Sunday, July 25, 2010

Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates- You Never Know What You're Gonna Get

My friend at work was telling me about a chocolate shop the other day, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about that delicious yumminess since :) I love chocolate, and it comes in so many different varieties. Dark, milk, white; with or without nuts, fruits, caramel, and the list goes on and on. I must admit, though, there are a few flavors that don't really float my boat. Everyone has them. They come in those assorted boxes of chocolate that are passed around like wildfire during valentines season and Christmas. It's always a bit nerve wracking having to pick one without knowing what's inside. Will it be heaven on earth for your mouth, or one to put back in the box after you've nibbled off a corner? Not that I've ever done that :)

Well, life's a lot like that box of chocolates. Sometimes there's a guide on the back helping us choose which ones we'd like to try. Other times it's a complete shot in the dark. I guess I've been feeling like I've been taking more shots in the dark lately and my choices seem to follow the 50-50-90 rule: If there's a 50% chance of getting it right, 90% of the time I get it wrong. It seems the more I try to do what's right, the more lost I feel. In the musical Wicked, Elphaba sings "No good deed goes unpunished. No act of charity goes un-resented." While that might be slightly cynical, it often feels like everything I try to do doesn't turn out. There are trials in my life that I wish I hadn't picked up out of that chocolate box. I wish, after I nibbled off a piece, that I could be done with them and put them back in the box.

Fortunately life doesn't work like that. Why fortunately? Because if it did, we would never grow! There's no way I would continue working through a trial if I didn't have to. Trials are no fun; nobody really wants them. But they're the best ways to learn and increase in faith.

Trials, in one way or another, test our faith. Why does God want to test our faith? He already knows us so well that He can predict our actions, but He wants us to know ourselves. Only when we are tested do we come to learn who we are. If we coasted through life, we'd never know how strong our faith could be. Peter said, "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (trials): That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:6-7) Peter is saying that even when we are burdened by many trials and our faith is tested, we should rejoice because overcoming those trials, especially ones that pull us through a refiner's fire, make us acceptable to Christ.

Alma, in talking with his son Helaman, said, "I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day." (Alma 36:3) Alma is saying that God will not take away our trials, but He will support us in our trials and afflictions so that we may eventually return to him.

However, Heavenly Father does not always help us right away. Sometimes He tests our faith in order that we may grow. Moroni states, "I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." (Ether 12:6) Sometimes, when I'm in the midst of a trial, it's hard to see the end, the point, the reason why. But Moroni is saying that instead of arguing your situation with God, have faith that He knows what He's doing and that everything will work for your good if you continue making correct choices.

One of my favorite examples of this principle is the story of Zion's Camp. This takes place in 1834, when the newly founded Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was gathered in 2 places; Kirtland, Ohio where Joseph Smith lived, and Independence Missouri. Mobs combined to drive the saints living in Independence (Zion) out of Jackson County Missouri. The saints had tried to regain their land through legal means, but were unsuccessful. Finally, Joseph Smith was told in a revelation to raise a camp of 500 men to march down to Jackson county and redeem Zion. Exciting, right? :) It's like a story out of the Book of Mormon: righteous men fighting for their wives, religion, land, and freedom just like Captain Moroni.

Well, despite it being a commandment from God that 500 men go, only about 200 finally followed Joseph down to Missouri. Now you would think, this whole camp thing being the Lord's idea, that He would have made it a nice jaunt down to Missouri, followed by a quick smack down on the wicked Missourians. Not so much. Just the trek itself was filled with sickness, murmuring, and bad conditions. And when the party finally reached the Fishing River in Missouri, Joseph received a revelation stating that the Lord was revoking His promise to redeem Zion and that it would have to wait for a season. (D&C 102 and D&C 105).

I must admit my first reaction to hearing that would probably have been along the lines of "What gives?!" (in 19th century slang of course). Why would the Lord ask them to come all that way- about 1000 miles- through trials and suffering and then change His mind? The reason was that the people were not sufficiently prepared to redeem Zion and they needed to learn more before they could return. (D&C 105:9-10)

So was there a point to the trial they underwent? Absolutely! God told Joseph, "But inasmuch as there are those who have hearkened unto my words, I have prepared a blessing and an endowment for them, if they continue faithful. I have heard their prayers, and will accept their offering; and it is expedient in me that they should be brought thus far for a trial of their faith." (D&C 105:18-19) The lesson we need to learn from this is that God knows what we need to learn from our trials, and He gives us trials that will increase our faith if we hearken to His words. The outcome might not be anything we expected, but it is what we need. For example, Zion's camp never redeemed Zion; in fact it remains unredeemed in that sense to this day. However, from Zion's camp came the next several prophets of the church, apostles, seventy. The majority of leadership in the church for the next 50 years were members of Zion's camp. The world might call it a failure (and wikipedia does- I looked it up), but to God it was the proving ground for the leaders the church would need to take it across the plains into the Salt Lake Valley.

Christ said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) Yes we will have trials in this life. They may not be what we would choose for ourselves, but they all will help us come to the Savior if we hearken to His counsel and have faith. Life may be like that box of chocolates: we never know what's going to come at us next. But we know that mixed in with those trials, are the blessings of that perfect piece of chocolate- eternal life. And I know that if we keep trying, someday we'll receive it.

Additional scriptures:

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Power of Choice

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the Shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
-William Ernest Henley
It may be guessed that I just watched "Invictus" for the first time, and that would be a correct assumption. Nelson Mandela has been one of my heroes since I was in high school. I've always been so impressed that a man, jailed for 30 years, would then choose to lead the country and the people who jailed him in the first place. But he did, and his choice changed the history of an entire nation. I've often wondered how he found it in himself to forgive, to allow himself and others to change. But in that choice of change he showed that he was the master of his fate. He was the captain of his soul.
Choice is greatest gift and blessing given to each person on this earth. Agency is the one possession that is truly ours and cannot be taken away. We always have choice and therefore we always have power, if even only over ourselves. And with this power, we are free.
When Lehi was leaving his final blessings with his sons, he talked with Jacob about the Plan of Salvation and the important role that choice plays in that plan. In 2 Nephi 2:26 Lehi talks about the coming of the Messiah to "redeem the children of men from the fall. And because they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon...". And continuing in verse 27: "Men are free according to the flesh... they are free to choose...".
The power of choice is essential to the Plan of Salvation. In the council in heaven before we came down to earth there were 2 plans. One- Christ's and God's plan- gave us freedom to choose. The other- Lucifer's- took away our ability to choose. Lucifer's might have sounded easier, but it would have taken away our freedom. God's plan is harder, but in it we can grow; for without choice there is no progression.
In 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation that was dubbed the "olive leaf" because it contained so many truths and pieces of wisdom from God. Toward the end of the revelation, after learning about the spirit, light, and learning, is verse 86 which contains the instruction "Abide in the liberty wherewith ye are made free." Our liberty, our agency, is a gift from God that we should abide in.
Abide means to stay within, to stay in the midst of. To me, God is telling us that we should live our lives in such a way that we can always enjoy the blessing of agency. Everything in life is a choice, but everything has a consequence for good or bad. Lehi told his sons that "they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." (2 Nephi 2:27) Obviously choosing good will lead us toward God, and choosing evil will lead us toward Satan.
But what about choosing gray? What about choosing to sit on the fence and not make a decision? May I suggest that not making a decision is in fact a decision? When we choose not to choose, we have chosen to be acted upon and not to act for ourselves. President Thomas Monson related this story from Alice in Wonderland in a talk on choice.
"Let us not find ourselves as indecisive as Alice...You will remember that she comes to a crossroads with two paths before her, each stretching onward but in opposite directions. She is confronted by the Cheshire cat, of whom Alice asks, 'Which path shall I follow?' The cat answers, 'That depends where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn't matter which path you take.' Unlike Alice, we all know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life surely leads to the path we will follow in the next."
Joshua knew about the power of decisions and declared to the entire nation of Israel, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve...but as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15). I hope in my life that I can be less like the wandering Alice and more like Joshua, knowing whom I serve and where I am going. Like William Henley wrote, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."