Saturday, April 25, 2015

Family Habits

5 Habits LDS Families Should Avoid
24 Apr 2015

            As Latter-day Saints, it can be easy to get caught up and let life happen instead of taking control of our days. Here are 5 habits LDS families might have—and why they should stop doing them right now.

1. Thinking that preparing and eating food is the goal at mealtime

            Sometimes we slip into thinking that our need for nutrition is the objective of preparing and eating food. We grab breakfast, if at all, on the run. We eat lunch over work or alone to escape the hustle and bustle. We eat dinner in haste or whenever we are able. 
            Eating meals together during the week has all but disappeared in our society. President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “mealtime provides a wonderful time to review the activities of the day and to not only feed the body, but to feed the spirit as well” (“Strengthening the Family,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 51). 
            Barbara B. Smith, former general president of the Relief Society, said, “Let us make our kitchens creative centers from which emanate some of the most delightful of all home experiences” (Ensign, Follow Joyously,” Nov. 1980, 86). May I suggest that preparing and consuming food ought to be done with family relationships in mind, from start to finish. Children can help make a salad, butter the French bread, set the table, or stir a pot. Food preparation is an excellent time to talk to each other. The time we use to prepare food can and should be a family affair because preparing and eating food is not the primary objective of mealtime. Building relationships and fostering love is.

2. Having fuzzy rules and expectations

            There is sometimes a tendency for families to be cautious or even fearful about creating restrictions, rules, and expectations. On one hand, you don’t want to stifle creativity or prohibit growth by having too many limits. On the other hand, some people can be afraid that if they institute rules family members don’t like, then those family members will rebel against the rules. 
            We live by daily traffic laws, city ordinances, rules, expectations, and commandments. They are a part of life! They bring order to a world that would be chaos without them. Think about it! No parent would take their child to the top of a 10-story building and turn them loose to discover the law of gravity on their own. 
            Wise families will not have too many rules but will always have clearly defined boundaries which revolve around the commandments of a loving Heavenly Father. People, young and old, need to know their family loves them. They need to know that love gives guidance and expectations which will bless them, even if they may not like the rule. 
            David O McKay once taught: “Parents who fail to teach obedience to their children, if [their] homes do not develop obedience, society will demand it and get it. It is therefore better for the home, with its kindliness, sympathy and understanding to train the child in obedience rather than callously to leave him to the brutal and unsympathetic discipline that society will impose if the home has not already fulfilled its obligation” ("The Responsibility of Parents to Their Children," p. 3). 
            Make rules and boundaries crystal clear and always consistent. Adjust them as family members demonstrate their ability to choose the right on their own. 

3. Thinking that ‘quality time’ with the family is the goal

            Sometimes families can get sucked into thinking that ‘quality’ time somehow excuses us from being too busy to pay attention to each other. They will find themselves saying “let’s go have some ‘quality time’” by doing some exotic or fun thing once in a while. While there is a place for “special time” and “memory making” in our children’s lives, “quantity time” trumps those moments we sometimes call “quality time.” President Uchtdorf taught, “We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together. In family relationships, love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time. Taking time for each other is the key for harmony at home. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities. We establish a divine bond with each other as we approach God together through family prayer, gospel study, and Sunday worship” (Ensign, "Of Things That Matter Most," November 2010).
            Busy lives make it difficult to make “quantity time” the main goal. Doing our best to take the time to walk, talk, play, and be with our family doing small and simple things will always pay important dividends. Infrequent and exotic “big” moments may make us feel better and may give the children a memory or two, but in the end, it’s the accumulation of frequent moments doing simple and fun things which will pay the biggest dividends.

4. Enabling Our Children to Avoid Work

            In our desire to give our children things we didn’t have, we can enable our children to avoid the need to work. We rationalize that because homework, sports, music lessons, and other outside demands take so much of their time, we should go soft in requiring our children to work.
            Elder Marvin J. Ashton taught, “‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’ is not outdated counsel. It is basic to personal welfare. One of the greatest favors parents can do for their children is to teach them to work. Much has been said over the years about children and monthly allowances, and opinions and recommendations vary greatly. I’m from the ‘old school’. I believe children should earn their money needs through service and appropriate chores. Some financial rewards to children may also be tied to educational effort and the accomplishment of other worthwhile goals. I think it is unfortunate for a child to grow up in a home where the seed is planted in the child’s mind that there is a family money tree that automatically drops ‘green stuff’ once a week or once a month” (One for the Money, 8).
            Helping our children understand that work is important to their development will bless them. In For The Strength of Youth, your teens are reminded “Work is honorable. Developing the capacity to work will help you contribute to the world in which you live. It will bless you and your family, both now and in the future.
            “Learning to work begins in the home. Help your family by willingly participating in the work necessary to maintain a home. . . . Set high goals for yourself, and be willing to work hard to achieve them” (For the Strength of Youth, 40-41).

5. Being too casual in our gospel living
            Being too casual in our gospel living can be costly. Elder Holland once taught “I truly believe there can be no casual Christians, for if we are not watchful and resolute, we will become in the heat of battle a Christian ‘casualty’” (BYU Speeches, The Bitter Cup and the Bloody Baptism, Jan. 13, 1987).
            Elder Richard L. Evans reminded us “Sometimes some parents mistakenly feel that they can relax a little as to conduct and conformity or take perhaps a so-called liberal view of basic and fundamental things—thinking that a little laxness or indulgence won’t matter—or they may fail to teach or to attend Church, or may voice critical views. Some parents … seem to feel that they can ease up a little on the fundamentals without affecting their family or their family’s future. However, if a parent goes a little off course, the children are likely to exceed the parent’s example” (Conference Report, Oct. 1964, 135–36).
            If families develop the habit of casual living or become even slightly cynical in their observance of the commandments, there will certainly be a heavy price to pay. Elder Holland explains, “Parents simply cannot flirt with skepticism or cynicism, then be surprised when their children expand that flirtation into full-blown romance. If in matters of faith and belief children are at risk of being swept downstream by this intellectual current or that cultural rapid, we as their parents must be more certain than ever to hold to anchored, unmistakable moorings clearly recognizable to those of our own household. It won’t help anyone if we go over the edge with them, explaining through the roar of the falls all the way down that we really did know the Church was true” (Ensign, "A Prayer for the Children," May 2003).

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Improving Temple Experience

6 Ways to Improve Our Temple Experience

            A few weeks ago, I had a very mediocre temple visit. I was stressed about all of the things on my “to do” list, and had a nasty headache, so needless to say, by the time I went inside, I felt frazzled. I drummed my fingers impatiently on my armrest, and when the session ended, zipped out as fast as I could. It wasn’t until I was in my car driving home that the remorse set in and I realized that I had spiritually wasted my trip. 
            I’ve tried to make a habit of going to the temple weekly, but every once in a while, I’ll have a week when my visit feels lackluster. I’ve realized that attending the temple  is a lot like fasting, in that being inside and involved requires us to make certain sacrifices. Instead of giving up food, we give up time, which can sometimes be difficult. Also like fasting, attending the temple can be less fulfilling when we have the wrong attitude about it. Temple attendance, however, can be an edifying experience that blesses both the person doing the ordinances and the person we are doing them for. 
            In order to truly appreciate the spirit of the temple as well as the covenants we make there, we need to go into it prepared and, while inside, be more involved with the experience. With a greater effort on our part, our temple trips can be more consistently inspiring. Here are a few things you can do to improve your temple experience.  

1. Clear your schedule of as many things as possible before going. 

            Though many of us try to make the temple a priority, sometimes we can go to the temple haphazardly, throwing it into our already busy schedules as if it’s merely a task to be done instead of a chance to give ourselves to the Lord. Sandwiched between things we need to accomplish, our temple trips can be made with too much haste, and we can be too distracted while inside. 
            One thing that helps me focus better in the temple is completing as many errands as possible before going in, even if it puts my temple opportunity at the end of the day. Without the weight of everything I have to do on my mind, I can truly put the Lord first while in His house. 
            Sometimes squeezing a temple trip into a busy day really is the only way to get ourselves there. If so, we should consciously decide to leave our mental “to do” lists outside so as to get a more focused and gratifying experience inside. 

2. Take a family name. 

            I once had an Institute teacher tell me that going to the temple without taking your own family name is a lot like getting baptized without the gift of confirmation. Your experience will still be a great one, but it will be missing a key element that really completes it. That comment has really stuck with me, and I’ve found it to be true for my own temple experience. 
            Ask your relatives if they have names that you can take, or learn how to find one yourself on Taking a family name, particularly one that I’ve found myself, gives me an increased awareness and feeling of the Spirit of Elijah. It really personalizes each ordinance when I realize that I’m connecting members of my family to the rest of my family for eternity. It also helps me to remember the “why” of the temple. 
            Taking family names has changed my temple experience, and I know it will do the same for you. You’ll feel an increased love for your own family and an increased gratitude for the Plan of Salvation and your part in it. 

3. Pray beforehand and with purpose. 

            It makes so much sense to pray before attending the temple, but we often don’t even think to do it. The truth is that without prayer, our temple experience may not have a whole lot of direction, and direction is a key component of fulfillment. 
            Before going to the temple, pray that the person who you are standing proxy for will accept the work you do for them. It’s easy to forget that even though we’re doing proxy work for other people, they still have the agency to say no. Let Heavenly Father know that you care about their spiritual well-being. When you pray for them, just like when you pray for friends and neighbors, you’ll come to love them and appreciate being there to do ordinances for them. 
            Also pray also for answers to life’s questions or for strength when you’re struggling. Around the time I was endowed, I was battling severe and crippling anxiety. I had never dealt with anything like it before, and I was terrified. I distinctly remember preparing to go to the temple a second time and pleading with Heavenly Father for comfort to know that I was making the right decisions in my life and that I would get over my anxiety. As I sat through that second session, I was overcome by the sweetest peace I have ever felt. In the midst of all of my heartache and pain, I felt joy. You will be okay, kept running through my mind, and I believed it. It took me a while longer to really feel okay, but I got my answer in the temple that day. Since then I’ve gone to the temple with a purpose and a prayer—and both always leave me feeling better about my temple visit.  

4. Take care of your physical needs prior to attending. 

            Attending the temple is a commitment, and just like any other commitment, it’s best made when we are at our best. That means that we should prepare both spiritually and physically before going inside. 
            If you’re like me and you sometimes get headaches at random or have other physical issues, prepare yourself with proper medication so you’re not hurting during a session. Make sure to drink lots of water and eat good foods before going inside if you become weak without those things. Try exercising (when possible) before going inside so that your mind is refreshed and invigorated. Even making sure to use the restroom before you enter a session can make a big difference in helping you stay focused on the ordinances you are participating in. Being physically healthy and prepared beforehand will make your temple experience more comfortable and will prepare your mind for revelation Heavenly Father might want to bestow upon you. 

5. Read scriptures at the end of your time in the temple.

            Chances are that no matter which temple you attend, there are lots of copies of the scriptures available to you before you begin doing ordinances and also when you are finished. I’ve read scriptures while waiting for a session to start, and it’s a great way to pass the time. What I didn’t think to do until recently was read scriptures after my session. Wow, was that an incredible experience. 
            After completing a temple ordinance, our minds are naturally more receptive to the Spirit and insights we might not have had before. When we read our scriptures after we finish the ordinances instead of before, we read them with increased spiritual sensitivity and a unique focus. The temple is one of the best places we can be spiritually in tune to receive insight and revelation, but too often we walk out of the temple without even touching the scriptures. 
            Try reading them! See what answers and insights flow into your mind after making sacred covenants. You might get the exact inspiration you need in your life just by opening them.  

6. Remember.

            After my lackluster trip to the temple, I was talking with my mom about how long it felt, how repetitive it was, and how awful I felt for thinking that. What she told me really humbled me. She said, “Remember that the person you are there doing work for has not experienced temple ordinances before, and they’ve been waiting an even longer time to have them.” It’s both a true and remarkable thought.
            Many of us have gotten into the habit of attending the temple regularly, which is a great thing, but sometimes we allow it to become just a habit, something we do all the time, like brushing our teeth. We risk growing complacent with our temple experience and covenants rather than being excited to be there every time. When we remember that it is a new experience for someone else, we can recognize the beauty and power of the temple, the remarkable gift of covenants, and that temple attendance is much more about becoming than it is about doing. 
            Our temple experience is further enriched when we always remember how we felt the first time we went through, how remarkable the promises were to us, how serious we took them and how careful we were to live up to them afterward. If we always remember those things, attending the temple will always be rewarding. 
            And, as my mom said, if we ever get a bit selfish with our time and impatient about our temple experience because our schedules just seem too busy, we should remember that some of our brothers and sisters have been waiting dozens to hundreds of years for someone to spend two hours doing their work for them. In those two hours, eternity is made possible for every one of us. It would be a shame for us to not recognize the gift that is. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What Mormons Believe about Grace

What Mormons Believe about Grace

            In her new book, Amazed by Grace, Sheri Dew talks about the enabling power of grace and how we have constant access to it. She writes:
            "When the Apostle Paul said, 'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,' he was describing grace." She goes on later to say that "the flow of divine help is continuous, everywhere present, waiting for us to seek help." 
            Illustrating this point with an analogy, she explains, "We shouldn’t treat or think about the Lord as we sometimes do about our visiting or home teachers when we’re ill and could use some help—we have to let them in to help us until we can solve our problems or clean the house first. If we think we have to conquer a bad habit or an addiction by ourselves, before we seek help, we most likely don’t understand grace."
            However, when we do understand grace and are working daily to change ourselves and become better, Sister Dew assures us that "Jesus Christ endured and completed His eternal, infinite Atonement so that you and I could change. So that we wouldn’t be tripped up by our sins or nagging weaknesses and doomed eternally. So that we wouldn’t have to pay for our sins forever, the price of which none of us has the capacity to pay. So that we could keep learning and practicing being Saints—realizing that practice always involves mistakes. The Lord has made it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with Him, but it is equally clear that no unclean person, meaning no unchanged person, will even want to.”
            But, Sister Dew reminds us, Christ's grace is not a one-time deal. "Nonetheless, the Lord is not saving up His grace or power for one dramatic display at the Final Judgment, nor is grace something that kicks in at the end of an ordeal. It is there from the moment we exercise even a 'particle of faith' and ask for His help."

Friday, April 3, 2015

8 Things the Atonement is Not

8 Things the Atonement is Not

            As much as we study Christ’s Atonement, we can never comprehend it entirely. But as we try to understand what it is—and isn’t—we can come to understand how it applies more fully in our everyday lives.

            All my life I thought Big Ben was a famous clock tower in London. I was absolutely sure of it and had even taught that fact to others. Then I went to London and found out that Big Ben is actually the nickname of the largest bell inside the tower, which is now called the Elizabeth Tower in honor of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. And if we are going to get picky, it’s not even officially in London, but rather in Westminster. In that moment, the bell and the tower had not changed, but my understanding certainly did.
            In the same way, we sometimes go through our entire lives thinking we understand the Atonement—the central doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and then suddenly we have an experience that helps us see it in a new light. The doctrine has not changed, but our understanding has deepened. These moments of insight help us appreciate and value the Atonement more and more. Here are a few “Big Ben” realizations about the Atonement that have made a difference to me:

1. The Atonement is not just about immortality and eternal life but about not having one without the other. 
            Living forever may not be such a great gift without the possibility of living with God and loved ones. When my daughter Whitney was in elementary school, she read Tuck Everlasting—a wonderful novel that tells the story of a fictional family finding the fountain of youth, drinking, and then discovering that living forever is not all it’s cracked up to be. 
            One night while I was putting Whitney to bed, she asked, “Dad, you know how you say because of Jesus we will live forever? Well what if I don’t want to?” What joy I felt as I was able to testify to my young daughter that immortality is only part of Jesus’ great gift. It is coupled with the possibility of eternal families and eternal purpose.

2. The Atonement is not just about sins but also struggles. 
            Even though many of our challenges do not make us unworthy, they can still pull us from God. How often do we raise angry fists toward heaven and cry, “Why me?” instead of humbly reaching out to God and Christ? 
            Christ descended below all things. This includes our mistakes, loneliness, and afflictions. Christ’s Atonement qualifies Him to be able to succor us in desperate moments because He has literally felt our pains.

3. The Atonement is not just about receiving but also giving.
            Great perspective awaits those who are willing to see that as we choose to accept and use this gift, we also bring joy and glory to God. Sometimes we mistakenly believe God and Jesus already have everything, but they don’t have you or me until we consciously give ourselves to them. 
            As we freely offer our hearts and wills, we can bring Them great joy. I find purpose and satisfaction in knowing that in this small and simple way, I have something to give Them.
            Without us, the blessed emblems of the sacrament would simply sit in trays each Sunday. It is up to us to pick them up and internalize them. As we do so, we are not just receiving, we are also giving.

4. The Atonement is not just about earning but also learning.
            Our faith, repentance, covenants, and efforts to receive the Holy Ghost and endure to the end are not works performed to earn salvation. Rather, they are how Christ is transforming us. He asks us to follow Him and keep His commandments, not to earn our way to heaven but to become more heavenly.
            We chose to enter this mortal school because we knew that through the Atonement, not only could we go home but we could also be better for having come. 

5. The Atonement is not just about immediate perfection but also eventual perfection.
            Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment if that perfection is not attained. Because Christ took that punishment for us, He can now provide a different arrangement. He calls for eventual perfection and offers to support us throughout the process. We don’t go to church and partake of the sacrament because we are perfect but because we are willing to be perfected. We don’t go to the temple because we have made it, but because within those walls God and Christ are making us more like Them. They could change us in an instant, but strength so easily attained is not strength at all. This is why, as Christ and Heavenly Father change us from human to divine, They typically do it the same way that a child learns to walk—over time. Time is the medium through which the power of the Atonement is made manifest in our lives. 
            Enduring to the end doesn’t just mean to the end of the week, month, year, or even the end of this life. Enduring to the end means enduring to our ultimate end— becoming more like God and Jesus.

6. The Atonement is not just a reward for the righteous but the source of righteousness. 
            Grace is the divine help and enabling power that is available throughout the entire perfecting process. Christ stands ready to forgive, but also ready to mentor, strengthen, and empower us.
            These gifts are not a reward waiting for us once we get our acts together, break all our bad habits, and become worthy of His help. They are an unearned and undeserved gift throughout our quest. We must be careful not to see Christ’s grace as somehow supplementing our works or our works as somehow supplementing Christ’s grace, as if we have to meet some sort of minimum height requirement to get into heaven. It is not about height. It is about growth. 
            We do not reach heaven by supplementing but by covenanting. A covenant represents a warm relationship between two friends who are working together toward the same end. Instead of speaking of His part and my part, I try to speak more of His heart and my heart loving and reflecting one another.

7. The Atonement is not because we are good but because God and Christ are good.
            They love us not because we are always loveable, but because They are always loving. Understanding this helps us feel Their love even when we don’t see any reason to love ourselves. “I’ll never do it again,” we say. Then we do it. “Now I really mean it. I will never do it again.” And then we do it. At such low moments, it is easy to become discouraged and lose hope. We have such a hard time forgiving ourselves that we mistakenly believe God and Christ must be feeling the same way. We think each setback is devastating, but God and Christ simply recognize them as growing pains. 
            Jesus suffered for our sins—plural. That means multiple sins, but that also means multiple times we commit the same sin as we learn how to break bad habits once and for all. “Never again” may be the ultimate goal, but in the meantime we can set more realistic milestones to reach along the way. Each time we repent and start again, we are one step closer to our ultimate goal—usually much closer than we think. The love of God and Jesus is perfect—offered consistently through our moments of great success or utter failure. Although we often want to give up on ourselves, God and Jesus will never give up on us. Their hearts simply cannot and will not let go. 

8. The Atonement is not just the best way but the only way.
            Christ is not just one of several possible correct answers on a multiple choice exam. He is the only correct answer. In today’s world, it is not popular or politically correct to speak of absolutes. Some claim truth is relative and constructed by each person individually. They don’t want to abandon sin and get comfortable with God. Rather, they wish to abandon God and get comfortable with sin. None of this changes Christ’s reality and their absolute dependence on Him. 
            As Latter-day Saints, we know Christ and His Atonement are the source of all spiritual blessings. As King Benjamin taught, “There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ” (Mosiah 3:17).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

General Conference Makes Me 'Happy'!

"Happy" by Pharrell Williams

It might seem crazy what I'm about to say
Sunshine she's here, you can take a break
I'm a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don't care, baby the way
Because I'm happy

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I'm happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I'm happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I'm happy
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do

Here come bad news talking this and that, yeah
Well, give me all you got, don't hold it back, yeah
Well, I should probably warn you I'll be just fine, yeah
No offense to you, don't waste your time
Here's why
Because I'm happy

Clap along....