Sunday, March 20, 2011

Level 1: Purify your heart (desire)

This section deals with the ‘desire’ part of my equation:
Potential for Good = Desire x Skills.

(See my previous post, an overview of this equation.)

There are a group of qualities that Latter-day Saints regard as “Christlike attributes,” that concern the state of your mind and heart.

(And if you want to call them something else, that’s fine. It’s far more important whether you value them and are trying to develop them.)

Consider questions like these.

Am I filled with sincere desire for the happiness of others?

Do I feel confident that God loves me?

Am I patient with the faults and weaknesses of others?

Do I work effectively, even when I’m not under pressure or close supervision?

What do I do and think when no one else is watching?

Am I dependable? Do I do what I say I will do?

Do I look for opportunities to serve other people?

How do I react when faced with opposition or suffering?

Do I think about the Savior during the day and remember what He has done for me?

When I’m doing all I can to effect good, am I content with myself?

Do I find joy in others’ achievements?

Do I focus on uplifting thoughts and put unwholesome thoughts out of my mind?

Am I patient with myself? Do I rely on the Lord as I work to overcome my weaknesses?

These questions measure qualities within ourselves, our desires. If we don't have these desires, well, we must desire them! (See Alma 32:27, "If ye can no more than desire to believe..")

The way we act upon our desire to desire good, is to measure our desires for good -- by asking these questions frequently.

Page 9 of this guide (pdf) gives a good general pattern for developing these attributes: study the descriptions, write your feelings, studied the listed scriptures, discussed them with your mission companion (or a close friend), set goals, pray for help, and evaluate yourself. Page 13 has some good self-evaluation questions.

The hardest thing for me – I did this pretty frequently on my mission – was stripping away my constant excuse. “I’m just not very [faithful, patient, loving, good at having clean thoughts, etc].”

But I found that the things that wouldn’t go away at all were much smaller than I imagined.

(I have a tendency to try to do too much, which I can’t erase but I can monitor and control. When I have too many things in my hands I need to ask for someone’s help or I might go crazy. When I have a ton of small things to do, I need to write them all down on a list and then work through it. I can’t sit still, but whatever.)

And to be honest, my progress was filled with stops and starts, uneven, and a frequent source of frustration when I fell short.

But simple persistence – I thought about these at least twice a week, and usually every day, for two years – yielded results. I had to, after all – I was on a mission!

If you only take one point away, take this. Real change in these qualities requires developing a system that encourages – or even forces – you to think about them regularly for an extended period of time. You become what you do consistently.

And in your quest for spiritual development, keep in mind this thought, from C. S. Lewis.

“Thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools...

[In reality, humility brings a] man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.” (in The Screwtape Letters).

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