Tag: Christianity

Good Deeds for Show?

ice bucket

Recently the internet was all abuzz with the ALS ice bucket challenge.  Fortunately people took pity on me with my injury and did not challenge me but I fully support the cause and making a donation to ALS for their non-embryonic stem cell research to try and thwart the horrible illness that is ALS.

Of course with any big movement you have the companion backlash, which to be honest kind of bums me out.  The internet is used for bad things so often that why pick apart people who are part of a movement that has done good things and at worst are having fun with water?

But one part of the criticism has kept me wondering for a few weeks.  Some have said people are only doing something good so they can look like a good person.  While I think that is a pretty cynical attitude to be taking (everyone I know who did it genuinely wanted to have fun and spread awareness, be part of something bigger than yourself) I’m sure it applies to some who just want attention.

But is attention for doing something good, or being a good person, a bad thing? If we look at scriptures it is a little confusing.  Jesus did many of his acts of service in large crowds with onlookers and observers noticing his goodness and even becoming converted as a result.  As a missionary I wore my calling on my tag and went out proclaiming the gospel.  There was no attempt to hide the good message I believed in.

Jesus often had large crowds to teach too
Jesus often had large crowds to teach too

But the scriptures also teach us to not moan over our fastings and sacraments to ‘be seen of men’.  Those ‘have their reward’.  So we are to proclaim goodness and serve but not be doing it for that reward.  Such problem motives are easy to see in ourselves but I would be extremely hesitant to judge anyone else in that regard.

And what about movements? Does that lessen the impact whether public or not if lots of people are doing it?   Is the first person who did the ice bucket challenge a better person than the one millionth?   Does something’s goodness get lessened because ‘so and so challenged me, and I’m challenging her’? Is that the equivalent of a french pastry that starts out beautiful but the more hands it touches the more distasteful it becomes?

While the message certainly gets diluted, I don’t think it is so much so that it turns from a good thing to a bad thing.  It’s just a good thing that took a little bit longer to get to some than others.

christian_community_your_spiritual_service

I had an interesting experience in college.  For years from high school until my mission I seemed to always be in put in charge of running sub-4-santa programs whether it was for church, choir or school organizations.

One year we were assigned a latino family that lived in a small basement apartment.  We sacrificed and gave them the best Christmas we could and gathered to give the presents and set up their tree. When we arrived at the small apartment the mother had made tamales (which are like my favorite thing!) and we had such a wonderful time.  She had given of herself and so had we.  It was a perfect Christmas moment.

That is why the next year I was so surprised when I shared the story with my co-chair and he looked very skeptically at me and said he would rather drop the items off anonymously.  He felt there was less value in the giving when a ‘big to do’ was made of it.  I remember it stinging a little bit because I felt he was calling into question the wonderful experience we had all had (much like the ALS critics).  So, we did it anonymously that year and you know what it was a forgettable experience.

Maybe it is more noble to serve anonymously without any public acknowledgment but if it is forgettable and doesn’t bond you with other humans I’m not sure?  Plus nobody is encouraged to pass the service on when it is boring. At least most of us need a little enthusiasm and sentimentality to get motivated to serve.

The-best-way-to-find-yourself-is-to-lose-yourself-in-the-service-of-others.-Gandhi-quote

The other aspect to the ice bucket challenge is to remember that the internet at it’s best is a massive community.  And really communities have been part of collectively doing good things together since the idea of community.

ECCFPD-Pancake-Breakfast

Think of your typical pancake breakfast to help a church or a firehouse.  You are going to tell me that everyone there is attending for noble purposes? No just like with the ice bucket challenge some are attending to look good to others, some to socialize, some to eat, laugh, and some to encourage others to support the firehouse.  All those reasons besides the eating can be seen in why people poured ice over their head online.

You could make the argument that nobody makes money off of going to a pancake breakfast; however, the number of people who make serious money on youtube are very small. So the idea that even celebrities are posting ice bucket videos to draw attention and make money for themselves and not the cause is pretty far fetched.

What about 5k runs that people participate in for a variety of reasons not just the cause?  That’s still a good thing they are doing even if it isn’t a primary motivator.  Would I be better off running by myself and donating in private?  I don’t think so.

Turkey Trot for food bank
Turkey Trot for food bank

Some say they just want to show off how good of a person they are.  Well, again given all of the ways people show off how bad a person they are is that such a bad thing?  How pleasant was it for about a week to have TMZ and E! gawkers talking about something good and not rehabs, overdoses and fashion disasters.

I think it is also easy to call into question the motives of people we don’t know, especially if they are famous, while defending those we do.  It’s the same reason why most people like and trust their local congressman or woman and yet are very cynical and critical of Congress as a whole.  It’d be nice if we could give everyone the benefit of the doubt especially when what they are doing doesn’t hurt anyone or cost anyone anything.

To me it was very discouraging to look at videos and see tons of scathing comments full of criticisms of motives, wasting water and a million other flaws.  Criticizing the movement as a whole is one thing but individuals who are trying in their mind to do something good it bums me out.

Charlie Sheen did a video where he dumped $10,000 over his head to show he was giving money vs just water.  I am not a fan of Sheen but I thought it was cool but of course a million commenters (why I don’t normally read comments) said it wasn’t enough money or that he was a hypocrite, jerk, moron etc.  Sigh…

So what does all this rambling mean?  I don’t know.  I’ve been thinking about this topic in my scripture study for weeks and have found evidence on both sides.  Some scriptures seem to say to avoid large proclamations and others condemn those who hide their talents (or testimonies) under a bushel.

I certainly don’t think something is inherently less valuable because it is part of a movement or publicized.  If that was the case no major religion would have value because they have always been part of large movements and publicized.

I guess in the end I prefer to be positive and assume the best of intentions.  I choose to see the videos and smile and I would challenge you to as well.  So what if a tiny minority is doing it solely for appearances.  You can’t control others motivations. Look for the best in people and move on and even if it is for show it is something for show that did something good; whereas, a million other movements like gangnam style dance videos, were merely for fun (which has value).

And finally if you don’t like a movement nobody is forcing you to watch videos.  Just make your donation in private and move on.

So that is my ramblings.  What do you think?  Is doing good publicly better or do you agree with my old college co-chair it is better to be private, anonymous and humbly serve?

And if you don’t think it did any actual good take a look at this

als

Blessings

Recently on pandora I came across my new favorite song.  Its written by a singer Laura Story who is a grammy nominated christian contemporary singer.   She describes writing the song:

“Blessings is just a bunch of songs about worshiping when life is hard”. Her husband Martin Elvington was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and she wondered “Why didn’t you just fix it, God? You’re all powerful and all loving… just fix it.” Later after mentioning her desire to return back to normal, her sister said “You know, I think the detour is actually the road.” She realized that “Spending time with [husband] Martin obviously makes me happy, but it makes me a better person. That’s the blessing of it”

Why didn’t you just fix it, God?  Why does it seem hard to get an answer when I’m trying?  Why is the answer no when I want it so bad?  Where are you?  All of those questions are felt by every believer from time to time.  I’ve even known people who let these questions take away the faith they do have.  Can’t they see that God does not weak Saints?  He wants us to be stronger than the greatest trials, even cancer in the case of Laura.

Here are the lyrics.  I love it so much:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

I certainly haven’t experienced the trials of some but the one’s I’ve had were still hard for me.  I love the line ‘what if the greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy’.  I get choked up a little when I sing that line.  The aching of this life is to reveal a greater thirst for everlasting glory . How beautiful is that?

I also love “When friends betray us. When darkness seems to win. We know that pain reminds this heart. That this is not, This is not our home It’s not our home”   Who has not felt betrayed and darkness seeming to win?  The pain does remind us that this is not our home, that God wants us to come back to him.  He loves us more than we will ever know.  Enough to give us ‘a thousand sleepless nights’.   He doesn’t want us to believe only when it is convenient.  He wants us to believe when it is hard.  That’s why faith is so powerful.

I love CS Lewis’ take on this concept “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”

I just wish everyone could believe and get through the tough times.  It’s so worth it.

Anyway, I don’t wish to preach to you but I just love this song.  I made a weak attempt to sing it.  Here you go.

https://smilingldsgirl.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/2013-07-17-12_35_41.mp3

Here is the real deal.  Laura Story Blessings

Mormonism and Pain

judaskiss

Last night I had a spirited discussion on twitter about trials.  The statement was made “In the present, we call them trials; in the future we will call them tender mercies of The Lord.” .  I took issue with the statement because trials are still trials even if they serve a noble purpose in the end.  To me calling them tender mercies from the Lord is like giving people permission to cause pain because in the end the Lord uses it to do good.  As my old seminary teacher used to say

‘Judas is not off the hook’. 

I actually heard someone argue once that rape victims should be grateful for their experience because it made them strong and turn to the Lord.  The person last night was not inferring this but isn’t it a necessary stretch of the argument that if trials are truly blessings from the Lord than when we are victimized (the worst kind of trial) it is secretly a blessing and we should be grateful for it.

No! Now, we shouldn’t be bitter and allow it to control our life but call evil, evil, call trials, trials and be grateful for the Lord helping you through the evil and the trials. Just because you are able to clean dirty clothes does not mean the dirt didn’t exist!

This goes to the question of forgiving and forgetting- a question of much debate in the church, can you really forget?  Some claim that through the atonement you can forget sins and move on.  I’d say you can forget the pain but not the event itself.  We are humans and I don’t see how you can just erase such trauma from your mind and I have about as intimate and close a relationship with Jesus Christ of anyone I know.  So far no forgetting but the pain is lessened.

In fact, I have found that those moments of pain are sometimes the most clear, the most distinct of my life.  I’ve always found it ironic that the memories of being bullied and harassed as a child are clear as day in my mind but the happy times like Christmases and family vacations are a blur.  Why is that?  Why do we remember the tough times so clearly and not the good?  I’m not sure.

In any case, I have not been able to forget my pain; nor, do I necessarily want to.  I learned a lot of hard lessons through God’s walking me through the pain.  I grew close to Him as He helped me see the higher purpose and that I was loved by Him.  Does that mean he sent down the bullies so that I would be close to Him?  Of course not!  Judas is not off the hook and neither are the bullies or rapists or whatever hurts us in this life!

Perhaps we cannot forgive and forget because time does not stand still and we can forever live with effects of even repented sin.

The reason I wanted to title this post Mormonism and Pain is I thought I might explain why some things seem to be particularly painful to Mormons compared to other Christians.  You see, we believe in an eternal growth cycle.  We believe the things we do here on this earth have eternal consequences and that a mistake now while always redeemable still can have eternal results.

For example, I met a family on my mission who years before decided that paying tithing was too hard and fallen away from the church.  Eventually they came back to full fellowship and restored their temple covenants, which was great, but it could not take away years of inactivity when they were raising their children.

In addition, the family found no suitable replacement for teaching their children right and wrong (as many who leave Mormonism are able to do quite successfully) so they were without much of a moral compass and certainly far away from the teachings of the church.  Zoom ahead to the present and the children are way off track with prison sentences and illegitimate pregnancies as examples. So, yes they came back to Jesus and His grace, which is fabulous but their eternal family could be forever damaged because of choices they had already made. They cannot after all raise their children over again. It is that eternal gravity that can make us sad.

Another example can be seen in marriage. While divorce is never a pleasant experience for anyone of any faith or persuasion, think of the added pressure for Mormons where an eternal family is being dissolved.   Even a break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend can be all the more devastating because for at least a moment the individuals involved could see them as part of an eternal union.  When things don’t work out its brutal because of the potential.  Of course, when they do the eternal covenants make things all the more sweet and happy but there is that darker, more morose flip side to our beliefs.

So, when you scratch your head and wonder ‘Why are they making such a big deal over this?’  Remember that for Mormons we are seeing things through a longer and larger telescope than you.  To us, we can see eternity and have it as our goal.  There is nothing more important to a Mormon than eternal families but that is not a guarantee.  Human action does affect whether we will be with our loved one’s again.  The song after all says ‘families can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s plan’. Pain and trials are an essential part of getting there but still more weighty than just a ‘hard time that will pass by’ especially when they are the result of sins, whether our own or sins of others that can, even if repented and forgiven, have eternal ramifications.

We also believe in covenants made on earth have massive importance.  In fact, they can only be made here or via proxy.  That’s how important our behavior and life on earth is to Mormon theology.  Mortality really matters, and the behaviors of human beings can have consequences for forever which can make us feel an eternal sadness (and joy!), and the sadness is sometimes shared even by God Himself:

Moses 7: 28-33 (this doesn’t sound like a God who is glad for trials/sadness of his people)

28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the aresidue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?

 29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst aweep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?

 30 And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of aearths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy bcreations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever;

 31 And thou hast taken aZion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace, bjustice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst cweep?

 32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own ahands, and I gave unto them their bknowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his cagency;

 33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should alove one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they bhate their own blood;

btw- I’m not necessarily saying this pain is right or wrong, it just is, and so if you puzzle at why certain things are so painful for your Mormon friends this is the lens that many I know are looking through.  Just thought that might give a little empathy when you see the tears! Thanks

https://smilingldsgirl.com/2013/04/01/a-god-who-weeps/

Knowing in Your Heart

My awesome friend Adrienne has just started a blog about her experiences coming back to the Mormon church in a unique way. http://agnosticmormonmom.blogspot.com/

Her thoughts about creating a ‘hope testimony’ made me think about how I have reconciled the same issues for myself.  I love that she has found a happy solution in her life and am totally inspired by her efforts, and it made think about me and my own unique internal struggle to believe.

I suppose it is easy to think on such things when tragedy strikes as it did today in Boston.  My friend Tracy, frequent commenter on this blog, was racing and even though I don’t know her well I felt great concern for her safety.  It just made it all feel more real to know someone there.  It also struck home because I participate in group sporting events all the time.   Each time I enter a masters meet or a marathon swim I put my trust in strangers.  I hope that goodness and a spirit of friendly competition will prevail and thankfully it always has.

Anyway, back to my own reconciliation of faith.  Here’s how I feel.  There are some things I know in my mind and some things I know in my heart.  I know that 2+2=4 in my mind.  That is a truth.   I know that my name is Rachel Wagner and that my parents are John and Jane.  I know any number of facts and data.  I also know that gravity is a true principle.  I know that being a good listener is important to relationships.  There are a lot of things I know in my mind and many more things that I need to learn.

Then there are things I know in my heart.  I know my parents love me because I have felt it in my heart.  I know that good and evil exist because I have felt the presence of both in my soul or heart. I know when something is just and also unjust.  I can’t explain it but I know. I know that my Heavenly Father lives and loves me because I have felt it in my heart.

Do I have any proof of this?  Yes, the proof is in my heart.  That is not proof I can transfer to another individual easily but it is nevertheless truth (why the righteous virgins could not give their lamp oil to another.  They could just as easily rip out their hearts).  That is the reason I can say I ‘know the church is true’.  Not because of data or statistics.  It’s because I know it in my heart.  I have felt it again and again and living its principles has always left me with a confirmation in my heart.

Do I blame people for not believing?  No.  I think they all can have this same confirmation, but it takes a sincere and willing heart coupled with the correct timing of God. As Moroni says “ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.  ”  He is not talking about a worldly manifestation.  Such data and facts are not the kind of thing that can stabilize a life.  They can often be disproven and explained away with the next passing fad.  Knowledge in your heart is a different story.

It can be a concept that is  is hard to explain.  All I can say is I know the gospel is true in my heart.  I got a witness when I was a young girl and it has never steered me wrong or abandoned me.  It has always been in my pocket for hard times.  I know in my heart that President Monson is a prophet and that God reveals his promises to all of his children in all eras. I know in my heart that families can be eternal and that covenants are real.  I know in my heart that the priesthood is real and direct authority from Christ.

That’s what makes sense to me. So you can tell me all kinds of data about Joseph Smith, Church history, or the Book of Mormon and it does not matter because such data is not what my testimony is about.  (and yes I’ve heard it ALL before). The Book of Mormon could be based on a cartoon and I wouldn’t care.  My testimony is not about any of the data.  Its a truth from the heart.

I believe this is even true for God.  He knows how weak and frail we are.  He has all that data of every moment that we reject Him; yet His heart loves anyway.   This is why I have always thought of a testimony as a relationship with God.  Just as relationships with humans ebb and flow so does our relationship with God.  Relationships are not based on data but on the heart. Data also has finite limits; whereas, a relationship can always be better, stronger, more in-depth and close.

I would challenge all of you to think about how you know or do not know and how life makes sense for you?  Have the integrity to write it out and  share it.  There is no judgment here- Merely a process of figuring out this crazy thing called mortality.  Maybe I can learn something from you, and you learn something from me?  Maybe we can learn something in our minds and hearts?

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love” Ephesians 3:17.

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” Collossians 3:15

jesus-christ-mormon

PS. I think it goes without saying that my thoughts and prayers go out to the city of Boston, all the runners and all affected by the tragedy.

Some of my other religious posts

https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/a-god-who-weeps/

https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/sacrament-meeting-talk-developing-a-relationship-with-god/

https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/an-original-expression-of-faith/

Looking Back

So life has been a bit challenging for me lately.  Healthwise, painwise and otherwise.  I just spent most of my day today getting blood drawn and xrays done to try and determine why I am still having so much pain in my ribcage area.  Plus, there is the issue of my looming surgery on my eye and everything else.

I have decided all of the stresses in my life are out of my control.  The only thing I can control is my response.  Working on that.

I started to think about my life and particularly my teen years.  I’ve mentioned those times many times on this blog.  They were time I relate too because in like your 30s, your teens don’t have a specific job to do but get older.  Both times have brought significant health and family challenges and been introspective.

Sometimes I bet you wonder- was the teen Rachel really the girl she describes- itching to be independent and free, insecure and confident at the same time?  I was just reading over my high school journal and if anything I’ve toned it down a notch.  I was a great person!  I really believed in things and I wanted so much out of myself.  I still do. Here are some highlights:

“I wish I was more forthright.  Oh well! That’s something I can work on”  October 19,1998.  (I think I’ve worked that one out- what do you think? 🙂 )

“I love late night chats with Mom and Meg.  We talked about high school and the kids we knew with problems and why we were different.”  October 22, 1998.  (Good parenting in my book!)

“I have been accepted.  I am so excited! I started to scream and weep when I read the exciting first words ‘we are delighted to inform you…’  I have never been so thrilled, relieved and satisfied, at the same time.  For once in my life all my hard work has paid off.  I was always somehow disappointed but this time I was not to be thwarted!” Feb 16, 1999

“Maybe my brother and sister are right.  Maybe different is better.  It certainly is far less stressful…” March 1, 1999

“I’m just ready to go.  I’m sick of waiting around.  I’m ready to be on my own away from my family.  I love my family but I just want to be able to control my own life and do what I want to do when I want to do it.  I’m sick of always being tied down by little kids…” March 8, 1999

“I feel worn out and yet there is still so much to be done that I do not feel justified in my fatigue…” March 20, 1999

“I was once asked in class if I could meet anyone who would it be? My answer was decidedly sure. I’d meet Jesus.  There is no one who has done more for me and for all mankind and I am so thankful” April 2, 1999

“Today marks under one month until I go away to school.  I am so excited.  Finally my dream is coming true. Finally I have achieved something in my life that I really wanted. I never thought I would be able to go to BYU.  I always thought I was too stupid for that.  But surprise, I’m not.” May 21, 1999 (You know Sue on the Middle?  That was totally me.  I never made anything I tried out for until BYU).

“I am grateful for My Savior and the sacrifice He made for me.  I am thankful that he was born on Christmas morning with the sole purpose to save my soul.  Christ is the light and moral compass of my life and I love Him with all my heart.  I pray that I will always look to Him for everything.” December 25, 1999

“I hope when I’m reading this 30 years from now I will be able to say ‘Rachel goes into any situation undaunted and unafraid of the unpaved way that lies before her”  (Still got like 16 years to work on that)

More quotes to come but got to work tonight!

I Fought Satan

“I often laugh at Satan, and there is nothing that makes him so angry as when I attack him to his face, and tell him that through God I am more than a match for him”  Martin Luther.

I promise this will be my last religious post for a little while.  I’m afraid I’ve had that subject on my mind of late.  The title of this post refers to an experience from my mission.  One of my companions struggled to learn the missionary lessons and remember when it was her time to share with investigators.  To mitigate this problem I developed lessons using large art posters produced by the church.  When she saw her picture she knew it was time to speak.

To get more practice we gave the lesson to members as a family home evening presentation.  At the time there was a great family called the Bolin’s that had an energetic son named Wilhamayus (not sure if I spelled that right).  He was so excited about the gospel and loved watching church movies and reading the scriptures.

One day we decided to practice our lesson for Wilhamayus and his family and they were excited as usual.  When we got to the Joseph Smith picture he looked at it and said without missing a beat- ‘That’s Joseph Smith.  He fought Satan”.

What he was referring to was the feeling the Prophet Joseph got before having what we refer to as the First Vision.  He talks about being overcome by an evil spirit, of an actual being trying to prevent him from conversing with God.  We believe Joseph persevered, clinging to God, eventually seeing God the Father and Jesus Christ.

I was thinking about Wilhamayus’ statement “He fought Satan” this week.  Because of some personal challenges, particularly the constant struggle of my health, I’ve been feeling a little blue.  At one moment I felt almost overcome by a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair.  My world felt out of control and there is nothing I hate more than that.  I felt angry, upset and frustrated.

Trying to find relief I opened my scriptures and read Joseph’s story.  Then I had an ‘ah ha’ moment. I realized Satan is trying to get me down.  He knows I have power to make a difference in the world, and he doesn’t want that.  He wants me to be unhappy and even angry.  He wants to thwart my legacy and leave me bitter and resentful.  He wants me to focus on what I don’t have, instead of my many blessings.

Closing my scriptures I realized “I fought Satan”.  I fought Satan that day when I turned to my scriptures and I fight him every time I decide to follow Christ. Everyday that I make a good choice, a choice to be happy, to serve others, to obey God’s laws, I fight Satan.  We all do.  Every good choice we make is a victory in the war against Satan and his minions.

I had thought about my own weakness and the power of Satan many times but never quite in this way.  That he knows my frailty and will try to use it against me to help his cause.  He knows when I feel blue it is more difficult for me to serve God and feel the Holy Spirit.  He knows this and monopolizes it.

Since that moment of clarity I’ve had passing thoughts of sadness and loneliness but each time I said to myself ‘Satan, you aren’t going to win. No, not this time.  Get out of my head’.  As I’ve prayed and relied on God, I have felt my Heavenly Father’s presence stronger than ever.

Will I have bad days, sad days? Of course, and perhaps a certain degree of self-recognition is healthy (we don’t want to hold everything inside or be a doormat); however, it is a spot if left unchecked that Satan can use to reduce my happiness and my effectiveness in spreading God’s word.  I know that now and I’m on the watch for it!

It’s like CS Lewis said “there is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan”

One more C.S. Lewis quote “The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather for the devil.”  So true!

Remember that you can be a warrior for Christ and this will not only make the world a better place but immeasurably increase your personal happiness.

I know this is true!

PS.  Whoever sent me the valentines flowers- thanks! It made my day!

Empathy vs Sympathy

Empathy is understood as the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others without them being directly communicated intentionally.

Sympathy is a feeling of care and understanding for suffering beings.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this.

Recently I’ve had some trials which I can’t get into but which have been tough for me to absorb.  Being single I have leaned more on my friends than ever before.  What has amazed me the most is the empathy I’ve felt.  Not just sympathy (a feeling of caring) but empathy, someone truly experiencing my thoughts, emotions and experiences.  Is there a greater gift we can give than empathy?  The hard times in life are almost always made harder by their accompanying loneliness.

What’s really impressed me is people that I thought for sure would not understand how I feel, have been amazingly empathetic. Having empathy allows you to focus on the feelings of others and less on the situation at hand. You could in fact think the person is quite wrong and behaving incorrectly but with empathy you are focusing on how they feel, what thoughts are in their heart.   Seeing all the empathy given me of late, makes me want to improve that virtue in my own life. Not just be sympathetic but empathetic as well.

When you are single I think it is easier than ever to feel lonely and that nobody understands.   You have no ready companion to share your thoughts with and this can be lonely.  Thank goodness God has given me great friends who never let me feel alone that long.

I remember when I was so unhappy at my old job.  Every day I would come home angry, resentful, depressed, and frustrated and it felt like there was a dark cloud over my life.   Some people would have a hard time even sympathizing with my situation let alone empathizing with it.  I had a good job in a tough economy.  I worked with some nice people.  I made enough money to support myself and go to school.  I was healthy, had great friends, and a faith to lean on.  Indeed there were plenty of things to be happy about and I did my best to feel those things.

But still the problem persisted.  The sadness persisted. The anger persisted. I held it all inside (didn’t have a blog back then… 🙂 )

There were many people who showed true empathy during this time but one person sticks out.  At the time I was working at the Mt.  Timpanogas temple.  Working at the temple met so much to me and gave me such relief, but I felt conflicted.  How could I work at the temple when everyday I felt anger and resentment towards this boss.  Each day I thought I’d forgiven her and then she would find a way to rewound me.   Her disdain and criticism were unyielding- almost never giving me a chance to see her in a kinder way.

Anyway, I felt guilty for serving in the temple and feeling this way.  I decided I would have to quit because I wasn’t worthy enough.  I made an appointment with the Temple Matron (kind of the lead woman in the temple) and we chatted.  I told her how I was feeling.  She gave me some wise advice:

“The temple is not for perfect people.  The temple is for perfecting the people”.

I’ve thought about that a lot over the years.  That life is not for perfect people, its for perfecting people.  Trials are not for perfect people, its for perfecting people.  Change is not for perfect people, its for perfecting people.

The knowledge that I can work through trials and sins in my own imperfect way is so comforting.  That working through feelings and forgiveness did not make me unworthy.  It meant I was trying and that’s all we can do.  There may be instances where nobody in the world can empathize with how I really feel.  That is when I turn to Jesus Christ and He can perfectly empathize because he has felt it and believes in me perfectly.

I’m so grateful for all those that have empathized or sympathized with me.  I am so not perfect and I wish I responded perfectly to every challenge but God knows the intent of my heart.  He knows that I want to do the right thing.  He also knows the pain of my heart and even as with hating my job it might not make any sense to the world, it makes sense to him.  I started a relationship with God as my father when I was 14 and He has never abandoned me.  He has taught me, answered my questions and led me through every trial.

I like this definition of empathy by Marvin J.  Ashton, especially the last part.  I’m working on this:

“empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings and to feel what he feels. Meaningful help can never be given without empathy for the recipient. This requires gaining the confidence of the person; listening with eyes, ears, and heart; trying to comprehend how this person feels; and then letting him know by your personal performance that you really understand. One who really understands and practices empathy doesn’t solve another’s problems, doesn’t argue, doesn’t top his story, make accusations, or take away free agency. He merely helps the person build his self-reliance and self-image so he can try to find his own solutions.”

Aren’t the people who treat you that way just the best? Doesn’t it mean everything just to feel that someone understands?  I know when I was sad with my job it meant everything that someone would try to see things from my perspective. This was much better than any advice I got. Being understood by God is great but being understood by the world is also wonderful.

Anyway, I hope I can try to be more empathetic with those around me.  To see things as they see them.  To listen more and be more observant of their needs.   To experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others.  That is my new goal.