Sunday, July 25, 2021

Troubled about many things


There are many demands on our time. It sometimes feels like there's too much to do and not enough time to do it. And on top of all that, God wants us to do those things that will bring us closer to Him: reading our scriptures, attending temple and other worship services, serving others, etc. It's not hard to understand why we sometimes let those things slide. But when we prioritize them, they help all the other activities in our lives to fall into their proper place.

When Jesus told Martha that "one thing is needful," He was not implying that the other things she was trying to do were unimportant or not worthwhile. Rather, He was pointing out that at that time, Martha's desire to learn from Him in order to draw nearer to God was more important. Concerning herself with keeping house and serving her guests was a worthy desire. But Christ would only be with them for a short time, and they were better served by taking advantage of His presence.

This doesn't mean every second of every day needs to be spent on studying the Gospel. We need to take care of our mortal bodies (which includes appropriate intervals of rest and recreation), maintain close relationships with those we love, and contribute to our communities and society at large. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). If we ever feel overwhelmed with all the things we need to do, or are ever unsure of what to do next, we can take some time to ponder what one thing is most needful in that moment.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

True Love Triangle


In works of fiction, it is very common to have one character in love with two others, or visa versa. This trope is so common in fact, that it has it's own name: "love triangle". At the risk of sounding pedantic though, it's usually not a true triangle. While there may be three points (one character and their two love interests), there are only two sides: one connecting the character with one love interest, and another connecting them with the other love interest. If there is any relationship between the two love interests, it is often characterized by jealousy, competition, disdain, or sometimes even hatred. That is, of course, the point of authors employing the love triangle: it's a very easy narrative device for generating conflict and driving the story.

God's love, however, works differently. This isn't to criticize the use of such a narrative device in fiction, nor to diminish the conflicts that can arise from similar scenarios in real-life. It's simply a reminder that when we strive to follow the great commandment, we are edified and drawn closer together.

The admonition for one to "love thy God, and thy neighbor as thyself" supplies us with the three points of our "True Love Triangle". The first two are obvious: love God and love thy neighbor. However, loving them "as thyself" implies the need to actually love oneself. After all, if we don't love ourselves, then loving God or our neighbor "as ourselves" doesn't actually mean much. To be clear, I am not referring to the prideful, narcissistic "self-love"that causes one to see themselves as superior to others. Rather, I am referring to love like God has for us.

This three-way relationship of love between God, our neighbor, and ourselves produces a beautiful harmony in which strengthening any one point of the triangle simultaneously strengthens the other two:

  • The more we love God, the easier it is to love ourselves, because we'll feel closer to Him and see ourselves as He sees us: someone worthy of love.
  • The more we love God, the easier it is to love our neighbor, because we internalize God-like attributes such as mercy, patience, and generosity.
  • The more we love our neighbor, the easier it is to love God, because loving and serving our neighbor is one way to demonstrate our love for God (see Matthew 25:40, Mosiah 2:17).
  • The more we love our neighbor, the easier it is to love ourselves, because showing love for others makes us feel good about ourselves.
  • The more we love ourselves, the easier it is to love God, because dark thoughts of self-doubt will be diminished, which could otherwise distract us from thinking of God.
  • The more we love ourselves, the easier it is to love our neighbor, because taking care of ourselves grants us the health and strength we need to serve others.

So if we are ever finding it difficult to feel love for God, ourselves, or those around us, we may find it easier to start with another point of the triangle. The more we sincerely express love, the more love we will be able to feel in turn.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Given to believe


There are many people of faith who claim to know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that various other beliefs are true. Among Latter-day Saints in particular, it is very common to speak in terms of relative certainty when sharing one's testimony (e.g. "I know the Church is true, etc."). What do we mean when we say we know these things? If we have never seen a pillar of light or a burning bush, is it dishonest to claim to "know"? What about those of us who "believe" they are true, but don't feel certain enough to say that we know them? Does that make our testimony weak and unreliable?

First of all, we should not judge one another based on differences in how we express something so personal as our testimonies and religious beliefs. Whether one chooses to say that they "know" or "believe", the important thing is that their testimony is sincere. That is the kind of testimony that angels rejoice over, regardless of the terminology used.

In addition, even if one doesn't have absolute certainty of their religious beliefs, there are still things that they can know with confidence. We can know that they have brought peace and clarity to our lives. We can know they have inspired us to love more and live better. We can know that they bring us hope and happiness. Though we may not have a perfect knowledge of all things, we can have knowledge of these specific things (see Alma 32:28-34).

Finally, God explains that He has given spiritual gifts to all of His children, and He doesn't always give the same gift to everyone. Among those gifts mentioned in D&C 46, we clearly see that the gift of "knowing" that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the gift of "believing" the words of those who know are two distinct gifts. Those of us who have been given the gift of believing may desire to one day have true knowledge, and that is not a bad desire to have. But for some, that desire may not be fulfilled until after this life, when we at last enter the presence of God and see Him face to face. Should that be God's will for us, we can express gratitude for the portion of light and knowledge that He has given us. We can nurture that precious belief, and seek to increase and refine our understanding through study and prayer. We can continue to act in faith, even when we don't have absolute certainty. And we can remember, that to simply "believe" is not a curse. It is a gift.