Strengthen Yourself First

On the mission, we would often teach people an analogy that goes something like this: On an airplane, you’re taught that in an emergency, you have to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others with their masks. Why is that? Because without oxygen, you’re not going to be much good to anyone else anyway. They can wait a few more seconds for you to take care of yourself so that you’ll actually be prepared and strong enough to help them. The same goes with life, especially spiritually.

All I’ve ever wanted to do is help to strengthen other people’s faith and testimonies and most of the time, it’s fairly easy because I’ve never had to struggle much with my own. However, in the past month or so, life has gotten a little overwhelming, frustrating at times, stressful and almost painful at certain points. Don’t get me wrong – I love my life and I have nothing to complain about. So what’s wrong with me? Something VERY important to my spiritual, physical and mental health. I’ve neglected my personal relationship with God in my personal scripture study, my personal prayers, my thoughts and my church attendance. I’ve been so focused on getting enough sleep, succeeding in school, and trying to have a smidgen of a social life that my scripture study has only happened because of assignments in my Doctrine & Covenants class, my prayers have become impersonal and rehearsed, and my attendance at church has happened only because I know I need to go. Yes, I’m still doing all of the important things, but I’m not doing them with a broken heart, contrite spirit and with real intent. That means I don’t get much out of any of them and it’s leaving me struggling to keep my head above water.

Mosiah 4:26-27 says:

“And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.”

Here, we are taught that we need to repent daily and to serve others both spiritually and temporally. These verses suggest two things to me. First, we can only do as much as we have strength for or we won’t succeed in our endeavors. Second, repentance and service are things that will give us the strength we need to endure and be successful in all that is asked of us.

So what does it mean to repent and serve and why does it give us such strength? Repentance simply means to change our habits in such a way that they will bring us closer to God and Jesus Christ instead of farther away from them. Service is often the best way for that change to happen permanently. As we do both of these things together, they transform us into more Christ-like people and allow us to overcome any challenges that come because we are less wrapped up in ourselves and more interested in what Heavenly Father would rather have us being doing to help all of His children return Home (the ultimate goal – Moses 1:39).

Lately I’ve been trying to do way too many things and it has caused me to neglect the most important things, which in turn, causes me to be unable to strengthen and uplift others in the way I so badly want to do. I’m weaker than I have been because of how I’ve allowed myself to forget about putting on my own oxygen mask first. I haven’t felt like much help to anyone, including myself, these past few weeks and I want to change that, to go back to how I was before – joyful every day, enthusiastic about every aspect of my life, and so filled with the Spirit that I had no doubt about what I was supposed to be doing and the perseverance and diligence to do those things.

So today, I’m holding myself accountable to anyone who reads this (feel free to follow up with me). My goals this week are to strengthen myself by 1) reading my scriptures and pondering them on a daily basis, 2) having sincere prayers every day and asking Heavenly Father one specific question about what He needs me to do that day and 3) preparing myself so that I can worthily and happily take the sacrament next Sunday. I know that if I do these things, I’ll be able to have the Lord’s Spirit with me more strongly and I’ll be more successful in my goals and dreams of succeeding in school and helping the people around me to come unto Christ.

I Will Trust and Go and Do!

“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)

These words were said by Nephi, a prophet from the Book of Mormon who journeyed from Jerusalem to the Americas with his family in about 600 BC.  His father, Lehi was one of those prophets who was told to warn the people of Jerusalem of the city’s destruction if they did not repent. When the people didn’t listen, Lehi was commanded to leave with his family and make the journey to the promised land (the Americas). Throughout this journey, Nephi constantly was searching for the Lord’s guidance and direction, even when tasks seemed near impossible and improbable.

Fast forward to 1 Nephi 17. Now by this point, Nephi’s family is still in the Middle East, probably somewhere on the eastern coast (Persian Gulf) of what is present day Saudi Arabia (they had been journeying in an eastern direction for many days and nights from Jerusalem – I’m not exactly sure where they would have been since I haven’t studied geography of the scriptures, but based on what I know, it’s a good guess at where they were). In Chapter 17, Nephi has been commanded by the Lord to build a ship (not just a boat, a full on SHIP). Let me ask you this: What would YOU do if you were asked to build a ship? I personally would probably be almost immediately overwhelmed by that task, automatically going over all of the things it would take to do it and how much time, skill and tools it would require. If we’re being completely honest, I think I would  have doubted my ability to do so, especially at the beginning, even with the promise of God’s help and instructions. I would have looked for other solutions and tried to do other things instead of such a huge task. I would have let my fear drive my actions instead of my faith. Eventually, though, because Heavenly Father loves me enough to keep pushing me in the direction He needs (and I need) me to go,  I would have finally accepted it and worked to accomplish His will.

In Nephi’s account, his brothers (Laman and Lemuel) doubt him and actually taunt and make fun of him for even trying to do something he’s never even thought about doing before in his life. They say he’s not competent enough, that he’s not strong enough, even that he’s dumb for trying something that is so obviously impossible to accomplish on your own. Amazingly, the first thing Nephi does when he’s asked to build a ship is not to say “But Lord…. how can I do this? I don’t know anything about carpentry! I don’t even know how to BEGIN making a ship. I’d have to have all these different tools and materials. And you expect me to do this? My brothers already think I’m crazy. Why are you asking me to do this crazy thing?” Instead, Nephi’s response is more simply like this: “Alright. I’ll need tools to make a ship, but I don’t have any yet.

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Nephi making tools to build the ship.

Where can I go to find materials to make those tools?” Maybe his mind is thinking about this elephant task he suddenly has to do, but he has completely faith. And he doesn’t even ask “Where do I even start?” He recognizes that he has to prepare himself for it and he figures out HOW to prepare. THEN he asks the Lord for help in those preparations.

 

In each of our lives, we often have tasks similar to building a ship – they’re huge, seemingly impossible and require a lot of preparation and strength. If we were to try to go through our lives alone, most of us would probably turn our backs on projects like that. We’d take one look at them and think “I can’t do that. Maybe someday,” “I’m not good enough to do that” or even “There’s no possible way I would EVER be able to do something like that”. However, if we turn to the Lord and recognize when He asks us to do what we think is unattainable, and then trust that He will provide a way, we can do anything.

Let’s review the first scripture I shared (1 Nephi 3:7):

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Nephi and his family building the ship

“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

At the end of that verse we learn that commandments are never given to anyone if it’s impossible for them to accomplish. Have you ever heard the saying “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle”? Well, it’s true. That doesn’t mean He expects you to do those things alone (if that were true, there would be a LOT less asked of us by Him), it just means He believes and trusts in you to do everything in your power to get it done and when that’s not enough, He believes and trusts that you will turn to Him for help to finish it. This is especially true when he specifically tells you to do something (as opposed to things in life just happening).

Let me share my experience with this chapter because I want you all to find a way to apply what this chapter has taught you in your own lives.

This past week or two, I’ve really been feeling a little (okay A LOT) overwhelmed by the enormous task of preparing for my piano recital in June. I have 50 minutes of music to learn, memorize and perfect before May 15th or thereabouts. More often than not I find myself analyzing and worrying over how impossible this task feels instead of focusing on why I’m doing it in the first place. At the beginning of the week, I decided to get a Priesthood blessing… Except I never actually asked anyone for one because I didn’t know who to ask (blessings are extremely important and sacred to me, so I generally am prayerful about who I ask). The whole week went by without me finding anyone to ask. Then yesterday, I found exactly what I needed.

I went to the temple with my ward and decided to do an ordinance called an initiatory for my ancestors (an initiatory is basically a preparatory washing that happens before making additional covenants with the Lord, similar to the preceding ordinances of Baptism and Confirmation). I had actually planned on doing something else instead of initiatories, but thankfully, another girl in my ward offered to do initiatories. I firmly believe that was a prompting from God to help me get what I was in need of this week. Going to the temple, I actually hadn’t thought much about what I was in need of, so I wasn’t actually searching for any answer in particular. As I was waiting in line for initiatories, I flipped a Book of Mormon open to a completely random page. It was 1 Nephi 17. I knew it was a good chapter, so I happily began to read. Lately I’ve been working to actually think about what I read from the scriptures instead of just reading it, so when I came across verses 17-18, I thought a little harder about what kind of attitude I generally have when hard tasks come into my life. Those verses say:

“And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters. And thus my brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord.”

That last line “neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord” is what struck me in a different way and got me thinking about my elephant of a task I currently have to accomplish by June 3. I asked myself these questions “How am I acting – like Laman and Lemuel, or like Nephi? Am I complaining? Am I working as hard as I need to in order to do this and do it well? Do I believe I can do this? More importantly, does the Lord believe I can do this?” More questions came and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, though I may have times where I’m like Nephi, more often than not I have thoughts similar to those of Laman and Lemuel. I forget what strength I have and I forget where my talent comes from – I forget that I’m not doing this alone.

At least once a week, I have it confirmed to me once more that the reason I’m doing this is because the Lord has instructed me to further my musical talents in order to better serve the people in my life. Every time that confirmation comes, I have to remember that because the Lord has asked it of me, He will also provide a way for me to accomplish it.

Nephi continues to share how his brothers murmured in verses 19-21. As you read this, I’d like for you to think about how closely this comes to your own thoughts whenever you doubt or stress over things that have brought you to where you are today:

“And now it came to pass that I, Nephi, was exceedingly sorrowful because of the hardness of their hearts; and now when they saw that I began to be sorrowful they were glad in their hearts, insomuch that they did rejoice over me, saying: We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work. And thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions. Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.”

Nephi’s response to his brothers is this (verses 23-26, 50-51)

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Nephi rebuking his brothers

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, spake unto them, saying: Do ye believe that our fathers, who were the children of Israel, would have been led away out of the hands of the Egyptians if they had not hearkened unto the words of the Lord? Yea, do ye suppose that they would have been led out of bondage, if the Lord had not commanded Moses that he should lead them out of bondage? Now ye know that the children of Israel were in bondage; and ye know that they were laden with tasks, which were grievous to be borne; wherefore, ye know that it must needs be a good thing for them, that they should be brought out of bondage. Now ye know that Moses was commanded of the Lord to do that great work; and ye know that by his word the waters of the Red Sea were divided hither and thither, and they passed through on dry ground.

“And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?”

I testify to you that God doesn’t ask us to do difficult things that are impossible for us to accomplish. He doesn’t ask us to do difficult things to make us miserable. God is our loving Heavenly Father who only gives us hard things to do because He knows that it’s the best way for us to be pushed to our limits. Without being pushed to our limits, we can’t grow and progress. Without widening our limited boundaries, we can’t continue to learn of Him, trust in Him, and become like Him. I testify of the love and wisdom of God as He guides our lives in ways that we often don’t understand in the moment, but which we are often grateful for once we realize what He’s done and continues to do for us. And I testify that whatever difficult things the Lord asks of you, if you trust in Him and allow Him to strengthen you, blessings will poured out upon you in ways you never imagined before.

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Lehi and his family arrive in the promised land (the Americas).

I encourage you to study this chapter and other scriptures so that you can learn and understand more about what the Lord would have and is having you do in your lives. He won’t leave you to figure things out and do all alone. He loves you, knows you and believes that you can do whatever task He throws in your direction if you are but willing to love and believe in Him, too. I promise you that without any doubt in my mind and say this in the name of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s Relieving to Know…

You know, I’ve never really agreed with the statements that go something like this: “It hurts me to know that Christ uttered my name in the Garden of Gethsemane” or “I wish that I wasn’t a part of contributing to Christ’s pain because of my sins”. I even at one point had someone say “Never do anything that would have caused the Savior pain the Garden of Gethsemane”. I understand why people might say something like that – it can sometimes be inspiring to have that as some sort of mantra to help you remember to choose the right, and I don’t think that they’re wrong in doing so. But for me personally, as I’ve come to better understand the Savior and His Atonement, I am so grateful that He DID utter my name in that garden 2000 years ago. I love that He suffered for my sins. I don’t, by any means, mean that I enjoy the fact that He was in pain. I mean that I love that He suffered because that’s the whole reason why repentance and salvation are possible.

Actually, Jesus Christ’s Atonement is the ONLY reason why repentance is possible. The Atonement means that I can be forgiven. It means that I can be healed and cleansed and made perfect someday. It means that He loves me enough to go through an amount of pain that no man could ever even comprehend, let alone actually endure. It means that I have a way to walk in God’s presence one day.

Why is the Atonement necessary in the first place? Because I’m human. It’s 100% guaranteed that I’m going to make mistakes because I’m NOT perfect. I’m a spiritual being having a mortal experience because my Heavenly Father loved(s) me enough to want to send me here so that I can have trials, tribulations, afflictions and temptations. There is no other way for us to become like Him. Without this mortal experience, without making mistakes and sinning, but more importantly, without the suffering and death of our Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary, I wouldn’t be able to learn and grow and progress. I wouldn’t stand a chance of living with God again. In fact, I would actually become like Lucifer – bound in chains, unable to get out of the pit of despair because of my sins.

Mistakes, sins, suffering, temptations, trials, afflictions… All of that is not exactly easy. Not even close. But looking at it through an eternal perspective, all of that is actually a blessing and a joyful occasion because it is a part of God’s plan for us to become like Him and live with Him again someday. What kind of lessons would you learn if you were always happy, if nothing bad ever happened to you? How strong would you be if instead of walking, running, lifting or really doing anything, you simply sat around having everything handed to you? How would you progress to be better than you were yesterday if you didn’t know anything besides that kind of life? The answer is simple. You wouldn’t.

There’s a reason for opposition in our lives (2 Nephi 2:11). There’s a reason bad things happen to us, even when we’re doing everything right. And there’s a reason for the Atonement. It’s so we can be made stronger every day. It’s so we can learn and grow in new ways every day. It’s so we don’t have to do everything in every day alone.

So no. I’m not sorry Jesus Christ uttered my name in that garden 2000 years ago. I’m not sorry that He suffered for me. The only time I’d be sorry for that was if I went through my life never using the gift I know is there specifically for me. Instead of being sorry, I am relieved and grateful and joyful that He did those things for me. Because it provides me with a way Home.