Sunday, July 22, 2007

Enduring Vs. Enjoying

(With a few editorial comments)

I was not assigned a specific topic to speak about so I did some thinking and I did some praying and my thoughts focussed on a wonderful quote by President Hinckley: "Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." He said that in the mid 90's but I only heard it for the first time earlier this year.

As soon as I read it, the first thing I thought about was Lagoon. I could enjoy that. Then I came back to reality and thought, he's probably not talking about recreation. It also reminded me of something my dad would say when I was a kid about how we spend our time. He said, "There are twenty-four hours in a day. That gives you eight hours to sleep, eight hours to work and eight hours to play... Now go mow the lawn."

Now the enjoyment in our lives need not be limited to our 8 hours of playtime but before we get more into that, let's take a quick look at the basics. What's the difference between enduring and enjoying?

We are told to "endure unto the end" (Matthew 24:13, Mark 13:13, 1 Nephi 13:37), but what are we doing when we endure? The word itself means putting up with something difficult. Like, oh, I don't know–life? Enduring can also mean staying on a specific course. As Christians, we tend to think of being on a "course" with our final destination being Heaven where we'll finally be with God.

These are the definitions we're most familiar with. But "to endure" also means remaining "indefinitely in existence or in a particular state..." (Merriam-Webster 1994)(emphasis added) and that is NOT what we're supposed to do. Unfortunately, many of us are. Yes, we are supposed to endure life and all it's trials and difficulties but we are also expected to progress. Not necessarily in the sense of forward movement–which isn't far removed from enduring–but in our growth as children of God. In our intellectual and spiritual development. Our personal evolution from fallible mortality to a nature that is both divine and eternal.

You'd think enjoyment is a no-brainer. Taking delight or pleasure in something; but it's not limited to our "play time." We can learn to enjoy our work, enjoy our callings, even enjoy those unexpected changes in plans or even our lives.

But there are other meanings to these words that we don't usually think of. We can also confuse them with other concepts entirely.

Consider what I said before, that enduring can also mean UNchanging. But how many of us have plateaud in our eternal progression? Either by circumstance or even by choice.

Some of you might be thinking, "Why would anyone choose NOT to progress?" I think it's tied to what people are perceiving as joy but in reality is only contentment.

Think about it. Joy and contentment are NOT the same thing. We strive for joy. No one strives to be content. Contentment is something that one SETTLES for. Contentment is coasting on the highway of eternal progression. Sure, you're moving forward but you're putting little or no effort into it, you're satisfied with just doing the bare minimum, thus you are only enduring, unchanging and without real joy.

Meanwhile there are others who are on the same course as you but they're racing past you because they aren't willing to settle for contentment. They want joy. They are seeking it out, regardless of the pain and suffering that we must all endure.

Ask yourselves, "Am I content? Am I comfortable with my life? With my progress?" If you are, that's the fist sign that you might have a problem. It's been said that the gospel exists to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

I think that there are a lot of people who have settled for contentment, not because they don't WANT to enjoy life but because they don't know how. They're in a rut. Their lives have become routine. They go to work, they go to church, they go to the temple, they pray, they keep track of all the commandments they're keeping and all the sins they're not committing. They walk into Sacrament, Sunday school, priesthood and Relief Society hearing the same talks and the same lessons and asking themselves, "Is this it? Do I just keep doing this until I die?"

The answer is NO. There are others things that we should be doing. And yet there are those members who keep saying, "Just get through it. Just obey. Just do as you're told and everything will turn out right in the end."

That has got to be the worst advice you can give anyone. That's enduring without enjoying. Even worse, it's enduring life without even the POSSIBILITY of enjoying it. That is NOT what God wants for us. Yes, He wants us to be obedient but He also wants us to be happy. Not just in the next life but in this one. "Men are that they might have joy."

Remember that old saying that if you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. If you TEACH a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime.

We have tens of thousands of young men and women serving full-time missions whose job it is to teach people how to fish. They're giving those people the basics. The first principles of the Gospel. Once they have learned those basics, they have the responsibility to start using them. To move BEYOND them, to progress, to delve deeper into the teachings of the gospel. To start catching those fish for themselves and sinking their teeth into them.

Unfortunately, as soon as some ofthese new members walk through the doors of their home wards, they are told, "It's so nice to see you here. Now keep coming back and we'll give you more fish." Going to the supermarket is not fishing. Sure, it's convenient, it's easier, you don't have to endure the elements or the dirtier aspects of preparing a fish to be eaten.

So instead of seeking truth for ourselves, we just do as we're told. We accept new knowledge just as quickly–or slowly–as we hear it in Sunday school, priesthood and relief society. We hang on every word of our church leaders or people that we presume to be very spiritual or have "figured it out" and accept everything they say at face value. God doesn't want us to just follow the leader and be drones. But so many of us do it anyway, because we don't even want to cook our own fish. It's just too much effort. We want our knowledge nicely packaged with someone else's understanding and interpretation–batter-dipped, deep-fried and flash frozen–instead of taking this new knowledge to God and asking Him to help us understand it.

"Do as your told... Endure to the end... It'll all be over... just as soon as you die.... have faith."

Faith is supposed to go hand-in-hand with hope. Where's the hope in only enduring? Where's the hope in just going the motions while you wait to die? It's faith, reinforced by hope and finding joy in this life that HELP us to endure our struggles.

The comedian Carlos Mencia often says, "If you're not laughing, you're not living." Well, I think if you're only enduring, then you aren't progressing.

I'm a big believer in finding and accepting truth regardless of its source. God has given us the ability to discern good from evil. Knowing that, one can find truth and a positive message in places where one might not expect. Bearing that in mind, I'm going to share a story with you that I feel does an excellent job of illustrating the difference between contentment and joy.

It's from an episode of "The Simpsons" titled "And Maggie Makes Three."

The story starts with the family looking through their photo albums when Bart and Lisa realize that there are no baby pictures of their sister Maggie in any of them. They ask their parents why and Marge and Homer start to tell them the story of how Maggie came into the picture.

When it was only himself, Marge and their two children, Homer managed to figure out how he could quit his job at the power plant and work his dream job at a bowling alley. So he quits his job, tells off the boss and literally burns a bridge behind him on his way out. Homer then decided that as long as nothing changed from that point on, he would be happy. He even kneeled at his bedside and prayed to God that nothing would change.

Sure enough, the situation changes. Marge becomes pregnant. When Homer finds out, he's disappointed to say the least an soon his job at the bowling alley wasn't paying enough to make ends meet so he had to crawl back to the power plant and ask for his old job back. He gets it but his boss, Mr. Burns, places a plaque in his workspace that reads, "Don't forget. You're here forever." A constant reminder that Homer could never quit again.

Because of this, Homer wasn't very enthusiastic about Maggie being born, but as soon she was, Homer fell in love with her.

Back in the present Bart and Lisa say that they still don't know why there aren't any baby pictures of Maggie in the photo albums. Homer says that he keeps them in the one place where he needs them the most.

The scene then cuts to Homer's workspace at the plant where Maggie's pictures are taped to the wall and positioned around the plaque so that it now says, "Do it for her."

Homer had to give up being content but managed to find joy in his children.

So, how do we find joy? It's not the same for everyone. But before I examine that question, I'd like to tell you where you aren't going to find joy.

Joy is not to be found in superficiality; in focussing on minutia that have little if anything to do with the gospel.

You do not find joy in wearing white shirts and long dresses to sacrament meeting. Outside of the mission field and the temple, there is no dresscode. There is no commandment regarding the color or style of our clothing.

I got up early one Sunday morning and, half asleep and in the dark, I thought I found a clean shirt to wear to church. Of course later that morning, when I was more alert and with brighter lighting, I realized, "Oh my gosh! This thing's filthy." I was so embarrassed. Then Brother Stevens came up to me and said, "You're looking really nice today."

"But my shirt is dirty," I said.

He came back with, "The important thing is that you're here."

Thank you!

Be honest, have you ever asked someone why they aren't wearing a white shirt or the "right" kind of dress? How do you think it makes a person feel when they're criticized for coming to church wearing the "wrong" thing? As if it's a measure of a person's spirituality or character. What if that person is coming back to church after a long absence? The first thing that comes out of our mouths should be that we're glad to see them, not criticize their wardrobe. You do not lift someone up by talking down to them. Such criticism is shallow and it is not Christlike. We all know that. But so many of us insist on doing it anyway.

I read about this guy who dressed very nicely to work every day of the week. He wore suits, ties and white shirts. From a distance, he didn't look much different than your average general authority. If he was walking down the street, I bet anyone would say to themselves, "That guy's got it together. He looks classy, dignified, responsible." Well he was responsible... for 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading and lying to auditors. His name's Jeffrey Skilling, former CEO of a little company called Enron and he's serving a 24 year sentence at a federal prison in Minnesota. How's that for judging a person based on the clothes he wears?

Okay, enought of that.

(I did go off on a bit of a tangent there. Sorry. -JLP)

Joy is not found in the color or length of your hair.

Joy is not found in pretending to be something that you're not.

Joy is not found in pretending that everything is okay when it clearly isn't.

Joy is not found in abandoning your sense of free will.

Being superficial, shallow, overly critical, passive and living in denial are not virtues.

So where DO we find joy?

President Hinckley once said, "There is reading to be done, instruction to be received, discussions in which to participate that will stretch your minds and feed your spirits."

Who isn't excited, even comforted, when they learn a profound Gospel truth and, through the Holy Ghost, feel that it's true before understanding why?

And yet, there is that part in all of us that wants to run away and plug our ears at the prospect of learning something new about the Gospel. Why? Because we all know that as soon as we learn something new, we're accountable for it; but think of what we're denying ourselves as a result of that trepidation, that fear. We are only holding ourselves back. We are expected to learn and to progress as much as we can in THIS life. We will not pass through the veil and find ourselves immediately bestowed with new knowledge. We're going to pick up right where we left off and yet there are those of us who insist, not only in holding themselves back, but discouraging others from learning all that they can. They say things like, "You shouldn't ask questions like that" or "We aren't meant to know the answers to such things" even "That's only for the general authorities to know." These people refuse to believe that God WANTS us to ask those questions. He WANTS us to find the answers. He WANTS us to know that we are all entitled to this knowledge.

Two weeks ago, a gentleman stood at this very podium and declared to us that as long as we do what we're told, in the next life we will have the opportunity to meet with God. And he is absolutely right. If all we're willing to is just what we're told that's what we can count on. In all fairness the majority of us, regardless of our individual progress, will have precisely that experience.

I'm here to tell you that there is more to the Gospel than just "doing what you're told." God has given us free agency and has provided for us the guidance we need to make righteous choices. "...the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil..." (Moroni 7:16) It's okay to make our own decisions. We can't expect someone to hold our hand through every choice in our lives, nor should we impose such a burden on someone else.

I had a friend in Ogden who was a professional puppeteer. He had even worked with Jim Henson Company at one point. Well, he decided to join a regional organization of puppeteers in Utah and Wyoming. He went to one meeting, made a couple of suggestions and everybody wanted him to be the president of the organization. Now he didn't have the interest or the time to take on something like that. He just wanted to meet some other puppeteers in the area. When he told me about this, I said to him, "I'm not surprised. It's a pioneer mentality."

He said to me, "I don't think it's the pioneer spirit."

I said, "It's not. It's a pioneer MENTALITY.

"The 'pioneer spirit' says, 'Yes, lets take the lead and make this thing happen.'

"'Pioneer mentality' says, 'Yeah, let's do this... just as soon as we find a Brigham Young to lead us.... but that's not me.'"

(This might not have been well received considering the fact that I'm smack in the middle of a pioneer community... I wasn't ripping on pioneers, I was just making a cultural observation. -JLP)

Nobody wants the responsibility. We foolishly believe that if we just "do as we're told" then we can't be accused of doing anything wrong and THAT's what we're really afraid of, regardless of the fact that we aren't expected to get everything right in the first place. But we become so obsessed with trying not to do anything wrong that we're afraid to do anything at all. And that, in itself, is a sin.

Brigham Young once said: "Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another's sleeve, will NEVER be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality and eternal lives. They never can hold scepters of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true INDEPENDENCE of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course." (DBY, pg. 383)

I know what you're thinking:

"Okay, so what do I do?"

There actually is an answer to that and it's in the scriptures. Doctrine and Covenants Section 58 Verse 27 makes it very clear: "Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness."

This does not limit us to activities and causes that are sponsored, sanctioned or approved by the Church. There are many good causes out there that bring about righteousness and we don't need to ask for permission to be a part of them; just as we don't need permission to do as Christ would do and we shouldn't wait to be asked or commanded to do them.

You don't need to drain your bank account with donations to charities. That isn't doing. Instead, give some of your time. Pick a cause. Something you believe in. Something you feel strongly about and play a part. Even a small part.

Now I want you to consider the blessings that can be enjoyed in this life by doing our best to keep God's commandments, especially the commandment to think and do for ourselves. Consider the promise we have to be with God.

In John 14:23 Christ says, "...If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."

Most people read that and think about the comforter. About feeling the Holy Spirit within us, assuring us that we are indeed loved by our Heavenly Father. But that isn't what it's saying.

I said earlier that the majority of us will have the opportunity to be with God in the next life.

I want you to look in Doctrine and Covenants Section 130 Verse 3. I want you to see the words on the page. It says, [in reference to] John 14:13 "The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man's heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false."

My brothers and sisters, such an appearance is not just for prophets and apostles. If we love Him and keep His words, the potential exists within all of us to commune with Our Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ in THIS life.

I can think of nothing more wonderful than this to give us hope as we endure this mortal probation.