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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