drawing based on this passage of scripture before, but it was requested specifically because it is the Primary theme for next year. This version emphasizes the fact that while the world may appear to have many enticing gifts to offer, when we follow the path the Lord has shown us, we will find even greater riches. Even though we will need to work harder to get them, they will last much longer.
Sunday, September 19, 2021
Saturday, September 11, 2021
I don't have any political agenda in writing this. I just felt like it was important for me to remember as much as I could...
Twenty years ago I was thirteen years old and attending junior high. I got ready for school that morning as I normally did. Before heading out the door, I remember going to my parents room, either to say goodbye or to wait for Mom to take me to school, I don't remember. But I do remember that the TV was on, the morning news was playing, and there was a picture of the Twin Towers, one of which had been hit by a plane. I didn't know anything about the World Trade Center before that day. And like many others, at the time I assumed it was simply a terrible accident. Beyond that, I didn't think about it much more and went to school as usual. It was in the middle of one of my classes that an announcement was made: the second tower had been hit as well. Even worse, we now knew that it was not an accident. The United States had been attacked.
I don't remember much else about that day, except for a few more scattered details from school. I remember standing in line for lunch and chatting with friends about what had happened, and wondering whether this was the beginning of World War III. I remember that our U.S. History class combined with another class that day, and instead of our regular lesson, we watched the news that whole period, which reported about the death and damage caused by the attacks. I remember seeing a video of one of the towers collapsing while a news reporter was covering the event on site. I remember seeing another video on the news of some in another country, both adults and children, who were waving their national flag and celebrating the attacks. I remember sitting near another kid who was upset by this and started gesturing towards the TV screen like he was shooting a rifle at the ones who were celebrating.
I remember mourning with everyone else those killed in the attack, as well as the many heroic first responders who gave their own lives to try and help them.
I remember that in the days that followed, everyone seemed to be extra patriotic. The U.S. flag was flying everywhere you looked. I remember buying a pin of the flag to wear on my shirt collar. I remember many prayers and memorials. I remember learning the names Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Osama bin Laden and hearing frequent mention of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, or simply, "the Middle East". I remember learning that U.S. troops were heading to the Middle East.
I remember the following year the Winter Olympic Games came to Salt Lake City, and there were plans to display a damaged U.S. flag that was found amid the wreckage of the Twin Towers during the opening ceremonies. I remember some arguing that it shouldn't be displayed, because the attack was "America's problem", and the Olympics were supposed to be about the world, not just the U.S. But I remember ultimately it was decided to display the flag anyway, because terrorism is a global problem, not just an America problem. I remember that feeling like a rare moment of international solidarity.
Months passed. I remember that people started to become more flippant about the attacks. I heard and saw countless jokes, photoshopped images (this was before "memes" were common), and short videos mocking Osama bin Ladin, Saddam Hussein, and those who supported or fought for them, while at the same time threatening them with violence. I remember that for a while, it seemed like every villain in every new
thriller TV show was Middle Eastern. I remember not recognizing this
phenomena until it was pointed out to me, and then seeing it everywhere.
I remember, not just thinking, but knowing that that's unfair. I
remember one such show going out of their way to point out that there
are good Muslims too, and not recognizing at the time that falls far short of addressing hatred and prejudice.
I remember that eventually some people in the United States began criticizing the war effort in the Middle East. I remember reading an article about Iraqi prisoners that had been abused by U.S. troops. I remember backlash from those who supported the war effort. I remember them implying, if not explicitly saying, that those prisoners deserved to be mistreated, or that it simply didn't matter. I remember thinking that it did matter though. Just because they were fighting against us didn't mean we should condone them being abused by our own troops. Weren't we better than that? Didn't the concepts of forgiveness and loving our enemies apply to them just as much as anyone?
I remember my dad, who served in the Air Force Reserves, being activated to serve in Iraq. I remember feeling reassured by the fact that his duties didn't involve any actual fighting, and assuming that he would be relatively safe as a result. I remember worrying about him anyway, and praying for him often. I remember having a summer job while Dad was gone, and asking for time off for when he would be back for a short visit, but not knowing the exact date at the time. I remember being told I could have the day off, whenever it happened to be, but then being told I didn't give them enough notice when I did learn the exact date. I remember being treated with indifference when I reminded them that the reason I was requesting the day off was to see my Dad who was on active duty. I remember persisting and finally getting the day off, but losing a lot of respect for the company as a result of the experience.
I remember being on the high school swim team, and getting into an argument about the war with another member of the team who's dad was also in Iraq, and who blamed President Bush for it. I remember joining a group of other students at the school whose parents were on active duty and having special lunches and activities with them. I remember seeing a large sticker of the Air Force logo stuck to the inside of one of the urinals in the high school restroom. I remember trying to peel it off with my bare hands, but being unable to lift up the edge. I remember a friend of mine drawing a picture of a soldier in front of a tattered U.S. flag with the caption, "Freedom isn't free" in honor of our troops, including my dad.
I remember the day Dad finally finished his service and came home, and that it coincided with one of our swim meets. I remember warming up in the pool, and then looking up to see Dad sitting with my mom, getting out of the pool, and running up to him and throwing my arms around him, even though I was still wet. I remember him explaining to us days later that there were still dangers in the place where he stayed, but that he didn't tell us about them at the time in order to not worry us.
I remember political division. Obviously our nation had experienced division before. But this was one of my earliest memories of it. I remember the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was one of the biggest issues discussed during the months leading up to the 2004 election. I remember understanding why anyone would want us to bring our troops home, but not understanding how it made any sense to set a specific date by which to withdraw all of our troops, and making such a date publicly known, including to our enemies. I remember there being a lot of anger over President George W. Bush being reelected. I remember feeling, for the first time, that everyone was divided into two camps and that there was no room for compromise or understanding.
More time passed. I graduated from high school, completed a course on computer animation, got accepted to BYU, and entered the MTC to train for my mission to Neuquén, Argentina. I remember hearing news while in the MTC about Saddam Hussein's trial and execution. I remember thinking that was a sign that things were "settling down" in the region. I remember traveling to Argentina to preach the Gospel, but feeling frustrated by all those who were more interested in discussing politics once they saw the very obvious fact that I was from the U.S. I remember having dinner with members of the Church who would go out of their way to bring up the subject of the war and to criticize President Bush. I remember being yelled at by strangers who accused me of being a "spy for Bush". I remember other strangers asking if I came to Argentina to escape from our President who "loves dropping bombs on people". I remember one local Church leader pulling me aside and telling me he thinks Bush is a good man, but joking that he "can't say that around here, or they'll kill me!"
I remember that for years after my mission, both during and after my time at BYU, it seemed like everyone wanted the U.S. to get out of the Middle East, but nobody had any good ideas for how to do it. By now, the events on 9/11 were a distant memory, to the point that virtually nobody was using it as justification for any military action. I remember hearing about the emergence of a group called ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic State, as well as plenty of people arguing over which was the "correct" term to call them. I remember hearing people blame President Obama for their rise in power, and I remember it feeling as over-simplistic as the other side blaming President Bush before. I remember wondering if anything would ever seem that simple to me again.
I remember what feels like countless 9/11's passing, year after year, the memory of what had happened still there, but the profound significance of that day never being quite enough to distract from other day-to-day concerns like school, dating, marriage, working, and raising a family.
I remember less than a year ago when President Biden promised he would end the war. I remember wondering what that would look like and being cautiously hopeful that maybe he could pull it off, bring our troops home from Afghanistan, and that there could be some semblance of stability in the region. I remember feeling not just disappointed, but sick to my stomach as I heard about the Afghani government collapsing, almost the instant our troops left. I remember feeling disgusted with Biden for claiming to accept responsibility, while pointing out repeatedly that none of it was his fault. I remember him saying we couldn't stay and fight for a nation that wouldn't even fight for themselves, and I remember feeling like it was an overt instance of victim-blaming, only applied on a national scale. I remember hearing many promises that we would evacuate our troops, U.S. citizens, those Afghani's who aided us during the war, and others fleeing Taliban oppression, and then hearing numerous first-hand accounts of our Afghani allies trying to flee the country, only to be turned away at the airport.
I remember hearing about the August 31 deadline to have all of our troops out of Afghanistan. I remember hearing from multiple sources on the right and the left that were skeptical that we'd be able to get everybody out by then. I remember President Biden implying that his hands were tied, and that we had to stick to the deadline because of a deal made by former President Trump and demands made by the Taliban. I remember wondering since when does the President hesitate to undo something the previous administration has done, much less take orders from the Taliban. I remember writing letters to the President, Vice President, my Senators and Representatives, and even calling the President's comment line, asking him to postpone the deadline at least long enough to get everybody out. I remember feeling numb as I learned that the last plane left a day early instead, leaving behind hundreds of U.S. citizens and an unknown number of Afghani allies.
And now, twenty years have passed since two planes were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center, ending thousands of lives and forever changing millions more. Two decades. Enough time for an entire generation to be born and grow into adulthood that never knew a world in which the Twin Towers hadn't been attacked and in which we haven't been at war with the perpetrators of the attack. At times I feel angry with those who've set in motion these uncertain and dangerous times that my children will now have to grow up in. But then I'm reminded of course that I'm still here, and confronted with the question, what can I do? Because remembering alone isn't worth much if the memories don't lead to some sort of action.
I can't bring back the thousands of lives lost, both in the initial attack and the conflict that followed. But I can take the time to remember them, because while I didn't personally lose someone close to me as a result of that day, every life is precious, and every death is worth mourning.
I can't stop the fighting overseas. But I can honor those brave men and women who sacrifice so much to protect us, and support those who currently have loved ones on active duty or who have lost loved ones while serving.
I can't force our nation's leaders to make the right decisions. But I can do my due diligence and be involved in the process of electing them and holding them accountable.
I can't end the political divisiveness in my country. But I can do my part to build bridges of understanding and encourage civility and unity, by word yes, but more importantly by example.
I can't bring everyone to safety who is currently in danger, nor feed everyone who is hungry. But I can be generous with my time, talents, and substance to help those around me, while also supporting organizations who are better equipped to help those far away.
I can't protect my family from every danger. But I can do my best to prepare for whatever the future might bring. And most of all, I can make sure my wife and children know that I love them, and that no matter what is happening in the world, their Heavenly Father loves them even more.
I remember 9/11. I remember so much pain and fear that followed as a result. But I also remember moments of hope and joy. While its important to acknowledge the pain, it doesn't have to define us. In spite of all the things outside our control, we can hold on to hope.
We can hold on to compassion.
We can hold on to love.
Sunday, September 5, 2021
A birthday gift for a boy in our Sunday School class who really likes the story of Ammon from the Book of Mormon! Ammon said these words to the Lamanite king when asked how he was able to withstand the attacks from so many enemies earlier. Ammon gave all the credit to God, explaining that His Spirit gave him both knowledge and power as long as he was faithful. We too can be powerful like Ammon when we trust in the Lord.
Sunday, August 22, 2021
We will face many a heartbreak during our mortal lives. Even so, we know that God is just and merciful. It may be difficult to reconcile this in our minds when so much that happens in our lives seems unfair and tragic. But if we will trust God, we will one day find that He never allowed us to experience anything that wouldn't eventually be for our good. That isn't to minimize the pain that we feel the moment heartbreak occurs. Rather, it gives us hope that one day our broken hearts will be healed. It also gives us perspective to think that every experience, even the bad ones, can help us draw nearer to God. In order to do so, we must strive to climb out from the burden of bitterness and self-pity, and look and reach upwards.
The Book of Mormon tells the story of a lengthy war between the Nephite and Lamanite nations. Moroni, captain over the Nephite forces, sent a strongly worded letter to Pahoran, chief judge over the Nephites, all but accusing him of being a traitor to his people for not sending enough supplies and reinforcements for him to be able to adequately defend his people. Alma 61 contains Pahoran's response, in which he explains that there was an insurrection at the Nephite capital, which had prevented him from being able to send aid. Pahoran could have finished his letter by scolding Moroni for the assumptions and false accusations he made. But instead, he quickly forgave him. Not only that, he chose to see the good in Moroni's heart; Moroni's strong words were evidence of how much he cared for his country and the freedom of his people. Pahoran recognized and acknowledged an important truth: they were both on the same side.
We will certainly encounter those who believe things that aren't true. Sometimes those beliefs may even cause them to lash out at us. We can respond by choosing to see the goodness in their hearts. That's not to say we shouldn't stand up for ourselves. But recognizing that, deep down, we are all ultimately on the same side can help us to know the best way to respond and help us to forgive more quickly.
Sunday, August 8, 2021
Saints in the early Church needed frequent reminders (as do we all) that there's a difference between the Lord's way of teaching, and the way that often comes naturally. Disciples of Christ have received a divine mandate to preach His Gospel to all the world (see Matthew 28:19-20). However, as important as it is to be willing to boldly declare the word to others, it's just as important to know when to stay silent.
We are not without example from the master teacher Himself. There were numerous occasions when Jesus remained silent, at times even refusing to answer a direct question (for example, Matthew 26:63, St John 19:9, Luke 23:9). The pattern for these cases seems to be that the listener or questioner was not spiritually prepared to receive instruction. In addition to this possibility, we have our own spiritual preparedness to be concerned about. Hatred, pride, or anger can impede our own ability to teach. If at any time we feel that the Holy Spirit is not present to carry the truth into the hearts of of those with whom we are speaking, it is better to exercise restraint and forbear.
The statement that we "shall not teach" if we receive not the Spirit could be seen as both a commandment and a warning. We are commanded not to teach if we receive not the Spirit, and we are warned that if we attempt to do so anyway, we won't teach, because the one we are trying to teach won't learn anything. After all, no one can be forced to understand, much less accept truth. And attempting to force it can actually create a stumbling block, making it more difficult to reach someone in the future.
There may be times when we are speaking to one who is not receptive, and yet we feel prompted to continue teaching. It could be that they will remember the words taught to them at a later time when they are more open to it. There may be others present who need to hear it. Or it may simply be for our own benefit, to strengthen our testimonies and help plant the seeds of truth even deeper into our own hearts. If we suspect that this may be the case, we should examine our hearts and motives, and sense whether the Spirit is indeed present. When in doubt, we can be bold and speak up, provided we do so with humility and love. But when we can tell the Spirit is not present, we should save our teaching for a time when He is.
Sunday, July 25, 2021
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
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
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.
Monday, April 5, 2021
After Christ was risen, His disciples were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They had toiled all night and caught nothing. That morning they heard someone calling out to them, inquiring whether they had caught anything. After reporting that they had not, the stranger told them to cast their nets on the right side of the ship. They did so, and caught so many fish they couldn't hold them all. They then recognized that the One who had told them to cast on the right side was none other than Jesus Himself. (See St. John 26.)
Perhaps the fishermen thought the advice was silly. They had been casting their nets all night to no avail. What difference would it make to cast them one more time on the other side of the ship? But as soon as they did, they had success. What difference did it make? The difference was they did the same thing they were doing, but they did it the Lord's way.
So much of Christ's ministry was spent instructing and demonstrating to His followers how to do things the right way: the right way to teach, the right way to serve, the right way to worship, the right way to seek reconciliation, the right way to treat others. There are, of course, many things the Lord taught us not to do. But it is often the case that rather than stopping what we are doing altogether, we simply need to do it another way: the right way. His way.
The beauty of doing things the Lord's way is that it multiplies rather than limits our efforts. For example, Christ taught that those in positions of authority should be humble and seek to serve rather than to be served. That doesn't mean they can't teach or correct those under their stewardship. Rather, it means that teaching and correction should be done with love and genuine regard for those they lead and serve. And by showing that love and regard, they will be more likely to win their loyalty, which will in turn enhance their ability to lead.
There are many other potential applications as well. When our worthy goals aren't being met with success, it may be worth examining our methods, and considering if we are indeed doing things the Lord's way. A simple change in our approach may be all that we need.
Sunday, February 14, 2021
During His final moments with his apostles, Jesus taught, "love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). To be clear, He didn't just instruct us to love one another, but to do so as He loved us. How exactly did He love us? He declares in the very next verse, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Not long after this, He would indeed lay down His life for all of mankind.
Not everyone is called upon to die in order to save the life of another. Relatively few will even have the opportunity. But there are other ways one might lay down his or her life for their friends. Any time we sacrifice our time, talents, and resources to help another, we are laying down a piece of ourselves to give to another.
This Valentine's Day, remember that the truest expression of love is giving of oneself, just as Christ, the greatest of all, gave of Himself for us.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
I've given a lot of thought in recent years to how I should go about building a happy and satisfying life for myself. There are a thousand and one rules I could codify and memorize, each one carefully calculated to bring happiness or avoid pain. But any system like that would be very fragile; a change in circumstance or new knowledge could cause the entire code to become invalid. I could instead just go with the flow and do whatever feels right at the time, trusting my intuition to guide me. But I know from experience that, in spite of my best intentions, I am liable to make snap judgements or forget important information, leading to suboptimal outcomes.
I eventually thought of a happy medium between the two extremes: a set of guiding principles could help me to point my life in the direction I want it to go, while remaining flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and new information. I put a lot of thought into what habits seem most likely to lead to happiness, and to distill them down into their most basic forms. After months of thinking it through, I've solidified a mental image that has been helpful to me, and I share it now with all of you. I have seen abundant evidence that living by these principles has helped me to be happier, and I believe they would serve anyone well, whether they take the whole or any part of what I've illustrated here.
The mental image I've conjured is of a simple edifice consisting of four pillars, supporting a pointed roof, all resting upon a solid foundation. Each part of it represents one of my guiding principles for living a happy life.
The roof represents joy. I believe that the ultimate purpose of our existence is to find true and lasting joy (see 2 Nephi 2:25). Just as every other part of the building supports the roof, everything I do in my life should bring me closer to this goal.
Joy is not merely pleasure, which is fleeting and often leaves one feeling dissatisfied and wanting more. Nor is it only happiness, which is only one piece of what joy truly is. To me, joy is a sense of completeness, an eager anticipation for the eventual resolution of all of life's ills, and a sure confidence that it will come. One can feel happy without experiencing true joy if they lack the confidence that their happiness will last. Yet one can feel joy even while experiencing pain, because they know the pain won't last, and may even be for their eventual good.
The roof is pointed, leading one's gaze upward. It's a reminder that we should always be looking forward and striving for progress, both in ourselves and in the world around us.
The roof is supported by four pillars. Each one represents a principle that supports the goal of finding true and lasting joy. A weakness in any one of the four pillars can cause strain on the others. But when care is given to strengthening all four, our search for joy becomes a more confident one, and one that will bring great satisfaction along the journey as well.
The first pillar represents health, specifically, physical health. Our mortal bodies are temporary; all will one day pass through the veil of death. But they are also a gift. Our bodies allow us to experience the entire spectrum of pleasurable physical sensations. Our bodies allow us to work and affect positive changes in the world around us. However, when we are not physically healthy, we experience pain of a variety that demands our attention and drains our energy. Experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain are not the end goals of our existence, and frequently these two driving instincts conflict with higher goals. But whenever possible (and it nearly always is), we should strive to take care of our physical health, as it will enable us to do much good for ourselves as well as for others.
As I've started to venture into what some call "middle age," I've found it to be even more important to pay diligent heed to how I care for my body. I have tried a number of things, from diets and supplements to exercise programs and sleeping tips. Some have worked, and I've done my best to hold on to them. Others either didn't yield the desired results or weren't sustainable. But even from the latter group, I've usually gained some useful insight. I've included more specific details about how I care for my physical health as an appendix at the end of this post.
When I am physically well, I am better able to do the work that needs to be done, to help others, and to focus on other important things in life. Physical health is also closely related to emotional health; when I take care of my body, it is easier to feel happy and I recover more quickly from emotional pain.
When I say humor, I don't only mean a good "sense of humor," but rather being in good spirits generally. In other words, if the first pillar represents physical health, the second represents emotional and mental health. (While there may be subtle differences between the terms "emotional health" and "mental health", they are often used interchangeably, and for simplicity sake I use them to mean the same thing here.)
I've never been diagnosed with any mental health disorders, but I have recognized that I sometimes go through brief periods of anxiety or melancholy. I have also seen a therapist before. It was during a time of my life when I was having some emotional struggles. I learned a lot from that experience. Most people would not think twice about seeking a physician's advice about physical ailments. We should likewise not be afraid to seek professional help in maintaining our mental health.
I've learned the importance of allowing ourselves to feel things. Feelings such as anger, sadness, and fear are not inherently bad. While it's important to recognize the cause and appropriate responses to these emotions, actually feeling them, and allowing ourselves to feel and express them helps us develop the ability to process them in a healthy way.
I also keep my mind sharp by reading and listening to uplifting and edifying content, as well as wholesome entertainment. I try to be mindful of the effect such content has on me, as well as the merits of its source. I consume content from a variety of sources that share a variety of ideas, including those I may disagree with. I strive to remain teachable, and I have found value from a number of unexpected places.
To remain teachable, it's important to be humble. I've noticed a tendency of mine to immediately accept things that support my currently held beliefs and dismiss things that would seem to contradict them. I suspect that isn't unusual. But shouldn't we want to learn what's actually true instead of merely clinging to that which we already have, simply because it is familiar and comfortable? In order to learn, I constantly remind myself not only that I don't know everything, but that I don't know what I don't know. Something that may seem obvious and true to me now may not be quite right. But learning what those things are requires humility.
Learning through humility involves questioning my assumptions and seeking to understand perspectives other than my own. It doesn't mean I throw away the beliefs I already have. But it does mean considering the possibility that, for all my feelings of confidence and certainty, I might be wrong. And if I'm wrong, I'd rather know it than continue to live in ignorance.
I try to be skeptical any time I feel immediate certainty about the truthfulness or falsity of some new piece of information. Before accepting something as true or false, I try to learn more about it from multiple sources, including perspectives different from my own. Without exception, this has always resulted in deepening my understanding. Often I learn that the thing is more nuanced than it first appeared and that several of my assumptions were incorrect. Occasionally I'll come to the conclusion that my initial impressions were actually right, but going through the process was still valuable as it increased my confidence.
Humility also informs how I interact with others I disagree with, even after gaining a better understanding of their position. It takes humility to recognize that none of us can change another person's mind. If it is going to change, they will change it themselves. And even if they don't, we needn't walk away from each other as enemies. I favor persuasion over coercion; whomever I cannot persuade I will not attempt to coerce through physical force or emotional manipulation.
We were not born alone on this earth, and no one can make it through this life completely on their own. All of us depend on each other. As important as it is to take care of ourselves, we must also be on the lookout for ways to help those around us. I strive to be generous with my time, talents, and resources, just as I've benefited from the generosity of others. Life is not a zero-sum game; someone else's gain is not my loss. Rather, I view the honest successes of others as my own success.
I believe in a society that is built around laws, but I also believe that those laws should serve the people, not the other way around. The laws of the land should make it easier for people to live in dignity, safety, and freedom. I believe that leaders of communities, nations, or any other group of people should consider themselves first and foremost servants of those they lead and that they should be held accountable for how they execute that sacred calling.
I don't believe in collecting enemies. I know I probably won't please everyone. But I would rather count someone as a friend who just doesn't know it rather than nurse a grudge against them. I don't ignore, excuse, or justify the bad actions of others. But I try to look for the good in them as well. I give others the benefit of the doubt that more often than not they are acting in good faith and trying to do what they understand to be right.
My quest for joy is upheld by the four pillars of health, humor, humility, and humanity. But each of those pillars in turn depends upon a foundation of agency. We are not fleshy automatons whose actions are determined purely by some incomprehensibly complex calculation that includes outer stimuli, inner chemistry, and random chance. While we may be influenced by these things, every person has a soul, and within that soul is the ability to choose.
To exercise agency means to be deliberate rather than reactionary. Without it, every one of the four pillars mentioned above would tumble to rubble. With it, they are strengthened and even built upon:
- Instead of reacting to hunger, pain, or fatigue by doing the easiest thing to relieve them, I act deliberately by choosing how to feed, exercise, and rest my body.
- Instead of reacting to my emotions by immediately following whatever actions they bring to mind, I act deliberately by acknowledging them, understanding them, and seeking healthy and constructive outlets for them.
- Instead of reacting to perceived attacks on my pride by stubbornly refusing to budge on any issue, I act deliberately by acknowledging my own lack of knowledge and trying to increase my understanding.
- Instead of reacting to my desires for self-fulfillment by building myself up at the expense of others, I act deliberately by putting others first and seeking ways to serve them better.
I believe that our choices matter. And the honest truth is, even if there were no inherent meaning to our lives or the universe, I would still choose to act like they matter. Because when we live as though our choices matter, we will make choices that ultimately make us and others happier.
But beyond simply living like our choices matter, I believe that our lives really do matter, which brings me to the final and by far most important piece.
I said I would choose to live as though life had meaning, even if it didn't. But I believe that it does have meaning, and that it does because of Christ. I know that I can't attain lasting joy without Him. Without Him as my rock and foundation, there would be no real agency upon which to base my actions, because ultimately there would either be no existence after this life, or else I would always be in debt to my mistakes as an imperfect and fallible being.
But because Christ lived, loved, taught, died, and rose again, everyone who has ever lived and who ever will live has the potential for a future glorious existence. There's nothing we need to do (nor can do) to earn it; it is already waiting for us after this life is done. All we need to do is accept His gift and learn how to live and love as He did.
Christ illuminates every aspect of my life. By following His perfect example and teachings, as well as those of His servants, I learn which areas of my life can be improved and where I can patch the cracks. And it is His Atonement, which is stronger than any physical building material, that makes building any life worth living even possible in the first place.
I know I won't live a perfect life. Try as I might, I will always fall short of the lofty expectations I have for myself and the glorious potential God sees in me. But I've come to peace with that fact. I can hold myself to high standards while being patient and forgiving to myself. When I do fall short, I won't beat myself up for it, but rather identify the weakness and do what I can to repair and mitigate it. These guiding principles I've developed for myself are simply a framework to help keep me focused on that goal.
I hope this has been helpful. I intend to refer back to this post for my own benefit from time to time and perhaps even adjust, simplify, or otherwise improve upon it. I would encourage everyone to consider what their own guiding principles are, whether or not they use any part of the principles mentioned here as a model. Life is richer when we live it with purpose.
Appendix 1: Physical Health
Arguably the most important thing I do for my physical health is trying to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. More specifically, I try to spend eight hours in bed each night which, after accounting for the amount of time it takes me to fall asleep and any potential times waking up in the middle of the night, usually puts me over seven hours of actual sleep. To help ensure high quality of sleep at night, I set my phone to turn down the intensity of blue light starting a couple hours before bed, and I try to not use any screens at all for at least a half hour before bed. I also try to get in at least a half hour of moderate to intense physical activity during the day (but not too close to bed time) as well as at least fifteen minutes of midday sunlight, when available, to help regulate my circadian rhythm.
When I'm well rested, not only to I just feel better in general, but it's also easier for me to eat better, I recover more quickly from soreness or injury, and I'm better able to regulate my emotions. Every once in a while (less than once per week) I'll allow myself a late night to have fun with friends or get some extra work done, but I do so very sparingly and almost never multiple nights in a row. I wasn't always as diligent, and would frequently sacrifice sleep in order to get more things done. But since I've started being more diligent setting healthy sleep habits, every other aspect of my physical and emotional health has markedly improved, as has my productivity and overall feeling of well-being.
When I have trouble sleeping, I treat it as seriously as I would any other physical ailment or illness and talk to a physician about it. I have even spoken with a sleep specialist who has given me more detailed and specific advice for getting better sleep.
Entire libraries could be filled with the varied dietary advice that exists in the world. What has worked the best for me is a set of basic guidelines. I'm not perfect at following them, but when I do, I notice a difference in how I feel, as well as an acceleration in physical goals, such as weight loss. These include having fruits and veggies with every meal, eating more whole grains and lean proteins, and limiting the amount of added sugars I consume each day to 24 grams or fewer. I am also getting into the habit of tracking what I eat, which gives me a clearer picture of what I'm putting into my body. I don't cut fats and sweets out of my diet entirely, but rather moderate them and strive to be more deliberate about the ones I eat instead of just eating something because it's available. Lastly, I allow myself one free day per week during which I can eat what I want. I call them "free days" instead of "cheat days" because I'm not cheating; I'm purposefully giving myself an opportunity to indulge. It gives me something to look forward to during the week, and I've noticed it doesn't slow my progress towards my physical goals that much when I limit it to just one day per week.
I do take dietary supplements, like multivitamins and fiber. But they are supplemental, not a replacement for healthy eating. I also drink plenty of water throughout the day, usually 8-9 glasses per day, or around 10-12 if I've been exercising a lot that day.
As I mentioned earlier, I aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise each day. I enjoy running, so I usually go for a run 3-4 days per week. On the days I don't run, I try to do some form of cross-training, which could be weight training, calisthenics, swimming, or yoga. I also go for a short walk most afternoons.
Light exercise is better than none. But I do try to push myself at least a couple times per week and work outside my comfort zone. When running, for example, I have a five-point scale in which 1 out of 5 is walking and 5 out of 5 is an all-out sprint. At least one run per week I include several short intervals at a 4-5 effort level, and another run I hold a 3.5-4 effort level for an extended period of time. These more difficult training sessions increase my body's strength and endurance. While it doesn't always feel good while doing them, I feel great after the workout is complete.
Finally, I give my body the recovery it needs after each workout. That includes stretching, eating a good meal, and even massaging, foam rolling, and Epsom salt baths to soothe sore muscles. If I sustain an injury, I give my body the time it needs to heal by changing my workout routine as needed.
Other things I do to keep up my physical health include maintaining proper hygiene (including oral care), regular checkups with my doctor (not just when I'm feeling sick), staying up to date on any immunizations and medication, following safety guidelines appropriate to each given situation, and giving myself plenty of rest when falling ill.