Traveling on the Paths of our Lives

Last week, I blogged about distinguishing between the difficult path and the fiery darts. Today, I’m going to write more about traversing that difficult path – even with the ability to discern.

Mostly because I’m traveling that difficult path myself.

(warning: personal post ahead!)

The past few weeks have been a little bit tough for me. First of all, you have to understand that for the past four years, Homey and I have been building our own business. I’m sure that this will come up several more times on the blog, it’s a huge part of my life right now, and I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined.

So, we have been on this “path” – that includes the business. We knew it would be hard when we started it, and we are still on it now. Starting your own business comes with all kinds of financial and general “life” challenges (working with your spouse – when prior to that he worked at an office; financial strain while you try to make your business work; plus things like kids, dinners, cleaning the house, etc). Thankfully we have navigated these fairly well.

Even if you are traveling on your own path to your own proverbial promised land full of faith, you will still face stressful situations. I think about it like climbing a mountain. Even if you have faith and joy in every step, you can’t change the fact that you are climbing a mountain. The closer you are to the top, the thinner the air gets. Despite your faith, your trust, and your gratitude, the air is still thinner! There is still a great challenge. It is not easy to take each step up.

And this is in no way a statement on your faith or willingness. It’s just a fact about that path (remember! Don’t confuse the path with the fiery darts! The path is the path).

Back to what I was saying before. Two weeks ago, I started having a twinge in my back. I thought I had tweaked it in a workout. Each day it seemed to get worse. It was waking me up at night.

On Saturday night, the pain was enough that I decided I would stay at home from church on Sunday. I got very little sleep, and my pain was acute – even with ibuprofen. Homey took the family out to church. I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood to help loosen up my back.

I had been walking for about ten minutes – feeling really good, actually. And I don’t know what happened, but my ankle just gave out, rolled, and I was doing a long trip and fall (over nothing) while a car was slowly pulling up to the stop sign I was next to. Embarrassing.

Oh I have to also mention, my eczema on my hands had been flaring up. I think that I ate something I was allergic to. So I was really itchy, my back was hurting, and now I found myself on the ground with a sprained ankle.

The woman in the car didn’t laugh at me. She rolled down her window and asked if I needed I ride. I thanked her, and then said no. She went on her way. I sat on the sidewalk for a moment, trying to sum up some pride. A minute later, the same woman pulled up again. She turned around and said, “Let me help you.”

I felt the Spirit whisper Let her help you.

So, she took me home, and I checked out my ankle went to wash my knees (they were bloody from my fall). That’s when I noticed a huge, new, blistering rash on my chest – the left side only – the same side that had been hurting for the last week.

This discovery devastated me. Nothing seems to be working! For years, we have been working so hard. For years I’ve been trying to manage my stress as we have started our own business, started homeschooling the kids, we have sold our house, and nearly every belonging (home, beds, dishes, piano, sewing machine, wedding rings!) – to make this dream work. For years I have tried my best, and I feel joyful and hopeful in my heart, but my body seems to betray me!!!

My husband came home, and I was in so much pain: my back, my hands, my knee, my ankle. And now a new rash. I was telling him about my day, then worrying – what is wrong with my skin? I had no idea, and then I had a thought … it’s shingles.

I realized it had to be shingles – the pain, the blistering rash. My husband and I agreed that we would go to the doctors first thing in the morning (it was Sunday night…) and I felt 10x more defeated than I was feeling earlier in the day.

I told my husband, “I know that the Lord can help us. I know that He will deliver us. I know that He has the power to do anything at any time. But I don’t know if I have the strength to make it. Will I have any skin left? Sometimes I doubt I will be able to physically manage all of this stress. I’m a mess!

Why is it so hard to trust in God?

I received a text from an angel friend:
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I hate to admit this, but there are times when I fear – even though I know that fear is completely irrational and faithless. I lack faith – in myself. I know that the Lord can deliver me, but there are times that I doubt me.

Sometimes I think: “Can I make it? Will I fall apart? Will I self-destruct?”

Stupid!

If I let myself think these things, then we know exactly what will happen.

If God thinks I can, then I can.

And I know this because, as my friend mentioned to me – I have had so many experiences where I have weathered the storm, where God enabled me and empowered me to “make it.”

I have experienced His tremendous power time and time again. I’ve seen and experienced miracles and tender mercies. So what if my skin itches? So what if I am a little sick? So what if I have a sprained ankle?

I’ll make it – hobbling and with itchy skin then. I know I can do it because the lord thinks I can do it, and through His grace, He will enable me to do it.

Don’t Fear!!!

“Fear not! I am with thee
O be not dismayed;
For I am thy God
And will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee
And cause thee to stand.
Upheld by my righteous,
Omnipotent hand.” – How Firm a Foundation

I hope that by sharing my experiences you will also be encouraged to overcome fear. Follow the advice of my wise friend. Remember the miracles you have experienced. Keep walking, keep striving to mountain peaks where God is guiding you to. The air will be thin. You will experience exposure, high wind, and fatigue. But keep walking. The Lord believes in you. You can believe in you, too. And then we can make it to the mountain tops.

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Hope for the Best and Expect the Worst…

I’ve heard it said over and over again, “Hope for the best and expect the worst.” I understand the concept behind the adage. But I think that I’m less and less of a believer of it.

Today, in sacrament meeting, we sang the following:

“When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us
And threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us,
And we know that deliverance is nigh.
We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness,
We’ve proved Him in days that are past.” – We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet

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There is hope smiling brightly before us.

***

About four years ago, Homey and I started our own business. Starting your own business is not for the faint of heart. Both Homey and I, when we started it, knew that it would push us right to the very edge – past anything we have ever experienced. Simultaneously, we knew that we could trust God, and that we would be fine. There would definitely be times when things didn’t feel fine, but we could trust that we were okay.

This thought came the exact instant I told Homey, “it’s time to quit your job and be serious about the business.” Both my own spirit and the Comforter were aligned on this – I knew this instinctually, in my gut, in my Spirit and because of the Spirit – we needed to devote more time to the business. I knew that we needed to take the risk, have Homey quit his job, and focus our efforts 100% on the business. I knew, the Spirit gave me a deep impression that now was our chance – and that if we didn’t take it, there might not be another “right time for it.”

We went to the temple, we referred to our patriarchal blessings. And we knew that this was not only something we wanted to do, but perhaps a part of the work we should perform in this life. It would enable us to be the kind of people God sees in us, and it would enable us to do the work that He would expect of us.

And, thank goodness for the Comforter – even while Homey was still employed with a very secure job that gave us a very secure lifestyle – I knew that we would be pushed right to our limit. And I also felt overwhelming comfort, “You’ll be pushed to your limit, but you will be delivered. You know the pattern – the Lord delivers when your back is at the wall.”

(But He doesn’t deliver us before our backs are to the wall).

***

That was four years ago. Since then, Homey and I have been working, working, working. We have lived off of savings. We have sold our house. We have moved to Hawai’i, to the mainland – the intermountain west, and then to the East Coast. We have sold nearly all of our belongings (everything we own fits in a small portion of my in-law’s basement – for a family of six!). We own no couches, bookshelves, or dishes. We have had an amazing ride. We have been blessed by the Lord.

And we have been stretched.

At one point along the ride, a well-meaning individual said, “Well, you know – you have to hope for the best, but expect the worst.”

I smiled, and was grateful for the concern. I nodded my head, but I didn’t agree. And the idea has been ruminating in the back of my head for months.

***

In First Nephi, within the first chapters of the Book of Mormon, we read Nephi’s courageous declaration:

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” – 1 Nephi 3:7

Hope for the best, and expect the worst? Not really. Nephi didn’t “hope” that he would obtain the plates. No, he was committed to obtaining the plates. He tried once and twice – lost his entire family’s inheritance, and nearly lost his life. Then he finally entered into the gates of Jerusalem – armed only with the Spirit and with no plan at all. Perhaps the chain of events didn’t happen as he had expected, but his primary expectation and his hope were aligned – He would obtain the plates. No plan B. No other option. That was that. He would obtain the plates or die trying.

Now, maybe you’re wondering, “Well, Nephi was commanded.” Let’s look at another example.

***

We have a record – in the Book of Ether – of a group of people that originated from Babel, during the time that the Lord confused their languages. One family – Jared’s family and his brothers – prayed to the Lord that they would be able to communicate with each other. So, Jared had his brother – who was highly favored of the Lord – pray to spare their family.

And the Lord did.

Then, Jared asked his brother the following:

“And it came to pass that Jared spake again unto his brother, saying: Go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land, and if he will drive us out of the land, cry unto him whither we shall go. And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth? And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance.”  – Ether 1:38.

So – Jared’s brother decides to ask God to drive them out of the land – and perhaps to a promised land. The Lord has compassion. He gives Jared’s brother some instructions, then makes the following promise:

“…And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.

And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation. And thereshall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me.” – Ether 1:42-43

Unlike Nephi and his family, Jared and his brethren were not commanded to flee Babel. They had a righteous desire, they asked the Lord, and the Lord granted accordingly (Ask and ye shall receive…). They would have to do a lot of work, they would travel across the entire world – from Babel to the Americas. But the Lord would grant them according to their prayers.

It would push them right to their limits, but they didn’t have to worry because it would work.

Hope for the best and expect the worst??? NO! Plan B? Plan C? NOOOO! There is one plan! It is to do what God will have us do! There is one expectation – that the Lord’s will will come to pass, and that his promises are sure, that hope isn’t some silly thing that kids do, but that it will anchor our faith by giving us vision.

***

Imagine that you are walking along the iron rod, toward the tree of life. Do you say, “Well, I’m hoping that I will make it to the tree of life, but I don’t expect it. In fact, I expect that I will wander off on a strange road and get lost – the worst possible outcome.” Do you say, “I’ll hope for the best, but expect the worst,” as if you are an agent to be acted upon, rather than an agent to act – empowered by the infinite grace of God???

***

I will admit that many, many times in my life I have said, “I won’t get my hopes up.” There is a glimmer of an opportunity, but I don’t want to get my hopes up. I don’t want to be disappointed, so I kind of ignore them. Of course, I’m sure you can guess because I expected the worst, I received the worst.

And I’m learning that hope – it isn’t some kind of silly thing. True hope is a facet of faith. It will make an anchor for us so that we succeed. Hope will help us put one foot in front of the other. Hope will give us the vision to find opportunities when our backs are against the wall and every resource appears to be exhausted. Hope gives us the courage to walk into a dark city at night, on an errand from the Lord, with nothing but the Spirit to guide and protect us. Hope gives us the audacity to go to the Lord and ask him for the blessings that He is willing to grant us but can’t until we ask for them.

Hope is how we cheerfully submit to all of the will of God – enduring anything that is thrown before us, knowing that our expectations – deliverance and success – are sure because He Is Sure.

 

Plutarch and Alma

I came across this quote recently, and I couldn’t help but think of Alma…

Plutarch Knowledge Quote

Before relating this to Alma, I want to just talk about the quote. Plutarch was smart enough to “get stuff.” I mean, a lot of us are that way, right? I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read about health and fitness. I logically “get” many of the concepts I’ve read about.

Yet – even though we “get something” and may even have knowledge, without application what do we really know?

Not only was Plutarch smart enough to “get something” from the words he read, he was smart enough to realize that the words and knowledge he gained was through experiences.

As for me – even though I had read a few books on the damage and problems that sugar causes the body, I never really got it until I had experimented for myself and saw how eating a diet without much sugar affected me. I really needed this experience in order to give meaning to the concepts that I had learned.

Alma the younger understood the power of experiential knowledge. In fact, he extended an invitation to the poor Zoramites that he taught:

“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” – Alma 32:27

Alma taught the people the word of God. And he didn’t expect them to believe him just on face value – just because he said to believe. Instead, Alma asked them to experiment on his words. Alma wanted them to try it out for themselves. Alma invited them to have their own experiences so they could gain their own knowledge and faith.

It is interesting to me that we approach nearly every subject this way – except faith. Do we expect to learn a language just by reading about it? No, we go on a foreign exchange program, we take an immersion class, we go to that country, we start studying on a language learning website, we practice saying words in another language.

If we desire to learn Calculus, do we just buy a textbook and peruse it? Probably not. We go through the exercises. We get a calculator, paper, and pencil, and then try to solve the equations.

Yet, for some reason, so many people think that in order to obtain spiritual knowledge, they will sit in church one time and listen to a sermon and get it. Or maybe they think that in order to gain a testimony, they must read through the Bible once without meditating, pondering, and applying the words.

Then, because they haven’t put any thought or effort into their acquisition of spiritual knowledge, they don’t get any spiritual knowledge. Some may even proclaim faith, spirituality, or the scriptures as a fraud because of their own lack of experience.

I haven’t studied Calculus, but I’m not going to claim that Calculus is a farce.

Yes – going to church and studying the scriptures are important parts of obtaining spiritual knowledge, but the crucial key is to experiment and experience the gospel. Then those experiences will give you the knowledge of the word. They will make the scriptures and church even more meaningful.

How have you “experimented” on the word? How have your experiences helped to shape your testimony? If you haven’t experimented on the word of God, what is holding you back?

Faith and the “Reality Distortion Field”

Something pretty for this post...Even though it really has nothing to do with it at all. :)
Something pretty for this post…Even though it really has nothing to do with it at all.

In the most recent General Conference, President Monson stated the following:

“May we choose to build up within ourselves a great and powerful faith which will be our most effective defense against the designs of the adversary – a real faith, the kind of faith which will sustain us and will bolster our desire to choose the right. Without such faith, we go nowhere. With it, we can accomplish our goals.”

As you probably know (if you read this blog often), I could write an essay of at least 3,000 words on this subject. But I’m striving for brevity. So, here are a few thoughts on the faith we need to help inform our choices and empower us to accomplish our goals.

In our society, it may be tempting to think of faith as some kind of quaint virtue, or perhaps something even worse.

Faith is the first principle of the gospel. It is a subject we hear about time and time again.

Faith is a virtue, but it isn’t relegated to moral interests. Faith is real power. (By the way, virtue is power – not just something for boring, prudish people! You can read more about virtue here.)

Without faith that a seed will sprout, we won’t keep watering it, fertilizing it, and nourishing it. Therefore, without the vision, or faith, of what a seed will be, though that vision is so different than the seed itself, the seed will never become a plant.

Because faith is a true principle and power, we see can faith at work – not only in a religious sense, but in any case.

Let’s take Steve Jobs, for example. It was often said that he had a “reality distortion field.” The “reality distortion field” or “RDF” is described as follows:

“RDF was said to distort an audience’s sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and made them believe that the task at hand was possible. (Reality Distortion Field, Wikipedia)

There is plenty of criticism regarding Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” but the fact also remains: he believed a personal computer could be created. And it was created. He believed that they could figure out a way to put all of your songs in your pocket, and with the iPod, they did.

Later, now that we have been able to enjoy the success of Jobs’ ability to “distort” reality, we celebrate him as a visionary. We say this as if Jobs possessed some kind of magical ability. I don’t think that gives him enough credit. It really isn’t easy to “distort reality.”

I believe that this “reality distortion field” could be renamed to faith. Faith seems to “distort” our present knowledge and lead us to believe that with God, anything is possible.

Of course, faith is not a distortion. Alma teaches,

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” – Alma 32:21, emphasis added

Notice the last phrase – which are true. We learn more about truth in Doctrine and Covenants:

“And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;” – Doctrine and Covenants 93:24

Though faith doesn’t often seem to coincide with our current notion of reality, faith is a belief in that which is true – past, present, or future. And the truth is, we don’t know everything right now. There is so much we can’t see, so much we can’t sense. Relying only on what we currently know and experience is an actual and incredibly detrimental distortion of reality. A distortion of true reality – past, present, or future – will result in our impotence.

So, how do we develop the faith that empowers? How do we choose to distort what we think we know now and believe in something that is yet to happen?

We can simply put our faith in God. He is our Father. He knows all. He created all. He does have all of the information. He will enable us to sense and see what we need to know in our lives – even if what He reveals to us isn’t aligned with our current sense of “reality.”

When we exercise our faith, we may be misunderstood. Some may say that our “reality” seems “distorted,” but with faith in God, reality is never distorted. God isn’t bound by time – past, present, or future. He sees and knows all now. Through the Holy Ghost, and according to His will, our Heavenly Father can impart with us the knowledge we must know in order to achieve our goals. In other words, with faith, we can also become “visionaries.”

I don’t know…when I think about faith this way, it just seems so powerful. Why wouldn’t we want to develop it?!?!

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Prioritizing

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 6

“1. In Matthew 6, Christ is still teaching the Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. Specifically, He is speaking to His apostles and servants in the church. His teachings—His ministry—are a part of His primary purpose and are the set up to His eventual Atonement. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings in this chapter fit into the work of the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.

2. In this chapter, we have examples of how not to do and how to do certain things. What are these things? What does Christ teach about them? Can you think of times when Christ models the way to do what He is teaching? How does His example help you to better understand Christ and your relationship with Him? How does understanding the way He serves, fasts, and prays help you to gain insight on the act of the Atonement?

3. Think of the last major section of this chapter (“Take no thought for your own life…” in verse 25). How did Christ exemplify this? How does the Atonement help us “not to take thought of our own lives”? Is there anything we can do to work out our salvation on our own? What do we rely on in order to receive salvation? How can you apply His example in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

So – in Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He teaches us how to give alms, pray, forgive, fast, prioritize, and remain loyal to God.

Today, we’ll focus on what the Savior teaches us about prioritizing our lives, why it is important, and how He exemplified it in the Atonement.

What do you treasure?
What do you treasure?

Prioritizing

Do

  • Do lay up treasures in heaven
  • Do keep in mind that where your heart is, there is your treasure also</li<
  • Do keep your eye single to God and full of light

Don’t

  • Don’t lay up treasures upon earth.
  • Don’t get distracted from God. If your eye is not single to God, then your body is full of darkness.

Catania, Why are you calling this prioritization, rather than materialism or financial advice?

Maybe you already know the answer to this question. Maybe you have already thought of this scripture in these terms: that the advice to lay up treasures in heaven is all about prioritization. I have to admit, however, I’ve always thought that this was merely a small sermon on materialism.

It is so much more.

The Savior is teaching us how to prioritize our lives. And the advice is simple: lay up treasures in heaven.

If we have this at the center of what we do, then we won’t waste time on the things that are corrupted by moth and that rust. Instead, we will find that we have spent our lives on doing the things that will bring us joy – both here and in heaven.

I think that this advice is less about finances and materialism because of what the Savior says in verses 22-23:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” – Matthew 6:22-23

By the way – there is a JST in verse 22 that helps us understand it more:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single to the glory of God, thy whole body shall be full of light.” – Matthew 6:22 – JST is included in italics

Additionally, we learn that “single” means (from the Greek translation): healthy, sincere, without guile.

This advice that Christ gives is associated with “treasures in Heaven.” If you look at the entire chapter of Matthew 6, The Savior does address materialism pretty directly (that will be the next blog post – no man can serve two masters). However, here we learn that we need to lay up treasures in heaven, and to have our eye single to God.

There are many things that we might be treasuring above God. Popularity. Fame. The “perfect” body. Perhaps we even treasure something that is good, but somehow it becomes something that causes us to take our eyes off of God’s glory. Keeping our eye on God’s glory is the key to laying up treasure in Heaven.

The Benefit of Having an Eye Single to God’s Glory

I really like the concept of having an eye single to God’s glory – or an eye of faith. It is the only way to really succeed in this life and return to Him in the life to come. And there are a few really great scriptural examples of this kind of eye of faith.

I’ve written about how Alma had an eye single to God’s glory in this blog post.

Another example of an eye single to God’s glory is that of Stephen.

In Acts, we read about Stephen. He was a Christian disciple in the early church. He had been taken by a council of the Jews and was being questioned. He stood fast to his faith, taught the council how Moses was a type of Christ, He witnessed against the council – and their wickedness, and He testified of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

The council of the Jews wasn’t too excited about what Stephen had to say. In Acts, we read:

“When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” – Acts 7:54-56

Many of you are probably familiar with this story. Stephen looked up steadfastly into heaven and then saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Stephen Sees Jesus on the Right Hand of God, by Walter Rane
Stephen Sees Jesus on the Right Hand of God, by Walter Rane

Usually, when I think of this story, I kind of stop here. Stephen looked steadfastly into heaven. He saw two personages, he testified of them, and he was martyred for his testimony.

But take a second, and really think about it. Think about what Stephen was doing: He was looking steadfastly into heaven. In other words, his eye was single to God’s glory.

I don’t think that this was the first time Stephen looked steadfastly into heaven. In fact, I kind of think that he had been looking steadfastly into heaven long before this moment. He did this through expressing his faith and living as a disciple. Because he had developed his eye of faith, when he was under immense pressure, he didn’t back down out of fear. He still looked steadfastly into heaven, received a sure witness, and died protecting it.

I love this example because Stephen was literally looking into Heaven. He is a good example. His example teaches me that I can do the same – on a more spiritual level. I can look steadfastly into heaven by covenanting with God and then keeping those covenants. I can look steadfastly into heaven through prayer, scripture study, and obedience to the commandments. Going to the temple often also helps to focus our gaze heavenward.

Additionally, I know that if I will focus my eye on God’s glory, then I will be strengthened during the times of intense pressure and temptation.

Keeping my eye single to God will fill my body with light – just as the Savior promised. And it is the way that I am able to keep Christ’s charge to “lay up treasures in heaven.”

Christ, The Atonement, Treasures in Heaven, and An Eye of Faith

Of course, Christ was the perfect example of everything that we should be – proper prioritization included. Throughout Christ’s life, He focused on laying up treasure in Heaven.

For now, we’ll look only at His experience of the Atonement – and how He chose to lay up treasures in Heaven by prioritizing God above all else.

In the Garden of Gethsemane
Christ never gave into His own desires. Even though He suffered greatly, He still prioritized the will of God. While suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, three times He said:

“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” – Matthew 26:39

Christ – doing the will of God – was laying up for Himself treasure in Heaven. The treasure He obtained was resurrection for Himself and all mankind. He also obtained the great treasure of an Atonement that could exalt all of us.

Christ’s Capture
After suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas came and betrayed the Savior with a kiss. As Christ was being arrested, Peter smote off the ear of an officer. Christ healed the injured man and said to Peter:

“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” – Matthew 26:53-54

Again, Christ prioritizes God’s will above all else. Even though He finished suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, there was still much more to suffer and endure. His Atonement and work was not yet done. He still had to keep His eye single to the glory of His Father in order to finish the work of the Atonement.

Christ made the deliberate choice to allow Himself to be arrested and judged. He could have escaped the officers and high priests. He could have had twelve legions of angels defend Him.

However, He knew what His work was. He understood God’s will and God’s purpose for Christ. Instead of laying up treasures on earth and protecting Himself, physically, Christ chose to lay up treasures in Heaven and finish His work of the Atonement.

The Judgment of Christ
Again, Christ had a chance to lay up treasure on earth rather than in Heaven when He was judged by Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again. Yet Christ submitted to their judgment.

Pilate was relatively uninformed of the divinity and mission of Christ. He only knew that the Jews he ruled over were stirred up. Pilate was motivated by treasures on earth, so He wanted to pacify these angry constituents. Yet, Pilate also seems to be worried about condemning an innocent man – who is potentially the very Son of God.

Jesus is condemned before Pilate. (The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Video)
Jesus is condemned before Pilate. (The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Video)

The contrast between the two (Pilate – who lays up treasure on earth; and Christ – who lays up treasure in Heaven) is striking:

“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid;

And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.

Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?

Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar.

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.” – John 19:8-13

Pilate – who prioritized his earthly wealth and stature – went against his intuition and was swayed by the Jews argument – that by letting Christ live, he was jeopardizing His relationship with Cæsar.

Christ, on the other hand, prioritized God’s will. Though He had more power than Pilate and any other earthly force, Christ submitted to the will of God. Christ was judged and then condemned to death by crucifixion.

The Crucifixion
Christ faithfully kept His eye single to God’s glory. This steadfastness enabled Him to perform the work of the Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane and accept His capture and judgment. Of course, He would still have to overcome another great hurdle – the actual crucifixion.

I can only imagine the pain of the crucifixion, but the only time Christ cries out is when His father forsakes Him. We read:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34

I think that this is worth mentioning because we know – Christ always had an eye single to God’s glory. He never looked away from God. Yet God looked away from Him. Elder Jeffery R. Holland humbly and succinctly explains the reason that Christ had to be forsaken, even though He never took His gaze off of His Father:

“With all the conviction of my soul I testify that He did please His Father perfectly and that a perfect Father did not forsake His Son in that hour. Indeed, it is my personal belief that in all of Christ’s mortal ministry the Father may never have been closer to His Son than in these agonizing final moments of suffering. Nevertheless, that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.” – Jeffrey R. Holland

While we struggle to keep our eye single to God’s glory, we will not have to endure what Christ faced. We will be blessed with the companionship of the Spirit when we live worthy of it – exercising our eye of faith. Of course, there are times when there seems to be a pavilion that covers the Lord’s hiding place. (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:1.) However these “pavilions” are usually caused by our own lack of faith or even disobedience. Even when it is difficult to “see” the Lord, we can follow Christ’s example and keep our eye firmly fixed on God’s glory.

Christ’s gaze had always been fixed on His Father, and while on the cross, Christ continued to lay up treasures in heaven by sacrificing His very life – even while Heavenly Father forsook Him and left Him to finish His work by suffering alone.

Because Christ prioritized God, He submitted to the excruciating work of the Atonement. In doing so, the Savior did lay up treasure in Heaven not only for Himself, but also enabled all of us to lay up treasure in Heaven, too.

***
What can you do to prioritize God and lay up treasure in Heaven? How can you keep your eye single to His glory? How does Christ’s example in the Atonement help you to better understand this teaching from the Sermon on the Mount?

My Faith, Captain Moroni, and The Atonement

Eczema Rash

It’s been a while, I know. These past few months, I’ve been consumed with teaching for BYU-Idaho and also prepping for homeschool (for the first time ever). Recently, my husband has also made some big life decisions, which are very exciting.

So, even though I don’t feel particularly “stressed out,” I know that my life is stressful. In fact, I know this is true because of this crazy eczema rash I’ve gotten all over my hands and arms.

I’ll spare you a picture.

When the crazy rash started getting bad, I asked Homey for a blessing. In this blessing, it was indicated that the rash was caused by stress, and I needed to learn how to manage it. (Getting rid of stressors isn’t really an option right now).

The rash got worse.

Well, I was getting pretty desperate, and one of my friends gave me a topical prescription cortisone product for my rash. It would clear up for a few days, I’d stop with the prescription, and it would get worse. This went on for a few months (!) Over time, the rash got much, much worse. What started as a small rash under my wedding ring became a rash on 8 of my fingers, up both hands and arms…yikes.

I’ve asked Homey for two more blessings. The same basic info was related: Heavenly Father Loves me, Christ has suffered the Atonement and has perfect empathy, this is caused by stress, and I needed to find natural ways to alleviate the issue.

As I write this now, I realize what a blessing that Priesthood blessings are. However, I will admit that during the final blessing, I wondered why I could just be healed. I know that God has the power to do it, so why can’t I be healed?

Of course, as this thought went through my brain, the words of the blessing rang out: this trial is to help you build faith in your Father in Heaven.

Okay.

Captain Moroni

Today, I read about Captain Moroni in my scriptures.

“Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” – Alma 48:17

In the past, I’ve read this scripture with complete awe for Mornoi. What a cool dude. Untouchable. Untouchable by Satan, and also – by me. I want to be like Moroni, but he is so good…too good. I can’t come close.

However, I’ve been studying the Atonement in the Book of Mormon. I know that There is power in the Atonement to enable us to overcome the natural man or woman and become true disciples of Christ. With this in mind, I have come to the realization that Moroni wasn’t just born cool and faithful. His faith and example come through his discipleship, which came as a result of his >firm faith in Christ. (See Alma 48:13. This means that becoming like Moroni, who could shake the very powers of hell, is possible–through Christ.

Part Three
So..if I want to be like Moroni, then I need to develop stronger faith.

I’m not sure if I’m a super faithful person or not. When I was younger, like most young people, I had faith. I was innocent and closer with nature. Then, I got older, more disconnected with what probably matters, and logic became important to me. I have always had a testimony because I’ve been able to logically understand the gospel. It makes sense to me, and discovering the mysteries of God is important to me as it galvanizes my testimony (logically).

Yet, I need to have faith. I need to be willing to suspend my so-called logic, and just develop a purer faith in the Savior. I suppose that is what this skin rash is designed to do in my life because my faith is wavering.

Now, I want to say that carefully. My faith isn’t wavering in a “I wonder if the gospel is true” kind of way. I will not and cannot deny the truthfulness of the gospel and my testimony. Instead, I think my faith is wavering in the same way as the man who uttered to Christ, “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.”

How I relate to this man!

I believe. I believe that Christ created the world, that He came, lived, suffered, died, and was resurrected. I know that He answers prayers. I know that He loves me. I know that He will speak to my soul when I search and am willing to listen. However, I have this rash that is spreading and getting worse despite my pleas.

And, as I plea for help, I feel the doubt creeping in my head, “He can help, but I doubt he’ll help me. I’m not strong or special like some people. (ie – Captain Moroni)” Stuff like that. Not helpful, and ultimately self-fulfilling.

So…as I read the story of Captain Moroni, I am both humbled and comforted. I don’t have to be a Captain Moroni to become like Captain Moroni. Instead, I only need to humbly go to the Lord, ask Him to help my unbelief, and let Him work a miracle in me through the Atonement.

His Atonement will help me to be the faithful woman and disciple that I want to be – rash or not.

***
What do you do to strengthen your faith during times of trial?

Declaration (Staying Faithful to the End)

Next week, I’ll be turning 35. I’m practically middle-age. In some ways I can’t believe it, yet in other ways it really isn’t all that big of a deal. For all of these 35 years, I’ve been attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was baptized when I was eight, participated in the youth programs of the church, I completed personal progress, and attended early morning seminary while in high school.

As an adult, my commitment to the church hasn’t changed. I have gone to the temple (and I go regularly), I have graduated from Institute, I have had children, and have held various callings in the church.

For 35 years, my life has been marked by consistent activity in the church and, for the most part, a thriving testimony.

first thing in the morning...at nearly 35 years old...yeah.
first thing in the morning…at nearly 35 years old…yeah.

There are many people like me. Who are born and raised in the church and who live lives of faith.

But the thing is, even with such faith and devotion to the church, there are no sure things, or at least it seems that way. Even if we’ve lived faithful lives, we still have to keep pushing forward. We can’t coast or become complacent. Not only that, but our faith is continually tested, and we can find that even after a lifetime of faith, we’re giving up.

Now, this is not me saying that I’m giving up. I’m just thinking about how it happens.

Several years ago, I had a discussion with a friend. It went something like this:

Friend: I have a such a strong testimony of the church, I love it so much. I can’t imagine my life without it.
Me: I know what you mean. I feel the same way.
Friend: But sometimes I get afraid. What if I don’t keep the faith? What if something happens, and I stop going to church or forget my testimony?
Me: [I thought for a moment] You know, I’m not afraid of that.
Friend: Really? [I could tell that she thought I was being a little too self-assured.
Me: I think that I’m more afraid that there will be a time when I’m not working as hard. When I’m not praying like I should be praying. When I’m not feasting on the words of Christ. When I’m not attending the temple with clean hands and a pure heart. When I’m not serving in the church diligently and cheerfully. I’m afraid that there will be a time that these things start to “go”, and then I’ll be afraid that I leave the church.

We both agreed that the way to stay strong in the gospel is by doing the small things. But this conversation I had with my friend haunts me when I hear things like A general authority doubting the church. Or how I’ve recently had friends who, after decades of devotion to the church, decide to leave it. Somewhere along the line, for various reasons, people lose their faith, their commitment, or both.

Alma asks this question to disaffected church members:

“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” – Alma 5:26

It seems like this is a relatively common phenomenon, people have a change of heart, they feel the love of the redemption offered through the Atonement of the Savior. But the feeling fades away. This can lead to something as simple as inactivity in the church or perhaps even something more serious like apostasy and leaving the church altogether. In any case, the result is the same, we forget the witness we’ve had in the past, and fail to live up to the covenants we’ve made. This has serious consequences. And…above all…it defeats the purpose of everything we’re doing right now.

I’m not living faithfully now so I can give up later. I’m not spending countless hours serving at church, Driving hundreds of miles to attend the temple, donating thousands of dollars for tithing, attending 3 hour church services weekly, etc., etc., etc. –I’m not doing all of these things now to simply give up on them later!

I know that the decision to leave the church, or at least stop attending, isn’t made that way. No one thinks, Okay, I’ve dedicated my life to the Savior, but now I’m done. I understand that other things happen. We face hardship in our lives that test our faith. We may be hurt or offended by another in the church. For various reasons, commitment can be hard to maintain. Our faith is tested, and fear and doubt creep into the tiniest corners of our hearts.

My question..and, up to this point, my crappy answer

And it makes me wonder, how do we do it? how do we endure to the end? How do I make sure that I remain faithful? This seems like a hard thing to predict because I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know the trials of my faith that I’ll face in the future. I don’t know how I’ll react when I’m facing the trials that I can’t predict. I find myself asking, Will I remain faithful?…gee, I sure hope so. This answer is unsatisfactory. It seems so powerless. It’s as if I’m leaving my eternal salvation up to chance.

The thing is, I know that my salvation isn’t up to chance. It is up to me. We were sent to this earth to be agents to act, and not to be acted upon. We are free to choose our destiny: liberty and eternal life or captivity and death. Our salvation (or damnation) isn’t something that will just happen to us.

Developing an Eye of Faith to Ensure Continued Commitment

It seems that the key is to develop an eye of faith. Alma is a great example of this. When he is in his “comatose” state (after seeing an angel), he is in excruciating pain: caused by his many sins. He cries to God for mercy, and Jesus snatches him out of his agony. After this, but before regaining consciousness Alma has the following experience:

“Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.” – Alma 36:22

Immediately after Alma sees this snapshot of Heaven, he awakens. And, I believe, that this vision pushes him forward in faith. Of course the harrowing and hallowing experience of redemption of sins is a major reason for His faithful service to God. But think about Alma, he did more than just remain a kind of faithful guy. He served missions, was hated and persecuted, was put in jail. He was tested – and probably in more ways than we can understand. It had to be more than feeling the joy of redeeming love that motivated him to stay faithful. I think that the joy of redemption coupled with his faithful goal: he longed to be in the presence of the Lord. He could see what he wanted.

I don’t think that Alma said, “Gee, I hope that one day I’ll be able to experience Heaven…Gee, I wonder if this will happen to me…I sure hope so.” This is, obviously, speculation. But I’m inclined to believe that Alma said to himself, “I will be with the Lord one day…It will happen to me…I will remain faithful.”

***
There are other examples, too. Imagine Nephi or Lehi after witnessing the vision of the fruit of the tree of life. Do you think that after this vision, they woke up and said, “Gee, I sure hope that I really do partake of the fruit of the tree of life one day? or did they say, “I will partake of that fruit. I will remain faithful to the end.”

Making A Declaration or A Choice

While I’ve been supposing that these prophets made declarations of faith and commitment to themselves, there is an instance of a prophet declaring his intentions of sustained faith and endurance.

“…till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.” – Job 27:5

Often, I’ve thought about this scripture as being about integrity or the strength of Job. But perhaps it was more than that, and I think it is the answer to my aforementioned question. Job’s declaration is an expression of his eye of faith.

Job refused to remove his integrity. Job refused to give up his faith. Job would receive the blessings of salvation. This isn’t a brazen or proud statement. Job is confident in his own ability and in the Lord’s mercy. Job refuses to see anything else happen. He will not deviate.

Conclusion

I know that this seems simplified, but I really think that is the key. If I make the decision right now to always remain faithful, then I will. If I choose right now to refuse to remove my integrity, then I will do exactly that.

I have a testimony of the gospel. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer. I know that He loves me. I know that I’m a daughter of God, and that He loves me, too. I know that God wants us to be happy, and that He has given us a way to accomplish this–through the Savior. I don’t want to forget what I know. I don’t want to let doubt or fear creep into my heart and dash my testimony to pieces. I want these first 35 years of my life to be relevant and worthwhile, not a waste of time. I want to experience the blessings and happiness that the Lord has in store for me. I also want to please Him through my own actions and choices. I want, like Alma, to be in the presence of the Lord, one day.

And so, I’m committing not to remove my integrity from me. I will not lose faith. I will stay true to the gospel and to the covenants that I’ve made. I know that there will be more trials that I face in my life–until the day that I die. But I will not let them get in the way of my ultimate goal.

***
Have you developed an eye of faith? What is it that you “see” for yourself? Have you made any declarations concerning your intentions for this life? What is it? If you have made covenants with the Lord, how will you remain faithful to them–even when they are severely tried?