JOY! – 2 Nephi 2:25

You can read 2 Nephi 2:25 here. You can also find the rest of the Blogging the Book of Mormon entries here.

Context and General Information

  • Lehi, shortly before his death, is speaking a final time to his sons.
  • Adam fell that men might be.
  • Men are that they might have joy!

JOY!

Lehi taught:

“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” – 2 Nephi 2:25

So – read that again. And really pay attention to the last phrase.

Men (and women) are that they might have joy.

Why We Are

This is the reason of being. It’s not just why we are here in mortality on earth. It is why we ARE.

I don’t know if I have ever fully contemplated that. That we ARE to have joy. This is the raison d’être—for each and every one of us.

And think about it. How does it make you feel? To know that God—our Creator—has given us this reason for being: to have joy. It, in and of itself, is a joyful proposition.

Of course, we can’t really ignore the first part of the scripture: Adam fell that men might be. The Fall of mankind is a less joyful prospect. It introduced death, misery, pain, sickness, and sin into the world.

Even in this scripture, we can see that we cannot have one (joy) without the other (the fall). Without the fall, we wouldn’t have knowledge. We wouldn’t have “sight.” This ignorance would preclude us from feeling misery and pain, yes, but it also would keep us from knowing happiness and joy.

And Joy is why we ARE.

So, we have to keep this raison d’être in mind, especially as we suffer and experience life in this fallen, mortal world. We really need to understand more of why we are here (Joy) AND what joy actually means (according to the truth of our God). We need to understand how to discern that which will bring us joy. We need to understand how to have joy. Then, we can use this knowledge and perspective to help us have joy now, even as we go through the difficulties of mortality.

What is Joy???

It’s nice and all to say, “men are that they might have joy!” But the thing is, what is joy? Who is defining it???

If we don’t have a real handle on the true definition of joy, according to the truth of our God, then we might find ourselves looking for joy in all the wrong places. This could then take us down a path of losing trust in Lehi’s simple and sweet statement.

We need to understand that joy is deep contentment and peace. However, we often mistake joy for short term pleasure. In our current society, “joy” isn’t long-lasting, capable of getting you through extreme hardship. Instead, it’s the quick dopamine hit, the quick rush.

Our society seems to imagine joy the same way as advertisers do. (No surprise there!) Think of an alcohol advertisement. (I was going to put one in here, but I hate them all so much because they are full of LIES!). As I just did a search, most of the advertisements include young people (especially women) who are partying, having fun, and ready for sex.

There is nothing wrong with going to a party with friends. There is nothing inherently wrong with having fun. And there is nothing wrong, if you are in the right circumstance of marriage, with being ready for sex. This is a part of the human experience. But we have to understand, these are the dopamine hits. There is nothing wrong with a quick hit of dopamine, either. The moments of pleasure that stoke our dopamine give us a lot of motivation to do anything – good or bad.

The problem is when we start misunderstanding pleasure and joy. When we start chasing the quick dopamine hit, rather than nurturing the long-term happiness hormone of serotonin. Long-term happiness doesn’t come from a party. It comes from consistent good sleep, consistent healthy food, consistent meditation and prayer, consistent service, consistent positive experiences with loved ones.

1596px-The_Tortoise_and_the_Hare_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19993

Joy isn’t “sexy,” fast, or even necessarily fun. Joy is the tortoise while pleasure is the hare.

Pleasure comes from a lack of inhibition, joy from discipline. I realize that this doesn’t sound very provocative -when it comes to joy. If joy is an act of discipline, then why would we want it? The best way for me to illustrate this is through my own experience.

I am hedonistic at heart. I love eating good food. I love sleeping. I am sensual and passionate. I’m a human. We all are a little hedonistic! Why have the spinach shake when I can have a Nutella crepe??? Why wake up and exercise when my bed is so warm and cozy??? Why save money when I want new shoes??? Why stay sexually pure when there are so many cute boys on this earth???

The answer to all of these questions is because pleasure and hedonism isn’t necessarily the path to happiness. And if we sacrifice righteousness for any of these mortal desires, then we may experience pleasure, but happiness and joy is impossible. As Alma taught:

“…Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.” – Alma 41:10

So – as I was saying, I tend to be a little hedonistic at heart, but somewhere along the way, the Lord has been merciful and has taught me the joy of discipline. Several years ago, I was going through some really difficult things, and I felt the prompting to go for a run. I was out of shape, and I was living in HILLY Pennsylvania. I went for a run. It was hard. And I was SORE for a week.

But there was something about that run – about putting one foot in front of the other again and again and again. It wasn’t easy, but after an hour, I had run five miles. I had gone uphill and downhill. I had done something hard! I realized that just as I could put one foot in front of the other on this run, I could do it in my life, too. I could get through these challenges I was facing.

After this run, I started to love running! (Well, probably more appropriately jogging, but whatever). I ran when it was 23°F outside. I ran when it was 93°F outside. I ran in rain, sleet, or snow. I ran in cool, crisp breezes during fall when the leaves are orange and the sky is blue. I ran at 5:30 AM, or at 10:20 AM, or at 4:30 PM or even at 7:00 PM…depending on the day and on my schedule.

And you know what – it was never really easy to get up out of bed. I always wanted to be sleeping instead. It wasn’t easy to stop my day and run. It wasn’t easy, after work when I was exhausted, to lace up my sneakers and get in a quick run. But I did. I had learned that I never came home from a run in a bad mood.

Somewhere along the way, I had learned that my hedonistic nature wasn’t always very smart. I had learned that doing the thing that seemed “easy” in the moment was often hard in the long term. I had learned that the seemingly hard thing had very generous dividends.

PA Forsythia

Barn in Chester County PA

PA

As I think back on this now, the cumulative experience of running – especially in PA – brings me joy still. Yes! The sweat, the sore muscles, the blisters…are joyful memories! Though running didn’t offer immediate pleasure, the cumulative effect taught me discipline and joy.

 

This is the kind of joy that the Lord offers to us, too. His joy isn’t immediate pleasure (though we may experience pleasure from time to time). His joy is fruit of cumulative discipline and work that amounts to something. As the Savior said:

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – John 14:27

The Lord’s joy isn’t the fleeting pleasure that we see in advertisements. When we ponder Lehi’s teaching—men are that they might have joy, we must apply God’s definition of joy and happiness and peace. It may not seem as appealing to our hedonistic side, but it is what we are all actually after.

God’s joy is the rush we feel when we finish a difficult but good task, God’s joy is the love that makes our heart want to explode when we see our little children sleeping peacefully. God’s joy is the quiet peace that fills our souls when we sit at the beach and watch the rolling waves, when we smell the fresh pines in a mountain top, or ponder the intricacies of a simple wildflower.

Ultimately, God’s joy is our joy:

“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” – Moses 1:39

joy

Opposing Forces: God and Satan (1/2) – 2 Nephi 2:14-18

You can read 2 Nephi 2:14-18 here. You can also find the rest of the Blogging the Book of Mormon entries here.

Context and General Information

  • Lehi, shortly before his death, teaches Jacob.
  • There is a God.
  • He has created all things: heaven and earth, all things in them, and things both to act and things to be acted upon.
  • To bring about God’s eternal purposes, He allowed for opposition.
  • Likewise, to bring about His eternal purposes, He gave us agency. But we really couldn’t act for ourselves if we didn’t have choices.
  • An angel of God, according to the the scriptures that Lehi had read (Isaiah!), had fallen from heaven and became a devil.
  • This devil sought that which was evil before God. (This was the purpose of his being thrust out of Heaven.)
  • Because of the fall from heaven, the devil became miserable forever and sought the misery of all mankind. He wanted to destroy God’s work and glory.
  • The devil, therefore, tempted Eve by lying to her about the effects of partaking of the forbidden fruit.

Opposing Forces: Heavenly Father and Satan

So, last time, we pondered the concept of opposition. You can read it here.

We live in a world full of opposing forces – day and night, sleep and wake, high tide and low tide, summer and winter, north pole and south pole, etc. These opposing forces also include good and evil. And the ultimate examples of opposition in all things are God and the devil.

Today, we will study the verses above to learn more about God.

There is A God

First and foremost, we have to understand that there is a God. This is the basis of it all. If there was no God, then there would be no devil. There would be nothing. None of this would matter. But there is a God.

We have the witness of the prophets, the world around us, and the Holy Ghost that tells us there is a God.

He Hath Created All things

The God we believe in created all things – the Heavens, the earth, everything in the earth, and all of the things on the earth.

Columbine Flower

Look Up

Heber Valley Golden Hour

Late Summer Sunflower

IMG_8960

IMG_9136-2

Quick note: I’m constantly amazed and filled with hope when I contemplate that the God we believe in created the earth. Look around – look at the sweeping views or look at the tiniest details and ponder the fact that these are God’s creations.

Included in Gods creations: each of us!!!

birthday

What a comfort it is to know that the ruling force of this entire universe is the God that created us and He loves us.

Let’s think about that a second more. Our Heavenly Father, the ruler of this universe, governs with faith, hope, charity, benevolence, justice, patience, and mercy. His is a nature of happiness. I know that there are more qualities that can describe our God, but when we think of our Heavenly Father we ought to keep these traits in mind. We will be studying the devil next – and he also has a host of qualities. We will contrast those traits with Heavenly Father’s.

For now, though, take a moment to think of Heavenly Father, and the way He governs and guides.

The Lord Gave Us Agency

Lehi teaches:

“Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” – 2 Nephi 2:16

When I think of the many things that God has done – the creation of the earth, for example – the thing that I find most amazing is that He gave each of us the gift of agency. He created this earth, the solar systems, the galaxies. He created our bodies, our organs, our tissues, our cells. He has infinite understanding – from the most massive concepts (like the universe) to the smallest concepts (sub-atomic).

He did all of this work, and then He gave us agency.

He lets us choose our own paths, attitudes, decisions – even if we mess everything up.

Now, in order for the agency to have any kind of effect on our lives, then Heavenly Father also had to allow for the forces that opposed His good ones. Meaning He had to allow another being to reign with qualities that included doubt, despair, pride, hate, injustice, impatience, and cruelty. Heavenly Father had to allow another – whose nature was that of misery.

So he did. And we will study this being in the next blog post.

But for now, so that we don’t end on such a depressing note, we can remember the Lord. We can remember that He is a force and power available to us, if we will use our agency to choose Him.

the-second-coming-39618-gallery

Redemption Comes through Christ: A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit (Part 5/6) – 2 Nephi 2:5-9

You can read 2 Nephi 2:5-9 here. You can also find the rest of the Blogging the Book of Mormon entries here.

Context and General Information

  • Lehi, before his death, preaches to Jacob a final time.
  • People are instructed sufficiently to know good from evil.
  • We have the law.
  • The law justifies no one, in fact because of the law we are cut off – from God.
  • We are also cut off from God spiritually and will be miserable forever.
  • BUT, redemption comes through the Holy Messiah
  • Christ offers Himself as a sacrifice for sin to answer the ends of the law.
  • If we will come unto Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit, then His sacrifice will answer the ends of the law – and we will not be subject to misery or death.
  • It is important that everyone on this earth knows this message. No one can dwell in the presence of God, save it is through Christ – His merits, mercy, and grace. He laid down His life and took it again to bring pass the resurrection of the dead.
  • He will also stand an intercessor between us and God – saving us.

A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit

For the past several posts, we have been studying the main reason we need redemption and Christ’s role in our redemption. You can read the past posts:  Part One – the lawPart two, – RedemptionPart three, – Christ’s grace and truth; and Part Four – A Sacrifice for Sin.

Today, we are shifting gears. It’s not about the law or what Christ does. It is about what we do.

Of course, it is critical to understand that without Christ redemption isn’t possible. Without Christ, hope for redemption isn’t possible. Without Christ and the knowledge of plan of salvation (including life after death) it is easy for life to lose meaning and purpose.

Simply put, we need Christ.

Even if we were nearly perfect, we would still need Him. Peter needs Christ, Job needs Christ, Mother Theresa needs Christ. None of us can work out our own salvation without Him.

So – now that we have that understanding, that we are wholly reliant upon Christ’s mercy and Atonement, we can now shift our focus on what we need to do. Here, in 2 Nephi, centuries before the Savior’s coming to the earth, Lehi explained to Jacob what we needed to do in order to qualify for Christ’s grace and Atonement. We read:

“Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” – 2 Nephi 2:7

We need to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Broken Heart

As I write this, I have to confess that I’m not sure I should separate out the two elements of what we are to sacrifice. They seem so connected. However, I will keep them separated and study them individually. Maybe they aren’t the same exact thing. Maybe they are. Maybe they are different facets of the same thing…We will find out as we study.

So – a broken heart.

broken heart

When I think of a “broken heart,” my first thought is sadness – especially loss. As in the loss of a loved one. I think of having a crush on a someone (when you are a teen), and then realizing that he isn’t even aware of your existence. I think of losing a friend to death. I think of being betrayed by a loved one. I think of sending a kid off to college (both good and bad on that one!). I think of having to put down a beloved but sickly pet.

As I think about these things, I realize that the ideas that I have about a “broken heart” may be more culturally informed. I don’t know if this is the way that the scriptures meant it.

I found something really interesting online:

“Professor Pike explained the significance of having a “broken” heart and a “contrite” spirit. The Hebrew verb (from the root šbr) translated as “broken” in Psalm 51:17 means “to break, smash, shatter.” The word (Hebrew root dkh) translated as “contrite” means “to crush.” Drawing on these meanings, Pike concluded: “Therefore, a broken or contrite heart or spirit is one that is crushed, smashed, broken to pieces. … The symbolism of our smashing or breaking or crushing our hard, willful heart into pieces and offering the result to God is significant, because a smashed heart no longer exists in a recognizable or retrievable form. … It is at this point that the Lord can replace our now broken, offered heart with a new one” – Book of Mormon Central

So – maybe our traditional meaning of “broken” isn’t too far off. I mean, as I think about it, often when we go through these crushing experiences in life, we are somewhat compelled to be humble. We go to the Lord seeking refuge and peace. And then He can heal us.

It is easy, when life is going well and isn’t breaking our hearts, to get a little complacent. It is easy to let our hearts get hard and to forget how much we really need Christ. So the moments that break our hearts in life can help us to remember our Savior.

I guess what I’m saying is – often, we don’t have to break our own hearts and put them on the altar of God. Instead, we often have our hearts broken by the circumstances of mortality, then we take the shattered heart and put it on God’s altar with hope that He will heal us.

And this isn’t a terrible thing. I am reminded of what Alma taught the people:

“And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.” – Alma 32:13

Yes, the poor of the Zoramites had been used and exploited by the rich. They were broken-hearted and humble. They had, undoubtedly, experienced oppression. They were wronged, and God wasn’t really “okay” with the terrible treatment of these people. But, because of their experiences, they had become humble and in this was the blessing. Their humility, their broken hearts, were fertile ground for the word of God. They were humble, sought repentance, and found mercy. They would be saved.

Now, the thing that Lehi (and the Lord) teaches is that we must give a broken heart as a sacrifice. Sure, sometimes that just happens in life. But, the command isn’t that we wait for life to break us. Instead, we are asked to do it ourselves. Alma taught:

“And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?

Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.

Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.” – Alma 32:14-16

It’s wonderful to know that when life breaks our hearts, if we will turn to the Lord, then He will heal us. But even better is for us not to wait for life to do that to us! It’s better for us not to be compelled to humility. Christ was the perfect example of this kind of behavior.

In the October 2007 General Conference, Elder Bruce D. Porter taught:

“Christ’s example teaches us that a broken heart is an eternal attribute of godliness. When our hearts are broken, we are completely open to the Spirit of God and recognize our dependence on Him for all that we have and all that we are. The sacrifice so entailed is a sacrifice of pride in all its forms. Like malleable clay in the hands of a skilled potter, the brokenhearted can be molded and shaped in the hands of the Master. – Bruce D. Porter, emphasis added

So – we are asked to give the sacrifice of a broken heart. Instead of being full of ourselves, our abilities, or whatever it is that keeps us from turning to God, we should “break” our own hard hearts. We should be willing to submit to God, allowing Him to shape us and our hearts in a way that help us to become like the Savior.

Contrite Spirit

Now onto understanding what a contrite spirit is…let’s go to the dictionary:

Contrite: Adjective
: feeling or showing sorrow and remorse for a sin or shortcoming” – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

So, our spirits need to have sorrow for sin. And it’s pretty easy to see why God would require this as a sacrifice.

Why so much Sadness in the Plan of Happiness???

Okay, so we are asked to offer up a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And, I’ve got to say – at first glance, it sounds so depressing. But this is the plan of happiness right??? What gives?

First of all, I think that Satan is subtle in his deception and temptation. He wants to skew truths so that we will choose the wrong and become miserable just as he is. This isn’t something new. This is exactly what he did in the Garden of Eden with Eve. He told a partial truth and partial lie about the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. His tactics are the same now.

Sooooo…..

If Satan can get us to feel overwhelmed and overburdened by the Lord’s commandments, then we give up. And we become miserable. It is easier to feel overwhelmed and overburdened when we don’t really understand what the Lord is asking of us and why. So, it really behooves us to study the gospel with the companionship of the Spirit so that we can know God’s word and His goodness – so we won’t be confused by the lies of the adversary.

OKAY…that being said, why do these things on the altar of God sound so depressing???? Well let’s think about it:

Broken Heart
Even though I just spent nearly a thousand words saying that we should try to offer this up ourselves, it now comes to me that we don’t really need to break our own hearts!!!!! Life will compel each of us to be humble! Part of mortality is pain, misery, sickness. It doesn’t matter how much money, power, beauty a person has. We are all susceptible to the problems of mortality.

In other words – life will break our hearts! And when it does, give it to the Lord. He pleads:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

When life burdens us, we can go to the Lord, and this is where happiness comes in, HE WILL GIVE US REST!

The Lord isn’t asking us to walk around depressed with broken hearts. The Lord isn’t asking us to be in pain, misery, and sickness. The Lord isn’t asking us to be pessimistic or masochistic. The Lord wants to heal us. So – he asks us to give Him our broken hearts. He can’t heal us if we don’t give Him our hearts to heal in the first place.

Contrite Spirit
Second, the Lord wants us to have spirits that are contrite. He wants us to feel sorrow for sin. And why? Again, it’s not so that we can live a sorrowful and painful life. Instead, when we have godly sorrow for Sin, then the healing balm of the Atonement can be applied in our lives. I’m reminded of King Lamoni’s father:

“O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead.” – Alma 22:18

This is exactly what the Lord requires of us and then gives to us. We put our natural man, desires, shortcomings, weakness, on His altar, and then, in return we come to know Him. We come to know Him through experiencing the sweetness of His grace.

Oh – and the thing about knowing Him – His nature is the nature of happiness. So, when we know God, through giving up our sinful natures, then we know happiness.

Conclusion

Here’s the thing. No matter what we decide to do with our hearts and spirits, because we are fallen creatures, we will experience times when we have broken hearts and sorrowing spirits. That’s just life!!!

The Lord is asking us to take these things – that happen to be broken and shattered anyways – He is asking us to take these two faulty, imperfect things and put them on His altar. Then, He will take our broken hearts and our poor spirits, and He will make something new. He will lift us up. He will bless us with peace and comfort. He will give us rest.

This is how happiness works into these requirements. He doesn’t want us to wallow in pain and pity. The opposite! When we refuse to give up our broken hearts or contrite spirits, then we continue to proceed in pain! Instead, He asks us to give up our heavy burdens so that He can put His arms around us and embrace us in His everlasting love.

Truly, it’s a plan of happiness.

Joy Is…Week 1/52

Well, I posted about my joy project last week, and I’ve made the decision that I will post one highlight from the week on the blog. I’m not doing it daily because it takes too long.

I am keeping my daily experiences in my special joy journal, but I’m only blogging this weekly.

So – for this week, I think that I’ll have to share the experience I had today.

T-Rex and Sasquatch in Primary
T-Rex and Sasquatch in Primary

In general, I find a lot of joy each week in primary. I really love my calling. However, today was extra-special. It was the T-Rex’s first day in Primary. He is my fourth and youngest child, so I must admit that it was bittersweet to see him growing up like that.

But, the T-Rex is so sweet. He’s so vibrant, active, and funny. He’s particular. He’s outnumbered in a home full of girls. I wasn’t exactly sure how he’d like sitting in Primary.

It turns out, he loves it!

In primary today, he insisted on sitting next to his sister. (I let him, no big deal to me). I couldn’t help it – I had to snap a photo! While I was teaching the singing time, I asked “What kinds of things make you cry?”
T-Rex raised his hand (!) and responded, “I cry when I can’t have hot chocolate.”
(for some context, we were talking about the experience that Christ has in the Americas when He visits the people shortly after his resurrection, blesses the children, and wept. We talked about how usually we cry when we’re sad, but Jesus was crying when He was happy.)

(Oh, and another note – I was so surprised that T-Rex raised his hand. He’s kind of shy. I was delighted that he wanted to contribute to my lesson. And, yes, it’s true – he definitely cries when he can’t have hot chocolate…don’t we all?!)

I could really relate to the concept of Christ weeping for joy because throughout the day, I felt like my heart was brimming with love and joy, and I wanted to cry or jump or something.

Seeing my little ones in primary brings me joy. 🙂 🙂 🙂

***
What brought you joy this week?

The Fruit of the Tree of Life and Joy

Joy and Thanksgiving ButtonJoin me for the next two weeks as we study Joy and Thanksgiving. This is part One of my thoughts as I study the assignments.

The scriptures, like any form of literature, is rife with symbolism. One symbol used often is the tree of life and it’s fruit. Studying this symbol will help us to learn more about joy and how to obtain it.

Soon this fruit will be filling me up with joy. :)
Soon this fruit will be filling me up with joy. 🙂

Lehi’s Dream

Before I really talk about Lehi’s dream, I want to discuss the end result: Lehi and others partake of the fruit of the tree of life. Nephi teaches us about this fruit:

“Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.

And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.” – 1 Nephi 11:22-23

So, not only does Lehi partake of the fruit of the tree of life, but this fruit is amazing. It tastes great and fills him with joy. He desires to share it, and many other people partake of the fruit.

Now, as this dream opens, Lehi is suffering in a dark and dreary waste. He suffers in this state for many hours until finally, he decides to pray. I wonder, is there a point that the Lord would have just shown him the tree of life, even if Lehi didn’t pray? I doubt it. I think that Lehi only progressed because He prayed, and the Lord answered His prayer.

Additionally, the Lord didn’t simply hand Lehi a piece of fruit after Lehi uttered his prayer, instead, Lehi had to embark on a journey. But the path was laid out before Him, and he was taken from the dark and dreary waste thanks to the mercy of God.

After going to the tree, Lehi was able to experience the opposite of what he suffered before. He partook of the fruit of the tree of life which was sweet, desirable, and better than anything he had ever tasted. It filled his soul with joy.

I love this example because it is a reminder to me that we must struggle a little bit before we are able to partake of the fruit of the tree. And when I struggle, I know where I can turn: the Lord.

The Struggle

We learn a little bit more about obtaining the fruit that Lehi ate. There are a few struggles that must be endured before partaking of the fruit.
The Mist of Darkness
Before partaking of the fruit of the tree of life, we must pass through the “mists of darkness.” In my life, I guess I could say that there have been mists of darkness that I have passed through–depression, difficulty, the death of loved ones, divorce, loneliness, sickness, etc. These are dark times, and it can be easy to feel lost as trial seems to choke your ability to see even the next step ahead of you.

The Great and Spacious Building
Not only do we pass through tribulations as we press forward to the Tree of life, but we must also endure the temptations of the world. This seems especially hard these days. We are bombarded with images and ideas that tell us if we just buy x then we’ll be happy.

An interesting thing to note, even when we partake of the fruit of the tree of life, we have the agency to accept it. Some of those who partook of the fruit then chose to feel embarrassment and shame as they allowed the voices of those in the great and spacious building to interrupt the joy of partaking of the sought-after fruit. As a result of this distraction, they left the fruit of the tree of life, then wandered off into strange paths and were lost.

The Lord won’t force us to choose happiness. It is always our choice.

Alma’s Analogy

Later on in the Book of Mormon, Alma taught the people about faith. He compared faith to a seed. Often, we think of this story solely as a story of faith, but it is so much more than that!

The seed of faith will eventually sprout, and if we nourish it, it will turn into a tree that produces fruit. Alma describes the fruit:

“the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.” – Alma 32:42

Does this fruit sound familiar???

The sermon given by Alma is basically amazing. There is one part that especially struck me this time:

“And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.” – Alma 32:40, emphasis added

Looking forward with an eye of faith is the real way to one day partake of the fruit of the tree of life. This is the way that we will be able to make it through the mists of darkness. Having an eye of faith will help us to discern that the taunts of those in the great and spacious building are nothing but lies. We won’t be overwhelmed or distracted when we keep our eye on the prize: the fruit of the tree of life.

I struggle with this at times. I’m not the best at visualizing or imagining my success. I just think, “geez, I hope…” and then proceed with naivete. But the thing is, I realize that won’t be enough to get me to the tree of life. I want to partake of this fruit. It is the most difficult thing that any of us will ever do. It requires constant attention and effort. And, at this point in my life, I can see how we get burned out. I can see how, if we don’t have this vision in our hearts, then we can be overcome by the constant barrage of Satan’s temptations and distractions. We have to be able to envision this fruit if we want to someday experience it.

***
What have you learned about Joy through the symbol of the fruit of the tree of life?

Joy and Thanksgiving Scripture Study Series

A few years ago, I created my first ever Scripture Study Series – about Joy and Thanksgiving.

Study along with me!
Study along with me!

I’ve been thinking about both joy and thanksgiving a lot lately. Of course, this is the season to think of gratitude and giving thanks. (I love this time of year). Additionally, joy and happiness have felt elusive to me lately. I feel snatches of happiness, then there are times when I feel a bit depressed. It is the perfect time for me to remember that happiness is a choice and that through the scriptures I can be instructed on how to choose joy and gratitude.

So, I’m going to complete this scripture study series again. You can download all of the assignments here:

I will be blogging some of my own thoughts throughout the next two weeks. If you start this Scripture Study Series tomorrow, then it will be done by Thanksgiving!

I hope you enjoy it!

Have I Done Any Good? Journaling Idea

I don’t know about you, but for me there are days when I struggle. I mean, really, I struggle.

One
I feel simultaneously over-and-under-whelmed. There is so much for me to do. I’ve got normal chores like laundry, dishes, bathrooms, tidying up the house, cleaning kids rooms, watering the plants, etc. Then there are other chores that ought to be done: organizing closets, cleaning drawers, dusting shelves and blinds, straightening up my garage. And then there are the chores that I’d really like to do: painting my house, putting some tile in the threshold between my bathroom and bedroom (right now, it is just a gap that’s about a 1’x3′ of nothing. Exposed carpet padding and floor. Really attractive), starting a garden.

So far, that’s just the chores. Then there’s exercise, prayer, scripture study, journaling, spending time with kids, making photo albums, blogging, writing, practicing the piano, getting my sunbeam lesson ready, making dinner.

Then there are these goals that I’d really like to do – paint, learn to surf, learn Italian, learn French. Write a book for my brother. Finish my New Testament Study Companions. Finish my brother’s quilt.

Are you feeling overwhelmed yet?

And then, there’s the under-whelmed feeling. I mean, I’m not a single mom anymore. I don’t have to work and support my family anymore. I have a husband who provides me with an excellent life. I have the luxury to get bored. I have the luxury to drop everything and bake cookies. I can make the choice to waste a good half hour on Pinterest without getting into much “trouble”. I don’t have to get dressed up or even shower if I don’t want to. I don’t even have to leave my house. On the other hand, I can spend the day out – doing errands, going to the gym. Whatever. I have a lot of freedom in my life. And I truly know that I’m blessed. This freedom, this lack of accountability on my duties can feel a little “under-whelming”. I mean, who cares about me and my life? I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck.

Two
Another source of “struggling” for me–as of late–has been a little bit of “loneliness.” I’ve moved a lot in the last few years. While the moves have been for the better, moving so much makes it hard to make good, close friendships. I’ve meet friendly people everywhere I’ve lived, but it’s hard when we’re moving around so often. You know how it is.

While I’m not overly extroverted, I’m also not really introverted. In the tests I take, I always find myself right in the middle. In some ways, this sounds nice. But what it means to me is that I need balance. Too much stimulation with friends and activities, and I go crazy. Not enough…and I go crazy. Sure, I have kids, but you know that it isn’t the same as adult conversation. I start to feel a little lonely, and then I’m left by myself with my thoughts, which-when I’m feeling overwhelmed/underwhelmed-aren’t really good thoughts.

Three
I have discovered that I have really negative “mental tapes.” Mental tapes are the things that we say to ourselves over and over again. Often, they are created when we are children…My mental tapes usually have to do with how I’m a failure, and, therefore, worthless. I know that this is a lie, but still seem to say them a lot.

So…when the balance in my life is just right – when I’m neither too over or underwhelmed; or when I’m stimulated but not over-stimulated, then things are great. But how often are life’s conditions “perfect”? Even when things haven’t been “perfect” in life, I’ve been able to at least keep some things in “control.” Either I’m so overwhelmed that I don’t have time to feel “underwhelmed” and bored. Or, I have friends, and then can spend more time ignoring how I’m feeling. In any case, I’m usually able to “control” my feelings by ignoring them and paying attention to some other pressing need.

Right now, because of the aforementioned conditions One and Two, I find myself exposed to these negative mental tapes that I’ve been able to control/hide for a long time. The thing is, they are getting the best of me. It might sound absurd, but it happening. In some ways, I hate myself for feeling so down in the dumps and frustrated with myself when life is so good. In other ways, I’m realizing that this “down time” in life is a good time for me to do a true reckoning of my Spirit. I’m beginning to see that I need to address the mental tapes I have and the underlying factors causing them.

***
Well, I have been praying for help, and since my mental tapes have a lot to do with failure/worthlessness, I realized that I need to do a better accounting of the good I do. But I didn’t really have my finger on what it was that I wanted to do.

A while later, I was listening to an past conference talk by Elder M. Russell Ballard – Be Anxiously Engaged and I was struck by the idea of being able to answer yes to the question: “Have I done any good in the world today?” I knew that even though I wasn’t going out and feeding thousands of hungry orphans, I was doing good every day. I had a feeling that I needed to do a better job recognizing it.

Finally, I came across the following quote on managing our “vexing feelings of inadequacy”:

“We can make quiet by more honest inventories of our strengths. Most of us are dishonest bookkeepers and need confirming ‘outside auditors.’ He who in the first estate was thrust down delights in having us put ourselves down. Self contempt is of Satan; there is none of it heaven.” – Neal A. Maxwell (quoted in Weakness is Not a Sin, by Wendy Ulrich, emphasis added.)

This was Me exactly!!! I realized, I’m not a honest bookkeeper. I let Satan influence my thoughts via deeply trenched negative mental tapes. Self contempt!? Try self-loathing! And of course it’s of Satan. When I get on the self-contempt/loathing train, I’m ineffective, sad, and moody. When it gets really bad, I’ll feel so discouraged about all of my goals/expectations that I’ll often do things that will have obvious and direct negative effects. For example, if I’m feeling really upset about my weight, I’ll start to get so down about it, I figure that the only thing left to do is eat a bunch of cake. Which, as you know, ends up making the problem worse. It’s a cycle. A pretty stupid cycle, but I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who does stuff like this.

***
So – on to the point of this whole blog post…

Have I done Any Good Journal Idea

Journaling Idea
Journaling Idea

I decided that I needed to become a better “bookkeeper.” I bought myself a cute journal, and have dedicated it to recording the good I’ve done every day. Every night, I ask myself, Have I done any good in the world today? And I mean this question in it’s simplest sense. I don’t mean to ask myself if I’ve done something that someone else would consider “service.” I mean good. Have I done any good??? And the thing is, usually the answer is yes. For most of us, usually the answer is a loud yes. Yes, I’ve done some good! Yes, you’ve done some good! But most of us don’t usually take the time to recognize the good. We don’t usually take the time to feel the happiness that comes as a bi-product of doing good. Instead, it is so easy to focus on all of the good things that “we haven’t done” yet. I might have done 1,000,000 things, but if there is something I haven’t done, I focus on that one undone thing so much that I end up convincing myself that I’m worthless because I’m not perfect. (What a lie!!!)

So…it’s time to change mental tapes. It’s time to be an honest bookkeeper. It’s time to be like the virtuous woman – who

“perceiveth that her merchandise is good:” – Proverbs 31:18

Or like the Lord who

“saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31

As I’ve begun writing this journal each night, I’ve noticed that I’m able to take greater joy in even what seems mundane.

Have I done any good? Yes. I changed diapers. Imagine what the life of my little one would be like if I hadn’t. I’m doing something that is pretty much despicable. All because there is a little boy who needs my help. He can’t thank me. He fights me the whole time I change him. Yet faithfully, I change his diaper. It may not seem like a big deal, but this is service. I’m serving one of God’s children, and even though it isn’t glamorous in the least, I can take joy in the fact that I’ve dedicated a part of my day doing something that is literally crappy. I can take joy in the fact that Heavenly Father is pleased with my offering to Him, no matter how simple it is.

I’m noticing that when I take time to perceive that what I’m doing is good, then I’m happier. I notice that I’m not failing, but truly helping to build God’s kingdom in the way that I’m capable of doing. And that what I’m offering is good. I add value and I have value. When I take time to recognize my worth, I begin to feel it, too.

So…if you’re in a bit of a “rut”…try out the Have I Done Any Good? Journal idea. Let me know how it goes, too!