Monday, May 31, 2010

Finding purpose in the past... and moving forward

This week was still rough… but I had a better perspective. So it wasn’t nearly as bad as last week. Monday the Lord answered my prayers for a massive storm. I had prayed last Thursday for a storm… and, in my mind, asked for one big enough that the leaves and perhaps branches would fall of the trees. I was envisioning the massive windy thunderstorms of the Midwest – I feel safer and more loved in the middle of a thunderstorm than almost anywhere else. I know it’s strange to you. But not to me. It had rained the days prior, and leaves had fallen off of some of the trees, but on Monday we had a massive, wet snowstorm. Inches of snow piled up on the roads, cars, trees, and buildings. And, as I drove into Provo, I saw and heard branches cracking and breaking – falling off of trees that, the day before, had looked amazing. Road cleanup crews had truck beds full of tree branches… and there were definitely plenty of leaves that had been stripped from the trees as well. As I looked around me, I felt a wave of awe. The Lord had answered my prayer. Looking back, I’m not sure if the Lord told me what to pray for, or if He simply answered the desires of my heart. I’m not sure that there is much of a difference. Either way, I knew that He loved me and was willing to show it.

The storm wasn’t without its down spots, though. Along with breaking thousands of tree branches, the thick slush clogged the drain outside our storage unit. I hadn’t been there for weeks, but went on Monday to search for a library book. As I entered, my heart sank in the half inch of water that lay on the ground. Everything was sopping wet. I just left. The reason why I put my stuff in a storage unit was to keep it safe and ensure that I would never have to move it until I found a more permanent home for it. Thankfully, when I came back Tuesday, most of the water was dried up (whether from the company or draining or evaporation I don’t know). I pulled out my sopping library books and returned them to the library. Thankfully BYU has a book restoration department.

The rest of the week was up and down. Monday I recorded a song with a friend from the MTC; it’s based on a talk that Elder Holland gave in General Conference and he’d like to give it to Elder Holland next month. We had recorded it once as a gospel/country song and the feedback from others was to make it more like a hymn. It sounds much more like a hymn now. Wednesday I picked up my car – the coolant thermostat, which activates the radiator fans, had gone out. But, later that day, the “Service Engine Soon” light came back on. I got the code checked – “System too lean.” It’s either a broken oxygen sensor, a clogged fuel filter, or something else. I’m going to try to replace the mass air flow sensor since that seems to be a problem with my car from online forums… and since right now my car won’t even start. And I don’t feel very useful at work. My bosses like having me in the office so that if something goes wrong or comes up, I can do it. One of them called me a ‘security blanket’ for the team. That’s sort of how I feel – when you’re cold, I’m really good at fixing the problem. Otherwise, I have very little to do that seems meaningful.

And then Sunday rolled around, with Church, choir, and the Lord yet again helping me to feel His love. I don’t know how to accurately express the feelings I have right now. Maybe a mix of awe, frustration, sorrow, faith, joy, and peace. Driving home I watched the sun go down along the mountains… and it was beautiful. I knew that God loved me. It was one of those moments where I remembered that I am a child of God – and that God created this world to enable me to come closer to Him. But it went further. I looked out the window and wondered if I needed to change my job so that I could spend more time outside among God’s creations. Should I travel to the far reaches of the earth to see the amazing things created by men and by God? Or should I stay close to home and try to recreate the beauty I see to share with others? But how could I ever create something beautiful when compared to the stars, the mountains, the sunrise, or the sunset?

I probably won’t become a park ranger, a landscape photographer, a geologist, or a hiking guide. But, nonetheless, the experience, as most do, pushed me to wonder what I could do better. Ultimately, most of my spiritual experiences lead back to the same prayer – the prayer that has been mine for longer than I can remember. What should I be doing in life? Am I going in the right direction? And, if not, which direction should I go? Sometimes I can already see the Lord’s hand actively in my life. I can see how the people around me, or the things I am doing, will help further His work in some way. But, most days, I look at the wealth of things He has given me and wonder. What on earth (literally) am I supposed to be doing here? A dozen BYU students were named National Science Foundation fellows shortly after graduation. Had I followed the route to physics research, that could have been me. Or so many other things. I just want to be doing the best things I can – not just the good things, but the best ones. But what are the best things in my life?

I know the answer to my question. The Lord has answered it at least a gazillion times – in my patriarchal blessing, in dreams, in the temple, and in conversations with complete strangers. A central reason to why I have my talents, my knowledge, my trials, and why I’ve been placed here at this time, is so that I can be a missionary. Every experience, every talent, every circumstance prepares and enables me to be a better missionary. And that’s the key to finding my purpose in life. Whether in my family as a father (someday), in the Church, or in the world, that’s where my happiness lies – in serving others, sharing the principles of the gospel with them, and helping them come unto Christ.

So I guess the prayer I pray isn’t really “what should I be doing?” – it’s “how should I be doing it?” And I know the answer to that one, too… Follow the guidance of the Spirit. That’s how you best do missionary work, how you are best able to meet the needs of others. That is the crazy frustrating part. I sometimes wish there were a formula I could follow to better meet my purpose in life and be a better missionary – something concrete so that I could chart my progress and work on its development. That’s actually probably why the Lord has me working at the MTC right now. We’re writing a curriculum to help missionaries be better missionaries, and I see parallels in my life and the things I need to do. I have personal experience wrestling with it on a day-to-day basis. Yes, there are some things that will work for some people in missionary work – hence why I write, sing… but, in most cases, you have to rely on the Spirit and follow its promptings to meet the needs of the people around you. Some days I wish my sole purpose in life consisted in accounting.

I guess it ends up being a prayer for faith – faith that the Lord will help me to accomplish His will, faith that He will help me know His will, faith to move forward. And so, dear Lord, help me have faith.

I’m not really sure if my life and struggles are normal. I guess no one is really normal – we are each different. Each of us has a personal relationship with our Father in Heaven… and He has designed life such that we can come closer to Him. And as we come closer to Him, He helps us realize and fulfill our purposes in life. This week, amid the stress of everyday life, the festivities of Memorial Day, working in the garden, and preparing for summer, I invite you to take time to remember the blessings the Lord has given you and to speak with Him. There is no formula that will tell you what is most important in life – but the Lord will tell you (at least, partially) if you ask Him. Go out and be missionaries!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rough roads... with the Lord at my side

The Lord definitely knew what He was doing when He encouraged me to focus on the little things this week. They were the only things stable in what felt like a massive tumult in every aspect of my life. I still have so much to learn.

During a lesson on Tuesday, I listened to a missionary relate his own recent conversion experience. He had been into drugs, alcohol, and didn't really care about anything else…until he read a letter that his friend’s sister had written from her mission. He went home, knelt down, and prayed to know if he should serve a mission... and felt God's love for him and the knowledge that he needed to serve. He talked to his bishop the next day and began the process. As I listened to that missionary and for the rest of the day, I wondered about my own place in the Lord's work. Sometimes I don't feel like I'm at the front of the war and I wonder if my efforts really make a difference in the tides of battle. Will a lesson I write really influence missionaries to better help others change their lives and come unto Christ? And where could my talents best be used? That is one of my main purposes in life - to help others around me come closer to Christ... and even after serving a mission and writing curriculum for the MTC, I struggle to understand how to accomplish it myself.

Thursday was rough. At the beginning of the day I taught a lesson I've taught half a dozen times, and each time the experience has been incredible. I had prayed, gone to the temple, and done everything I knew how to prepare for the lesson, and Thursday's lesson was amazing. During and after the lesson, the missionaries shared how it helped them in accomplishing their purpose in their work. The people observing who were in the classroom for the entire lesson had a similar experience. I left the lesson walking on air, happy to have been able to make a small difference in their lives.

Moments after the lesson finished, I walked into my boss's office to see if she had observed behind the glass and to let her know how it had gone. She mentioned that there had been a lot of feedback on the lesson and was just finishing with the re-write. That began the shock. Normally feedback that ends in rewrites comes from lessons that struggle, not ones that seem to go off without a hitch. As I sat quietly in her office, she related comments from a dozen different people who had observed for a few minutes behind the one-way glass, each of which criticized, not the lesson itself, but the concept behind it. One after one, while the lesson was still going on and without seeing it in its entirety, people gave her feedback to change the scope and direction of the lesson. And enough had given her feedback that she had re-written the lesson. Not completely, but almost everything was totally different, and the central activity was totally scrapped. I thought about quitting my job. I have strong feelings for this lesson, not only because I wrote it, tested it, and taught it, but because of how it affects missionaries. I could easily go to all the missionaries who ever had the lesson, ask them to relate their experiences, and get 100% to tell me it had changed their outlook on missionary work and the influence of the Spirit on the work. I know because I have asked. She explained that those giving feedback had the responsibility to eventually implement the lessons, so we needed to follow their direction. And, even if missionaries had sublime experiences that changed their lives, it wouldn't matter. Their minds were set and the rewrite was done; the lesson was scrapped. Thankfully, it was Thursday and I had a good excuse to leave shortly thereafter to go teach in Draper. I kept the tears back until I made it to the parking lot, then let myself cry during my commute. The only way I can accurately describe the feeling I had was one of utter shock and total confusion. So I prayed for rain.

If Thursday was rough, Friday was even worse. I had an immense desire to be on a team for our upcoming test. When I learned that one of our part-time employees had been chosen when the manager of training declined, I was heartbroken. Worse than heartbroken, I soon felt awful thoughts welling up inside of me. Why had I been passed over? Didn't I work incredibly hard - longer and more skillfully than anyone else? Didn't I know the lessons better than anyone since I had edited each one? Didn't I understand the perspective and context of the project from being on the team for over a year? Again, I thought about quitting. After a few seconds, I shut off the pain and jealousy and sat staring blankly at the floor. I was on the verge of tears, but this time it was from seeing my own flaws. For years I've tried to rid myself of the feeling of entitlement. Realizing that it was still there inside of me made me want to just give up and go home. I spent the remainder of the day working, worked out at the gym, was utterly exhausted, and went home.

Saturday I did almost nothing of value. My brain and body were still in shock. As I played chauffeur that evening, I realized how bad a state I was in, and why it felt like the world was falling apart around me. I was freezing (which meant that I had a burning fever; I'm never cold otherwise), my head hurt (another sure sign of sickness), and my mind wasn't working. I needed to return a DVD and went 50 blocks in the wrong direction before realizing I was lost. It didn't help that my phone wouldn't work for most of the day and my car began to overheat after only a few miles of driving. I went home, waited for the car to cool down, and drove 50 blocks the other way to make the return, praying that I would be able to make it home safely. I'm not completely sure what is wrong - I think that the fans on the radiator may not be working. The coolant is heating up, but not cooling down. Either way, I need to get it fixed before I can drive my car any appreciable distance, which may preclude going to work tomorrow until at least the afternoon. I went to sleep with two blankets and woke up a few hours later when my fever broke.

But even with the world falling apart around me, even with my body fighting off sickness and my mind fighting off depression, I was buoyed up by the little things in life. Daily scripture study helped me receive personal revelation. Daily prayer helped me know God’s plans for me. Exercising kept me mostly sane, and eating healthily certainly had helped my body in doing what it needs to do to keep me well. And Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it rained – the answer to my prayer for rain and the voice of the Lord speaking to me… assuring me that He loves me, is aware of my problems, and is actively involved in my life. I can’t say that I feel great right now, in body, mind, or spirit. But I know that God loves me, cares about me, and has my best interests at heart, and I know that I am doing what I should be doing. In due time, He will help me see how my experiences can help me progress and come closer to Christ.

Each of us struggles in life. There are times when everything we care about seems to fall apart… and the world is on our shoulders. At those times, we can turn to the Lord and, while He may not lift our burdens, He will let us know that He is there and that He cares. If we continue to turn to Him, He will make us stronger and more able to bear the burdens that shall be placed upon us and help us learn to be happy in the process. When life is hard, turn to Him, and He will bless you with the perspective, faith, and strength to carry on. Go out and be missionaries!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Working too hard... Focusing on the simple things

The Lord told me I’ve been working too hard. That was an interesting conversation. I was just pondering how tired I was as I drove out of the MTC, and He suggested that I take two weeks off and go to Hawaii. It was definitely His voice, but I’m sure it was a joke – while for most people Hawaii would be paradise, the Lord knows as well as I do that a vacation to Hawaii wouldn’t help with my problem. If it really is a problem. That’s still up for grabs. So here’s the deal: my enjoyment in life comes from working towards my goals… drawing closer to the things that are important to me. My favorite thing to do in life, the thing that renews me, fills me with passion and joy, and makes me wake up in the morning with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, is to be productive, and to help others do the same. To learn new things, and help others do the same. To make good choices and help others do the same. And that’s all. That’s why work this last week was amazing; I had an important editing project that only I could do that consumed all my time and people constantly asked me to help them with other things. When I’m not productive, I am absolutely miserable, dejected, and depressed. It’s not just who I am – it’s what I’ve believed for as long as I can remember. Moving on the path towards salvation brings happiness. Anything else is miserable. In my mind, it goes further than that – happiness is also related to what the Lord has given you and how you are using it. If you are blessed with a little, then moving forward a little will bring you joy. But if you are blessed with a lot, and as you grow and gain more knowledge and develop more talents, you need to move faster and accomplish more to achieve your full measure of happiness… which grows with your knowledge and ability to do good. Actually discussing that in depth opens a whole new can of worms (doing the best things versus being constantly busy), and I feel like I’ve already been down that road. Everything I do, I do for a reason – to come closer to Christ… and the Lord wasn’t telling me that I needed to reprioritize everything in my life, just that I needed to take more leisure time. More won’t be hard, since I haven’t really allowed myself true leisure time in a long time. I wake up early in the morning, go to work, fill my day with meaningful activities, and fall asleep exhausted, until the next day when it happens again. What He meant was that I need to gain a testimony of leisure time – better understand how to integrate more activities into my life that move me towards my goals but aren’t as stressful as the ones I currently pursue. That sounds ironic… but, then again, I’m only recently realizing what it means to work too hard. So maybe I should take a vacation to Hawaii.

In the aftermath of that revelation, I’ve been wondering exactly what the Lord wants me to do. In the last few months, I’ve felt like I need to be on the lookout for a new job, keep applying to graduate schools, look for an eternal companion, and work on a dozen other projects to share the gospel, improve my talents, and bless the world around me. If I really am working too hard, then I need to change my focus to better align with what the Lord wants me to accomplish. And so I was wondering what the Lord really wants me to do – what I should focus on first, second, and so on. Our subsequent conversation was telling. And the music that just began playing on Utah’s FM 100.3 is telling, as well – “Great Things and Small Things” from the Cumorah’s Hill cantata. The song talks of the things that the Lord asked prophets to accomplish – building an ark, moving mountains, crossing the ocean… and the things that He asks us to do – to love our neighbors, to forgive, to keep our promises. “…and from the small things come the greatest things of all.” The Lord asked me to focus on two things: ensure that I make time for my daily spiritual wellbeing through scripture study, prayer, pondering, and regular temple worship, and time for my physical wellbeing through exercise, sleep, and eating healthily. That’s what He wants me to focus on first. And I can do that.

I think that sometimes I am guilty of the desire of Naaman, who wanted the prophet to call down fire from heaven to heal him of leprosy instead of having him wash in the river. Sometimes I want the Lord to command me to do some great thing to accomplish His will. Sometimes He has. But the Lord doesn’t usually act in great and magnificent ways; instead, He blesses me with new days where I do the same things… with small changes. And, in changing little pieces of my life, I change who I am. I read the Book of Mormon and come closer to God. I pray, and find that the Lord speaks to me and answers my prayers. I ponder, and I learn and apply the lessons that He teaches me.

Each of us has the same predicament in life as I faced this last week. We want to do what is right – to make the best choices in life and come closer to Christ. But sometimes we don’t realize how far we are from truly realizing what the best choices are. We think we need to have a clean house, a better job, and more money in the bank, when, in reality, we would be happier simply doing the little things that the Lord has suggested all along. My project this next week is to focus on the simple things: physical and spiritual health every day. Yes, sometimes the Lord calls us to do amazing things – to heal the sick, to change hearts, to fill callings, to make a difference in the world. But, more often, He calls us to simply move forward in faith… to become better each passing day and to lift those around us in the same pursuit. I invite you to do the same – to become better in the simple things. Go out and be missionaries!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Life is amazing. Sort of. Yeah.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Some days I wish I could paint a perfect picture of my life in this letter – recount only peaceful, happy moments, share unending optimism, and talk about how life is amazing. More often than not, though, I realize that my thoughts are spinning in a dozen directions as I write. And being truly honest requires more than just highlighting what went well in my life. This is one of those weeks – a week where, on the surface, everything seems to have gone according to plan. Our project deadline is only a few weeks away at the MTC, which means plenty of work; the class I teach is going well and my students love every moment of it; the rest of my life is panning out in the right direction. But, beneath the surface, everything is in turmoil. And sometimes I feel totally and helplessly lost.

Take my work at the MTC, for instance. Over the last few weeks I’ve felt my love for my work slowly wane. A year ago I was willing to do anything to work at the MTC and make a difference in the missionary education effort. I was a volunteer for months and happy to do what I could. And, even when work was rough or tedious, the Lord helped me to see relevance in the things I did and motivated me to do better. Now every time I think about the MTC I get the feeling that I need to find a new job. I’ve prayed for the ability to love my work, to see relevance in my assignments, and for patience and long-suffering. The only answer I’ve received of late is more of the same: an overwhelming desire to leave.

The feeling that I should leave isn’t the bad thing. The department wouldn’t really suffer from my absence and filling my spot would be pretty easy. And since the Lord prompted me to start working there, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go in a different direction until He gave the go-ahead. Knowing where to go is the problem. Not for lack of trying to find the right direction (at least, I don’t think so). I’ve been rejected from every graduate program to which I’ve applied and a handful of jobs that I thought might be in the right general area. And while my conversations with the Lord have been helpful, I seem to be taking a very long time to get the big picture. I mean, I’m 24, a university graduate with honors and credits in almost every discipline, I’ve tried out a dozen different professions that were once my “dream jobs”… and yet I still don’t know what I want to do with my life. So the feeling that I should find a new job, without knowing which way to go, leaves me with two options: feel completely lost and totally vulnerable, or rely on the Lord, put my trust in Him, and move forward with faith. There is only one right choice. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

Then take housing. I was living in Orem, working in Provo and Sandy. When we moved all our stuff into a storage unit, I thought it would just be simple enough to live out of my car. I could exercise & shower each morning on campus, eat at the MTC cafeteria (amazing food and really low prices), and spend my time with people instead of with an apartment. It would also give me another perspective on life, save money, and be a lot less stressful than having to move multiple more times. And when I took it to the Lord, I felt okay about it. I was actually excited to see what effect it would have. And it worked perfectly for a few days – I was back in an exercise routine and spent all my time during the day engaged in productive activities. It seemed perfect. Then circumstances changed and I’m living in West Jordan with family. And while being with family is amazing, the extra 45-minute commute immediately eliminated my morning exercise time. It also makes it hard to do things late in the evening, since I don’t want to be exhausted as I drive back… or not get enough sleep before going to work the next morning. I guess, again, I have two options: feel frustrated with the few options I seem to have been given, or rely on the Lord, put my trust in Him, and move forward with faith. Again, there’s only one right choice. And, while it will still be hard, just writing about it makes it seem easier to accomplish.

And, to be truthful, my life is actually pretty amazing. In the workplace, I’ve felt guided recently to look in the direction of helping people make better decisions, finding ways to improve processes, and identifying key ideas to champion in organizations. Ironically, it’s a mix between business consulting and motivational speaking – the first of which I thought would never be up my alley. But it feels like the right direction. At the moment I was struggling to figure out how to go about moving towards that goal, my parents offered, out of the blue, to make some contacts to get me started. Wow. Doors opening already. I should have guessed – the only way I’ve ever gotten a job was from a face-to-face conversation. Paper applications just don’t seem to work for me. And my housing crisis isn’t really a crisis – I love the opportunity to spend time with cousins and be a part of their lives… and I think that time is worth more than it is costing me right now.

Each of us faces major decisions each day. Sometimes it is easy to be optimistic, happy, and see the blessings that the Lord has given us; other times, it seems that the deck is stacked against us, willing us to fail or at least be miserable. But I have a testimony that, even when life seems rough and you feel lost, the Lord can be there at your side guiding you, leading you, inspiring you, and helping you to see His hand in all things. He loves you and wants you to be happy. In fact, He gave you every part of your life (even the awful parts) to enable you to learn to be happy – that’s one of the purposes in life. Look to Him, and you’ll realize that life is full of peaceful, happy moments amidst the turmoil of confusion. With the Spirit at your side, you can be eternally optimistic as you identify what the Lord is trying to teach you today. I invite you to identify the hardest thing you are facing – the most painful, difficult, awful, or heartrending… and ask the Lord sincerely to help you see His hand. I promise (from personal experience) that He will bless you with inspired wisdom and perspective. And you’ll see that life really is amazing. Go out and be missionaries!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Coming Closer to Christ

Wow. This week has gone by in a blur. Our projects at the MTC are getting closer and closer to their deadlines; as we get closer, my boss gets more and more stressed. She’s already been sick twice and was out again for a few days this week. I hope that she gets better. I also hope that, when my life is super-super-stressed, I’m able to deal with it without sacrificing my health.

I was thinking a lot this week about proximity. It’s also called propinquity – the science of ‘closeness.’ I’ve studied propinquity before – people who live in the same area, around the same time, with similar ages are tons more likely to get married than those who live in different countries or those who are separated by more than a few years, simply because of how close they are. In my human resources class, we discussed how other nonhuman factors in the environment affect what we do, sometimes without our knowing. People who eat from a gallon-size bowl of Chex mix eat almost twice as much as those who serve themselves from a half-gallon-size bowl. People at the movies, even when the popcorn is totally stale, eat much more popcorn with a mega-size popcorn container. You eat significantly more when your plate is larger (and yet with a smaller plate you still “feel full” after eating). Placing food within arm reach makes it almost inevitable that the food will be eaten (whether a bowl of candy or a tray of vegetables), while putting it in a closed, metal tin on the bottom shelf of the fridge decreases the likelihood that anyone will even look at it. But it goes beyond food – people who have adjoining offices collaborate more, people who live next to each other are more likely to become friends, and families who eat dinner together (and hence experience physical propinquity on a regular basis) have fewer problems and their children are less likely to drink or do drugs.

Most of these things seem obvious. If something is easier to do, of course it’s more likely that I will do it. But, at the same time, most of the things in our lives simply are there. Most of us, when organizing, try to achieve simplicity and order – we may not necessarily organize our homes or our offices based on what we want to accomplish… and I think that we should. I’ll give you two examples: I often get the desire to make something in my blender or my crockpot. My blender sits on one counter, right next to the sink, plugged in and ready to be used. The crockpot sits on the other counter inside a box, with no electrical outlets nearby. I use my blender all the time to make hummus, spaghetti sauce, or peanut butter. I haven’t used my crockpot in months. Why? While at work or early in the morning, I’ve had ideas of recipes to use, meals to prepare, and things to try in the crockpot, but as soon as I got in the kitchen I found that the barrier of taking it out of the box and moving it closer to an electrical outlet was too high. Not that I couldn’t have done it, or that I consciously found myself thinking that picking up a crockpot was hard work. That would be absurd. But the box was just enough of a barrier to keep me from using the crockpot when, perhaps plugged in and ready to go, I would have used it.

Example #2: For a long time I have carried my scriptures in my backpack with the intent of increasing my likelihood of reading them throughout the day. It works. I’m at work and need to look something up – I have my scriptures. I’m at the library and want to do my daily scripture study. Easy – they’re still in my backpack. When I have a spare moment, I find myself going to the scriptures simply because I have them there. When I don’t have them with me, it’s much less likely that I’ll turn to them for counsel. I keep a copy of the Book of Mormon next to my bed. I’ve found that at 11:30 at night I’m not always the most logical person, and the effort to get up and find a set of scriptures seems almost overwhelming. If I haven’t read my scriptures before getting ready to go to sleep, and I have a copy of the Book of Mormon next to my bed, it is that much easier to get up, find them, and read them. I try to keep another copy in my car – which makes it that much more likely that I will talk to people about the Book of Mormon and offer them a copy.

In the first example, I saw how easy it was to create barriers in my life. Just putting my crockpot in a box made it so that I never used it – even though I had the desire and it was sitting on the counter for months. In the second example, I saw how easy it was to make something important to me easier to do – by carrying my scriptures with me, I made it easier to read and share them with others throughout the day.

In our lives, there is a multitude of things that we would like to accomplish, and things that we would like to avoid doing each day. Most of the time, we assume that the reason we do one and not the other is simply a result of will – if we really wanted to do more good and less bad, we would try harder. But there are other ways to influence our actions. Look at what the Lord uses to remind and influence us – He asks us to read the scriptures daily, to pray frequently, to constantly surround ourselves with good music, uplifting pictures, and good friends. He even asks us to think about the clothing that we are wearing (and choosing Sabbath-day clothing specific to that day) to influence how we feel and act. We can do the same thing in accomplishing our personal goals. We can find ways to make our tasks closer, easier, and then more likely to be completed. Visual cues – like To-Do lists, notes stuck on the bathroom mirror, pictures on the wall, or the placement of where things are in your home or office – affect what we do. Proximity affects us as well; if I leave a stack of papers on the top of my desk at work, I am much more likely to look at them and do something with them than if I file them in a filing cabinet.

I know that God loves us. He wants us to be happy and to choose the right. For that reason, He surrounds us with things that symbolize heaven… and that point to His existence. As Alma said, all things denote there is a God. And, if we look, we can see the messages He left in the stars, the wind, the rain, the grass, and the trees. Everything around us helps us to remember Him and to keep His commandments. We have that same power – we can choose what is in our environment and influence our own decisions. My invitation to you this week is to choose something you want to accomplish – whether exercising more regularly, reading your scriptures more faithfully, or eating less (or more). Find a way to make what you want easier to do – whether moving exercise equipment or scriptures into your room or decreasing your plate size – and do it. It may not solve all of your problems, but it will make solving them that much easier. Ultimately, if we want to come closer to Christ or to better habits, there are two things we can do. We can move forward towards them, or we can take the steps to bring them closer to us. Go out and be missionaries!
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