Sunday, October 23, 2016

When Doubt Crawls into Your Sleeping Bag

More and more I am finding doubt among friends and family. I believe doubt is a normal thing, like the common cold. Just about everyone comes down with it from time to time. But we all must, at one time or another, face the dark side of our consciousness and decide what we are going to do about it. It's not easy, but this life was not meant to be easy. It was meant to be educational.

I had to face the dark before I ever joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'll call it my pre-faith crisis. As some of you know, my parents were violently opposed to me joining the Church. At 17, the bright light of the gospel showed up in my life. I was so excited about it I could hardly contain myself, but my parents, especially my father, went apoplectic. They piled books and pamphlets in my lap that were, well, less than complimentary of the Prophet Joseph, Brigham Young, the Book of Mormon, polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre . . . you get the idea.

I read that material with an open mind. I wasn't afraid of it or particularly shocked. Why would I be? I literally knew nothing about Mormonism before that time. As I sorted through the criticism and negativity, the accusations, the logic and the illogic that shouted from those pages, I was also reading the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, feeling the presence of the Spirit, hearing the voice of the Lord come to my heart, and experiencing miracles daily.

Even at that young age, I could discern the dissonant voices who spoke against the truth and the light that shined from scripture and from the lives and examples of my Latter-Day Saint friends. The contrast was crisp and beautiful. It brought everything into focus for me. I knew I must choose the path of light or the path of darkness.

I also knew that God was not in the dark and that I wouldn't find Him there for "that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness" (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23). I also came to know that He will reach into the dark to pull you out, if you turn to Him with all your heart.

And what do I mean by dark here? Criticism, mockery, sarcasm, belittling, disrespect, and contention. If any of these are present, darkness is present also.

I made a simple commitment that unforgettable autumn, before I was baptized, to look to God and follow the light, to take my questions and fears to Him and patiently wait for His answers. That was 41 years ago. I have stayed true to that commitment my entire adult life.

That choice was the best choice I've ever made. It hasn't always been easy, to be sure. I've certainly had my dark days—even dark weeks and months—but I've stuck it out. And I'm so glad I have.  

And I have always received clear answers on whatever question I've asked. The promise "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7) really works.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23.)
I do not rely on the "arm of flesh" for my answers (see 2 Nephi 4:34). We've been counseled to "ask of God" who promises to give answers "to all men liberally." He won't upbraid us in the process; He won't rebuke us or treat us condescendingly. He will simply give answers to us, if we ask sincerely and patiently (see James 1:5).

I've had a 100 percent success rate using that formula. I'll probably keep using it for the next 40 years, though I don't think I'll last that long—not as a mortal, anyway.

I want to share a verse that is very powerful to me. It's short and I memorized it during the first few months I was a member of the Church. It's one of my favorites:
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36.)
Let's talk about these ten words for a moment. This is the voice of Jesus Christ, pleading with you and me to look to Him in every thought; He is also commanding us—yes, commanding, in an imperative voice—to not doubt or fear.
Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart. . . . (Mormon 9:27.)
Yes, we will all struggle with doubt at one time or another, but it doesn't have to be our constant companion. We can do something about it.

Look at it this way. If a rattlesnake crawls into your sleeping bag, are you going to let it stay there? Are you going to stay in there? I hope not. I would put as much energy into getting away from doubt that you would put into getting away from a rattlesnake.

I'm not talking about getting away from the truth. I am talking about getting away from darkness and poison. 

You are not obligated to doubt. You are not forced to doubt either. It is ultimately your choice. It, like an addiction, might be a hard habit to break. If you trust the wisdom of men and your own wisdom above God's, your doubts will proliferate. Unchecked, they'll eventually infest every thought. You might wake up one morning doubting everything. Your heart will be troubled, if not embittered, and your outlook will be dark and contentious. These are signs that the rattlesnake is near or has already bitten you. But you don't have to stay loyal to your doubts. You can turn from them at any time. 

I remember years ago hearing a friend quote the wise advice of his grandmother. "Don't let the devil get into the car with you because pretty soon, he's going to want to drive." You don't have to let doubt take the wheel; you don't even have to let it get into your car. 

Turn your back on doubt and turn your whole heart to God. Turn your whole heart to His light. Trust that light and follow it. Don't wait for complete and perfect answers before you choose to follow the light. Those answers will come after you choose the light. As you walk toward the light, the shadows always fall behind you. 
And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy. (Doctrine and Covenants 11:12–13.)
You're here to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you turn toward the light, "thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it" (Isaiah 30:21). You'll know what to do. You'll have peace in your heart. You'll get your answers. You don't have to cling to your misunderstanding. It won't treat you with respect.
Have not I [the Lord] commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9.) 
You have not been asked to cross the plains of the American West. You've been asked to cross the plains of doubt. You can do it. I know you can. Make doubt your servant; don't let doubt be your master. Let doubt be your acquaintance, but don't invite it over for Christmas Eve.

Let His light lead you. He will not fail you if you put your trust in Him (see Mosiah 7:33).  And get that rattlesnake out of your sleeping bag.

Friday, October 21, 2016

So You Think You Had a Bad Day?

By Frenkieb from Netherlands - Flickr, CC BY 2.0,
I went to a meeting last night where a man told of how his day went. Let's call him Bob.

Mind, I raised my hand part way through the narrative and asked Bob, "So this really all happened to you today?" He assured everyone in the room that it did.

If you think you had a bad day, listen up: this might make you feel like it wasn't so bad.

Bob was in his car and had just bought himself a diet soda in a big plastic cup. It was on a console (or something) next to the driver seat when it began to tip. Bob tried to grab it, but he accidentally squished the plastic cup, popped the lid off, and poured the entire drink on the floor, soaking his feet in the process.

Bob felt a little upset, so he slammed his fist against the steering wheel, and as he did, the window on the passenger side fell off its tracks and into the door.

It was little cold. Bob tried to crank up the heat, but the heat would not come on. He flipped the knob back and forth several times—hard enough that the knob broke off. 

He drove off, enjoyed a few miles of natural air conditioning, and a short while later got a flat tire on a busy thoroughfare.

All this happened within a half hour.

If you think you had a bad day, consider Bob's yesterday. Now does yours seem so bad? I didn't think so.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Book of Mormon, a Temple of Peace

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
I love the Book of Mormon. I dearly love the Bible, but I love the Book of Mormon more than any other book. I have loved it for over 40 years, since I first became acquainted with it at the age of 17. I love it for the way it speaks of Christ, placing Him as the central figure of the spiritual history of the world, of both the eastern and western hemispheres.

This book is an antidote when I am down in the dumps. In its covers, I find a temple of peace. It is my mountain top, my booster rocket, my life raft, my bomb shelter.

I recently began reading the Book of Mormon again with a new mission in mind. I found a fresh paperback copy on our bookshelf (2013 edition) and a fine-tipped, purple Flair pen. I am marking every occurrence of the name for Christ that I can find in purple—the color of royalty.

I can't tell you what a spiritual experience it has been for me so far! Every time I find His name on these pages, I light up. I am not sure why, but it feels like on this trip through its pages I am being washed in living water—from a waterfall that started in heaven. It is fire and light, hope and peace, and cool refreshment, all wrapped into one.

Here are some of the names I have found in the first 32 pages:
  • Jesus
  • Christ
  • The Eternal God
  • Lord Jesus Christ
  • Savior
  • Son of the Living God
  • One 
  • Messiah
  • Lamb of God
  • Lord
  • Son of God
  • Son of the Most High God
  • Son of the Eternal Father
  • Lamb
  • Son of the Everlasting God
  • Shepherd over all the earth
Let me conclude with a passage—a witness of Christ—that I love:
Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name. Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man [and woman] of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—and land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out. (Helaman 3:27–30.)
If you have never read the Book of Mormon, I promise if you read it with a humble attitude and an open heart, it will bless your life. It will open doors and open eyes. It will lower your blood pressure (if only figuratively). It will give you hope. You will find new direction for your life. It is a text book for our day. It will guide you to higher ground in a time that we desperately need higher ground and a sense of safety. 

If you don't know how to get your hands on a copy, if you contact me here and give me your address, I will personally send you a copy, free of charge. No strings attached.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Smartphones and Social Media vs. Real Human Contact

LDS Media Library
Over the last few years, I've had a bit of a falling out with social media, and lately, I have been wrestling with the emotions I experience with any form of virtual interaction. There's a taint of artificiality. The delay between messages. Feeling compelled to respond in a certain way. I wrestled with the all too common topics, which can be rather negative; and portrayals, which can be flattering but disingenuous. I also am on my guard about privacy and safety.

I'm also giving too much attention to my smartphone. I read "Love Interruptus" in the August 2016 issue of Psychology Today about how one husband called his wife's smartphone her "other husband," and about technoference, the "everyday intrusions or interruptions in couple interactions . . . that occur due to technology." All this has gotten me thinking.

I am not saying this is the experience everyone is having with social media, or that it's inherently bad. It isn't. But I am sensitive to even low doses of negativity, and I tend to shield my spirit from its toxic effects. I also value attention given without distraction. I greatly value it.

After a moment of visual revulsion on Instagram this summer, and considering my tendency toward electronic "doodling,"  I took a five-week break from social media (except one work-related Facebook group) so I could get some clear perspective on what I have been feeling. I don't want to totally give up on my smartphone or social media; I just don't want it to take so much real estate in my brain, or to distract me from what's more important.

One thing that's important is giving people around me the honor, respect, and attention they deserve. Exquisite, thoughtful respect is what they deserve. That respectful attention is Christlike love in action, and I'm not giving enough of it, or allowing myself to receive enough of it.

So I've made a decision to turn off my smartphone and keep it out of sight from other people, as much as possible. To leave it in the car when I go into a restaurant or a store or meeting, especially if I'm with my wife or a family member, or even with friends and colleagues. I have plenty of time to myself, when I can pay attention to my phone—people, real, in-person people, deserve better.

I also want my posts to be less trivial and aggrandizing. I want them to be things I would say to a real person, eye to eye, in their presence, in an unvarnished way.

I'll need more than luck to change. I'll stay accountable to you and report my successes and failures here. Thank you for understanding: You mean more to me than your Facebook post. I'll try to prove that. You're welcome to call me out if I don't. Please, by all means, do. I need more friends like that.

Update: Sunday, September 18, 2016

How did I do this past week on my technoference goals? I made progress, but it did not go as well as I hoped. I had some successes in keeping my phone tucked away, but not all the time and not to my satisfaction. Checking my phone, even sans notifications, is a reflexive habit. I've realized that I need to adjust my approach. I need to read my scriptures on the train, for example, in the presence of others. So I am refining my goals. I need to try a few things first as I develop my personal phone etiquette (PPE). I'll report back soon.

Update: Sunday, October 15, 2016

How am I doing on my smartphone goals? I have been doing better in some areas, and not so good in others. I have only improved slightly. I usually leave my phone in the car now when I go to dinner with my wife or run some errands with her. That way, I can be more focused on her. I have been doing a little better in meetings. But in other areas, I have fallen down. I am going to focus on keeping my phone put away when (1) I am in a personal conversation with someone; (2) I am in a meeting. When I am tempted to look at my phone in these situations, I plan to turn to mindfulness as an alternative. We'll see. I am discovering that I am weaker than I thought I was. 😔

Sunday, August 7, 2016

With Wings as Eagles

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I've been meditating on and memorizing Isaiah 40:28–31 over the last few weeks. Here's the passage. I'm sure it's familiar to most of you.
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Emphasis added.)
I want to share with you what "mount up with wings as eagles" means to me.

It means that, with God's help, you can soar above your troubles. It means that you can be carried aloft by a sacred wind—which is often something you feel more than you see. It means that you've got to set the wings God's given you at a certain angle to catch the wind He sends your way.

It means you can look down from the heights where those sacred winds carry you and have a new and better perspective on what is going on down on earth. It means that God has given you strength, power, and ability beyond your natural limits. It means that when God sets you free, you are truly free.

I dedicate this post to my brother Mark Stephen Fitzgerald (1955–2012) whose birthday is today.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

An Angel in the Aisle

From Wikicommons: Creative Commons License, Courtesy Mike Kalasnik, Fort Mill, USA
I heard a returned missionary speak in sacrament meeting today. He told a story about one of his investigators, Casey, who had been addicted to meth for 27 years. He spent a lot of time on the streets and in jail, and it humbled him. He read the Bible in jail and that helped him start to shuffle off some of his stubbornness.

When Casey got out of jail, things started to look up. He found he could keep his feet under him. He was able to hold down a job. His relationship with God deepened. After he had been clean for nearly 2 years, he met the missionaries and started taking the lessons. He eventually set a baptism date, but needed a personal confirmation that he was doing the right thing.

Casey was at a Walmart one day, shortly before his baptism, having a conversation with his Heavenly Father in the toilet paper aisle. He asked, "Well, God, I'm about to become a Mormon. Is that all right with you?" At the very moment he asked the question, a package of toilet paper fell off an upper shelf and landed right on his head! He wondered "What kind of an answer was that!" though it surely got his attention.

He had been alone in aisle. He walked around to the next aisle and found a woman there he had never seen before. As he approached her, she asked, "Are you a Mormon?"

Casey was taken aback. "No," he said, "but I am thinking about it."

"Well," she said, "you should join the Church."

"Why do you say that?" he said, "Are you a Mormon?" She said, "No, I'm not, but I just felt like I should say that to you." Then she turned around and left.

A chance meeting with an angel in a Walmart aisle led Casey to a deep spiritual conviction that he was on the right path. And he took it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Race Day Revision

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The American Fork Canyon Half started at the Pine
 Hollow Trailhead, beneath Mount Timpanogas.
I ran a half marathon for the first time last year. I finished, but the results were disastrous. But I learned some important lessons. I had a chance to apply those lessons today, to another race. Here are a few of them.

Don't give up. Dare to fail at things worth trying again. And if you fail, pick yourself back up, and keep moving toward the finish line. Not giving up is two-thirds of the battle.

Take care of your body and listen to its best aspirations. It's not your personal landfill. Respect it, and don't give into momentary cravings. Feed it what it needs, not what it wants. Leave weight behind you on the running trail. If you hold onto it, it only makes you slower. Trade pounds for self-mastery. 

Super-hydrate, not just on race day, but in the days leading up to the race. Keep yourself electrolit.

Dress warm if the race starts up a canyon. Heat is energy. Preserve it. On hot days, teach your feet to beat the heat. Get up early. With a little planning, you can make it happen, even before you have to show up at work.

Eat high-protein food about a half-hour before the race begins. (That's not good advice for everyone, but it works very well for me. It's exactly what my body needs—it doesn't manage sugars or carbohydrates well.)

Do not disdain or judge yourself. Be kind to yourself. Don't be afraid to love yourself and tell yourself that you do. Accept the lessons that come from failures, but reject the need to repeat them. See the best in others and tell them what you see, on and off the course.

Have a plan and execute it. Keep your schedule, rain or shine. If you miss a goal, reschedule it. Fight for it. Take back lost ground. Sacrifice lazy moments for unforgettable days. Don't be dissuaded by lesser gods.

Find your soul songs and listen to them. I usually don't listen to music because I prefer to meditate and pray while I am run. But music can reach the hidden parts of your soul and bring out things you didn't know were there.

The finish line at Art Dye Park in American Fork.
The Headstrongs' cover of Jimmy Eat World's "Hear You Me" (also known as "Angels Lead You in") carried me across the finish line today. I turned it on at mile 12. It helped me find what I had left inside, just when I thought I was on empty.

Last year's time was, well, abysmal. Today my pace was 3:39 faster per minute, subtracting 48:09 off my old time. My plan was to shave off 30–35 minutes, so imagine my shock.

My little disaster took over a year to correct, but it was completely worth the effort. All life is change. You can master some of that change.

No one regrets working hard to overcome past failures. I don't. Not today.

Angels lead you in (new recording 2013) from The Headstrongs on Myspace.

"Hear You Me" (Angels Lead You in), Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American
Cover by The Headstrongs

There's no one in town I know
You gave us some place to go.
I never said thank you for that.
I thought I might get one more chance.

What would you think of me now,
so lucky, so strong, so proud?
I never said thank you for that,
now I'll never have a chance.

May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.

So what would you think of me now,
so lucky, so strong, so proud?
I never said thank you for that,
now I'll never have a chance.

May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.

And if you were with me tonight,
I'd sing to you just one more time.
A song for a heart so big,
God couldn't let it live.

May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.