“Dear God, I’m broken.”

I was looking at the Ensign today, and I was noticing how all the people in there looked happy, balanced, and everything, and I thought to myself, “Man, I want to see an article that just says, Dear God, I’m broken.” I txted my friend about that and she said someone should write it. So I guess I’ll give it a try.

I have a hard time with … life. I don’t think I can really get more specific than that, because that pretty much covers it. Just daily living is a real struggle. I could go into more detail about how depressing and sad it is, but I don’t really wanna focus on that.

I was over at a friend’s tonight, and she asked how I was doing. I responded, “Well … you know.” And she said, “Yah, I do know.” She understands what I’m going through, because we have a lot of the same issues. It’s just life.

In those times of struggle and difficulty, where I really don’t feel like I can keep going, I often turn to the Lord, so frustrated and confused and all I can say is, “Dear God.” I often don’t say more than that. Those small prayers, though, are filled with so much emotion and sincerity, that I know he hears them. And that he is concerned for me. At times I often say, “Lord, help me to know what to even pray for, because I’m just lost.” I don’t usually get an answer to that one, but what I do tend to do is just chat with him and let him know what’s going on. In some small way, that I don’t notice, it somehow helps. I don’t magically jump off the floor with a renewed spirit, but I do somehow keep going.

I absolutely love these verses in Isaiah 5 (verses 1 and 2):

Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:
And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes …

I have learned that the Lord always puts lists of actions like this in a particular order for a reason — they are not arbitrarily thrown together. And in these scriptures, I see how to order my life when it feels like it is out of control.

The first thing the lord of the vineyard does, is fence it. For me, this means that my priority is to set boundaries — where I will go, what I will do, and what I will not do.

The second thing is, he removes the rocks, or the things that will impede the vineyard (see also, the parable of the sower). For me, this usually means the things that have caused me to go off course for whatever reason. Not just spiritually. There are so many scriptures that apply both spiritually and practically, and there are so many principles that apply to both areas of life. Sometimes I set my boundaries too large, which is usually the case if I’m overwhelmed. There’s too many stones to move. I must have done something wrong.

I like to think there are three kinds of stones. Those that are small, simple things that we can take care of ourselves, really without much effort or difficulty (reading the scriptures, saying prayers, etc.). Then there are the medium-sized stones that require all our strength, either to maintain where we are, or to push us slightly forward. Finally, there are the boulders, the big rocks that I can’t move by myself, and I have to have the Lord help me to move them out of the way.

Once all that is taken care of, then the vineyard can be started, started with a transplant of the choicest vine (even at the beginning, we need an infusion of power from somewhere beyond ourselves).

Finally, a tower is put up, to watch over the vineyard and see that it is maintained properly (spiritual and practical habits become routine, and not just initiated). Last of all, we can begin to have expectations of reaping the rewards of all the work.

I like this parable because the Lord doesn’t start with the tower, or looking for the grapes, first. The Lord is very practical. He starts simply, and builds from there. There are two steps before the planting of the vineyard, and two steps afterwards. Equally so, when I fall, and fail, and sin, and err, I can’t expect to just climb back on the tower and hope everything’s going to be great again, and just wait for the nice grape juice to just flow my way. I have to start all over. It’s usually because I’ve crossed some boundaries that I need to start all over, so I have to spiritually reset myself and go back to the beginning.

There’s another scripture I like in the Book of Mormon that mirrors this same principle, in Alma 28:1:

And now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon, and a church also established in the land of Jershon, and the armies of the Nephites were set round about the land of Jershon, yea, in all the borders round about the land of Zarahemla …”

The background for this verse is that the people of Ammon were refugees, and had fled to the Nephite country for security.

I think the order of priorities again, is interesting. They don’t start with setting up the church first (filling your life with good, regular things), but instead, get the people established. There’s little chance for spiritual growth if my practical one is completely out of whack. There’s a great church video I saw once, that said, “You can’t draw water from an empty well.” That’s always stuck with me.

At church today, I was looking at the presidents of the Church manual, and I saw this quote from Joseph Smith, that I really liked. “Let us this very day begin anew, and now say, with all our hearts, we will forsake our sins and be righteous.” Now, normally when I would read that, I would be like, “heck yeah! I’m gonna do *all* the good things, *all* the time! Woo hoo!” But reading it as I did today, as I’m going through a rough patch, I read it in a much more sincere, and practical, and simple way. One where the Lord is quietly saying that we are going to start from where I am now. There’s no need to build any towers just yet.

Going along with that, it’s easy I’ve noticed to get excited about wanting to do the right thing. Excitement can have energy at the offset, but the strong emotions fade with time. Maintaining a gospel-driven life is not powered by a momentary elation of dedication, but rather through daily decisions of continually desiring to do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances.

So, starting over again, I sat down and flipped open an issue of the Ensign magazine that covers the General Conference talk. I read a bit of it, and went about my way just doing little stuff around my apartment like cleaning it up to just get going back in the right direction.

What happened next is hard for me to explain. I had decided to do the right things again, but I didn’t think about it. That is, I didn’t say to myself, “well, if you do this, the Lord will bless you, and you’ll be happy.” That thought never occurred to me … I just *started* doing it knowing that living the gospel would set things right by themselves. When I thought about that later, I realized that I had a testimony of it, because I had instinctively acted on that knowledge.

Cool stuff. :)

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“Keeping watch over their flock”

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

Earlier this week I was thinking about the Christmas story in Luke 2, and the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. It occurred to me, that the visitation came to them while they were working. I think that’s kind of interesting. I’ve noticed that when God sends a message, the method of delivery contains interesting lessons as well.

In this case, the lesson I learned is that God visits people as they are going about and fulfilling their responsibilities. Speaking for myself, I can say that the majority of personal revelation that I receive in my life comes while I am going about my day-to-day tasks … in small quiet moments when I am either pondering the scriptures, or thinking about God. This method is far more common than something coming to me while I am sitting in church or places of worship.

James Faust gave a great talk about this in a church conference that I really enjoyed, called “Some Great Thing.”

Small things can have great potential. Television, which is a great blessing to mankind, was conceived by a teenager in Idaho as he was plowing straight furrows in his father’s field with a disc harrow. He envisioned that he could transmit straight lines from one image dissector to be reproduced in another. Often we cannot see the potential in doing seemingly small things. This 14-year-old boy was doing ordinary day-to-day work when this extraordinary idea came to him. As Nephi once commented, “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.”

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Notes: Habakkuk 1

I decided to add a new category to my blog posts, just for notes that I take down while reading or studying the scriptures, or whatever I write down while in my Bible study class. These aren’t going to be full blog posts, just a collection of thoughts and ideas.

I’m going to start out today’s post with the book Habakkuk, since that’s what we covered in class this morning.

According to the Desires of our Hearts, Neil A. Maxwell, November ’96 Ensign

– Habakkuk, “to embrace”

– Habakkuk’s ministry coincided with the appearance of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) in world history

– May have written in connection with the battle of Carchemish in which Nebudchadezznar defeated the Egyptians in 605 B.C. and before the first deportation of the Jews in 507 B.C.

– It is believed that Habakkuk lived in Jerusalem, thus making him a contemporary with Lehi in Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:4).

Habakkuk 1:2-4

2. O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!

3. Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.

4. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.

The prophet is frustrated. The Lord is teaching him a lesson here.

The Lord suspends judgement in our mortal realm for a while. God acts the same way with the righteous — He lets them go about their way for a time, He will not instantly correct them, but respects their agency.

Habakkuk 1:12

12. ¶ Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.

The Lord uses the wicked to punish the fallen covenant people. I think that, even in our fallen states, the Lord can still use us. :)

In one way, it occurs to me that it could be a blessing, in a sense, that the wicked are doing the will of the Father. Not in being wicked, but in punishing these people. I think that the Lord has purposed these people.

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Camels and gnats

My commentary this time covers Matthew 23 a little bit. I love the whole chapter. When I was looking at verses 23 and 24, they got me thinking.

23. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

24. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

The Lord is coming down hard on the scribes and Pharisees for not keeping the weighter matters of the law, or the gospel. The same thing happened in Isaiah’s time as well, and he covers it beautifully in chapter one:

13. Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16. ¶ Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17. Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

One problem I’ve noticed in my own life is that as I start getting into a good rhythm — as I am observing the camels — there creeps into my life a tendency to start to focus on the small things a little bit. It is borne out of either temptation or anxiety, I’m not really sure which, but my focus on the smaller matters of the gospel tends to cause problems for me, almost to the point of superstition or karma (if I don’t do this small thing, I will lose God’s favor, for example). This has the effect of putting a huge burden on me, for every little action is filtered through the judgement of morality, or, I suppose, a strict interpretation of the law. This intense focus on small things, the gnats, becomes such a burden that I usually give up trying to be religious at all for a time, because of all the expectations I put on myself.

This week, in fact, I was wrestling with this problem. On Sunday I was considering the principles of observing the Sabbath, trying to think of what’s okay to do and what isn’t, and I was in my mind going over the minutae of things. Later on, though, I realized that I hadn’t been seeing to the more important things that week — I hadn’t done any scripture study, I missed my Bible study class because I couldn’t make it, I hadn’t been to the temple recently, and I missed my church meetings for some reason. I was skipping the big stuff and focusing on the small, and it was causing my mind to torment itself. That’s one thing I love about living the gospel, is that when you take care of the big things, everything else just falls into place and naturally makes sense. There are small course corrections, to be sure, but they do not come when you are neglecting the basics.

I’ve also noticed that whenever I find myself in any state of spiritual apathy, I tend to think that there is some special action that I should do that is tailored to my condition. But when I seek for special instruction, the answer is always the same: to do the basics. Read my scriptures, pray regularly, attend services, fast, go to the temple, and do whatever practical things I can with my immediate environment to invite the Holy Ghost. It’s not gnats at all that the Lord is concerned about, it’s the weightier matters.

After finding this revelation, it has been hugely rewarding for me to let go of my focus on the small, imperceptable matters. I know that we are commanded to watch ourselves (Alma 13:28), but again, this is to be done in wisdom and order (Mosiah 4:27).

Finally, I think it’s worth noting that if a camel dies, that small flies would devour it’s carcass. I think that’s what had happened in Jesus’ time, and it’s certainly what happens to me when I push myself too hard.

The grace of God will cover all the imperceptible imperfections. I’m grateful for that. :)

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My testimony of the Old Testament

When I started going to Institute this semester at the university, on the first day our instructor asked us to write down our thoughts about the Old Testament. I did mine that night, but wasn’t able to make it the next class. I finally showed it to him this morning, and I thought it’d be cool to post it here too.

As is common when giving my testimony, I often learn new things while I am giving it. This case was no exception.

Here’s what I wrote:

The Old Testament is a fabulous, amazing collection of works that it is a real blessing to have. It is the story of the ancient covenant people of God. Although its authors, prophets and people spanned many years and geographical areas, there is a unified message throughout. As we sojourn through our wilderness, if we obey God, we will be blessed with peace and rest in a promised land.

The fullness of the Gospel was had among the ancients, and though we are not treated to read of its plainness as in the Book of Mormon, the Lord has preserved it hidden in the scriptures, for those who search diligently to see. To gather the gems, I have to examine the settings and the characters closely. It makes studying the scriptures a rigorous process. By using faith in the Lord, I am able to unlock the scriptures and find applications in personal life.

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Archives: “Depart from me, O Lord”

For some reason, this phrase entered my mind today. I remembered it as “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.” I didn’t remember where it was, somewhere in the New Testament, so I looked it up and it is found in Luke — the book I have been studying most recently. The actual wording is a little different than I recalled: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

What made me think of this was the conflict in actions that the man was displaying. I remembered that he both fell down to worship, yet at the same time beckoned for some distance. The act seems interesting to me because I believe it represents some emotional conflict. A desire to serve and be righteous, with some degree of outward performance even performed, but internally a feeling of inadequacy, observant of his own weakness. For me, that feeling can be overwhelming. There are times when it is all I can do to kneel, or some similar act, something simple, and yet feel unworthy to press on or do more. I want to do good, yet I feel like I cannot approach the Lord because of the mistakes I have made.

I think Jesus’ reply is interesting as well. “Fear not,” is the first part of his reply. Why does the Lord say that? What is the effect of fear and how does diminishing it at this time help? I believe that, in this same scenario of mixed emotions, that the feeling of inadequacy and failure robs a person of courage and then causes them to fear moving forward. I know in my own life, in the midst of confusion, every option seems fearful, full of uncertainty.

I also love how the Lord pronounces a prophecy regarding him (and his companions). The Lord is directly contradicting the vision, direction, capability and mission that Peter has set for himself. The Lord knows what he can become, and shares in small measure, a glimpse of that future.

It occurs to me that there’s some significance to the fact that they were on the water, a place of unrest and uncertain surface. Before they could follow the master, they had to bring their ships to land (5:11). I have noticed in my own life, that when I am uncertain and unsteady, that if I return to doing the small things (reading a bit of scripture, for example), that it grounds me, and makes me able to do more. In contrast, a sense of despair and discouragement is often accompanied by a stage of apathy.

Finally, the efforts of following the Lord may seem sacrificial, but are really beneficial, for “they forsook all”. Not only their past possessions, but their past difficulties, to be replaced with anxiety and cares and the other feelings that come in the service of others — the yoke of the Lord — completely displacing their old woes. While the actions are first, the feelings will follow.

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Taking notes

I wanted to write a little bit about some of the methods I use when studying the scriptures. I have a few personal ones I like to use, such as coloring schemes, but they aren’t universally applied. I’ll cover those in later posts. The major part of all my studying can be summarized in two words: take notes. I have plain notebooks that I write in regularly, one for each area that I’m studying. And that’s it. I just grab a pen and jot down whatever I think when I’m reading.

For me, studying the scriptures has to be as simple as possible, because I tend to drift in and out of it. I need to make the barrier to entry to resuming scripture study as small as possible for myself, and I can’t make it any simpler than this: to study the scriptures, just get pen and paper and write down whatever pops in my head.

What happens is that as I take notes, it causes me to actually read the scriptures more closely than I normally would. Instead of just making it a ritual experience that I’m getting through as part of a daily routine, I pay attention, take more notes, and the cycle reinforces itself as what I write causes me to think more about the content.

The approach towards note-taking is unstructured as well, so that it can apply to different levels of study: either in-depth or simple. That is, while it’s good to have personal scripture study methods, it’s unreasonable to expect myself to meet certain guidelines all the time. Doing that pushes me away, because it feels like I can’t meet my own standard of success. I’ve found that the blessings come from the desire to learn first and foremost, and I always feel like the Lord is pleased with me if I can at least have a desire to learn. On the other hand, effort without desire makes me not enjoy or look forward to the experience.

For reading the Book of Mormon, I jot down one-liners because I’m not interested in an in-depth study at the moment. Every once in a while though, I’ll go into more detail about questions or thoughts that I had about a certain verse, but for the most part, it’s always a short sentence and anything beyond that doesn’t exceed a few lines. It works well for me. Plus, it’s fun to go back and re-read my notes that I’ve done previously. That always has the effect of making me want to study some more.

I have only one book at a time that I would say I’m “studying” in-depth. Last year, I was really into Isaiah for a few months and had covered reading and taking notes covering almost all the chapters. But then I took a break from the habit, and when I eventually came back, I couldn’t resume that old level of commitment and intensity. So, I started studying the book of Luke from the New Testament instead. And this time, in place of taking detailed notes, I decided to keep it simpler.

My approach when starting over was to document the doctrine that could be found in the verses. And that’s all — a really small method that isn’t threatening or overwhelming as I get back in the habit of studying. If I have a break, for whatever reason, I don’t put myself under pressure, and I let my expectations reset as I start over again. Over time, the level of intensity will increase to where it was before, but only as I keep it a regular process.

That’s one thing I love about the Holy Ghost, is that He is always ready to help you — wherever you are at. So a lot of times I just grab a notebook, let myself relax, and let the Lord teach me. It works. :)

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