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Friday, July 21, 2017

Even All This Can Ye Do If Ye Will

So I kind of took a little bit of a hiatus from writing here because a) I realized that I was only writing my answers to the futurist for the sake of having something to write (not ideal) and b) I have been VERY busy with a few things that have taken up too much of my time to sit down and focus on posting something worth writing (not just for the sake of posting).

But I have found something in the Book of Mormon that got me thinking about the limits we impose on ourselves and what can truly have and do if we are simply willing to have/do it.

The verse is Alma 33:23.  It says this. "And now, my bretheren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith.  And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life.  And then, may God grant unto you that your burdens may be made light, through the joy of his Son.  And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen."

Almost the same thing is said in Alma 41:8. "Now the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved."

One more quote to lead into how I want to approach this idea.  It's by Cecil B. Demille. "We are too inclined to think of law as something merely restrictive... something hemming us in. We sometimes think of law as the opposite of liberty. But that is a false conception... God does not contradict himself. He did not create man and then, as an afterthought, impose upon him a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules. He made man free and then gave him the commandments to keep him free. We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God."

This may come off as a little blunt to some, but the thought of "Oh that's just the way I am" is a cop-out.  Even from a non religious point of view, the concept of entropy in the second law of thermodynamics shows us that anything that is not in a constant state of change will eventually decrease in energy, become stagnant, useless and die.  In order for something to become something else, often something better, or at least constantly giving off energy or influencing something else in some way, change must be a constant.   This applies to people as well.

The beauty of that principle's application to us is that God has given us the ability to choose to change, to initiate the process on our own.  The irony of that gift, however, is that we may also use it to diminish the quality of the gift itself.  Yes, we actually have the ability to choose to render ourselves unable to choose as weird as that sounds.  Satan knows that and he exploits that truth at every chance he gets.  Just look at the porn addict, the alcoholic, the gamer who never sees daylight, the chain smoker, the drug dealer.  They have, as Cecil B. Demille said, 'broken [them]selves' against the commandments of God, against their own agency.

The great part about Alma 33:23 and Alma 41:8 is that they clearly show us that we have every ability to choose whatever we want.  And because of Jesus Christ, we can even choose to break out of addictions and things that limit our ability to choose.  We can do "all this... if [we] will".

I like how Elder Holland said it: “You can change anything you want to change and you can do it very fast. It is another Satanic falsehood to believe that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say “I’ll change”―and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend―indeed, you had better spend―the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the sons of Mosiah.”

That's true!  Often it takes the course of action recommended by President Russell M. Nelson "reach[ing] up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air", but that actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. What happens when you hit a racquetball off a wall with very little force?  It drops to the floor, possibly bounces a few inches off the ground a few times and then just rolls away.  What happens when you hit it as hard as you possibly can?  It's going to respond by flying off the wall with a force proportional to how hard you hit it.  It's the same with this concept.  If you reach out for divine help as if you are drowning the heavens can respond with proportional timing and power.

It's also the same with the raw power of our own independent choices.  You can do almost anything you want to.  The only exception is in Alma 41:10, "...wickedness never was happiness." You cannot be truly happy in sin.

Do you want to have the constant urge to view pornography or do drugs or satisfy that constant superficial craving for whatever else just can't seem to get enough of?  You can do that.  Do you want to make your life the same every day and never change anything you do?  You can do that, too.  Do you want to constantly improve yourself and become the very best version of yourself?  You can do that as well.  The variable in the matter is your willingness.

I've seen a good number of piano students come to my home and insist that they want to become talented pianists, that they really want to push and work hard and master the instrument.  Only one has ever had the drive to prove it and they unfortunately had to move away.  I don't know if they found another teacher willing to push them like my wife and I are.  Every other student here has come up against some kind of barrier to which they responded something to the effect of, "Oh wait a minute! I didn't realize it would be that hard! Maybe I can't do this."  Usually I try to re-emphasize [paraphrasing], "I told you this would be hard, that piano is the most difficult instrument to master. I told you I would ask you to do things that I guarantee you didn't think you could do, that would push you to your limits and past them. But I also told you that you will be able to anyways if only you are willing to keep trying."  None of them believed me except that one student and she proved me right.

If you really want to do it, if you can truly say, like Elder Holland suggested, "I'll change", and mean it, then you can do it.  You just can.

I am reminded of Green Lantern.  I'm more of a Marvel fan than DC, but I still loved that movie.  For those who are not familiar with it, the Green Lantern Corps in DC comics is an army of intergalactic protectors who wield the green light of will power.  Their rings enable them to turn their very will into reality, using hard light constructs to create literally anything. The only limit to their power is the strength of their will and their imagination.  The same applies to us, conceptually.  The only limit to your changing for the better is your own will power.  Not even God or satan can stop you or force you to act against your own will.  Satan isn't allowed to and God won't.  In fact, if anything, God seeks to enhance your ability to choose, He just respects your desires enough to wait until you show Him you want Him to do so and following His commandments, as He has said, is the key to unlocking that.

Coming from me - especially having Aspergers, making me particularly prone to repetitive and addictive patterns - this is saying a lot.  It may even make me look like a walking contradiction to those who know me, but if there's anything I have faith in when it comes to change, it's that Jesus Christ is the key to it.  I have experienced that kind of change, perhaps on a smaller scale than I would like, but those changing experiences have had a powerful enough effect to motivate me to just keep trying. His atoning sacrifice was made so that we can keep our agency and escape the negative consequences of it if we will, because of Him.

One last point, from a slightly different angle to hopefully really make this hit home.  I have noticed an attitude that permeates our modern world that has merit in certain situations and from a certain perspective, but all in all, of itself is not healthy.  It is the attitude that it's okay that we're not perfect.  Now to anyone with a sound understanding of doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hold on a minute before you think "umm.. no way.. you've got it all wrong."  I am well aware that the purpose of life is to progress from one evil temptation to the next but getting better at rejecting them in favor of the Godly in life.  I am aware that our imperfection was an inevitable, unavoidable part of God's plan, so in one sense, because of Christ's atonement, it's okay for now that we are not perfect.  But what is the point of seeking everything Godly?  It's to make us perfect, eventually, right?  Yes, yes, I know, the key word there is eventually.

But think about this.  Would the Book of Mormon and God's prophets today tell us to not procrastinate the day of our repentance if there were not a point where "eventually" wasn't good enough anymore?  Because I promise you that day will come and I do not plan on being one of those who based their repentance on "eventually".  I have heard many people look at spiritual giants among us with awe, think "wow, how did they become so good?" and then have their minds blown when they find out that many of them had some pretty hefty bad things they overcame or even still needed to overcome in their life.  The response I usually have heard from those people is "really?  You?  You struggle/struggled with that??  Well if you struggled with it and you are as amazing as you are, then I definitely have a chance to be amazingly spiritual and good, too."  And that's a fantastic motivator.  I see nothing wrong with that kind of thinking if used to get from one level of faithful obedience to the next.  But there's a line that's too dangerous to get close to when going down that road.  What if I were to rephrase it like this: "It's so comforting that [so and so] has those weaknesses. Now I don't feel so bad."  Umm... wait a minute.  That directly contradicts what Elder Maxwell said: "The moment of gravest danger is when there is so little light that darkness seems normal!"

As good as it is to find motivation in seeing how even the greatest spiritual giants overcame some of the most heart wrenching difficulties, finding comfort in our own weaknesses because "oh well they struggled with it too so I don't have to worry so much" is, indeed "the moment of gravest danger."  Yes, they struggled with it, but what resulted from that struggle?  They overcame it!  They did not procrastinate.  They could do it because they will.  Honestly, it seems kind of stupid to say "it makes me feel better knowing that they have problems."  It's ridiculous and almost comical, really.  Don't find long lasting comfort in weakness, your own or someone else's.  Use it as a temporary motivator.  Become better not because someone else was imperfect first or as well, but because you willed yourself to do it, to use the power of Jesus' Atonement and choose better, just because it's your will.

"All this can ye do if ye will" and re-emphasized by Elder Holland "...
change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the sons of Mosiah."

So the question remains for us all, will we?