically through not kneeling on my bed and doing a face plant into my pillow. There have been times when my prayers are so filled with the Spirit that I feel in communion with Him, times I cherish. In my mind and heart, I feel like He’s very close by and I know something of His will.

Recently, not so much.

Because of this, I may even sometimes mix up requests and ask my family to be blessed before I eat them. I excuse myself because of my fatigue, but I know I’d be much more attentive if I wasn’t snuggled up in bed where I’ve trained myself like one of Pavlov’s dog to soon slip into slumber.

The constant recurrent thought to stop doing this before I pray is the kind of pressing thought that I know it’s from the Spirit. I’m not sure how long it’s been, a few weeks? A month? That’s a long time not to respond to Heavenly Father’s calls. It’d only been a few days for my complaint and they probably had a good reason. Me, I was just being lame and lazy.

I decided to change my frustration with my lack of immediate gratification in call-backs. After feeling remorseful for my poor attitude, I spoke with Heavenly Father in prayer about it. I thanked Him for the perspective, and asked for forgiveness and the chance to be a little more like Him in how I fulfilled my calling. And oh yeah, about that face-plant-prayer-thing, I’ll get on that, too.

Claim I Wish Matthew Chapman and A.C. Grayling Addressed in the Intelligence Squared Debate

This isn’t a rare occasion. I get corrected like this all the time. As I seek the Holy Spirit more diligently and I’m willing to respond to its pressings, it happens more frequently. I consider it part of my lifetime transformation to become more holy through using Christ’s Atonement by repentance. The beginning of this transformation was a one time event. Evangelical Christians call this “being saved” when you “let Jesus into your heart.”   I believe that beginning experience, which I wrote about in the post “I’m Mormon: Enlightened or Brainwashed,” began a life long process of sanctification for me. I was relieved of the guilt of my sins (forgiven), but now I need to be changed from its effects. I have to choose to yield indivdiual shortcomings and missteps to God (repentance).  The more I seek Christ’s forgiveness as I recognize my missteps, I receive a greater portion of His grace.

This process makes me a better person. As a result, I’m slow to be angry in traffic. I’m slow to think others are incompetent when their customer service isn’t what I expect. I’m slow to be rude. I’m motivated to serve my community. I am more thoughtful in my relationships with my family and friends. I attribute all these polishing aspirations to this process of conversion I’m living. It’s gradual and subtle. I could have missed it this morning, but I was putting myself in a state of mind to hear God’s gentle nudging and I chose to respond.

This brings me to the claim I wish Matthew Chapman and A.C. Grayling addressed in the recent debate hosted by Intelligence Squared. Intelligence Squared poses a motion and invites renowned representatives to debate it. Their most recent motion was “The World Would Be Better Without Religion.” The evening begins with the audience casting a vote for or against the motion and the winner is determined by influencing the greatest amount of change in the audience’s opinions. I was surprised that the audience chose the side for the motion, not just because I’m pro-religion in society. Those advocating for it, meaning arguing the world would be better without religion, frequently cherry picked random scriptures to demonstrate religion’s silliness. These scriptures hardly applied to the religious experience of anyone.  The opponents used rational facts and statistics to justify their claims that religion makes the world a better place.

I wish those wanting to eliminate religion from the world discussed not whether religious belief was delusional, but that it’s possible to participate in an ennobling process equivalent or better to what I’ve described (and is a common narrative among religious people) without these alleged delusions about God. In my mind, when discussing God in the public forum, it doesn’t matter if there’s really a God. What matters is how those who claim belief in a God behave as a result of it. I wish they were able to come up with some explanation that there is a substitute for the drive for spirituality that would move me to change my attitude in the way I’ve described. It was such a slight error, but because what I believe was the Holy Ghost corrected me, I became remorseful and redirected. I changed and I changed for the better. This influence of the Holy Ghost diminishes the likelihood of repeating the error. Though I likely will repeat the error in different forms, I believe these errors will come  less often.  Because of these small course corrections, the possibility of being uncivil to others in my community is increasingly unlikely.

I’m convinced I wouldn’t be so teachable without what I believe is influencing me, the Holy Ghost. If I didn’t believe I was receiving messages from God to make daily decisions to change and if I didn’t believe God was giving me grace to change my heart and make me more like Him, I see no other source in my life to direct me to become ennobled. The messages I receive from media outlets seek to persuade me to consume more and more because I deserve it.  Chapman and Grayling had scoffing tones. Should I model this behavior?

In Rabbi David Wolpe’s closing remarks, he spoke of his grandfather as a boy in Auschwitz who questioned his grandfather about using butter to light a menorah. When the boy questioned him for using the scarce ration for this purpose, the grandfather told him that they have learned they could go three weeks without eating, but they could not go one day without hope.  Through my spiritual changing process I have hope, not just hope for heaven. (Those critical of religion often focus on what they see as a self-interested pursuit of  a post-mortal reward. So let’s just focus on this life for now.) As I enjoy and respond to what I believe is God’s calling, I’m more teachable, I’m more patient, I’m more loving, I’m slow to overreact, my mind is sharper and I remember things more quickly. My joys are deeper and my life is a more fulfilling experience. I see the wonder of the world around me and value the individual worth of every person. Is there any secular substitute for my pursuit to respond to God’s call and change into who I believe He wants me to be?  That is the hope that is within me, which I cannot live one day without.

I wish they’d addressed that claim. It is after all, a common claim among most religious people. Yeah, there are those crazies who use God to justify murder and other outlier business, but what would the world be like if the millions of people who are living a process like I am lost their directing system? Would the world be a better place? What would replace it to compensate for this loss? That would have made for a much more sound debate (rather than quoting Old Testament scripture about women grabbing at men who are in conflict with their husbands).

Interested in the debate? Here  it ’tis:

Debate: The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion from Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates on FORA.tv

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The post “What would a MormonInsider Say About…“  responded in part to Leah’s questions. This post continues with some more parts.

I met him when I was in his city on business and later attended a meeting with several Latter-day Saint young single adults. He had a boy-next-door-grown-into-a-studly-man charm about him. He was spiritual, kindly, thoughtful, and brilliantly innovative. Did I mention he was also easy on the eyes? We’d been in touch a few times before my flight was laying over in his city and he picked me up from the airport.

I had called him about meeting during my 4 hr long layover. He didn’t know I was flying stand-by on my brother’s flight benefits, which meant I hadn’t booked my flight before I talked to him. He didn’t know if he wasn’t able to meet me, I would have taken the earlier flight, leaving enough of an evening to enjoy the company of friends in my ward back in Washington, D.C..  It was my idea to hang out in the terminal. He had a better one. We hiked to a point that overlooked the city.

I was totally digging him. It would have been the beginning of a beautiful story if only he was interested in me, but he was not responsive to my shameless flirting. (I’m not of the camp who think men are stupid.)

While descending the hike, he was going on about being thirty-something and still unmarried. He said he must be doing something wrong because he’s been sincerely praying about it for years and it escaped him. “Can’t you see that I’M the answer to your prayers?” was the thought that crossed my mind. I looked away to broadly grin at my private joke.

I could have been an answer to his prayers, if he wanted me to be.

Leah asks about recognizing answers to prayers. How do you know they’re not just coincidences? What about unanswered prayers and why does God seem to answer yes to frivolous occasions and fail to come through when it really counts?

All good questions.

The truth is, if handsome/charming guy ended up liking me, I probably would have attributed it to being the answer to his prayers and him to mine. I never would have considered it a result of my self-interest and/or biological factors; I really would have enjoyed kissing him. (I’d have to be his girlfriend, of course. I’m not the non-committal make-out type. But, you guessed that already.)

Usually when things happen in our favor, it’s really easy to attribute it to God. For example, after a tornado, when one house is standing and the one next to it is demolished, someone could say God protected it. So how do you know it was really Him and not just chance, luck or nature’s course simply unfolding?

Leah posed her questions on my claim of receiving answers to prayers on this post where I was describing the truth discovery process by the Holy Spirit. To be honest, I don’t know if it’s an answer to prayer unless the Spirit confirms it. And the Spirit doesn’t confirm things to me as often as I’d like because it requires effort to take the mental action otherwise known as exercise of faith.  It requires diligent pondering, remembering past witnesses and deciding to trust that God will continue His pattern of communication that I’ve already experienced. By the phrase confirmation of the Spirit, I mean that my mind his enlightened with a simultaneous impression on my heart that I am able to conclude in the moment with certainty that it’s not my imagination, but the Holy Ghost. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite diligent in seeking the Spirit, but only the most important things get the required attention.

In the post “My Current Explanation of Life’s Purpose,” I described how sometimes I feel like God leaves me alone, even when I remain diligent in seeking Him. I believe that the times of greatest growth in faith, for me at least, have come when I feel I’m not being heard. In those times, I look back, remembering past witnesses and decide to remain faithful to what has already been made known to me when I could very easily walk away. So, perhaps those unanswered prayers are purposeful in how God shapes me into who He knows I can become.

 

Without the Spirit’s confirmation, I don’t know for sure that it was God. I just infer it.

Without the Spirit’s confirmation, I can’t say that I know it was God and not chance. Usually, if something happens for which I have been praying, I simply infer it was God; I don’t know for sure.

Here’s an example.

With the recent downturn in the economy, the leadership of the nonprofit I’m with decided to focus all resources on the core mission. My position applies to the core mission’s expansion. They cut me back from full time to part time, which does not cover my living expenses (gone are the days of BYU housing rent at less than $300 monthly). The break was nice for a while so I could breathe and sleep because working full time and going to school at night is very difficult. To cover my expenses, I started using more student loans than I originally planned when I began my master’s program.

Several things weighed on my mind. I’m committed to “provident living” as it’s known the Church, meaning that I should live within my means and only go into debt for education, a modest home and I can’t remember the other one right now. Though my debt was to further my education, not all of it was necessary and therefore contrary to this principle. Also, I purposefully decided not to pursue a law degree and pursue a liberal studies degree.  I won’t be qualified to work in a particular trade when I finish my program.  I chose enriching coursework with an end that requires me to forge my own way to form the unique career path that I envision. This was a relatively safe decision when I was employed in a job I loved.  It wasn’t looking so hot once my circumstances changed. Lastly, the unemployment rate is over 10% nationwide. I often considered how if I continued living in part off the student loans in addition to the tuition loans, I could finish my program and have to start waiting tables to meet the demands of paying them back. Sheesh. Being an adult is the pits sometimes.

I wanted a new job in my field, but it is really small and specified and I prepared myself to have to take a detour job to pay the bills, if I could even find that. I started praying that I could find a new job in my field and began networking with the organizations whose work I admire.  Many of them operate partially off government grants and with the current tenor of Congress and its deficit decreasing efforts, the story was the same at all those I approached. They’d love to have me, but they have no funding for me and I could volunteer.  I did do some volunteer projects here and there while I continued networking. Unfortunately, I can’t eat off goodwill. For the summer, I picked up a full time temp job in addition to the part time job with the nonprofit while taking summer school and I continued networking. It was going to be tight for a while, but hey, girl’s gotta do what she can.

Then BAM!  The Bishop of my ward called me into his office and asked me to take on an ongoing time consuming “calling” or responsibility.

What should I do?

I decided I didn’t have time to continue looking for a job and take on the responsibility of my new calling. In prayer, I told that Lord that I’m unsure how the job thing was going to work out, but I would trust that if I prioritized serving Him first, it would be fine. I didn’t know what would happen; it could be one of those painful growing experiences, but I viewed it as a chance to put God first in my heart and my life.  If not at this moment, then when?  My life could turn into a long series of special circumstances that put my own needs first before the Lord and I don’t want to live that way.

I accepted the calling and quit thinking about finding a new job and put my mind and heart to pondering how I could seek the Spirit to better help those over which I now I had stewardship to access Christ’s power more fully by faith.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine forwarded a job posting to me she saw while on a website she rarely visits. She knew that I was part time with my nonprofit, but didn’t know I was officially looking and then officially quit looking for the time being (hey, she’s recently married, so we don’t keep up like we used to, you know how it goes). Her find sounded promising. Bleary eyed at midnight, I composed a specified cover letter, updated my resume and emailed it in. The very next morning the executive director emailed me wanting to schedule an interview. He was clear that they would not extend beyond the posted salary range because they’d already budgeted for the year, but assured me the benefits were good and that the next year they could readjust the salary.  I was pleased to hear that the position had a steady revenue stream, so it wasn’t from a temporary grant.

I came into the interview well prepared to make a case for myself.  He opened by telling me that since the job has been posted in the last month, 212 people applied. He was interviewing 12 and I was first because I wrote the best cover letter. “You told me what I couldn’t surmise from your resume,” he told me. He also liked that I said I look forward to a conversation where we could see if we were “a good professional match.”  He said most people assured him in their cover letters they were a perfect fit for the job. He made clear that he would solely determine who was the best fit for the position.

Ends up, this is a position he’s been wanting to expand for several years, but he’s very particular on who should fill it. Though his board has been pressing him on it, he’s been exploring it at his own pace.

After the interview, I used the weekend to draft some recommendations I thought they could do within the next year, based on my experience. I also mailed him a thank you card referring to some specifics from our conversation.

We corresponded for a week over my recommendations while he completed the other 11 interviews. I was preparing to negotiate for the highest end of his salary range, since I knew what it was. The day the interviews closed, he emailed me asking me to accept a director position, rather than the advertised manager position.  Along with the increased position, he offered an increase salary beyond the advertised range that reflected the responsibility of a director.

It was like getting a promotion without asking for one and before I even started.

I was grateful a thousand times over. It’s work that I would do for free if I didn’t have to make a living. I’m specialized in a very small niche and this position seems tailor made to my greatest strengths. Of course I accepted (like I’d be blogging about it if I didn’t). I later came in to discuss some specifics and he was beaming that I was just the person he has had in mind to realize the vision he has for this new expansion.

 

Was it God, me or just a coincidence?

So, was this an answer to my prayers?  After all, I must say I rocked the interview.  I wrote a cover letter according to what my quick Google search taught me at midnight since I couldn’t remember exactly how to write one. I used my brain to conjure up some recommendations and I cordially sent a thank you note. That was all me. Oh, and my friend by chance could have been on a job database when she didn’t have a reason to look for a job  and decided to pass along a possibility to me. But when I have been specifically praying for help about something beyond my control and it falls into my lap better than if I planned it myself, I’m highly suspicious Providence had a hand in it. I have found that God is really good at arranging introductions between people who should meet if the required faith is offered to work such a miracle.  I’m just what my new boss has had in mind for the last few years for the position and what they want to do is exactly what my very unique job at the nonprofit prepared me to do for them. Coincidence? Of course I don’t think so, but it’s only an inference. The Spirit hasn’t confirmed it to me, but I’m connecting the dots on this one.

The Lord told Joseph Smith, “I, the Lord,…delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end” (Doc & Cov 76:5).  I’m choosing to live my life in a way that puts God first, trusting that as I do, He delights to help me out. This isn’t the first instance in my life where I seem to get a beautiful break, but I don’t do it for what I can get. I do it because of what I want to give.

I can’t really prove it was God, but I don’t require proof to continue this path of experimentation.

 

Next up, I’ll respond to why bad things happen to good people, which is what I think Leah means when prayers are not answered before a child is murdered. Then I’ll write up my long time promised Black Mormons part 2 post because my response to Chris’s post will make more sense in light of understanding some views I have, explained well through relaying the history of race in the Church. It might rock a few socks, but hey, let’s keep things authentic here at the MormonInside.

Stay tuned.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 

This post relates to this post.

“I know it’s not my brain,” I told my friend on our way home from the Michael Shermer discussion at sixth&i. I was trying to explain that my spiritual experiences weren’t imaginary.  He responded simply, “How do you know it’s not your brain?” He wasn’t trying to make me feel foolish for my claim. If he was willing to treat me that way, I wouldn’t choose to spend any discretionary time with him. He just wanted to hear how I could be so sure. He’s not sure there’s a God and he’s not sure there’s not. Whatever the truth is, he just wants to know it. I like that about him. I’m increasingly more appreciative of self-honest people these days.

“Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you,” I told him.

This is the part where I’d refer to the profile I wrote for this blog, but I see now that it’s deleted. Shoot. Anyway, I would have used it to demonstrate that the ongoing questioning process is key to my walk of faith. Some people feel like their faith is shaky when they start to question things they previously accepted. One of the most often repeated invitations in scripture is to “ask.” It is usually coupled with the promise and “ye shall receive.” I’ve lived that promise, more than I can count. As I have had innumerable experiences with the Divine (one described in the post “Why I Believe“), it increases my confidence to deepen in my questions and seek more.

Through this process, I have a few personal beliefs that others in the Church accept as true, but I personally think are more products of our culture. Some of Latter-day Saint belief (and other faith tradition beliefs, too) is based on logical inferences drawn from writings accepted as revelations. We have the words of prophets, living and dead, and we have the Holy Ghost whose role is to “teach us all things” (John 14:26). Then, God invites us to make sense of it and ask along the way to fill in the gaps and gain a personal understanding of truth.

I’m finding it’s a lifelong process to really take this venture seriously. As I am open and willing to reexamine what I’ve previously accepted, I come to better know God. It’s highly motivating to continue forward.

Though as a general practice I like to think myself special, I’m not alone in this approach.  I have lots of Latter-day Saint friends who approach their faith similarly.

The stereotype that people of faith are close-minded likely comes when people attack them, which seems to be the style of the atheist/non-theist community (you can see the comments in the previous post for an example of this). If my friend had treated me this way, first we wouldn’t be friends much longer, and second, I likely would have appeared close-minded because I would end the conversation.

 

After that Background, Here’s my Response

This brings me back to Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain: From Gods to Ghost and Politics and Conspiracies and my own brain activity. His thesis is that the brain naturally looks for patterns as it processes its environment.   The brain then forms these patterns into belief that people confirm with self-selected proof, ignoring evidence to the contrary.  Further, through these beliefs, the brain can even produce experiences perceived as supernatural, especially when someone is alone or sleep deprived.  These perceptions are fired by neurons in the brain, self produced by these formed beliefs.

I think he’s right, to a point. It’s a usable thesis to generally explain some instances of why people believe as they do. It especially applies to prejudices and stereotypes. I’m hoping that in his book he has something stronger with regards to experiencing the “supernatural” beyond the examples he provided in his lecture. He personally stayed up for 72+ while driving and hallucinated human forms on the side of the road. Once he slept, it ended.  He also used an example of prisoners in solitary confinement. These hardly match similar circumstances of those who claim to have been visited by heavenly messengers or other comparable reports.

The skeptic’s approach is to think critically, meaning you look for evidence and draw conclusions based on it, which I appreciate and practice. Some people find me intolerable because I sometimes ask questions that require them to show what evidence led them to their conclusion.  The skeptic’s model of truth discovery declares that if there’s no substance to an assertion, it should be rejected. Because of the critical thinking approach, they view faith in God claims as comparable to belief in Santa Claus and fairies.

This is the part that atheists/nontheists will find terribly dissatisfying. My faith operates in a model that shares similar aspects to this evidence-based approach, but relies on the Holy Ghost to confirm what is substantial.

 

My truth discovery model with regards to faith

Alma, an ancient American prophet, in a discourse on faith invites readers to “experiment on the word” and to “exercise even a particle of faith.”   Are you a skeptic and don’t have any faith to exercise? Alma says simply the desire to believe is enough (Alma 32:27).

The process in which I engage to explore truth claims is the following:

  1. I have an idea.
  2. I pursue that idea. Alma describes this as giving “ place, that a seed (the word) may be planted in your heart.” (Alma 32:28).
  3. I discern by the Holy Ghost if the results are worthy of keeping or tossing out. Alma says you can identify it as a good seed if it enlarges the soul, enlightens the understanding, and/or begins to be delicious (Alma 32:28). Further, he says that if it is light, it is good. (Alma 32:35).
  4. I cultivate the good idea by rinsing, repeating and pursuing more good ideas.

What I anticipate is incredibly preposterous to an atheist/nontheist is that this experiment can’t be physically measured; it is only spiritually experienced. And yes, it happens in the mind and some could clearly apply Michael’s model and self-deception claims to it.  I’m not trying to disprove him because I don’t think it’s possible to prove either way. I’m just trying to explain my worldview. There have been times when I completely wanted something so badly that I would have willed it so, if possible. I’ve received answers to prayers that were completely different directions than my mind was petitioning for.  If it was my self-deception, I anticipate I would always get or believe exactly as I was seeking. This isn’t the case.

I’ve also tested and pursued ideas that turned out to be a flop. They didn’t grow and enlighten as other ideas I’ve tested.

Being tutored by the Holy Ghost requires humility and a willingness to act on any enlightenment received. I’m currently living and experiencing this process and at times have had my mind and heart enlightened and filled with light as I’ve considered the things of God. I have a certainty that not only there is a God, but that He cares about me.  I’m not certain of a great many other things in the Church. I simply believe them. I’m still working on the certainty. It takes a lot of work.

The enlightenment by the Holy Ghost is a different experience than other pursuits of the mind. I wish I could explain this, but am currently not able to. This is likely what is so frustrating to an atheist/nontheist. Since spirituality is experienced, individually, it’s difficult to put into a box for display and evaluation.

During the post-lecture book signing, Michael asked me if I was raised Mormon. When I replied yes, he said, “of course,” as if I wouldn’t believe in gods, ghosts, politics or conspiracies any other way. I must say that I feel it was to my advantage to be raised within a framework to test ideas through the spiritual process I’ve explained.  I was able to amass lots of communication from God by the Holy Ghost before my secular world taught a different framework of discovering truth. I have three very smart friends who are currently trying to step into new areas of faith, but I believe they are operating from the perspective of show-me-proof-then-I’ll-believe.  This is the scientific model. I’m this way too because of my smarty-pants education. But I have the advantage of countless answers to prayers through the medium of the Holy Ghost under my belt that motivates me to continue believing and expanding spiritually.

Because this process requires humility, it only works if someone “becomes as a little child” as the Savior taught (Matthew 18:4). It’s a lot harder for adults. I can feel that in myself, which is why I feel so advantaged to have had many passed experiences in spirituality with the Holy Ghost  before I arrived to my less-trusting phase of life.

This process is rational in that it is a series of decisions made in my brain. Michael described neurons in the brain producing experiences. I suspect he may be right.

Now, I actually do think it’s coming from my brain.

I think that God perfectly navigates nature as its best scientist and as the creator. It’s a new idea to me that perhaps as the Holy Ghost is instructing me and enlightening my mind, He’s actually firing neurons in my brain to do it.  It’s a little unromantic-sounding, but if it’s the truth, I’d accept it. :)

 

 

Tags: , , , ,

Life’s purpose is to increase in spiritual power by the cultivation of faith in God.

I make sense of the purpose of life through the framework of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  One of its tenets includes the pre-mortal existence of mankind in the presence of God, “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth…for in heaven created I them[1]. In this state, we had a consciousness of the goodness of God and accepted the transition to a mortal existence. Since early Sunday School, children learn that the purpose of life is to come to earth to get a natural body and gain experience by
learning and growth. I have heard this narrative so many times it is now trite and serves me little in trying to make sense of life’s purpose. Therefore, I emphasize different aspects of revealed teachings to create my own guide. I center it in the development of faith in Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith, who I accept as a prophet equivalent to Abraham, Noah, Moses or Peter, taught that faith is a principle of power, “But faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth”.[2] I believe for those God first created spiritually to increase in power, He designed an environment for them to exercise faith.

My own efforts to develop faith independent of my parents began as a teenager.  After months and months of spiritual searching in prayer and scripture study, I received a powerful spiritual experience through the Holy Ghost that confirmed to me the existence of God and His awareness and concern for me. It increased my confidence to continue to outreach to Him and I not infrequently received further assurances.  As a full time missionary for almost two years, my faith expanded as I received immediate answers to my prayers. As my faith in Jesus Christ swelled, I felt the spiritual power of which Joseph Smith spoke and had a strong sense of the purpose of life. Then, at some undetected point, I entered a new phase of a development of faith.

God turned Deist on me, or at least He seemed to deal with me more like a clockmaker who set His world in motion and declines to intervene in its happenings. Without deviating from my usual efforts of prayer, scripture study and meaningful worship, I sometimes feel like God leaves me alone.  I am sure of His existence and do not believe His concern for me has changed, but He has provided fewer and less immediate assurances to me of His involvement. At this same time, I have become more mindful of life’s inequalities and tragedies. Often the self absorbed enjoy the comforts of marriage and family when the best swallow the pains of loneliness and neglect. Sometimes the promiscuous produce unwanted children when committed married couples taste the emptiness of infertility. Some inattentive parents overlook their children when involved parents bury theirs. The Mississippi overcomes homes, tornados demolish an Alabama town when tsunamis engulf and kill thousands in Japan. And some of the most admirable people in my life suffer with cancer when others live superficially, seeking to be incessantly entertained. Where is God? Is He still far removed?

This is the wrestling phase of my faith’s development and I see it as key in the purpose of my life; the cultivation of faith and the increase of spiritual power. This is where I have come to better know God.[3] My faith is not irrational. Every day it is a decision. I analyze the evidence available to me and  form a conclusion. Though I may feel little or no reciprocation from Him, I choose to piece together many past assurances from Him and choose to continue in trust.  Life’s purpose is to increase in spiritual power by the cultivation of faith in God. This comes not in the instant gratification to prayer requests or in knowing that every life question has a direct answer.  It is also not in the perfectly equivalent servings of blessings based on faithfulness.  Faith and therefore spiritual power comes by wrestling before God. It is in having just as many reasons to withdraw my reach to Him and walk away, but in choosing to increase confidence in Him, even when I feel He leaves me alone. The purpose of life is to have the opportunity and the right to walk away and the deliberate choice to stay. In that, there is spiritual power.

Life’s purpose is to change from selfishness to godliness.

By faith, I participate in the process of exterminating the rats within me.  C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly.  But the suddenness does not create the rats:  it only prevents them from hiding.” In the times of my life when God has been very quick to answer me, I was less aware of the existence of any rats. They were easily hid when I decided to open the cellar. When I have felt God leave me alone is when the cellar door has been thrown open. It has been then I can see my impatience, sense of entitlement or my self-pity.  The purpose of life is to access the power of God by faith to change these rats to their inverse form, patience, gratitude and humility.  The purpose of life is to provide me with the opportunity to use the power of God to diminish my ego and to have repeated opportunity to avoid re-inflating it. The purpose of life is to draw on God’s power by faith to have the secret imaginations of my heart be infused with virtue and integrity, rather than self-aggrandizement or pride.  As I increase in faith in God, I feel empowered to be open, authentic, discerning and giving and I welcome God’s all-searching eye to pierce my heart.

This process is both deeply inward looking and interdependent on the people around me. If I were to withdraw from the world into a lonely cave, I may be able to dig out the rats of the dark secrets of my own heart, but how will I have opportunity to develop compassion, patience and kindness?  How will I share in the grief of a close friend who lost their brother or help relieve the burden of someone devastated by a natural disaster?  The purpose of life is to draw on the power of God by faith to turn from selfishness to godliness.  I cannot accomplish such a tremendous change. It only comes as I consistently outreach to God to endow me with such power. The power to change comes by faith.

Life’s purpose is to build eternal relationships.

I was beginning to ponder the meaning of life when I was assigned “sealings” on my bimonthly shift at the Washington, D.C. Temple.  Because of the belief that each person on the earth must receive gospel ordinances administered by God’s priesthood authority, Latter-day Saints perform proxy ordinances in the Temple for the deceased, which will take effect only if accepted on the other side by the person passed away. Unique to Latter-day Saint belief is that God intended marriage to endure beyond the grave and this authority to “bind on earth and binds in heaven” has been restored in our time.[4] I was not paying close attention to those in the sealing room as we administered the sealing ordinance for deceased people, but one fellow Temple worker joked about the meaning of life.  My attention turned quickly to him, thinking it was curious this topic would come up when I was deeply considering it. He had asked the question in jest and another Temple worker responded with a playful point. Then the responder became serious saying, “I think the meaning of life is embedded in this ordinance.” It took me back because it opened my mind to a thought I had yet to consider. The best way to increase in the power of faith is to live in a covenant relationship with God, which happens when two people agree to live in marriage.  In marriage, there could be  many reasons to withdraw and walk away, but when they choose to increase in confidence and trust in each other and in God, even when they feel left alone, they deepen in their commitment and are positioned to see an increase in faith and power. In building a marriage that will last beyond the grave, each person has to draw on the power of God by faith to change selfishness to godliness because their weaknesses are heightened as they deeply affect another person. Sacrifice in marriage inherently invites the increase of power by faith to become more like God.  In this way, we can better know Him. We are brought closer to Him as we become more like Him in the sharing of His power by faith.  The purpose of life is to build eternal relationships.

The purpose of life is to wrestle with God, become more like Him and create and nourish relationships that extend through the plains of eternity.  I want to live my life aligned with these purposes so that I can live with peace.  It first starts with my mind and my heart.

What do you think?  Does life have a purpose? If so, how do you view and explain it?

 


[1] Moses 3:5 in the Pearl of Great Price, found in canonized scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[2] Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith (American Fork: Covenant Communications, 2000), 2.

[3] “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3).

[4] “It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?” (Doctrine & Covenants 128:9)

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Learning more deeply of other spiritual traditions has influenced my reach for Christ‘s grace.  I’ve been more consciously practicing the values of Buddhist mindfulness and living in the present.  Through this targeted consciousness this week, I recognized how I needed to open my heart more fully than I have been. I go through phases depending on life demands. To accomplish this, I practiced my own version of a “love meditation” that I read about  recently  in What Really Matters by Tony Schwartz. This was the text that informed our class discussion. After calming myself,  focusing my thoughts and settling my heart, I imagined myself sending love to specific people who I  cherish.

It was amazing.  I’m definitely doing that more often.  I think I’ll start following it up with letting them know what they mean to me.

I like how as I am constantly searching for truth, I increase in my ability to discern it in the world around me.

Spirituality permeates life if we allow it. I believe that as I expand and sharpen the connection between my mind, heart and soul that I can better access the power of God. He’s anxious to share that spirituality with me, but I have to prepare myself to be able to receive it. As I try, He makes me able.  It’s not faith or works, it’s both.

Tonight in my Religion and Politics in the U.S. class we discussed New Age religion in America.  To further the discussion, my professor shared this Zen story.  What do you think it means?

Two Buddhist Monks were on a journey, one was more senior than the other.  During their journey they approached a rough and raging  river.  On the river bank they saw a young woman. She was clearly in need of help to cross to the other side of the river without drowning.

The junior monk walked straight past her without giving it a thought and crossed the river. The senior monk offered to help the woman and carried her across the river.   Once across they parted ways and the two monks continued on their journey.

As the journey continued, the senior monk could see that the junior monk had something of concern on his mind, and asked what was wrong. The junior monk replied, “How could you carry that woman like that? You know we can’t touch women, it’s against our way of life”. The senior monk answered, “I left the woman at the rivers edge a long way back, why are you still carrying her?”

What lesson(s) do you see?

Tags: , , ,

I’m not normally a people watcher. I’m split almost evenly between introversion and extroversion. When I’m in someone’s company, they have my undivided attention, which is a manifestation of my extroversion. My introversion manifests when I’m alone; I’m in the company of my own mind and heart, often giving only enough minimal  attention outside of myself to navigate my surroundings.

It was a wise moment when Eleanor Roosevelt said:

Great minds discuss ideas;
average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people.

This is why I’m not normally a people watcher. Plus, I also have a sense of allowing others their privacy. Watching them like a hawk and drawing preliminary conclusions about their lives seems to violate their right to privacy. And that feels rude.

However, this last week I was waiting in baggage claim for my ride with a heightened awareness of the people around me because of unexpected extra time. Several enthusiastic reunions warmed my heart and spread a smile on my face.  A few of them even quickened their pace to embrace their loved one sooner.  These grateful exchanges caused me to imagine what reunions are like after we cross over from mortality to the Spirit World.

As I was looking around, in my rare people watching moment, this cleverly crafted cart made me laugh.

After I was through laughing, I remembered my confusion over the virtue of meekness.

We’re supposed to be meek, but what does that mean?  How does that look? How do I act meekly?

At one point in my life, it seemed that being meek meant being a pushover.  How can it be virtuous to be a doormat?  How can I live a fulfilled life when I constantly allow others to take advantage of me?

Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

Christ taught that He was meek and asked His disciples to be so, too:

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” (Matthew 11:29).

And Christ repeated this instruction in modern times:

Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (Doc & Cov 19:23).

An ancient American prophet included meekness as an inherited attribute when we “put off the natural man…through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).

Being well familiar with these scriptures, I knew that if I was meek, I’d inherit the earth and I’d be more like Jesus Christ. I also knew meekness comes through accessing the Atonement, but I didn’t really know why the Savior wanted us to be pushovers. What benefit comes in being a doormat?

Then, just last year, my friend Lorena gave a talk in Church that revolutionized my view of meekness.  She races cars in her extra time.What’s it called when you race through an obstacle course?  I can’t remember, but that’s what she does.

In her talk, she relayed how the Spirit taught her what it meant to be meek while racing in one of these obstacle courses.  She described her car’s horsepower, which I’m sure a large majority of the congregation understood to be impressive. I wasn’t one of them, but I got the gist that if I were better informed, I’d be impressed.

She learned that meekness meant to choose to submit the possessed power to the commands of the driver. It meant to have great power and the self restraint to  control and obey with that power.

I totally get how God is meek now. He possesses all power and exercises a great deal of restraint in allowing our free will to unfold. We are meek as we purposefully submit our power to His.

Meekness doesn’t mean to be a pushover or a doormat. It’s submission of our will to God’s power, trusting that by Christ’s Atonement we access His infinite power to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts.  Through submission to His power, we become better than our own power could enable.

Now I want to be meek.

What does meekness mean to you?  How have you learned this?  Does the Spirit ever teach you through your recreational activities?

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,