Two things: first, this post is all about my faith. I treasure both my areligous readers and my readers of faiths other than my own. If you fit into one of those categories and/or aren't in the mood for a religious post, feel free to skip this one and come back in a day or two.
Second, I recently met someone who came up with the portmanteau "svithe" from the words "seven" and "tithe." He (and many of his friends) often post things of a spiritual nature on Sundays. I think this is a lovely idea, and hope he doesn't mind that I'm adopting it, at least for this week. I'm speaking in church today; the following svithe is from what I've written to say.
Before we had children, I knew I wanted to find a way both to write and to be a attentive and devoted wife and mother. I confided my dream one day to an older, wiser, very accomplished woman. This was a person who had pursued a Ph.D., taught at the university level, and written many scholarly works--all while raising six children, supporting a busy husband, and participating actively in the Church. I knew that if anyone had the secret to reaching my goal, it would be she. I’ll never forget the advice she gave me, though I regret to say I have not always followed it.
She said, “Once you take on a new project—a degree, a book, a quilt—don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll just ‘fit it in somehow.’ Assess exactly how much time, attention, and energy it will take. Then decide very deliberately what you will give up in order to fit the new project into your life. Once you start, don’t look back and flirt with what you have left behind. When your sacrifice is well-informed, conscious, and non-negotiable, success in your endeavor is assured.”
We all have been called to the discipleship of Christ, and we all have responded to one degree or another. We can look at the task of developing a Christ-like attitude as a project, and we can approach that project either with the “just fit it in” strategy, or we can do as my friend suggested: assess, decide, commit fully, and stay the course.
An attitude is a position, a manner, or a posture expressive of an emotion or state of being; therefore, a Christ-like attitude is a position, manner, or posture expressive of Christ-like emotion or state of being. Having a Christ-like attitude means we see as he sees, we feel as he feels, and we choose to behave as he chooses to behave. Developing such an attitude is a life-long endeavor of consecration, and we cannot assume we will just fit it in somehow. However, we know that it is a worthy project, one rich in rewards both in the process and in the result.
It is also a project that we cannot complete on our own. In fact, I believe the bulk of the work will not be ours but the Savior’s, and that a Christ-like attitude is largely a gift of grace. We, though, are granted the privilege of participating in its creation and development. Our part of the work consists of three actions: awakening, arising, and giving place.
The first two are often linked in scripture. Lehi tells his sons:
"Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust." –2 Nephi 1:23
"Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion." –Moroni 10:31
Though they are companions, awakening and arising are two distinct actions, as I realize often when lying in bed in the early mornings, wishing to put off the inevitable. Let’s consider them one at a time. First, awake.
Sometimes we go through life on autopilot, allowing the urgent to eclipse the truly important, being merely busy instead of anxiously engaged. Sometimes instead of turning to the Redeemer with our sorrows, griefs, and inadequacies, we seek to anesthetize our spiritual pain through addictive behaviors, turning to excessive food, exercise, television, the computer, or other pursuits.
Note that all of these sources of potential anesthesia are good and important things when used properly. But when we set them up as gods, looking to them for escape, we are not hearkening to Jesus’ quiet request to follow him. We are spiritually asleep. And those who are asleep often mistake their dreams for true consciousness. Have you ever had that happen, have you been in a dream and been convinced that what you were experiencing was reality? Likewise, when we are spiritually asleep, we may assume we are awake, when that is not actually the case.
We need to awaken to the heightened awareness the Holy Ghost will afford us (if we allow it) and focus on what we really want. Examining our habits and how we spend the bulk of our time and mental energy reveals to us what is truly important to us, as opposed to what we say and even believe we want.
We may be shocked to realize that our desires for the things of eternity are not as strong as we thought they were. But being awake and aware of the state of our souls is not enough. The good news is that our weak, conflicting desires can be redirected and magnified. But for that to happen, we need to arise—arise from the dust, as the scriptures exhort.
The dust is a metaphor for our earthy and carnal tendencies, the Natural Man or Woman in each of us. The dust is good; God organized it and created our bodies from it. However, it is not meant to be our permanent state; we are not to wallow in it. We are asked to arise, unite our agency with the Lord’s, and become something more than dust—something eternal and incorruptible.
"To arise" in the gospel sense means to take action, to stand and go forth. We must shake off the chains that bind us—and our chains are unique and custom-made—and make use of the gifts the Lord has given us. Taking the journey from testimony to conversion means to build on the spiritual impressions we receive; merely receiving them is not enough.
So—we have awakened and arisen. Having done so, we must guard once again against mere busy-ness, or “zeal without knowledge,” as Hugh Nibley called it. This is where the third part of my recipe for a Christ-like attitude comes in: we must give place.
Alma teaches us about giving place when he gives us the parable of the good seed in Alma Chapter 32. Once we have planted the seed, or the word of God, in our hearts, we need to give place, or in other words, make room. Think back to my friend’s plan for successfully completing a new project. A crucial part of the plan is deciding what to give up in order to make room.
Giving place shows we are actively concerned, it means we are consciously surrendering. We realize our priorities must change, and we put our heart where our mouth is, if you will excuse my adaptation of a secular proverb. If we do not make room, Christ will find no place to put the gift of an attitude like his.
Elder Neal Maxwell said, “We ‘cannot bear all things now,’ but the Lord ‘will lead [us] along,’ as we ‘give place’ in our thoughts and schedules and ‘give away’ our sins, which are the only ways we can begin to make room to receive all that God can give us. (D&C 78:18; D&C 50:4; Alma 32:27, 28; Alma 22:18.) Each of us is an innkeeper who decides [whether] there is room for Jesus!”
There is a scripture from Isaiah that I love, one that is so well known that it is difficult not to sing:
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. –Isaiah 40:3
The Lord amplifies and clarifies this passage in the Doctrine & Covenants:
Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound. –D&C 88:66
We often interpret these verses as exhortations to do what it takes to build up the kingdom of God—we see our service in our communities, ward, and families as paving the way for Christ’s millennial reign. And this is an appropriate interpretation. But we can look at these scriptures on a more personal and intimate level as well, and perhaps find new meaning thereby.
What if the wilderness is my soul, and the desert is my heart? When I put myself into the metaphor, I hear the Spirit crying within my soul from time to time, asking me to make straight in the desert of my heart a highway for the Lord—a path for him to travel, a place for him to abide.
Preparing the way for the Lord in our hearts means doing what needs to be done. It means showing up, even if we don’t feel like it sometimes. When our daily routine consistently includes the small and seemingly inconsequential things God asks us to do—praying, studying and pondering, practicing kindness and patience and unselfishness and forgiveness—we show Him that He can trust us. Our behavior is a manifestation of what our covenants mean to us, and it helps us give place within ourselves for the riches of heaven.
The quest to develop a Christ-like attitude—the vision, emotion, and behavior of the Savior—is not the easy, broad path of the world. But as Catherine Thomas says, “We set aside the lethargy of the Natural Man. We cultivate enthusiasm, even when we are tempted to be too tired for spiritual things.”
Brothers and Sisters, as we heard in the Sacrament Prayer today, to begin, all we have to do is be willing, and even with that, God has promised to help us. We have everything that is needful to awake, arise, and give place.
Let us gather up all that impedes us from doing so and set it on the altar at Christ’s feet; let us make the sacrifice the Lamanite king was willing to make, that of giving away all our sins in order to know, to see, to feel, and to behave as Jesus.