Spiritual

How Am I Drawing Closer to Him Today?

Today I’m speaking in Sacrament Meeting. After the amount of time I have spent writing and working on this talk, I figured  I could post it as my Sunday blog post. The talk is based on Elder Dale G. Renlund’s talk from April’s General Conference. It’s kind of long, but I’m speaking for 15 minutes ( I timed it many times).

As a stay-at-home-mom, I try to fill the days with as much fun and interesting things as possible because it is too easy to slip into monotony and boredom of hanging out at home all the time. For Blake’s birthday, my in-laws were generous enough to give us a membership to the Children’s Museum. We love going. If you have never been to the Children’s Museum, it is a large building that has several sections throughout. Each section is dedicated to a different experience, like the art studio, the bubble lab, and the vet clinic. One of Blake’s favorite parts is the physics center.

The physics center is essentially an area filled with various Rube Goldberg tracks and devices that children can fill with balls various balls. They can watch and manipulate the machines to alter the ball’s path, but the ball always ends up going into this large Plexiglas basket on the ceiling. Once the basket is filled to a certain point, an alarm sounds. The bottom of the basket opens up, showering anyone below in a cascade of bright orange plastic balls.  Blake loves standing underneath the basket when the alarm sounds and jumps up and down eagerly as she waits for the balls to tumble down on her.

Every time we go, we always see children running in hurried clusters to gather up as many balls as their little arms can hold and put them into the machines as fast as they can. Even children younger than Blake have it figured out: fill up the machine and the basket will drop the balls.

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Image from Expedia

Last time we went, I noticed a little boy that stood firmly under the basket. Other children dashed around him grabbing balls and running them to the machine, but he stood there, waiting. Sometimes other children would accidentally bump him trying to collect the balls. He would glare, but stand firm. Sometimes other children would invite him to help them. He would not. He remained unmoved, waiting for the balls to drop.

As our time in the center went on, there were less children to fill the machines. This little boy realized he was waiting longer for the shower of balls so he picked up one ball, walked it to one of the machines, put it in, and then went back to his position under the basket. The rest of the children continued to work hard at filling the machines, even grown-ups joined in to help fill the basket. After a few more basket drops, Blake and I moved on to another center, but the boy remained under the basket.

In the Book of Mormon, Laman and Lemuel are the poster children for what not to do. I know as I have read their account over and over, I am quick to scoff at their ridiculous actions. I question why they just didn’t do as Nephi. Why didn’t they just turn the Lord? Why didn’t they pray, seek, ask? Why didn’t they keep the commandments? Why? Why? Why? But in reality, I find myself making similar mistakes to them.

At the heart of Laman and Lemuel’s problems is the issue that they did not know Heavenly Father. In 1Nephi 2:12 it says “And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of God who had created them.” Their distance from Heavenly Father made it hard for them to understand why Nephi was being blessed so much more than they. They viewed every blessing that Nephi received as a wrong committed against them. They could not see that they too could have been eligible for those blessings if they simply drew closer to Heavenly Father.

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How often do we come down with the same affliction of Laman and Lemuel? We make our own lives harder by focusing on what others are being blessed with, rather than realizing that we too can be blessed just as greatly as they, if we draw closer to our Heavenly Father.

When I was a little girl, I often felt robbed by my parents and brother. It would seem that my brother got to have so many great and wonderful blessings that I didn’t get. He got to stay up later, he got to have more independence when it came to playing outside or at a friend’s house. He also got to have privileges and opportunities that I felt I was not getting.

I would tell my parents that I wanted to be a boy because boys got to do things that girls didn’t get to do. I felt like that was the source of my inequality. My parents explained to me many times that the source of my brother’s opportunities were caused by him being older and that I too would get there in time. Of course I didn’t believe that it could be that simple. I continued to focus on my inequality. Time passed and I eventually was given many of the same privileges and opportunities, even many things that he didn’t get because I was younger, but I couldn’t see it. Over time I realized that I had wasted a lot of time and energy focusing on the disparity of what he had versus what I had.

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In this past General Conference, Elder Renlund spoke about this in his talk. He made the observation that “the greater the distance between the giver and the receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement”. He says “The concept…has profound spiritual applications. Our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are the ultimate Givers. The more we distance ourselves from Them, the more entitled we feel. We begin to think that we deserve grace and are owed blessings. We are more prone to look around, identify inequities, and feel aggrieved—even offended—by the unfairness we perceive. While the unfairness can range from trivial to gut-wrenching, when we are distant from God, even small inequities loom large. We feel that God has an obligation to fix things—and fix them right now!”

The little boy at the museum is a perfect example of this. The little boy was so focused on getting what he wanted, that he did not do the things necessary to receive the desired result.  How often do we stand under the basket, demanding Heavenly Father to shower us with blessings we feel we are owed, rather than putting in the work to understand the machine, understand the sacrifice and love of our Savior and our Heavenly Father?

Elder Renlund said “Nephi must have recognized that life would be the most unfair for Jesus Christ. Though absolutely innocent, the Savior would suffer the most.” “The closer we are to Jesus Christ in the thoughts and intents of our hearts, the more we appreciate His innocent suffering, the more grateful we are for grace and forgiveness, and the more we want to repent and become like Him. Our absolute distance from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is important, but the direction we are heading is even more crucial. God is more pleased with repentant sinners who are trying to draw closer to Him than with self-righteous, faultfinding individuals who, like the Pharisees and scribes of old, do not realize how badly they need to repent.”

Just like my own parents were waiting until I was ready to give me the same blessings and privileges that my brother had, Heavenly Father is eagerly waiting for us to turn to Him so he can bless us. As our perfect parent, He wants nothing more than to reward our humility and desire for Him.

When we seek to have a better understanding of the Atonement, to draw closer to Christ, we have a better understanding of our own trails, tribulations, and blessings. Right after Mark and I had moved to Fort Collins, we found out I was pregnant. I felt panic and fear, I had just left a job that had great benefits, moved away from our family support system, and was supposed to be going back to school to finish my degree. It was in the midst of this sudden curve ball that we were able to see that Heavenly Father does not set us up for failure. We drew closer to Him, relying on His love and direction to navigate the great change in our life. During this time, we gained a new appreciation of even the hardest moments as well as deep gratitude for the shower of blessings that we received. We only found these things by drawing closer to our Heavenly Father and Savior. Drawing closer to our Heavenly Father, we begin to see that we are nothing without Him. Every iota that we have comes from our Father in Heaven’s goodness and love.

King Benjamin illustrates this principle when he said “For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have…  And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.”

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If the cure to Laman and Lemuel syndrome is knowing Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ better, they how can we achieve this?

When I started contemplating this, I felt this surge of impression come to my mind. I needed to ask myself every day “How am I drawing closer to the Savior, today?” Once I started asking myself that, I found myself evaluating deeper. When I was doing a certain activity, the thought would come “Is this helping me draw closer to the Savior?”  As I asked myself this question, multiple times a day, I found myself thinking deeper about my prayers, my scripture study, my time with my family, the activities that we did together, the activities that my daughter did, and how I ran my home. I found a great change in how I saw myself and my own role.

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I realized that by serving others, even just those in my family, even if it’s just taking the extra minute to put things in order before Mark came home, or adjusting how I was making dinner to include Blake in the process, I was drawing closer to the Savior. I realized that by changing my focus from what I wanted from prayers and scripture study, to what Heavenly Father wanted me to learn, I grew closer to my savior. I realized by asking a simple question, every day, I was taking baby steps to draw closer to Him.

Heavenly Father provides more than just scripture, prayer, and service to help us. When we make and participate in covenants, we are turning our focus back to the Savior. Every covenant we make is saturated in symbolism and language that remind us of our Savior and the Atonement.

Elder Renlund said “To draw closer to the Savior, we must increase our faith in Him, make and keep covenants, and have the Holy Ghost with us. We must also act in faith, responding to the spiritual direction we receive. All of these elements come together in the sacrament. Indeed, the best way I know of to draw closer to God is to prepare conscientiously and partake worthily of the sacrament each week.”

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Image from mormonbible.org

He then went on to relate this story: “Diane was a new convert, she attended a branch outside of Johannesburg. One Sunday, as she sat in the congregation, the layout of the chapel made it so that the deacon did not see her as the sacrament was passed. Diane was disappointed but said nothing. Another member noted the omission and mentioned it to the branch president after the meeting. As Sunday School began, Diane was invited to an empty classroom.

A priesthood holder came in. He knelt down, blessed some bread, and handed her a piece. She ate it. He knelt down again and blessed some water and handed her a small cup. She drank it. Thereafter, Diane had two thoughts in rapid succession: First, “Oh, he [the priesthood holder] did this just for me.” And then, “Oh, He [the Savior] did this just for me.” Diane felt Heavenly Father’s love.

Her realization that the Savior’s sacrifice was just for her helped her feel close to Him and fueled an overwhelming desire to keep that feeling in her heart, not just on Sunday but every day. She realized that although she sat in a congregation to partake of the sacrament, the covenants she made anew each Sunday were individually hers. The sacrament helped—and continues to help—Diane feel the power of godly love, recognize the Lord’s hand in her life, and draw closer to the Savior.”

I know that I have had many special moments during the sacrament, moments when I felt so close to the Savior, and then I became a mother. After that, the sacrament became more of a struggle, not just to teach my two year old to sit and be quiet while some boys bring bread and water, but a struggle to teach her what it really meant.

I remember feeling excited when I thought she was starting to understand. I took her to Deseret Book and had her pick out her favorite pictures of Jesus. We taped them onto nice paper and then slid them into a dollar store pocket photo album so she could look at pictures of Jesus while we took the sacrament. I was so eager to whisper stories of Jesus teaching and performing miracles to her, so that she could come to know Him. And then reality hit. She’s a toddler. Looking at that same special book, having mom whisper in her ear and make her sit still is about as enjoyable to a toddler as it would be to groom a lion or tiger at the zoo.

I found myself feeling like I should give up until she gets older. Expecting a small child to think about the Sacrament the same way an adult does is asking a lot. I also found that I was giving up on my focus on my own the Sacrament. It wasn’t long before Laman and Lemuel syndrome symptoms started popping up in my life. I wondered why Heavenly Father was so distant. But it wasn’t Him, it was me.

Changing my entire Sacrament mentality meant changing my entire Sunday, I thought. I began to change my Sunday routine and found that it my symptoms were a little less, but still there. I realized that preparing for the Sacrament was not something to start an hour before church, or even the night before. Preparing for the Sacrament was something that should happen all week long. By asking myself that question “How am I drawing closer to the Savior, today?” significantly alters the way we perceive our actions.

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Along with taking the sacrament, temple attendance can aid in curing Laman and Lemuel Syndrome. In the temple, everything is centered around Christ, it is hard not to think of Him and His love for us. Again, as a mother of a young child, it is hard to find time to get to the temple regularly. Before Mark and I were married I attended the temple at least twice a week, if not more. Once we moved to Fort Collins and the temple was significantly further away, I realized how blessed we had been to live so near the temple. Now that we are back, so close, I make an effort to at least visit the temple grounds. Blake loves going to the temple. We sing the song “I Love to See the Temple” on the drive there. We wander around and talk about how the Temple is a blessing to us. We talk about Heavenly Father’s love for us. Even if you cannot do ordinances in the temple, you can still visit the grounds and feel the Spirit.

By utilizing the renewal of our covenants as a bridge to draw close to the Savior, we can be better prepared to weather the storms of life.  Christ said “And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.

“But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall.”

Elder Renlund clarified “Jesus did not say “if rain descends, if floods come, and if winds blow” but “when.” No one is immune from life’s challenges; we all need the safety that comes from partaking of the sacrament.

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The sacrament truly helps us know our Savior. It also reminds us of His innocent suffering. If life were truly fair, you and I would never be resurrected; you and I would never be able to stand clean before God. In this respect, I am grateful that life is not fair.

At the same time, I can emphatically state that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, ultimately, in the eternal scheme of things, there will be no unfairness. “All that is unfair about life can be made right.” Our present circumstances may not change, but through God’s compassion, kindness, and love, we will all receive more than we deserve, more than we can ever earn, and more than we can ever hope for. We are promised that “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior. Through Him and His infinite Atonement, we can repent, we can be healed, we can have peace, and we can return to our Father in Heaven. I know by striving to draw closer to Him through our covenants and by our daily choices, we can grow in happiness and fulfill Heavenly Father’s plan for us. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

How do you draw closer to Him?

Katie

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