Why is it so hard to notice our own spiritual progress? The reason: The effects are gradual and difficult to observe from day to day. For example, if I look at a photo taken of myself many years ago, I would notice a big difference as compared to now. But when I look in the mirror each morning getting ready for the day, I can’t see the subtle changes taking place. They aren’t obvious in 24-hour increments. I think that’s how it is with spiritual change. As I strive to keep the commandments, such as making time for scripture study, church and temple worship, offering kindness and service to others, change is happening even when I’m not aware of it. One way to observe this transformation is to keep a journal describing goals, challenges, and victories along the way. It’s like a photograph which can be viewed and reviewed. As I read entries from the past, I can see little signs of improvement. Some things I once struggled with have been conquered, and goals set years ago have been reached. Change is still subtle, and of course there are occasional setbacks and relapses. But as I yield to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the Lord helps me put off the “natural man” little by little, step by step. God is in the process of recreating my nature to become like Him. I can see it and feel it. I feel progress like wind in my hair. This is a Reason to Rejoice!
“Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn” (Isaiah 51:1). What does this mean to you? When I think of the word, “hewn” I think of a statue emerging from a block of beautiful marble after the master artisan has laboriously chipped away with sharp tools to create a likeness. Along with all of God’s children, I am “hewn” from divine parentage as a beloved child of God. He is shaping me to be in His likeness. The word “Rock” is often used in the scriptures to represent the Savior Jesus Christ. He is what I strive to become. I have taken upon myself His holy name in covenant, and have pledged to always remember Him. In another respect, I am also “hewn” from beloved earthly parents and ancestors. I want to carry on their legacy of courage and faith. I live in a confused world when it comes to identity. Many people look to find themselves in the wrong places. The right place to find one’s real identity is from God, as His beloved child. Real identity comes from recognizing our divine heritage and purpose. These words from a favorite child’s hymn relate to adults as well: “I am a child of God, and He has sent me here. Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me; help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do, to live with Him someday.” Isaiah’s words, “Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn” remind me of who I am and whose I am.
Watch out for Mosquitoes
Are you a mosquito magnet? I am! My granddaughter taught me an interesting lesson as we lounged on the patio. I told her I wished that Noah had not taken these pesky insects into the ark. To my surprise, she said she sees mosquitos in a positive way as an official signal of summer. To me, the mosquito was seen as a negative, but to her, a welcoming sign of a warm new season. I marveled at that perspective, and related it to other things in life that are disagreeable, unwelcome, and difficult. A great prophet in the Book of Mormon learned this lesson. “And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15). As challenges are experienced, I want to see the positive things I can learn from them. I will seek the Lord’s strength to push through them. I will remember the loving tutorials of personal refinement that come from facing trials with faith. I am grateful for this simple lesson taught by my wise granddaughter and the poignant hope from the scriptures.
When teens graduate from high school and leave home to taste independence, they enter the dangerous decade of young adulthood. In the thrill of freedom, they often explore forbidden paths which lead to destructive behaviors, habits, and detours. By contrast, what parent could want more than to hear the following words from a son or daughter during these critical years? Here is a short extract from a long list of lessons learned from our oldest grandchild who recently returned from her mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was hard work. She said she is not the same person that she was 18 months ago.
- I have learned why we need opposition and the trial of our faith.
- I have learned the important role of the Holy Ghost, and why I never want to live without the guidance of the Spirit.
- I have learned the importance of family and what I want my future family to be.
- I have learned what it means to truly love people.
- I have learned that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite and intimate.
- I have learned what Heavenly Father can accomplish through 19 and 20 year- old men and women.
- I think the greatest change in me is that I can say with confidence that I know the truths of the gospel for myself.
- There is a certain peace and joy that comes when you know the truth. It comes from the Savior. That is what continually motivated me to wake up every day with excitement to share it with others.
- I have learned that I have great reason to rejoice!
It is inspiration from God to send missionaries of young adult age to spread the good news of the gospel worldwide. In the process of blessing others, these young adults are shaped in magnificent ways. I am a grandmother with great Reasons to Rejoice!
“Own the morning; own the day.” To me this means personal prayer and scripture study before anything else happens. If I discipline myself to carve out time from sleep to do these two things first thing in the morning, the rest of the day goes much better. Interactions with family members are improved. My attitude is brighter. I have more energy, more smiles. In fact, I discovered that prayer and scripture study refresh my body and soul far beyond the equivalent minutes of sleep that I missed. During a particularly busy time in my life when hours of sleep were already insufficient, I decided to try an experiment. My alarm was set 30 minutes earlier than usual. On that first morning I groaned with fatigue and padded softly to a favorite chair in the living room. The house was dark and quiet. No one else was awake. I knelt to pray, pouring out my heart’s desires, yearnings and goals. Words of gratitude tumbled out. I felt wrapped in God’s love and approval. Something unique was happening in these quiet moments spent alone with God. Opening my scriptures, I began to study. Surprisingly, the verses applied directly to my present need. I had read those verses previously, but now I saw new truths—relevant and timely. God was speaking to me intimately through these verses. Before long, the 30 minutes stretched to 45. I looked forward to this early morning feast. It filled my soul. My mind was sharper, my heart softer, my step lighter. I was more focused and efficient during the day. What a miracle—on less sleep! Try this experiment and see for yourself. Even 15 minutes carved out of sleep will make a difference. Own the morning; own the day!—a great Reason to Rejoice!
Here’s a good question to ask yourself: What sacrifices have I been asked to make in my religion? I believe that a religion that does not require effort and sacrifice—doesn’t produce faith, refinement, and spiritual growth in its members. We understand this principle in other areas. For example, if I work hard and save money to pay for my college tuition, I will apply myself with greater diligence and appreciation. And how absurd it would be to ask a physical trainer to help me develop bulging biceps and total body fitness without performing strenuous exercise? The principle of sacrifice and reward has application in every dimension of our lives. It applies to religion too. If it doesn’t pinch, it isn’t a sacrifice. Here are some sacrifices I’m striving to make. I am imperfect, but I will never give up trying.
- Resist forbidden things.
- Study scriptures daily.
- Pray morning and night (and in between).
- Obey commandments.
- Minister and serve others, even when it’s inconvenient.
- Prioritize marriage and family as number one—to love, teach and minister.
- Cherish the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Fast and pay tithing.
- Repent when I make mistakes and strive to improve.
- Stand as a witness for truth.
- Treat others kindly even when mistreated. Forgive freely.
- Learn to love with compassion and courtesy.
Note the ACTION WORDS: Resist, study, pray, obey, minister, serve, prioritize, cherish, repent, stand, learn, love, forgive.
For us, Easter comes in the springtime of the year, when new buds and green leaves appear after a long winter. Easter is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s universal resurrection, with the promise that all in their proper order will have their bodies and spirits reunited immortally, free from disease, pain, or death. Christ’s redeeming power saves all mankind from physical death. At the resurrection, new life will spring forth from the grave with excitement exceeding any earthly expectation. Another gift of the Savior comes through the Atonement, when He paid the price for all our sins. We are sanctified as we repent and are baptized through proper authority, and endure faithfully to the end. Without this great gift, we would all suffer a spiritual death or separation from God’s presence. A powerful witness of the Savior Jesus Christ by His living apostles can be found at: http://jesuschrist.lds.org/testimonies-of-him/articles/the-living-christ-the-testimony-of-the-apostles-of-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints?&lang=eng Here is a summarizing statement: “We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles—that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”