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!
I will never forget the time I wanted to stoke my wood-burning fireplace with a lump of coal to extend the flame. Being in a hurry and not wanting to take time to change out of my white sweater dress, I decided to just be very careful retrieving the coal. (Silly me!) I went to the garage and gingerly opened the bag while slowly extracting a lump. Holding it out in front of me with extended arms, I walked back into the house and slid the lump of coal on top of the fire. I smiled smugly at my family for this amazing feat before rushing out the door to my meeting. But as I was about to make my presentation, I was horrified to notice a black smear of soot on my sleeve. Here is the lesson I learned that day: It is pride to think I can deviate even a little from the covenantal path without getting smudged in some way. I can’t tango with sin without its dirt rubbing off on me. The smear may not be immediately discernable but it is there all the same—and will bring me down. The Lord gives commandments to protect, not restrict us. He is a loving God—not a punitive God. I trust Him. “The discipline contained in daily obedience…builds an armor of protection and safety from the temptations that beset you as you proceed through mortality” (L. Tom Perry). This I believe with all my heart.
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.
The Savior told instructed His disciples to be yoked to Him. He said, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). First of all, what is a yoke? I think of that wooden thing between a pair of oxen, latching them together. When I covenant with Christ, I am yoked to Him so I won’t drift into forbidden paths. Being latched to Christ is like having a protective shield around me, ensuring safety from temptations. How can a yoke be easy? It looks heavy and cumbersome. At first glance, pledging obedience to commandments might appear cumbersome or restrictive. But actually, obedience frees me from the adversary’s snares. It’s not “shoulder-shrugging acceptance, but instead, shoulder-squaring to better bear the yoke” (Neal A. Maxwell). How can the Savior’s yoke make burdens light? Being yoked to Christ puts a spring in my step, fills my heart with hope. It enlarges my capacity to learn and feel joy—even during the most difficult trials. Being yoked to Christ enables me to carry on, to persist, to endure, to finish. The Lord needs finishers, no matter the challenge—to the very end of life. His yoke makes this possible. His yoke makes the journey easy and joyful.
I have more to say about good mothers. This is the kind of mother I want to be: “If you need a woman to rear children in righteousness, Here am I; send me. If you need a woman to make a house a home filled with love, Here am I; send me. If you need a woman who will shun vulgarity and dress modestly and speak with dignity and show the world how joyous it is to keep the commandments, Here am I; send me. If you need a woman who can resist the alluring temptations of the world by keeping her eyes fixed on eternity, Here am I, send me” (M. Russell Ballard). What I say to every mother about to give birth to a daughter is this: I’m glad you’re having a girl because the world needs good mothers! A good mother LIFTS, BENDS, and BALANCES with near superhuman strength. “Motherhood is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels” (David O. McKay). We mothers need to be reminded of this beautiful description of our career.
Two of my favorite words are “eager” and “earnest” because they describe the amperage of a person’s spiritual motor. Here is a vivid example: “And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” “And they immediately left the ship…and followed him” (Matthew 4:20,22). After testifying of His divinity, Jesus Christ invited Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him and become fishers of men. Undoubtedly, the Savior spoke many words as they tarried by the water’s edge, and the Spirit bore witness to their souls of His truth and divinity. The fishermen must have keenly felt this powerful witness to immediately leave their nets—their livelihood to follow the Master. They didn’t say, “I’ll think about it and get back to you,” or “Let me finish what I’m doing and make some arrangements first.” They immediately left behind all that was familiar and went forward with faith. I want to do the same and follow the Savior with eagerness, without excuse or caveat. I will obey His commandments with all my heart. He promises, “All that I have is thine” (Luke 15:32).