Friday, June 23, 2017

Prayer Contrast

Sometimes contrast is worth more than a thousand words.  It can really provide clarity and sharpen the image you are looking at.

In the past 3 months two different people with LDS backgrounds were both asked about prayer. One of them is an Apostle in the LDS church sustained as a prophet seer and revelator. The other was excommunicated from the church by the leaders for apostasy. The first claims authority.  The second claims no authority other than the truth shared. They both answer a similar question about how to improve ones personal prayers.  The answers are very different and each very informative but in markedly different ways.  I'll share both, along with a third example by a prophet from scripture that I find relevant to the other two.  

So here are the three, in random order.  Notice the contrast between the speakers familiarity with God and subsequently the closeness (or lack of) they then advocate and teach others is possible.

See if, based purely on the content of each quote, which you think was said by which. Apostle, apostate, or scriptural prophet, and then see the answers in the comment section.  See if number 2 or 3 would most improve the next prayer you offer.

Number 1:

For I spoke to him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.

Number 2: 

We've received many, many questions about becoming better at praying in general.  Question: "I'm a senior in high school, and I'm having trouble having good prayers, more like conversations with God. Do you have any suggestions, or what do you do?"

I'll start by saying, be modest in your expectations. God is close, and He loves you. And He would love to have a conversation, but remember He is God. And the idea that you're going to--I always worry when someone is speaking to Him in too familiar a way, because it is not easy. Heavenly Father's words, His ideas, are not exactly ours.

And so the idea of having really a conversation where you're chatting with Heavenly Father is probably a little bit of a lofty goal. My own feeling is, I pray as if He's there, as if He is listening. And He is listening. I believe He's always sending messages to me. I really do.

But sometimes there's long silences, for me at least. And so when [Questioner] speaks, you see, of a conversation in her prayers, she's making it sound a little more casual than I think it's possible to be. We're dealing with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.  And They are so far above us in terms of Their powers that--in fact, I've been with people who chat as if they're chatting when I've heard them pray. And I thought, "You're a little more familiar than I am with that one."

Because I would think that if you can just get the feeling that He is hearing you, and then if, on occasion, answers come back often clearly in your mind--sometimes not--maybe by just reading the scriptures. I think the answer comes that way. But the conversation is not quite like he [pointing to associate] and I together, for instance.

We talk with each other, and it's very personal.  [Associate] and I have had wonderful conversations. But I don't have conversations with Heavenly Father like that, at least I don't. I do a lot of the asking. And then I wait and then I wait. And then answers come, but not in what you'd call a conversational mode. 

Number 3

Question: I know you are used to far more profound questions, but do you have any suggestions on how to make prayer meaningful? I find it hard to pray, given that God knows whats in my head and what I will say, but I have been making an effort to pray more. Any tips?


Talk like you are addressing your most intimate friend and have nothing to hide. Tell Him about your regrets, hopes, frustrations, concerns, fears, and confusion. Before long you will discover that whatever you care about God also cares about. He can give perspective that changes everything. Prayer should not recognize the distance between us and God, but should become the way we close that distance.

End of examples. 

Side note: 
There is a fairly clear pattern of prayer by those who know the Lord.  It's my view that God is not the one requiring continued distance between us and Him and putting his hand up to keep us at a distance.  It is us that keeps God at a distance because of the things we are often taught.  Something Nephi prophesied about: false teachings and corrupt precepts of men, which cause even the humble followers of Christ to err.   

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Healing from contention, jarring, strife and envy

Early saints were dealing with the following issues and received this from the Lord:

D&C 101:6 Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.

I would like to avoid that stuff.  I hope to make different mistakes.  So I ask myself how do any of us be different that what we read about above?  Below are a few thoughts on that topic.  It's not perfect and I struggled to convey it in as clear a way as I would have liked, but it's my attempt to share things learned from my direct experience.  Both what has been successful, and also what was not.  

We can't think ourselves above any defect we see in others.  That just doesn't work.  Contention, strife, jarring, envy, these are not only "other Saint's" issues in the past.  They are ours too.  I think we start by simply being accountable.  No need to look outside yourself and immediate family for a relatively quick internal measurement of how you stand in this regard.  As well as how you stand with things like covetous desires.  Family relationships have a way of bringing these things to the surface which other situations may not.  If we lack awareness of our own defects, we have many mirrors around us every day that we are ignoring.  One of those is family.

I believe the problem is not just our external behavior.  Walking away from contention does not mean you don't still have it churning inside you, waiting for some other circumstance to spew out.  Avoiding it may just be your way of sidestepping something inside of you which you don't know how to handle.  So it's lack of understanding and experience that causes us to sometimes do or say dumb things.

Although walking away can often be a very good idea, and I believe it preferable to contenting with anger, Christ's teachings go beyond the surface behavior.  They go to the root and core of the person.  There are times when walking away won't be an option, and so I'm inclined to pursue a new, lasting, and inner perspective based on Christ's teachings.

 In Matthew 7:5 Christ says to remove the beam from our own eye first when noticing flaws and weaknesses of others.  This suggests our perspectives are impaired and blocked.  That seems like by far the best place to start.  Our own eye.  

If you (and I) find ourselves welling up with anger and contention or strife or envy over other’s beliefs or Gospel views I believe it's a symptom of something in your and my heart, not something "out there" or "in them".  What we feel, is our responsibility.  The internal reaction can be informational if we give it a chance to inform us.

Other people are in some ways a good mirror of ourselves.  What we react to in others is often a reflection of something or some pattern we ourselves posses. What we don't like in them, is sometimes really just a part of ourselves we don't like.  Romans 2:1 (NIV) You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Knowing this is good news.  Why? Because this means we have a large supply of reflections to help identify what we lack, or beams we can take a look at.
You've maybe heard the cultural phase "other people can't make you feel a certain way".  I disagree.  They very much can.  In a sense.  Others can say or do things that trigger certain feelings in a person.  But I believe it's more like  a TV remote.  Or a bruise.  Others may "push your buttons" or hit sensitive areas but the button and the bruise belong to you.  It's your's.  If the source of the agitation is within us, then looking outward or trying to get other people to change to accommodate our bruise is futile.  That isn’t a lasting solution.

So what do we do?  Do we bury all our reactions?  Just walk away?  Suppress it?  Burying anger is not a seed we want to plant.  Who knows what noxious weeds or fruit that seed will sprout.  So what about venting it out?  Expressing the hurt or disappointment, or frustration can be therapeutic.  But we often do this in immature ways, that end up hurting others.  Another option is to gain understanding.  New understanding can quickly dissipate strong feelings.  Like when you wake from a stressful dream, realizing it wasn't what you thought it was.  The feelings change quickly with the right information. So better understanding is key.  We don’t understand like God does.

We can share our deepest feelings, concerns, frustrations, and hopes with God.  Prayer, journaling, and meditation work.  These are helpful tools.  I grew up thinking it was taboo to share these kinds of things with God in prayer.  I was taught prayer was more formal than informal and that I was to somehow hide how I really felt in favor of trite and cliche phrases that in no way matched what I was feeling.  I no longer think that is the best way to communicate with God.  Expressing the heart to God is one of the purposes of prayer.  Once the feelings have past, or been expressed, and we realize God does understand us, and has compassion for us, often new light will emerge that wasn't visible before.  Burying or suppressing the feelings in my experience doesn't work.  They just multiply and come out later anyway.

We all need healing.  We all experienced and experience injuries as part of the fall.  And so we are all going to defend and protect our respective injuries and bruises with varying degrees of self justified behaviors in ways that fit our past.  Contention, jarring and strife involve emotion, feelings and the heart.  Those things suggest the inner place we are coming from (heart) is not a place of contentment, but is instead sometimes a place of intense fear, hurt, or judgement.  I believe our individual hearts MUST get out of that place in order to have lasting unity and peace with others.  Feeling sorry for ourselves, or staying in a negative place because we feel justified in our anger truly does not work.  

So how do we heal from these things?  How do we get our hearts into the right place? Where is the education found on how to do this?  Because it's not taught in school, and usually not at church either.  I'm going to go to the scriptures.  Christ said to love our enemies, and those who despitefully use and persecute.  Enemies have a unique ability to reveal a lot about ourselves and our hearts.  Christ's teachings ask us to treat others in ways that seem impossible at times or go directly against how we feel in the moment.  But Christ doesn't ask us to do something without providing a way to do it.  We often just need to drop our pride, and humbly take steps in faith.

The natural man is an enemy to God, and God clearly loves His enemies and those who despitefully use and persecute Him.  Hence he asks us to do the same.  This can be a good first step of confidence that God's love is available to any of us despite our fallen condition.  We need to start on the right foot.  We need to receive from God and then act in faith.  God's love heals. God IS love. Forgiveness heals. God is willing to forgive and extend mercy and grace.  When we receive these things from God we can do likewise towards others.  No reason it can't start small and grow.  Most things begin that way.  The result of receiving from God is to see self and others in a better (more correct) light.  And as mentioned above, new and better information can quickly change things.  

When we aren't insecure about our own standing with God, or needing to protect fragile parts of our beliefs and hearts there is little reason for covetous desires, jarring and contention and strife.  It just doesn't come up.  In the same way a healed broken arm doesn't need to be guarded from being hit like it did when it was broken.  We often act as though we are broken, defending at every turn.  And in truth we are all broken to some degree.  But.... situations, topics or events that at one point may have caused anger and frustration or contention, or to view people as enemies, can all change when the person accepts Christ's teachings, heals, and starts returning good for evil.  This is very difficult to do when we are full of scars and wounds, and carry them all over our countenance like a badge of honor.  So we need to be serious about coming to Christ. 

A more correct perspectives can quickly transform how you feel.  Knowledge does this.  We've all been captivated by a movie or book where the main character goes through sometimes many years with faulty information.  The audience knows the truth, but the character does not, and the audience waits in anticipation of the character finally realizing the truth and then correcting his actions.  Once this happens, it often changes everything.  I believe that is how life is.  We all have faulty information, and judge too quickly, and thus get tossed to and fro and act wrongly towards others.  This is another reason I really like the quote by Joseph Smith that a man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge.  I have never been able to access knowledge when my heart has a need to feel right about how wrong others are.  But I HAVE found hidden knowledge when I've dealt with strong feelings in a healthy way, and then pressed on to gain the information intended by the feelings I had, and the situation God offered me.

Notice whenever:
You feel a need to be right about how wrong someone else is.  
For me I've found a change of perspective, can literally change everything.  One example is I found compassion and understanding towards my parents greatly increased after having kids of my own.  Feelings I had towards parents in younger years gives way to seeing why the parent did or behaved in the way they did.  Their actions are now understandable, even respectable when I understand the circumstances I did not understand in the past.  Charity sprouts as we relate to and see how very much we all have in common and how much all of us are simply trying to do the best we can with what we know.  I have more charity towards my parents just from having my own kids.  Forgiveness seems to come naturally when perspective becomes more accurate.  Meekness and longsuffering actually seem possible.  Then the heart doesn't have to go to a painful place that yields poor fruit because there is no fear, but instead understanding, forgiveness, and compassion.    

A gifted teacher once told me:
Pride is where the ego goes when it doesn't know how to solve an emotional equation
What's an emotional equation?  It's when feelings don't add up.  It's the inability to solve or reconcile feelings inside your self.  That is when the ego reacts from pride because it doesn't know what else to do.  The prideful reaction is almost never a good one, it usually hurts ourselves and others.  We can all be terribly immature with our feelings.  It's not just about head knowledge, it's humility and maturity in knowing how to handle the feelings brought on by conflicting views, and tension, especially when stakes are high.

Here is what I've seen that works.  Feelings carry information, but it's often NOT the message we think.  Feeling anger does not always mean that the other person your mad at is an idiot.  That's not why our bodies produce that feeling.  The anger is YOUR issue and has a message for you about something in your heart.  It may have little, or nothing to do with the person who you think is to blame for your anger.  The anger does indicate something though, so it should be acknowledged, and understood. 

God can and does provide new perspective when we are ready to hear Him.  It involves identifying where the root of the problem was (internal).  It boils down to humility before God.  Asking for and accepting God's grace.  Accepting God's love.  Being forgiven.   Expressing the honest and most inner thoughts and feelings and then asking our Father in Heaven for healing.  New perspectives then come through prayer and communicating to God.  More correct perspectives gained through forgiving and offering charity to others WILL heal old scars.  All which improves emotional maturity.

The event or topic which at one point triggers hurt or anger, and leads to contention doesn't have to continue to do that.  Our motivations for what we say and do towards others can drastically improve.  The same thing, event, or topic can give rise to something entirely different inside you if your heart can get to the right place.  Its liberating.  What once pissed you off, can elicit entirely different feelings when your perspective is corrected.  An ongoing processes for me but I've seen it work time and time again. I guess it could be summed up by simply taking Christ's teachings seriously.  They do lead to God.  

A good portion of repentance in my view is a more correct perspective.  The side effects from a change of perspective towards light and truth can be incredibly healing and bring peace and unity as a byproduct.  It purifies our motives.  It comes down to sincere repentance, God's love, and our own humility to actually do and receive from God that I believe, and have seen, offer a path to hearts knit in unity.