Sunday, December 27, 2015

Planning for Success

Before any of us were born there was a great council in heaven to plan for the earth on which we live, our mortal lives and our eventual exaltation. Planning, including setting and reaching goals, always has been and always will be an essential part of gospel living. Elder Ballard has famously taught that, “If we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the techniques of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential.”

Goals, plans and resolutions can be difficult to implement. We often begin like the people of Lehonti that summited a mountain to avoid unnecessary war: “fixed in [our] minds with a determined resolution” (Alma 47:6) to lose weight or read our scriptures or get out of debt. It seems like everything is going to go our way. This is the year we reach our goal!

And then the rationalizations start. Soon, we find ourselves willingly walking down the mountain… and into a trap.

We’ve all been there; but unlike Lehonti’s army we don’t have to stay there. If you’ve had trouble setting or keeping meaningful goals that help you excel in life, perhaps a return to the core principles of planning will help you find a more successful approach. Here are five keys to setting resolutions that are both extraordinary and reachable.

First, planning of any sort starts with a vision of what the future looks like. Proverbs teaches that “where there is no vision, the people perish” (29:18). In case it isn’t obvious to you, breaking resolutions within three days counts as perishing—and it could just be because you haven’t thought about it enough.

Before you set a single goal, take time to dream. What will you look like if you lose that weight? How will you feel getting that big promotion? How will your demeanor change if you read your scriptures consistently? How will your relationships be if you make time for date night or playing with your kids? What would life be like with children that have been taught to be independent or the financial standing to retire and serve a mission?

Think about who you want to become and fall in love with that version of yourself. This is a critical step in the process—and often the most neglected. Goals are not expectations to live up to but possibilities to live into; just as God “created all things… spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth” (Moses 3:5), we have to visualize our possibilities before we can make them reality.  Even if you don’t set any goals at all for a month or two months or three, make sure you can see the light at the end of your tunnel.

Next, with your vision in mind, you can begin developing plans to become your future self. If you are working toward a new career or a big promotion, what additional education or experience do you need? How will you change your diet or find more time to exercise to reach your fitness goals? When will you practice playing the guitar, speaking in public, hitting your golf ball into the fairway or cooking in a dutch oven?

No matter our goal, we should always have a plan that outlines how we will be successful. The oft-quoted axiom is true: failing to plan is planning to fail.

I learned this as a young missionary in Central Europe. Elder Perry was our area president and his office was ten steps across a parking lot from the stake center where many of our meetings were held. He loved to come to our meetings, even when he wasn’t scheduled to make an appearance, and he would always take the time to shake all of our hands.

While shaking hands, Elder Perry would often ask us about our plans: plans for our areas; plans for our missions; and plans for life after our missions. We learned quickly that “I’m not sure yet” wasn’t an acceptable answer. “Always have a plan,” he would say. Your plan may change from time to time, but always have a plan you are committed and working to achieve.

Our plans will likely include friends, family, coworkers and others upon whom we will rely to reach our vision. Life’s greatest successes and eternity’s greatest joys can only be reached by people working interdependently. You should identify your role in the plan and the role you will ask the people around you to play. Your role in whatever plan you conceive is your personal mission statement.

When you have laid out your vision and identified the major steps along the way, the third key to setting reachable resolutions is to begin to walk toward your goal. We don’t need to see every detail to start. Planning of any sort is a faith exercise. As we begin striving in the direction of our vision, the details will become clearer.

Like many students, I started college without a clear idea of what I wanted for a career. I first enrolled as a physics major. Then I decided to be a pilot. By my sophomore year I had decided to go to graduate school. I wasn’t entirely sure whether I would go to medical school or business school or law school, but I knew I wanted to be a professional something. I chose to study economics because it was a rigorous study that would help me get into whatever graduate school I chose.

As an undergraduate student, I was often tempted to stray from the path I had chosen. The recreation management majors, after all, spent their days hiking and rafting, or at least I assumed they did; meanwhile, I was sitting in the library trying to figure out why the entire Greek alphabet was involved in my econometrics formulas. With the help of frequent prayers and a wife with more sense than I have, I managed to make it to my senior year studying economics. I still didn’t know what I was going to do for graduate school.

One day at church, an inspired conversation with a friend introduced me to a graduate program I hadn’t previously considered. I researched and applied to several programs, including one that I attended. Excellent advisors and mentors have helped me make wiser choices along the way and introduced me to the career field I have pursued.

Each decision along my path has taught me more about myself and clarified the details of my vision of the future. I still do not see every step along the way, but starting to walk down the path has helped me learn to discern opportunities that will move me toward my vision from distractions that would leave me wandering around the same metaphorical block or losing sight of my ultimate goals.

A vision, appropriate plans, and the faith to start walking are necessary but insufficient elements for long-term success. The fourth key to extraordinary and reachable resolutions is to identify our core values.

This summer, my family took a trip to New York State. We had never been before and talked excitedly for months about our visions of seeing Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty and the Hill Cumorah Pageant. As we began to plan however, we soon learned that it was just as important to plan our route as it was to plan the destinations we wanted to see. Did we want to take toll roads or drive around them? Was there a more efficient route that allowed us to see more? Where would we stop to sleep each night?

Our core values help us know which way to go when we face decisions in our lives. When traveling across New York, my family chose places to stay based on the safety, price and proximity to the attractions we wanted to see. These factors made it easier to decide when and where we would stop for the night. Your family may have chosen to stay somewhere with more amenities or an even lower price based on what is important to you. In the same way, our values help us know what decisions to make to get the outcomes we are seeking.

Of course, sometimes we make decisions that are inconsistent with our values. We stay in a dirty hotel even though we can’t stand it and end up not sleeping well. Or we buy something we think we want only to regret the purchase later. Explicitly identifying our core values helps us strategically and consciously improve our decisions so they can propel us toward our vision more effectively.

Because each of us is unique, explicitly stating our values only works if we are authentic to what is really important to us. This is not the place for aspirational statements. Values are not goals and the values we want but don’t yet have won’t help us.

As someone who does strategic planning for my organization for a living, I had tried more than once to develop a vision with a plan and stated values for my family—and more than once it had failed to catch on. My research for those plans indicated that faith, love, knowledge, opportunity and action were five values often stated in one way or another by families I admired. The trouble is, that’s not a very convincing argument for three kids ages five and under.

Looking closer at who we are as a family revealed that we are a family that values adventure. We are devout and family-oriented. We are independent and love to learn. Honestly, these values sound a lot like the ones I had researched, but the researched values were not personal or authentic to our family. Now when we come to a fork in the road, or even just want to find something to do for the weekend, we decide to do the adventurous thing—and we’re happier and making greater progress toward our family vision because of it.

Finally, we all must ultimately realize that success is not earned—it is given. The fifth key to successful resolutions is to trust completely in God and recognize his hand as the giver of life’s greatest successes.

In the Old Testament we read of a conflict between Gideon’s 32,000 men and 135,000 Midianites (Judges 7:1-3). Despite being desperately outnumbered, the Lord told Gideon, “The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me” (v. 2). Only after the Lord commanded Gideon’s army be reduced to a mere band of only 300 men—less than one percent of its original size and now outnumbered 400 to 1—did the Israelite soldiers trust enough in God to be victorious.

How would you pray if you knew the odds were stacked against you as they were against Gideon’s army? How would you converse with the Lord if you knew your life was on the line and it was impossible for you to save it yourself? If we will pray with that same earnestness, nothing will be impossible for us.

This is the same lesson the Lord taught the sons of Mosiah. After serving fourteen years as missionaries, Ammon celebrates their successes among the Lamanites. The key to their success is in verse 22 of Alma 26:

Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which have never been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls unto repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance (emphasis added).

Many of us talk about our goals as if we just need to try harder or muster more discipline or resolve; but muster as we may, how often do we set the same goal over and over and over again? Ammon did not earn his greatest successes and we will not earn ours. Our willpower alone is not enough. If it were, we would have already done the things we dream of doing.

Immediately following Moses’ death, Joshua became the new leader of the Israelites. He was uncertain about how to move forward. The Lord explained his vision for Joshua and taught him how to find success: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:8-9).

President Eyring has taught that we “need strength beyond ourselves to keep the commandments in whatever circumstance life brings us.” Like Ammon, we must recognize that we are “nothing” because “as to [our] strength [we are] weak” (Alma 26:12). Even the Savior withdrew from the multitudes at times to pray and receive strength from the angels of heaven (Luke 22:43). If we will do the same, the Lord will be with us always to give us success.

From the beginning the Lord has planned for our every success. He has a vision of what we can become. Through his prophets, he has taught us that “all human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 129). Each means all of us-- not collectively but rather every one of us individually-- have a divine destiny, or the potential to be like our Heavenly Father and live the life he lives. There are no exceptions. The Lord sees this glorious potential in you and in me.

He has been putting plans in place to help us reach that potential for eons. The Lord told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). He planned the creation of the earth, the mortal life that teaches us to repent and serve God, and the opposition in all things that makes our choices meaningful and refines our judgment (Alma 42:4, 2 Nephi 2:11, Moses 3). He planned the families and dear friends that support us and the challenges that teach us valuable lessons. At the center of it all he planned a perfect atonement to pay for our sins and enhance our efforts (Mosiah 14). We shouted for joy in the premortal realm when we learned of the plan that made possible our immortality and eternal life (Job 38:7, Moses 1:39).

The values that guide our path back to Him are contained in His gospel. Faith, repentance, hope, charity, endurance and obedience help us see the straight and narrow path to our divine destiny. Temptations will surely come to stray from that path, but the more we rely on gospel values the brighter they shine and the clearer our vision of what the Lord has in store for us becomes.

Whether you envision a closer and more loving family, a healthier life, achievement in your professional life, or something else entirely, the Lord is anxious to bless us if we will begin walking toward our vision with faith. He has been planning our success for thousands, maybe millions of years and he delights in our progress. If we will rely on him, he will fight our toughest battles. He will go before our face, he will be on our right hand and on our left, his spirit will be in our hearts and his angels will be round about us to bear us up (D&C 84:88).

Through faithful planning we can reach a ripe old age and look back to find we’ve walked a great deal of the path toward our potential. We can prepare to return to live with our Heavenly Father again. And we can succeed in whatever resolution we pursue. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Seven Critical Lessons of the Seventh Day

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. He created the light and divided it from the darkness. He created the atmosphere and the clouds, the dry land and plants to cover it, and the sun and the moon and the stars. He made every living creature. He made mankind in his image and gave them dominion over the whole earth. And God saw everything that he had made that it was very good (Genesis 1).

In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. And he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:11, Genesis 2:2-3).

As with all the works of Christ, our Great Exemplar, the events of the creation provide patterns and doctrines intended to help guide our lives. Among these are what I call the Seven Critical Lessons of the Seventh Day.

The scriptures state that the Lord rested from all his work on the seventh day. This is the First Critical Lesson. President Spencer W. Kimball once observed that “sometimes Sabbath observance is characterized as a matter of sacrifice and self-denial, but it is not so. It is merely a matter of shifting times and choosing seasons. There is time enough, particularly in our era of the world’s history, during the six days of the week in which to do our work and play”.

Though we live in the world, it is critical for our spiritual health to rest each Sabbath from the profane, secular, temporal and worldly things that are in constant competition for our attention and priorities. President Kimball taught:

We have become largely a world of Sabbath breakers. On the Sabbath the lakes are full of boats, the beaches are crowded, the shows have their best attendance, the golf links are dotted with players. The Sabbath is the preferred day for rodeos, conventions, family picnics; even ball games are played on the sacred day… To many, Sabbath-breaking is a matter of little moment, but to our Heavenly Father it is disobedience to one of the principal commandments.

The Lord invites us to find a safe port from the storms of life by following his example and resting from our daily cares on the Sabbath day.

But we should know that the rest of the Lord is different from simply dropping anchor for a long nap. The scriptures say that the spirits of the righteous, after they die, are “received into a state of rest” (Alma 40:12). Yet, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that such are “exalted to a greater and more glorious work” and President Brigham Young taught that “there is an almighty work to perform in the spirit world” (Teachings, 326; JD, 4:285). Though we rest from the things of the world, when engaged in the work of the Lord the Sabbath day may sometimes be our busiest.

Again quoting President Kimball, “If one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it.” Rather, the Lord has said:

And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors and to pay thy devotions unto the most high. Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times; But remember that on this, the Lord's day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord. And on this day thou shalt do none other thing...

The word "sacraments" originates from the Latin words for "solemn oath" and "sacred". Oblations are our gifts to God; he asks for a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and also that we devote our time and talents to building up his kingdom on the earth. We may not have a great deal of time to seek forgiveness of our sins, prepare to renew our covenants, build our faith through gospel study or serve others during the week, but these are all things we can do as we rest from worldly cares on the Sabbath. That we should be anxiously engaged in a good cause on the Sabbath is the Second Critical Lesson.

The Third Critical Lesson is to remember the Lord has blessed the Sabbath day and he blesses us for observing it. Christ taught his disciples that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In the same breath that the Lord admonishes us to attend church he promises that so doing will help us keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Later in that same chapter, he says:

And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances... Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours... But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come 
(D&C 59:5-23).

Observing the Sabbath is not a sacrifice but rather the path to individual and collective peace and prosperity. To the children of Israel, the Lord promised that if they would keep the Sabbath day holy:

Then will I give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit… and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land (Leviticus 26:2-6).

These blessings are readily available to us if we will honor the Sabbath day.

Fourth, the Lord hallowed the Sabbath day. In the same way church buildings and temples are dedicated spaces for the Lord’s work, the Sabbath day is time that has been sanctified and consecrated to the work and glory of God. Just as temples are holy places, the Lord has commanded the faithful in every dispensation to, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

Our willingness to forego worldly things and focus only on holy activities is an indication to the Lord that we’re willing to keep the covenants we have made with him. President Russell M. Nelson has taught:

I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, ‘What sign do I want to give to God?’ That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear (“The Sabbath is a Delight”, April 2015).

The Fifth Critical Lesson is to notice the symbolism of the seventh day. In Hebrew, the number seven is symbolic of completion and perfection. The tabernacle was built in six days and dedicated on the seventh, likewise heaven and earth were made over six creative periods and sanctified on the seventh. The Sabbath day completed the Creation and made the work that had been done acceptable before a God that is and must be intolerable of the least degree of imperfection.

This pattern is repeated throughout the Lord’s plan of happiness. In the Book of Moses, the Lord reminds us that the creation story of Genesis refers to the spiritual creation of heaven and earth:

For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air; (Moses 3:5)

It was on the seventh day that the Lord finished his work, watering the face of the ground, providing physical bodies for Adam and Eve and placing them in the Garden of Eden. It was on the seventh day that the creation was made completely perfect and perfectly complete.

The conclusion of this first Sabbath day ushered in six thousand years of mortality. At the end of these six thousand years will come the Millennial day of rest. Joseph Smith, clarifying a scripture in Revelation chapter 8, taught:

As God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things (D&C 77:12).

This second great Sabbath day we will rest from the temptations of the evil one, complete the missionary and temple work to be done, and be resurrected from mortality to immortality. The next seventh day, the Millennial Sabbath, will complete and perfect the work of mortality.

With so much emphasis on the seventh day, which is actually Saturday, the Sixth Critical Lesson addresses briefly why most Christians now worship on Sunday, which is the first day of the week.

The short answer is that they don’t. Christians don’t worship on the first day of the week, but rather on the eighth day of the week. Let me explain:

Until the Atonement of Christ was complete, the faithful worshipped on the seventh day of the week. Then something happened. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, died for us on a Friday, the sixth day of the week symbolic of man and rebellion (i.e. Adam and Eve’s creation on the sixth day). On the seventh day, the Savior rested and visited the spirit world. On the next day, the eighth day, a Sunday, Christ was resurrected.

The number eight is symbolic of covenants and new beginnings. It’s symbolic of resurrection and salvation. Israelite males were circumcised at eight days old as a sign of God's covenant with them. We are eight years old when we may be baptized or “reborn”. And, through the ordinance of the sacrament administered on the eighth day of each week, we renew our covenants with God and his promise to forgive us our sins, allowing us to be reborn again on this eighth day of every week.

The pattern of going from seven to eight is also frequently repeated in scripture. The desert tabernacle had seven pieces of furniture while Solomon’s temple had eight. There are seven covenants in the Old Testament and an eighth in the New Testament.

Finally, the Seventh Critical Lesson is to recognize that all of this has been meticulously planned and perfectly executed as an example for you and I. The Savior wants us to come unto him and partake of his rest each week. He wants us to renew our covenants and begin each week without the weight of the last. He wants us to stay unspotted from the world and enjoy peace and prosperity. He offers to give us greater light and knowledge from heaven if we take the time to seek it.

If we are going to heed his command to, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), we are going to need a day to complete our most important work, to dedicate ourselves and to be sanctified and made acceptable to God. This is why, after the Lord who labors for our immortality and eternal life created the light and the atmosphere and the plants and animals and Adam and Eve, as a capstone to his creation, on the seventh day the Lord made the Sabbath.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Grammar Note About Objectification

In most languages, a sentence may include a subject, a verb, and two different kinds of objects. The distinction between the direct and indirect objects turns out to be very important. It's the difference between rolling a ball to the baby and rolling the baby to the ball. A direct object is what the verb is acting upon; the indirect object explains to or for whom the action is done. The subject puts everything in motion.

This is important to all of us because, grammatically speaking, the Lord has put us all on the earth to be the subjects of the sentences in which we live. The prophet Lehi taught his sons that God, 'hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon... Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself' (2 Nephi 2:14, 16).

One way the devil seeks "to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will" (Moses 4:3-4) is to convince them to treat themselves or others as direct objects to be acted upon rather than subjects that act for themselves (or indirect objects that interact with the subject are subjects themselves from a different point of view). Perceiving or treating someone like an object without a mind and will of their own, known as objectification, leads to grievous sins of all types.

Slavery is an obvious, horrific and continuing example of objectification. So is pornography, controlling and abusive relationships, provocative media and advertising, feuds and warfare, victim mentality, violent crime and even sports fanaticism. Each of these depend to a large extent on one or more people viewing another person or people as an object to be acted upon.

Objectification includes any time someone perceives or treats another person like a tool that can be owned, is good only to meet the objectifier's purposes, and is interchangable with other objects. It includes the denial of autonomy and treating a person as though they are lacking in agency or the capacity to speak. It often involves mentally reducing someone to 'just' a body or body parts and treating them primarily in terms of how they look or appeal to the senses. Objectification also often includes perceiving someone as lacking in boundary-integrity or unable to prevent intrusions into personal space (Nussbaum, Martha, 1995, "Objectification", Philosophy and Public Affairs, 24(4): 249-291 and Langton, Rae, 1995, "Sexual Solipsism", Philosophical Topics, 23(2): 181-219).

When we turn back to the rules of grammar, we may notice that many of the commandments can only be broken when we objectify others. We cannot covet or lust anything other than a direct object. Nor can we hate, fear or kill the subject of a sentence; that comes only after we have turned them into an object in our perception.

Conversely, there are verbs that can only take an indirect object. Grammatically speaking, we can only answer, thank, follow, forgive, help, believe, miss or serve someone we respect as a person with divine agency. We can only be healed as indirect objects interacting with the subject who heals us; or, from another perspective, as subjects taking action to receive that healing.

Elder Bednar has taught, "If the adversary cannot entice us to misuse our physical bodies, then one of his most potent tactics is to beguile you and me as embodied spirits to disconnect gradually and physically from things as they really are" (Things As They Really Are, Ensign, June 2010). This includes perceiving or treating ourselves or others as if we did not have the agency the Lord has given us, through our faithfulness, from the beginning.

Moroni spoke with us in mind when he admonished, "Be wise in the days of your probation; strip yourselves of all uncleanness; ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God" (Mormon 9:28). Objectification is part of the world in which we live, but we don't have to adopt a mindset disconnected from the reality and truths of God if we will follow the counsel of Moroni.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Psychology of Gratitude

In 1943, Psychological Review magazine published Abraham Maslow's, "A Theory of Human Motivation". In an era when psychology focused on the mentally ill, Maslow had studied exemplary individuals like Albert Einstein, Frederick Douglass and Eleanor Roosevelt to explain what is now well known around the world as the hierarchy of human needs.

You have almost certainly heard of Maslow's Needs, but in essence, Maslow suggested that each of us have certain needs that must be met for us to be at our best. Our needs range from the most basic, like eating and breathing, to those with more complexity and depth like confidence, love and achievement. As we develop and grow, each tier of needs can be a stepping stone or an obstacle to our progress. The love of our friends and family can help us develop the confidence to solve difficult problems; but on the other hand we may struggle a great deal to be creative if we are hungry, worried about finances or arguing with a family member.

There are many gospel lessons wrapped into this small pyramid. We can easily see the wisdom of prophetic counsel to keep food storage on hand, the importance of self-reliance and the essential role family relationships play in our lives. The pyramid helps explain how our fast offerings and charitable donations can not only get a family through a difficult financial situation but also improve their family relationships and put individuals in a better state to commune with God.  It shows the downward spiral of addictions and vice; the damage we do to ourselves when we are angry with others; and the incalculable returns of faith as acceptance of facts even when we do not yet understand them, repentance as a way of correcting and improving our course in life and kindness toward others as a life philosophy.

Most of us tend to do a quick evaluation of our own lives when we review Maslow's pyramid. We all move up and down the hierarchy throughout the day and over weeks and months and years, but almost always we find an opportunity or two in our review that we are sure we can address to improve our productivity and enjoy greater life satisfaction. Wherever we find ourselves on the pyramid, there is one principle that can always lift us up.

In his book, The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis wrote, "What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are." In other words, the reality we experience depends a great deal on how we perceive it. And, by the same token, our perceptions will be informed by who we are and what we desire from our experiences.

The happiest person I've ever known was my maternal grandmother. Grandma grew up in the deserts of eastern Utah during the depression years of the 1930s. She served at Fort Douglas in World War II then married my grandfather, a teacher, with whom she raised a family of eight children. Grandma lost a teenage son to cancer, gave countless hours in church and community service, and spent the last several years of her life selflessly caring for a husband with dementia even while her own health declined.

Despite all she had been through, I seldom saw Grandma when she wasn't quick to share a warm smile and make others laugh with her subtle, dry sense of humor. She had a sharp mind, enjoyed helping others be their best, and could tell from the kitchen if I was slouching while practicing on the living room piano. She was a talented pianist herself and enjoyed writing short stories and poetry. Grandma refused to say a negative word and would often rebut the unpleasant remarks of others with a simple exclamation of, "Oh, well!" Everyone who knew my grandma knew that "Oh, well!" meant that Grandma was about to turn the conversation in a more positive and uplifting direction.

Grandma seemed to spend most of her time near the top of Maslow's hierarchy, but her experience is hardly unique. Missionaries, researchers and world travelers report finding the happiest people are often those in the most humble circumstances or with the most incredible challenges. This seems counter-intuitive to us because the prevailing social theory has long been that happiness follows success.

The trouble is, if happiness is on the other side of success, we end up spending all of our time pushing happiness farther and farther away while we pursue the next fleeting success. When we do well in school, we expect to do better the next time. When we get a good job, we start "climbing the ladder" for a better one. We make money and only end up wanting more than we have. Ultimately, of course, we never get to "success", at least not for long, so we continue to push until happiness eventually disappears beyond the cognitive horizon and there's nothing we can do to actually achieve happiness.

Instead of refuting Maslow's theory, the humble but happy around the world provide an important insight: they remind us that the satisfaction of each tier of needs, in terms of our ultimate happiness and productivity, depends only on our perception of their fulfillment. When we put happiness on the other side of arbitrary successes, we allow our own covetousness to tint our perception so that our needs are never met and we slide down the pyramid. This is why so many "successful" celebrities spend so much time on the bottom half of the pyramid. On the other hand, when we are sincerely grateful and can see the bounty of what we have, we can move up the hierarchy because we are satisfied even when we may not have as much.

The Lord taught: "He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more" (D&C 78:19). Grandma wasn't happy because she was successful; she was successful because she was happy and she was happy because she was grateful. Like other attributes, gratitude grows as it is practiced. As we learn to see the good in our lives-- to view the pyramid of Maslow's needs and count our blessings rather that looking only for what needs to be fixed-- we will find the Lord has already given us all we need to rise to the top of the pyramid if we will only be grateful enough to see it.

Later in his life, Maslow returned to his hierarchy with this final insight: "The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Power and Meekness

Several years ago, a Church leader toured a facility that housed a huge hydraulic crushing machine that could reduce old cars into small cubes of metal. At one point in the tour the guide asked the Church leader to remove his watch. The guide handed the watch to the operator of the crushing machine, who placed it in the machine and began adjusting the controls. When the machine was ready, the operator brought top blade crashing down, stopping just a millimeter above the watch. Next the sides slammed together with incredible force, but once again they stopped just short of the crystal. The operator removed the watch from the machine and returned it unscratched.

Much pleased with the demonstration, the Church leader turned to those with him and said, 'We have just witnessed the greatest demonstration of meekness I have ever seen. Meekness is great power under complete control' (The Beatitudes: Pathway to the Savior, Ensign, November 1991).

Most of us associate meekness with humility or turning the other cheek. We understand that meekness involves being submissive and obedient to the gospel and the will of God; yet this is only half of the formula. Meekness is, of necessity, also an attribute of great power. It is not submission out of weakness or humility born of helplessness, but rather a consistent ability to obey God's commandments even and especially when we are able and wanting to choose otherwise.

Meekness is precisely the characteristic that the people of Ammon showed when they buried their weapons of war and allowed the Lamanites to murder them by the thousands. Though they had covenanted with the Lord that they would never again use weapons for bloodshed, they were skilled warriors and had the power to rise up and fight for their lives if they chose. They surely would have been a formidable force and may have conquered. Instead, they submitted themselves to their enemies in order that they might keep the covenant they had made. Their courage and meekness converted more of their enemies than the number of their people that had been murdered.

Just as meekness without power isn't really meekness at all, power alone is equally insufficient. Uncontrolled power becomes self-serving and often leads to tyranny of one's self and toward others. Indeed, 'we have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion' (D&C 121:39). How many of the world's greatest tragedies have been the direct result of men with great power and no moral restraint? How many more personal tragedies have similar themes? And how often has something gone wrong in our own lives because we used our power or influence improperly?

To be of greatest value-- to be meekness-- power must be harnessed by perfect obedience to God. Captain Moroni provides an excellent example of this in the heat of a fierce battle around 73 B.C. Though the opposing Lamanite army was much larger than his own, Moroni had gained the upper hand through preparedness, strategy, and complete trust in prophetic counsel. As the battle progressed, he found himself with the power to completely eliminate the army of the Lamanites that had so often harassed, attacked and murdered his people and the people of Ammon.

Although Moroni was his nation's top military commander, he was only in his mid-twenties when this battle took place. To conquer the enemy almost certainly would've brought a lifetime of individual glory from a grateful nation and resulted in peace between the nations for a generation or more-- to say nothing of the relief from several days of marching and fighting in armor that was hot and heavy.

Despite the chaos and distractions, the ego and the enemy, ultimately Moroni had the integrity to use his power to protect the powerless. When he saw the terror in the eyes of his enemies, he commanded his armies to stop their offensive.

And it came to pass that they did stop and withdrew a pace from them. And Moroni said unto Zerahemnah: Behold, Zerahemnah, that we do not desire to be men of blood. Ye know that ye are in our hands, yet we do not desire to slay you... I command you by all the desires which ye have for life, that ye deliver up your weapons of war unto us, and we will seek not your blood, but we will spare your lives, if ye will go your way and come not again to war against us (Alma 44:1, 6).

Zerahemnah initially refused and the battle continued; but when the Lamanite leader saw his entire army was about to be destroyed, he called out to Moroni for mercy. Again Moroni had the power to inflict his own will. He could have reasoned that Zerahemnah had his chance or that the elimination of his enemy was a blessing to his nation and the people of God. Yet, when Zerahemnah called out for mercy, and knowing the Lord had commanded to kill only in defense, Moroni directed his troops to withdraw a second time. This time the war was ended and the Lamanites were allowed to return to their homes without their weapons if they swore never to go to war again.

The scriptures say that "if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men" (Alma 48:17). Such was true of Moroni because of his faith in Christ, his perfect understanding and his righteous desires-- his power by virtue of his knowledge and faith and his obedience by virtue of his desire to do God's will-- or in other words, his meekness.

It was people like Moroni and the Ammonites that the Savior referenced when he taught, 'Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth' (Matthew 5:5). Modern revelation teaches us that the earth will become the celestial kingdom (D&C 88:19-20), making the Savior's teaching, in essence, a promise that the meek will be saved in the presence of God where they can progress to become like him-- not as an exception to eternal law to allow for the arbitrary selection of favorite personalities, but rather because natural law demands it.

As in the Parable of the Talents, the Lord has given each of us a measure of his power. We have stewardship for our bodies and are accountable for how we use the power they give us to create or destroy inspiration or deceit, to harm or to heal, to be engaged or idle. We have the power of the priesthood and spiritual gifts that allow us to inspire others, communicate across language barriers, discern truth from error, to teach and to administer and to learn. We have power through association to influence others for good or evil. We even have the power to create life or to end it.

As we exercise our power with control and obedience to the commandments of God, the Lord will strengthen us. President Benson taught, "When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power." Likewise, as the Lord blesses us with power we become capable of even greater obedience, creating an eternal cycle of progression as we become increasingly meek. In this way, to the five talents the Lord has given us can be added five more.

The opposite is also true. President Joseph F. Smith once declared that "obedience is the first law of heaven". If we are not growing in power and our capacity to obey-- if we are burying our talents-- we will not be able to abide the laws of the celestial kingdom. Meekness, then, isn't just a nice attribute to have if you'd like to go far in life, but rather a mandatory prerequisite to inheriting the celestial kingdom and with it all the Father has.

Ultimately, it was the perfect meekness of our Savior on display when he fell on his face in the Garden of Gethsemane, sorrowful "even unto death", and prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:38-39). Then the Supreme Creator of heaven and earth, who could command the elements and heal all wounds, who even had command over death itself, allowed himself to be betrayed and nailed to a cross. It should not be forgotten that, when the time was right, the Savior also obeyed the Father in exercising his power over death as he came forth from the tomb and paved the way for all mankind to live again even as He yet lives.

If we desire to be joint heirs with Christ and with Captain Moroni and the Ammonites in the celestial kingdom, we too must be meek. Though we stand at different places along the path of life and may count a different number of talents to our charge, we can begin to grow in power and obedience as we consciously choose the right in the choices we make each day. As obedience becomes our habit and our quest in life, even and especially in the face of difficult challenges, we will be sufficiently meek, through the Atonement of Christ, to inherit the earth and return to the presence of our God unscratched.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Love and Selfies

We live in the Age of the Selfie. We take pictures of ourselves with friends and landmarks, still in bed, at the gym, at restaurants and even in the bathroom. Social media sees our feet at the beach or by the pool, close ups of our eyes or the weird thing growing on our nose and what we look like with duck lips or too much makeup or after a rough day. Sometimes we even take selfies of ourselves taking selfies. Not even Woody can resist that. It's a phenomenon that can be a lot of fun, allows us to explore our identities, and helps us feel like we belong.

The Age of the Selfie is also part of a much larger movement that we could call the Age of the Self. We are more interested than ever in ourselves and "taking care of number one." There are certainly situations and individual circumstances where more attention to one's self is needed; but too often a preoccupation with ourselves leads us to poor decisions that hinder our progress and can even become destructive.

President Uchtdorf has taught:

Naturally, we all have a desire for recognition, and there is nothing wrong with relaxing and enjoying ourselves. But when seeking the 'gain and praise of the world' is a central part of our motivation, we will miss the redemptive and joyful experiences that come when we give generously of ourselves to the work of the Lord.

Ironically, and tragically, one kind of joyful experience we forfeit when we are preoccupied with ourselves is the opportunity to learn more about who we really are. President Hinckley has stated that "Nobody can live fully and happily who lives only unto himself or herself... It is as we serve, as we take the time to express interest and concern in someone other than ourselves, that we are more likely to gain a glimpse of who we really are and what we can ultimately become" (Standing for Something, 2000).

Christ taught that "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it." In our own time, "one of the greatest challenges we face in our hurried, self-centered lives is to follow this counsel of the Master, to take the time and make the effort to care for others, to develop and exercise the one quality that would enable us to change the lives of others-- what the scriptures call charity" (Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something, 2000).

When we are focused only on ourselves, we miss out on the joyful experience of giving and receiving real love and acceptance. President Uchtdorf expounded:

Those who wholeheartedly turn their lives over to our Savior and serve God and their fellowman discover a richness and fulness to life that the selfish or egotistic will never experience. The unselfish give of themselves. These may be small gifts of charity that have a grand impact for good: a smile, a handshake, a hug, time spent in listening, a soft word of encouragement, or a gesture of caring. All these acts of kindness can change hearts and lives. When we take advantage of the unlimited opportunities to love and serve our fellowmen, including our spouse and family, our capacity to love God and to serve others will greatly increase.

The opposite is also true: those who are preoccupied with their own image and pleasure find life increasingly void of meaning and their capacity to love God, themselves and others diminishes. Predictably, in most cases, these individuals will respond to the fading vibrancy of life with yet more selfish decisions in attempt to resuscitate their own feelings, further constricting their view and numbing their emotions with each unsatisfying Facebook post, workout, carbohydrate binge or illicit and loveless relationship. In seeking to save their own lives, they will lose it.

This appeared to be what was happening last week with a young teenager in my church congregation that decided to skip the final hour of church to sit on the couch in the lobby and play her tablet because it was more fun. As I sat on the couch across from her, more than a dozen separate individuals approached her and invited her to return to her class. They offered hugs and words of encouragement. They offered a listening ear and open hearts. Each time, the young woman would reject the love she was being shown and complained about those who had "wasted her time" and then also complained that nobody at church seemed to care about her. She could not see the outpouring of love that I had witnessed, even though she had been the intended recipient.

Compare that experience with the story Edith Cavell, a British nurse in World War I. She had trained in London before becoming the matron of a nursing school in Belgium in 1907 and launching that nation's first professional nursing journal in 1910. By the end of 1911, Edith was a training nurse for three hospitals, 24 schools and 13 kindergartens.

When war broke out in 1914, Edith's clinic and nursing school were taken over by the Red Cross and she began a relentless effort to treat the wounded. By November 1914, Germany had occupied Belgium. When asked why she treated the German soldiers as well as the British and French, Edith responded simply, "I can't stop while there are lives to be saved."

"Patriotism is not enough," she explained further on another occasion. "I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." Edith began hiding Allied soldiers and helping them escape to the neutral Netherlands. She was arrested in August 1915 after one of the French soldiers betrayed her to the Germans. She had helped more than 200 soldiers escape occupied Belgium and now was sentenced to death by firing squad.

Edith's life of service to others had blessed her own life with a profound love for all people, including those with whom she disagreed. That love became her strength, despite her sentence, and blessed her life with profound peace. Among her last words was a request to the prison chaplain to, "tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country."

Edith Cavell's love for mankind was deeper and more substantive than the excitement and infatuation that might motivate a couple to start dating or even get married. Those emotions are an important beginning-- the fairy tale leading to our happily ever after-- but they're often still about us and how we benefit from a relationship. True love-- the kind that satiates our need to belong and gives us the confidence and strength to face any obstacle-- is cultured over years of putting someone else's needs before our own.

A few days after I was married to my wonderful bride, we went to visit my grandparents in central Utah. My grandpa had performed the temple marriages of all of his grandchildren until a stroke had rendered him unable. My wedding was the first he was not able to attend. Now he laid in his bed in front of me, losing weight and a battle with dementia that sometimes made his home of more than 50 years seem completely foreign to his broken mind.

As I stood at his bedside and spoke with him I wasn't certain whether he remembered me. It was a mostly one-sided conversation as I told him about my studies at the university, how our favorite football teams were doing and my thoughts on politics, gardening, religion, and other topics that we had discussed often over the previous two decades. It was anguishing to see his once active body and keen professor's mind now reduced to staring at the ceiling and trying to make sense of the people and places that seemed to know him so well despite their unfamiliarity.

After talking for several minutes, I began to share with him that I had been married and introduced my wife who had been standing patiently by my side. At this news, my grandpa raised his left hand and proudly pointed with his thumb to the gold wedding ring on his finger. Whatever other chaos or darkness now clouded his memory, it was clear that he still cherished his wife of over 60 years. She had not been just a friend or the mother of his children or a part of his life; she had been his entire life, his reason for going to work and doing the dishes and singing the children to sleep. Now, in his difficult trial, it was his unrelenting love for her that carried him through.

Despite the stroke, the dementia, and failing physical health, Grandpa clung to life and love for more than five years until my grandma passed away in 2008. She had cared for him as best she could, even leaving the quiet country life of the only home she had really known to be closer to the care he needed in a Salt Lake City suburb. After her passing, Grandpa's remaining strength disappeared and he was soon laid to rest next to her and their son who had died of cancer decades earlier.

This is the power of true love. We cannot have it on our own-- not even for ourselves. Though the world tells us to skip or delay family for financial or professional gain, to abort children that may become a burden, to abandon marriages that no longer provide the benefits they once did, and to be constantly "one-upping" our friends and coworkers with the controlled facades of our lives on social media, the Lord through his prophets has taught us that to do so is to forfeit our identities and the love we so desperately need. Selfishness and love, by definition, cannot coexist; for love is the act of putting others needs before our own.

The ultimate act of love and unselfishness was the Atonement of Jesus Christ:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:16-17).

This was not a fun or pleasurable experience. It was not the kind of self-glorifying or easy path we might choose for ourselves. Rather, it caused Christ, "the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit-- and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink-- Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men" (D&C 19:18).

The blessings of focusing our lives on others far outweigh the temporary benefits we receive from taking an easy path or doing what "feels good". We can have peace of conscience and confidence of belonging. We can experience the strength and power of love received and given to God, to others and to ourselves. We can have a knowledge of our own potential and the empowerment to achieve it. We can experience countless moments laughing, crying and experiencing the fullness of life.

We only need to take the time to serve those around us. And then, maybe to take a quick selfie with the smiling person who helped us love a little better than we had before.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Mirage of Beliefs and Worships

In 1983, magician David Copperfield wowed a live audience when he made the Statue of Liberty disappear before their very eyes, even shining strobe lights through the open air where the Statue once stood to satisfy even the staunchest skeptics. Or did he?

Most magic tricks are illusions that rely on a combination of distractions, perceptual distortions and creative engineering. Copperfield employed all of these elements to deceive and delight his audience: the dark of night and two large pillars on stage restricted the audience's view, stage lighting and a fake radar system gave the audience false cues about what they were seeing, and loud music helped to hide a slow rotation of the stage and seating area. When the seating area had turned so that Lady Liberty was safely hidden behind one of the pillars, the curtain came up and spotlights confirmed nothing but open air. The audience, now disconnected from the reality of what they were seeing, applauded in astonished approval.

In the audience of a magician, we are delighted by the unexpected and the unexplainable. It's far less charming when, often without even knowing, we are confronted by illusions in our lives that have been creatively engineered to distort our perception and distract our pursuits. Like the mist of darkness in Lehi's vision, the world offers an abundance of false cues and figurative loud music that will ultimately disconnect us from reality and lead us down broad roads where we wander off and are lost (1 Nephi 8:23). In the midst of the mist we may unknowingly become blinded to true principles and deceived by errant thinking, social pressures, cynicism and doubt.

President Benson said it this way:

Without [Christ] we would be lost in a mirage of beliefs and worships, born in fear and darkness where the sensual and materialistic hold sway. We are far short of the goal he set for us, but we must never lose sight of it; nor must we forget that our great climb toward the light, toward perfection, would not be possible except for his teachings, his life, his death, and his resurrection" (April 1964).

Mirages are optical illusions that most often occur when light is refracted by hot air. They can be difficult to discern until we approach where they appear and discover nothing but a hot emptiness.

The mirages of the world are just as real in appearance and just as void upon arrival. The pursuit of worldly mirages can lead us far away from the person we want to be and the life we hope to have.

Consider, for example, the mirage of money. Most of the world's money today is found in the data banks of computers. The bank has a number stored for me and a number stored for you. If you think about it, that's really all you have-- a number. Our economies can function based on these numbers sitting on computer databases because we have all agreed to pretend the numbers we have are valuable. We accept addition for our hard work and subtraction in exchange for the things we want.

We are playing the same game whether our currency is a number on a computer, a stack of paper bills, gold and silver, or a 20-foot chunk of donut-shaped limestone as once used on the Micronesian island of Yap; there is little inherent value to any of these items-- it's all an awesome game of pretend we play our entire lives. In fact, it's so awesome and can get us so many things (even a trip to the Micronesian island of Yap) that it is easy to believe that a bigger number at the bank or a larger accumulation of those things will make us happy.

The trouble is, money isn't real in the first place. We made it up because it was easier than trading livestock and loaves of bread. We made it up to help us all get the food and shelter and services we need. We didn't make it up to make people happy; and those who build their happiness on money will find they are just as disconnected from reality and the real things that can really make them happy as someone in the audience of a great magician.

Like a dark mist or a mirage, much of what we encounter in the world is empty or contains too little substance to provide a foundation for real joy and happiness. Many build their identities on their academic or athletic achievements, only to find these are subjective and temporary. Status and fame are often fleeting. Recreation and fun lose their appeal when tragedy strikes and our hearts are heavy. Pornographic images cannot love us back. Video game victories are erased by a drop of water or a poorly placed magnet. Labels placed on us, whatever they may be, eventually fade and peel.

In 2001, Bishop McMullin warned of the mirage of worldly preoccupation with self. "The highs are counterfeit," he taught, "the lows are disparing. Love, kindness, personal fulfillment, and genuine self-worth are found in service to God and others, not in service to oneself" (An Invitation with a Promise, 2001).

Similarly, Elder Bednar has taught that "sadly, some [men and women] in the Church today ignore 'things as they really are' and neglect eternal relationships for digital distractions, diversions, and detours that have no lasting value." He continued:

Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, earbuds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience (Things as They Really Are, 2010).

In these prophetic warnings about the mirages of the world we see that there are many ways we can be fooled into giving up what matters most for an attractive illusion. However these illusions may deceive our senses for a time, they cannot quench our thirsts for purpose, joy, love and belonging.

Prophetic teachings also teach us about what is real: Loving and kind relationships filled with service and communication, covenants such as baptism and eternal marriage, physical experience and a grounded knowledge in things as they really are enhance our lives and bring lasting satisfaction.

In Lehi's dream, the iron rod through the mist of darkness was the word of God. If we are lost in a mirage of beliefs and worships without Christ, certainly with Christ we are anchored in reality and receive a clearer focus on what we want most in life. Like watching a magic trick after we have learned the trick, we are better able to discern reality when we embrace the word of God in the scriptures, revealed through modern prophets and written on our hearts by the Holy Ghost.

Jacob taught:

The spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls (Jacob 4:13).

Ultimately, the spirit and the words of the prophets will lead us to our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the living water that can quench our thirst. He has blazed a trail through the mist and engraven the path upon the palms of his hands. Through his atonement we find healing and strength, love for self and others, compassion, knowledge, service, power, lasting joy and eternal glory. Though the world will offer innumerable counterfeits and illusions that leave us with only vacant space, holding to the word of God will safely guide us through this life and back to that God that created all that is real.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Be Ye Therefore Perfect

The Savior was just beginning his mortal ministry when he delivered “the greatest sermon ever given,” known to us as the Sermon on the Mount (Thomas S. Monson, April 1975). His teachings introduced a higher law than the Law of Moses and his authority astonished those that heard him preach (Matthew 5-7, 7:28-29). Among the guidance he gave to govern our lives was the charge to, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Taken at face value, this commandment is a concise summary of all the commandments and the divine plan of God for our happiness, immortality and exaltation. The Family: A Proclamation to the World explains that our physical bodies and our experiences on earth are given to us so that we might, “progress toward perfection and ultimately realize [our] divine destiny as heirs of eternal life”.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by so large a task, particularly when we attempt to limit the Savior’s command to our own strength and our own timelines, as if it were some sort of academic exercise. When we slow down to consider the matter, there are at least three ways we can follow this ultimate commandment every day—and none of them happen instantly or in isolation.

First, we can take the Lord’s charge in context and understand that we are to be perfect in the thing which Christ had most recently taught. Just prior to the command to be perfect we read:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love they neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45).

Loving God with all of our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves are the first and second great commandments, respectively, and laws upon which all others rely (Mathew 22: 34-40). As our Father in heaven loves all people perfectly, so in time must we learn to love as He loves. We are blessed in this endeavor to have the support and the challenges that come with building loving relationships with our families first, as well as others around us. We had a family before we were born and will be reunited with our loved ones after death if we make and keep temple covenants. Because the need to love perfectly will never subside,the journey we make with our families toward perfection spans far beyond our mortal existence.

Despite the help we receive from others and freedom from the constraints of time in our pursuit, clearly perfection requires effort from us. Paul admonished the Corinthians to, “examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves…. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:5-11). Paul’s admonition challenges us to strive to become a more perfect being, more than but still very much a person filled with love, faith and a sound identity.

Paul's admonition refers to a broader sense of perfection where we are expected to not only love or believe or do perfectly but to be perfect beings. This is the source of perfect angst in many Sunday School classes, but such is the natural consequence of our own limited comprehension. Again we benefit from the realization that our pursuit will be neither short nor lonely. Speaking of perfection in this way, Elder Russell M. Nelson explained:

The term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means ‘complete.’ … The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means ‘to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.’ Please note that the word does not imply freedom from error; it implies achieving a distant objective.
We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord. It awaits all who love him and keep his commandments (“Perfection Pending,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 86, 88).

The Prophet Joseph Smith likened the pursuit of perfection to climbing a ladder as we learn each of the principles of the gospel. “But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before will have learned them,” he added. “It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 268).

Our great work is aided in this life by scripture guides that point the way. As Paul taught the Corinthians to “examine yourselves”, so Alma encouraged the people of Nephi to have personal interviews with themselves and provided some of the questions they might ask:

And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body? (Alma 5:14–15)

Dozens of other guides for personal measurement dot the scriptures and include, but are not limited to, the Ten Commandments, the scriptural gospel (faith, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end), the Articles of Faith, and the Beatitudes, which the Savior uses to preface the call to perfection.

Of course, self-evaluation itself is seldom easy and requires honest soul-searching, personal pondering, sincere prayer, and a genuine relationship with the Savior. In a 2013 devotional, BYU statistics professor Shane Reese warned that a critical part of measuring ourselves is ensuring fairness in our assessments:

While some who try to make assessments of themselves will not hold themselves to a high enough standard, it is my experience that most are more inclined to be far too tough on themselves… As we make measurements of ourselves, we must be fair. In a generation that is dominated by knee-jerk reactions that can be sent around the globe in microseconds and by the instantaneous measurements that are meted out through social media, we are often lured into making judgments without data. The virtual world that comes with the miracles of technology have a side effect of masking “things as they really are"
(Jacob 4:13).

Elder Uchtdorf taught that our ability to progress depends a great deal on our relationship with ourselves:

It may seem odd to think of having a relationship with ourselves, but we do. Some people can’t get along with themselves. They criticize and belittle themselves all day long until they begin to hate themselves. May I suggest that you reduce the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God’s creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally. Learn to see yourself as Heavenly Father sees you—as His precious daughter or son with divine potential. (Ensign, November 2010, 22)

As we learn to examine ourselves we can make better choices that make our efforts more effective and efficient and bring us closer to the Savior and His perfection. No matter how well we become at evaluating and improving however, it is a serious mistake to think that we can reach our final destination—that we can become perfect—without help that only our Savior can provide.

The scriptures teach that those who inherit the Celestial Kingdom and live forever in the presence of God are just people who put forth considerable effort to develop faith to overcome life’s challenges and their own natures. Yet, ultimately, all of them are, “made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (D&C 76:52-69).

Lest we are ever tempted to take too much credit, Isaiah, speaking Messianically, lays it out this way:

For I will send my servant unto you who are blind; yea, a messenger to open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf; And they shall be made perfect notwithstanding their blindness, if they will hearken unto the messenger, the Lord’s servant (JST Isaiah 42:19-20).

Finally, the third way we can understand the Savior’s charge to, “be ye therefore perfect,” is to look at the precedent of law and use a little math.

The laws of God and many governments on earth dictate that two or more people bound by covenant or contract, such as marriage, can become one unit in the eyes of the law. A husband and wife can share a bank account, make significant medical decisions for each other and inherit property upon the death of their spouse.

Similarly, a company or other organization may benefit or be held responsible for the actions of a single employee bound to them by a contract of employment, even if that contract is implied. In the eyes of the law, individuals bound by covenant or contract can be seen as one unit-- one family or one organization.

This is important because all of us can enter into a covenant with Christ through baptism. As a bride takes on the name of her groom, so we covenant that we are willing to take upon ourselves the name of the Son, and in so doing we become as one unit with the only man in the history of the world that was and is and will always be perfect and perfectly worthy to live in the presence of God (D&C 20:77). As both the bride and the groom must agree to be married, so Christ too was baptized, bidding his astonished cousin to, “suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

And now the math. Because a married couple may be seen as one unit, they often share assets and liabilities-- they both own the house and are responsible for the mortgage. If instead of cash and debts we dealt in the currency of righteousness and sins, all of us are debtors. King Benjamin explained:

And now, in the first place, [God] hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted to him, and are, and will be, forever and ever (Mosiah 2:23-24).

We cannot enter God's presence with the impure debt of sin and unity with Christ alone cannot wipe away that debt. This becomes clear if we conceptualize our sins as a negative number and Christ's perfection as 0, as in free from all sin. No matter the size of our debt these numbers cannot yield a positive outcome.

Paul taught that, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore, “it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34:10).

Again, conceptually, infinity plus or minus any number is still infinity. With Christ, sins of any collective magnitude do not diminish the value of his Atonement nor his capacity to forgive and strengthen each of us. He asks only that we fulfill our end of the baptismal covenant that binds us to Christ, washes our debts away with his His infinite surpluses, and allows us to be perfect today.

The primary importance of our unity with Christ as the means by which we may become perfect is illustrated in the Savior’s experience with Mary and Martha in Luke chapter 10. While Mary learned at the feet of the Savior and came closer to Him, Martha was “cumbered about much serving” and rushing, perhaps somewhat frantically, to be the perfect hostess for her guest. When Martha finally appealed to Jesus to encourage her sister to help, the Savior responded with love: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:40-42).

How do we respond to the charge to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect? Do we fill our schedules with activities that find us rushing frantically from one activity to another or do we take the time to get to know ourselves and build relationships with our Savior, our families, and those we serve? Are we harsh in our measurements of ourselves or do we strive to do our best and see our efforts as the Lord sees them? Do we trust in our Savior and cling to the covenants we have made or are we casual in our observance of the gospel and blinded by our own pride?

It is my testimony that we can live up to the Savior’s command to be perfect as we make and keep baptismal covenants today, strive for constant improvements until our journey is complete through the grace of Christ in the eternities to come, and do all we can to love one another and build positive relationships with those around us, particularly our families. We are, after all, bound to them as well and mutually bound to Christ— success for one of us, or for someone we home teach, or for those we serve-- is a success for all of us.

Indeed, as Paul taught the Romans, “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17).