At the beginning of the year, it is common for those interested in self-improvement to establish or reaffirm their resolve to do better. We set goals and make plans to reach those goals based on our feelings and impressions of how we're doing and where we'd like to be in the coming weeks, months and years.
The past several weeks we have put our plans into action. Some of us may have already reached a resolution or two, others may be well on their way, and still others of us may be struggling in our resolve to continue. The road to self-improvement is indeed hard, and it can be so easy to give up on our goals and "go with the flow".
The Book of Alma teaches us how we can be successful in our resolutions by contrasting two different groups and their approach to a similar challenge. That challenge was power-hungry Amalickiah, who sought to become king of the Lamanites and conquerer of the Nephites.
Both of the groups that faced Amalickiah had similar goals. They wanted to protect their families and their freedoms without shedding blood.
The first group was a group of Lamanites lead by a man named Lehonti. This group was "fixed in their minds with a determined resolution" that they would not go to war with the Nephites. This goal was in defiance of the king, but was borne of a desire to leave in peace with their families.
Despite their powerful resolutions, over time Lehonti began to compromise with Amalickiah until he gave in to a proposal to come down from the place of safety where his men had gathered. Through rationalization and compromise, Lehonti's resolve was washed away. He was conquered by his challenge, slowly poisoned to death, and his men were forced into the battle they were once determined not to enter (see Alma 47).
Another group faced the same challenge a short time later. This group was a Nephite group led by Captain Moroni. With the same objective, Moroni's approach aimed to help his men act rather than to be acted upon. Helaman records:
While Amalickiah had thus been obtaining power by fraud and deceit, Moroni, on the other hand, had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God.
Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.
And in their weakest fortifications he did place the greater number of men; and thus he did fortify and strengthen the land which was possessed by the Nephites.
And thus he was preparing to support their liberty, their lands, their wives, and their children, and their peace, and that they might live unto the Lord their God, and that they might maintain that which was called by their enemies the cause of the Christians (Alma 48:7-10).
Lehonti and his men approached the challenge from Amalickiah by retreating to a safe place, trusting in their resolve to preserve them. Thus, over time, difficult decisions led to their rationalization and eventual demise.
Moroni was actively preparing to meet Amalickiah and his armies spiritually, physically and, in later verses, mentally as well. In their preparations, they constructed barriers that would keep them safe and prevent Amalickiah from getting the best of them. Rather than allowing the event of Amalickiah's challenge to simply happen to them, the victim approach, they were ready to happen to Amalickiah, a much more assertive approach. Though the resulting war was long and very difficult for Moroni's men, because they were prepared they were ultimately triumphant.
As we approach the challenges in our own lives, we can choose to act, like Moroni, or to be acted upon, like Lehonti. Choosing to act means supplication for the help of heaven, diligent study to guide our decisions and consistent analysis of how we are doing to ensure our strategy is aligned with our strengths and weaknesses.
We will struggle to find success losing weight, for example, if we have no strategy to get back on track if our resolve softens in the presence of chocolate cake. We will find little success in coming closer to Christ without the guidance of His spirit. We will fail in our goals to be better parents, spouses and siblings if we have no knowledge of how to improve.
On the other hand, as we prepare our hearts and minds to act diligently toward the pursuit of forward progress, there is nothing on Earth that can stop us from achieving our righteous goals. Now is the time to evaluate our resolutions, prepare to be successful in them, and take the steps necessary to keep those promises to ourselves. As we do so, we can say with Moroni that,
This is [our] faith, that by so doing God would prosper [us] in the land... yea, warn [us] to flee, or to prepare for war, according to [our] danger; And also that God would make it known unto [us] whither [we] should go to defend [ourselves] against [our] enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver [us] (Alma 48:15-16).