Sunday, September 6, 2015

Five articles which changed my life this summer

When I say these articles have changed my life, I mean that they have helped give me some new insight on life, or given me the motivation to change in some necessary way, or strengthened my desire to live in faith and obedience. I have realized that there are certain behaviors and patterns of living that unlock results that can be achieved in no other way. 

ONE: “Filled with Life and Energy” by Randal A. Wright

Of all the things I read this summer, this one has made the greatest outward change in my life. When I read this article in the July issue of Ensign magazine, and then shared it with my wife Qait, we both knew immediately that there were things we wanted to change. There were blessings we wanted to unlock that we were not receiving because we were not fully in control of our lives. The articles answers the question: What one practice, if followed consistently and with discipline, would help you have better health, energy, and inspiration? The answer surprised me with both its simplicity and the way that it struck me with that burning desire to change. The short answer: Go to bed early and get up early. Wright then goes on to give a pretty good list of scriptural examples of early-risers, including among others, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Mary Magdalene and the Savior Jesus Christ Himself. 

Having now followed this counsel for three months by going to bed as close to ten as I can manage and getting up at six am each morning, I can attest to the truth of what Wright concludes: When we win the first battle of the day against the mattress, we are far more likely to win more battles during the day. Certainly I have also seen an uptick in my output as a composer and my productivity at home and at work. I have felt a significant spiritual revitalization and commitment to improving my life in other ways. In sum, applying the teachings of this article have helped me be in a place where I was ready to receive more improvements through the following ones.

TWO: “Blessings of the Temple” by President Thomas S. Monson

This talk was given at the last General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by man whom I believe to be the living prophet of God on the earth. The first day that my wife and I got up at six am, we also went to the Mesa Temple. There is no specific rate of attendance required of Latter-day Saints, but we had been sporadic in our attendance. I had let the cares of my education and work convince me that I ‘didn’t have the time’ to participate in the the great work that goes on in Latter-day Saint temples. But since that first day this summer, we’ve attended every week, even now that school has started up again. I have learned for myself the truth of these words of President Monson: 

As we attend the temple, there can come to us a dimension of spirituality and a feeling of peace which will transcend any other feeling which could come into the human heart. We will grasp the true meaning of the words of the Savior when He said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Such peace can permeate any heart—hearts that are troubled, hearts that are burdened down with grief, hearts that feel confusion, hearts that plead for help.

Now when we attend the temple, I rely on the peace there for a clarity from the hectic swirl of thoughts and concerns in my life, a peace which I have found nowhere else.

THREE: "Living Joyfully in Troubled Times” by President Ezra Taft Benson

One of the blessings coming into my life lately is that I have actually been more prepared and involved in church activities like Sunday School and lessons during meetings of the Elder’s Quorum. In the latter, we typically study from a book which contains the teachings of one of the modern prophets from Joseph Smith on. This year we have been studying the teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, who became the prophet the year I was born. There have been a number of gems in these lessons this year, but I was particularly struck by this collection of teachings focusing on finding peace and even joy in a world consumed with troubles. A year ago I actually was getting quite depressed as I read the news and watched the souring relationship between Russia and the United States. I'd tried so hard to do my small part to create goodwill with my Karelian Soundscapes project. But as I've applied teachings like these from President Benson, I've realized I can't base my happiness in the cares of the world. 

It is a great blessing to have an inner peace, to have an assurance, to have a spirit of serenity and inward calm during times of strife and struggle, during times of sorrow and reverses. It is soul-satisfying to know that God is at the helm, that He is mindful of His children,and that we can with full confidence place our trust in Him.

This article helped confirm a lesson I have been learning over the last year or so that my happiness, my joy, my peace comes not from without but from within. As President Benson says: Happiness must be earned from day to day. But it is worth the effort. 

FOUR: “The Sabbath is a Delight” by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

This article is representative of a great focus which has been in the Church since last General Conference, a sort of revival of the importance of keeping the Sabbath day holy. There has been a lot of articles and training and teaching on this topic over the last few months. But this talk, the final talk at last conference, set the tone. Instead of thinking: “What shouldn’t I do on the Sabbath?" I see Elder Nelson’s talk as inviting me to consider how I can show my love to God through my behavior on the Sabbath day. As I have pondered that, I have felt much more comfortable avoiding homework on the Sabbath, avoiding entertainment, taking a break from the internet. I have spent more time communicating with my family, writing my sister on her mission in Guam, teaching my children, and in prayer and service. Another blessing I have seen from trying to more fully consecrate one day in seven is that I have tried to actually follow through on the six days of labor part of the commandment, making my Saturdays another day of getting things done instead of a total play day. Fully dedicating a day of rest from my labors to the Lord has become a source of strength and peace as I go throughout the rest of the week.

FIVE: “Approaching the Throne of God with Confidence” By Elder Jörg Klebingat of the Seventy

More than any other single address from General Conference in recent memory, I have returned to this practical and relevant talk again and again over the past year - and learned something new each time. Elder Klebingat has helped me see that the Atonement of Christ is something that I can apply constantly, instead of just when I make major mistakes. I have found a significantly greater measure of peace and contentment in life as I've tried to apply that idea. His advice applies to taking care of my own physical and spiritual well-being through obedience, forgiveness of others, and acceptance of trials and setbacks.

Acknowledge and face your weaknesses, but don’t be immobilized by them…Yours is the privilege, if you want it, to come to know for yourself, today or soon, that you are pleasing God in spite of your shortcomings.

I invite anyone out there to check out these articles and see if you aren't inspired in some way to want to change your life a bit too.