and Spiritual Atrophy
A few years ago, I was waiting at the bus stop to catch a ride to my place of employment. It was very early in the morning and quite cold outside. I had gotten off the train and was expecting a normal day. But the events that happened at the bus stop caused me some reflection, concern, and pondering, and stand out in my mind as a key day in my life. The bus to my place of employment was running late for some reason. Most of us were very anxious to get on the bus, mostly because we were all cold and additionally because I had a professional development class I needed to get to which started promptly at 7:00 am. The bus that day was about 15 minutes late, so I was a little concerned that I was going to show up to class late, which I don’t like at all. I am one that does not like to be late to anything. I remember that an older gentleman came up to me with $5.00 in his hand and asked me if I had change for a five, so that he could take the bus, which only took exact change. I looked at him, and told him that “I am sorry, but did not”. He started to walk away, but then came back to me, looked me in the eye, and told me that “I needed to be happier and smile more often.” I was a little shocked that an absolute complete stranger would tell that to my face, but I smiled back at him and told him that “I was happy.” He smiled at me, and then walked away.
I found this particular event in my life very interesting, especially with regards to its timing. At that moment in my life, I was going through much personal tribulation, stress, and had many professional assignments that I had started working on that needed completion. My cup was running over! My church assignments were very busy and my daughter, Casey, had just been admitted into Brigham Young University and I was worried how we could help her financially, while still keeping a missionary son, Collin, out in the field. I stood there at the bus stop pondering over what this gentleman had just said to me.
For me, it was an eye opening and life changing experience for me to have a complete stranger come up to me and tell me that I need to be happier, or smile more. I am a very happy person, but the problem at the time was evidently a disconnect between what I was feeling on the inside and the expression I showed on my face. I pondered over how I could tell my face the happiness I am feeling on the inside?
It brought to mind the happiness that we all feel when we live the commandments of our Father in Heaven. When we ponder this, or have this pointed out to us (as in my case) and count our many blessings, it helps us to recognize just how happy we really are. King Benjamin from the Book of Mormon recognized this fact when he said:
“And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it” (Mosiah 2: 41, emphasis added).
The Apex of Enduring Discipleship
Since that key experience in my life, I have tried to include in my personal prayers, that my inward happiness may show outwardly. For me, it has changed everything. It changes the way I look at my professional work, the way I look at service, and more importantly, the way I treat my family and others. This is much more difficult than it sounds, but if we ask our Father in Heaven for His help, we can radiate the happiness that we feel. The happiness is physically expressed personally and spiritually. This principle was learned line upon line, but I know it is a true principle. This is the apex of enduring discipleship. So, for me to be happy and radiate that happiness that I feel, I need to do the following:
- Count your blessings daily and focus on all that is good in your life. Remember there are people who would give anything to have what you have. You get to decide in each moment what you will focus on, the good or the bad. Focus on what’s good and trust that the bad is here to serve you for some reason. This will help you to draw closer to your Father in Heaven.
- Never set conditions on happiness. Make a personal policy that you will never say, “I’ll be happy when… ” Understand that happiness is a choice you make now, in this moment. You have just as much power to choose happiness today, as you will have in the future.
- Decide that happiness is the essence of your character. You get to decide what kind of person you want to be. Don’t let others dictate that to you. See yourself as a happy person.
- Have more fun and be more fun. Laugh more often, collect appropriate jokes and funny stories to share with those around you. Make it fun to live with you or to be around you. Be spontaneous, adventurous and positive. Be flexible and easy-going. Find ways to make whatever you do fun. Turn boring, frustrating things into a game. I truly believe that we have more natural ability to play and express happiness than we realize.
- Never gossip, criticize or judge others. See everyone as a student in the classroom of life, with the same infinite value as you. Miserable people tend to focus on the bad in others. Happy people don’t need to do that. Make a policy around seeing others with wisdom and compassion and you will like yourself much better, which will create more happiness and show in your countenance.
- Keep things in perspective. Remember what matters most and what does not. Understand that good and bad things may happen to us to help us learn and to grow as a son or daughter of God.
- Choose to respond to every situation with love and charity. Learn better communication skills, which will improve your relationships with your spouse, friends and children. Building rich relationships starts with better communication.
- Simplify tasks and take more breaks. You cannot create happiness if your life is too full of stressful obligations (I learned this the hard way). Find some quiet, down-time to relax, unwind and have fun. No one can give this to you. It must be a priority to make sure you get time for leisure activities.
- Set goals and keep growing, learning and experiencing new things. People who are engaged in learning are always happier. Setting fun new goals will also do wonders for your self-esteem.
- The little things are the big things: Remember that to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, we need to nurture the faith that He has blessed us with. This includes daily scripture study, prayer, and worthily partaking of the Sacrament each week.
- Take care of your body, eat healthy food, exercise and get plenty of rest. Your body can’t have a zest for life if you aren’t taking care of it. Exercise is a great cure for depression and losing some weight will give you more energy (I’m still working on this…!).
- Remember that life is a journey not a destination. You must enjoy the journey and choose to appreciate the little wins, small blessings and sunny days. Take the time to “smell the flowers”.[i]
Then, slowly, perhaps even incrementally, and with prayer, the following fruits of spiritual rebirth will be yours to enjoy. Brother Brent L. Top helps to identify some of the fruits of spiritual rebirth:
1. Peace of Conscience (Enos 1:6; Mosiah 4:2)
2. A feeling of Joy and Divine Love (Alma 36: 20-21; Alma 19: 29-30)
3. No desire to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5: 2; Alma 13: 11-12)
4. Increased love for our fellowman (Exek. 36: 26, Enos 1: 9-13)
5. Increased Spiritual understanding (Alma 19:6; Mosiah 5:3)
6. Having the image of God engraved upon our countenances (Alma 5:14)[ii]
Hopefully, we as mortals can overcome our natural tendency to “take the road more easily traveled” and put ourselves into a path that is so much more “narrow,” yet rewarding. The answer lies simply in how well we have become converted. There are so many benefits of enduring discipleship. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles teaches us that:
“Conversion is an enlarging, a deepening, and a broadening of the undergirding base of testimony. It is the result of revelation from God, accompanied by individual repentance, obedience, and diligence. Any honest seeker of truth can become converted by experiencing the mighty change of heart and being spiritually born of God (see Alma 5: 12-14). As we honor the ordinances and covenants of salvation and exaltation (see D&C 20: 25), “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ” (2 Nephi 31: 20), and endure in faith to the end (see D&C 14: 7), we become new creatures in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5: 17). Conversion is an offering of self, of love, and of loyalty we give to God in gratitude for the gift of testimony”[iii]
The Lord has said to “prove me now herewith…” and He will “open you the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing that there shall not be room enough…” to receive the promised blessings (see Malachi 3: 10, and I may add that I don’t believe He was just speaking of tithing here as this scripture would indicate but all of His commandments and promises.).
It is my prayer that we may become converted, overcome the natural man, and receive the promised blessings from our Father in Heaven as a result of our enduring discipleship.
[i] Many of the suggestions on this list come from Kimberly Giles, founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com with some significant modification by the authors.
[ii] Brent L. Top, “Spiritual Rebirth: Have Ye Been Born of God?” in The Book of Mormon and the Message of the Four Gospels, ed. Ray L. Huntington and Terry B. Ball (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001), 201-217.
[iii] Elder David A. Bednar, Converted Unto the Lord, October 2012 General Conference.