This section is about your favorite topic...you!
There comes a time in our lives when we first realize we're not the center of the universe. It's part of growing up.
Instead, other things vie for our attention. School, dates, work, marriage, kids, finances, health concerns and more begin to take precedence. Other things may, too, like spending time on the internet, chatting with friends online, traveling and sports.
What do all those things (above) have in common? You!
In fact, when you go about your day, you subconsciously tell yourself a story about what’s happening...and at the center of that narrative is a single person. You guessed it: You!
When you talk to yourself about how so-and-so is inconsiderate or treated you badly, or when you tell yourself that it’s OK to procrastinate because you're tired and not in the mood, you're the star of this movie. It’s an ongoing story about your life and everything around you, with you at the center.
Invariably, challenges arise from this self-centered view of the world:
- You may interpret other people’s actions as they relate to you, so that you perceive others are either helping or harming you...giving you what you want or getting in the way of what you want. But their actions aren’t really about you; instead, their actions may stem from their being in the center of their own stories. When we interpret their self-centered actions through the lenses of our own self-centered views, the actions often make no sense, and frustrate, hurt or infuriate us.
- When someone makes a comment that you take as an attack on something about yourself, you may then feel the need to defend yourself. “I’m a good person,” you think, “and they shouldn’t imply that I’m not.” But this interpretation is just a self-centered way of looking at it. You could also see it as saying something about the other person. And if you try to understand where they’re coming from, instead of seeing what it says about you, then you may find yourself less defensive or offended.
- You interpret everything else around you — from bad traffic to internet comments to how your spouse asks you a question — by thinking about how it affects you. You may think, “This sucks (for me).” But you could also remove yourself from this story, and just see that there are things happening in the world, and be curious about them, try to understand them, and see that they are not about you at all.
But even you must admit that these paradigms can cause problems, inhibit understanding and empathy, and make us unhappy at times.
"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father." (Mosiah 3:19)
The ramifications, the consequences, of staying in this "me-centered" state are profound:
"And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them." (Moses 7:18)Look: we don't have very long -- just a few years -- until the Lord pulls the trigger and accelerates the transformation to a Telestial Kingdom (no, I don't know when everything will happen. But God has been very generous in giving us ample signs in the heavens, the earth and in the scriptures). If you think you can just wait until the crud starts hitting the fan, and then *bing!* you're a saintly, generous person who qualifies for Zion...you're a fool who's only fooling yourself.
You can't be a Zion person by just flipping a switch. You just don't spontaneously prioritize others more than yourself...in your thoughts, your heart and your actions. Not when you haven't been tried and tested over years.
"Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." (Daniel 5:27)You can't be a Zion person, expecting to dwell in righteousness, when you haven't made seeking after righteousness a top priority in your life (see my previous post for more on this).
You can't be a Zion person when you grudgingly help the poor, the homeless, the motherless or fatherless, the widow or widower...or haven't been interested in, or just flatly discredit, them. Your "self" is very likely the thing that stands in the way of expressing true compassion with others.
"That man may last, but never lives
Who much receives, but nothing gives;
Whom none can love, whom none can thank;
Creation's blot, creation's blank."
Thomas Gibbons (1720 - 1785)
"Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld." (D&C 70:14)It just makes sense: if we aren’t equal in temporal things, we won’t experience an abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit. Sometimes I wonder if this isn't the reason why someday there will be "an end of all nations" (D&C 87:2; Jeremiah 30:11) and likely their economies, too; when all of us will be equal in (i.e., have little or no) temporal things, we CAN experience an "abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit" which will, in turn, be necessary to help bring about Zion.
We Gentiles -- you, me, all of us -- are unbelievably proud and haughty. After all we've been given by God -- all the information, all the resources, all the opportunities to ascend -- we choose to make Pokemon a higher priority than Isaiah, Cougar Football a higher priority than seeking spiritual gifts, Game of Thrones a higher priority than actually approaching the Throne of Thrones. Even worse, we justify these behaviors, fully believing that despite our deliberate deviations from God, we're still on good terms with God.
It's no wonder that throughout the scriptures, again and again, we're repeatedly described as being too full of ourselves, prideful, idolatrous, vain, unbelieving, lacking charity and seeking not the Lord nor his counsel (Helaman 12:6).
Therefore, in THE most direct and sober language found in canon, we're condemned as a people, often in ways we are just too prideful ("blind" or "asleep" -- take your pick) to see. We're condemned for not taking the Book of Mormon seriously. And, although I have no revelation to point to, I'd bet many are condemned for not taking their baptismal, sacramental, priesthood and temple covenants seriously. When those individual condemnations are added up, it's not too far a stretch to believe that the condemnations could likely be collective as well.
Whew. The ancient prophets' warnings are so loud and so consistent, in messages directed like laser beams at us, today, that we have almost become desensitized to one inescapable conclusion: we, collectively, ARE the salt that has lost its savour.
"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men." (Matthew 5:13)
THAT, I believe, is THE reason why we often do not, and cannot, hear Him.
"O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!
Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!
Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth." (Helaman 12:4-7)
A story is told of a young man who was very blessed in his life. Although he lived away from his home (he had just graduated from college), he had a nice job, nice friends, a fiancee, a nice place to live, terrific health and was well respected in his church calling. He was very happy.
Then, unexpectedly, each of those blessings were taken away from him. Over the course of two weeks, he went from having it all to losing it all. Even more frustrating: it was of no fault of his own.
One night, he was laying down, contemplating how he was left with practically nothing. He felt like his life had hit rock bottom. Amidst streaming tears, he cried out into the darkness, "Oh God, I feel like I almost have nothing. All I have left is you. You're all I've got. You've said you won't leave me comfortless, and that you'll come to me (John 14:18). So, I trust you. I trust you'll deliver on your promise. So, I'll wait until you do."
Then came the test. The young man sensed no words popping into his mind. He fell asleep. He awoke the next morning, and still felt nothing. Another day, and another day passed -- same thing. Silence. Rock bottom was redefined.
Then, unexpectedly, when he awoke on the third day, two words were etched into his consciousness: "Go Home". Within an hour or two, he packed his car with clothes, a few books, snacks and sodas, and he was gone. He arrived back in his hometown to find not only his friends greeting him with open arms, but also the woman he would soon call his wife, a good job in his chosen career, his health regained and more. He was given more than tenfold what he had previously...all within a few weeks.
Not three days, but three years later, as the young man looked into the eyes of his newborn son, he contemplated this dramatic reversal of fortunes which far surpassed anything -- anything -- he had conceived. Just then, a song played on the radio.
Back to you -- Through every speck and scintilla of your decades of foolishness, vanity, unbelief, idolatry and more -- He is still there. He is still there!!! Reaching out His hand to you.
And He's not just holding His hand out. He's doing so enthusiastically, like a parent encouraging their newly-walking baby to take a step closer to their waiting, loving arms. His eyes are enthusiastic. His smile is enthusiastic. His body language is enthusiastic. In fact, the area around him sizzles like Pop RocksTM with enthusiasm...
...an enthusiasm for you to take a step beyond your own fears, insecurities, unbeliefs and just once -- JUST ONCE -- take Him up on His offer to do things His way.
Not just to approach Him on His terms. Not just to commune with Him. But in all likelihood, to pass through the most secret, most sacred doors and into His presence.
It's a sure-fire, guaranteed method which has been promised by no less than a genuine, bona fide, latter-day President of the Church, acting in his capacity as such, with doctrinal foundations rooted not only in Christ's very words across the millennia, but also across practically every culture and religion across the globe.
Are you game?
OK, my friend, let's examine this next step. Together.
Next post in this series.