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!
A friend told me that before her family kneels for prayer each evening, they take a moment to reflect and share a particular experience that day which manifests Heavenly Father’s love. The person offering the prayer then includes expressions of gratitude for those specific things. In this way, family members are being made aware of one another’s kindnesses from God. This exercise also helps avoid vain repetitions and keeps expressions fresh. Though our children are now grown with families of their own, we continue the tradition of kneeling for family prayer whenever we gather together in our home. It is a sweet finish to every family activity before we hug goodbye. There is truth to the adage that “families who pray together—stay together.”
- Prayer is an acknowledgment that God is our Father and Jesus Christ is our Savior.
- Prayer is a sincere confession of mistakes, and a request for forgiveness.
- Prayer is recognition that we need help beyond our ability.
- Prayer is an opportunity to express gratitude to our Creator.
- Prayer is a privilege to ask God for specific blessings.
When families kneel together in humble supplication both morning and night, they enjoy a bonding spirit of love and unity.
It’s a good idea for couples to discuss and actually write down strengths in their marriage relationship. This activity helps to identify and reinforce the positive things. We did this and listed the following strengths:
- Honoring. Respectful communication; many expressions of gratitude; loving affirmations; physical affection.
- Absence of Contention.
- Exchanged kindnesses. Anticipating needs in thoughtful gestures.
- Unity in priorities and values. Sharing a love of God and desire to be faithful; sharing similar goals; having reverence for life and each other.
- Playfulness and humor. We laugh a lot.
- Appreciation of each other’s differences and strengths. This is unifying.
- Shared enjoyment in serving others.
You might try this as we did, on a date night sitting across the table at dinner. It might surprise you to identify some delightful new dimensions of your partnership that were previously overlooked. By reinforcing the positive, this activity supports the commandment: “Thou shalt live together in love” (D&C 42:45).
Men, this blog is for you: The smallest gestures of kindness convey the biggest messages of love. I am married to a smart and strong man, but “How sweet it is when the strong are also gentle” (Fudim). Here is one small example. At the close of one hectic day, Alan and I both slumped with fatigue. With usual efficiency, he had finished his list of tasks before I did. He tried to help me, but mine happened to be a one-man job, so he started pacing the floor. His conscience would not allow him to sit down and relax while I still worked. Can you imagine? Predictably, he performs the normal manly gestures, like opening doors and carrying heavy bundles. But he makes me feel loved in countless other ways that show respect and give comfort. He memorizes my preferences; rubs my feet after a hard day; helps with chores; serves himself last; drops what he is doing to help me look for a misplaced item; solves my computer problems; speaks respectfully; tucks me in bed at night; and doesn’t ever criticize. These things melt my heart and inspire me to give more in return. Aside from his other strengths, much of Alan’s greatness is expressed in countless unselfish gestures—“That best portion of a good man’s life—his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love” (William Wordsworth). These ongoing small gestures of kindness convey enormous messages of love.
One day my child asked, “Mommy, are you happy?” To my nod she shot back, “Then why aren’t you smiling?” Good question! Now as I get older, I’ve noticed that gravity pulls things down—all the more reason to consciously push up those facial muscles. So I’ve been trying to smile more, even when alone, like driving, walking across a parking lot, or folding clothes from the dryer. As I think pleasant thoughts, smiles come spontaneously. It’s surprising how the upward swing of my lips can actually affect my mood. And flashing a genuine smile is equally effective in brightening the mood of others. Everyone can use a smile—the nurse in the hall, clerk in a store, passerby, family, friend, or stranger. A genuine smile or kind word makes a critically needed human connection. Babies learn to smile as their first means of communication. A smile bridges language barriers. All people smile in the same language. “Be the living expression of God’s kindness—kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting” (Mother Theresa). There are countless Reasons to Rejoice every day. A smile is the inward affirmation and outward reflection of those reasons.
Righteous routines and holy habits are those little things I should regularly do and feel to draw close to the Savior—who gives me the enabling power to resist temptation and deception, stay true to my covenants, and find joy. This is my personal list:
Things to do daily:
- Pray morning and night.
- Study scriptures.
- Exercise and make healthy eating choices.
- Offer kindly service to someone.
Things to do weekly:
- Attend church and partake of the sacrament.
- Plan family time together.
- Record insights, special moments, and gratitude in my journal.
- Attend the temple and pay tithing.
Attitudes to feel continually:
- Demonstrate an attitude of gratitude.
- Be teachable and eager to learn.
- Smile and reflect joy in each new day.
- Learn to see and celebrate the best in others.
What have I left out? What is on your list of righteous routines and holy habits?
I’m collecting an idea bank of ways to reach out in kindness to others. Here is a list of kindnesses that others have offered to me that I really appreciate: Receiving an unexpected thank-you card or text. Making me feel welcome in a group of strangers. Giving me eye contact while I speak. Carving out time for me when schedules are busy. Praying for me. Telling me the truth when it isn’t easy. Anticipating my need and stepping in to help when I couldn’t ask. Showing me a beautiful sunset that I didn’t notice. Remembering my name. Teaching me a new skill. Forgiving me. Kidnapping me and taking me to lunch. Listening to my problems with empathy. Sharing an uplifting thought that resonates in my soul. Showing me a better way by a shining example. Sharing a good book. Encouraging me when I think I can’t. Giving a heartfelt hug. Helping me see something good in myself. Remembering my birthday. Laughing with me. Dismissing my faults and focusing on my best.
Can you share some meaningful kindnesses that you especially appreciate?