A thought occurred to me recently that it was such a privilege to help my elderly neighbor. That started a cascade of thoughts on the subject of how our attitude and approach to life changes how we see life and its attendant challenges. This discussion on what it means to build and live in a perfect world is based on the week 5 Book of Mormon Come, Follow Me lessons.
A perfect world
What constitutes a perfect world depends on each person’s definition of what that means. So let’s define a couple of terms here. Perfect doesn’t mean without flaw or fault. Perfect means whole or complete. We seek to become whole people through our experience with the Holy Spirit and through our worshiping and obeying God. As we each are now, there are holes in our attitudes, behaviours, and understanding that prevent us from becoming whole through Christ’s atonement.
This life is not about what we accomplish or obtain through our industry and cleverness. Our purpose here in mortality is to overcome weaknesses, develop attitudes of the godly character, and to learn godly behavior. These are the things that complete us and make us whole. These pursuits lie completely outside the realms of politics, business, and the social fabrics in which we live. These pursuits are deeply personal, and are all internally generated, in spite of what goes on around us.
Think of those who were forced to live in concentration camps in World War II, yet they learned to forgive their captors, they served their fellow prisoners, and sacrificed their meager rations to help others live a little longer. Our outward circumstances do not control what happens inside our mind and heart, for we can be just as pure or just as corrupt in any outward circumstance. The Book of Mormon is replete with examples of this. The Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon manual talks about (in week 5) the trials of Lehi’s family and how different members of the family viewed those trials. Some were miserable because of their experiences, while others were grateful and grew spiritually because of how they viewed and reacted to those same trials.
I think we can all agree that presently on earth there is nothing around us we could consider to be perfect. But I maintain that perfection comes from within, not from without. Jesus lived a perfect life. He surrounded himself with perfection, because all his acts and behaviors were perfect. His “world” was perfect because he was perfect. I’m talking about his inner world, not his external world. He lived in a state of perfection. I suggest you read my article called the The Three Degrees of Behavior for a discussion on this concept that in this life we are surrounded by the behavior of all three kingdoms of glory. It is up to us to choose the behavior of the kingdom in which we want to live for the rest of eternity.
Choosing our world
In week 5 of the Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon lessons we are confronted with dramatic displays of the trials of this life, and the different ways we can choose to deal with those trials. Laman and Lemuel, and those like them, chose to face their trials in the wilderness with resentment and emotional distress. They were distressed because they felt put upon, offended, put out, and otherwise inconvenienced. It was almost as though they felt the world had no right to interrupt their happiness with the realities of their situation. Therefore they chose to be angry and upset at almost everything that came their way. Trials were their enemy, not their friend.
Nephi was their polar opposite. I told my wife that Nephi is the slap in the face to every one of us who struggle being good, for according to his own record he never chose wrongly, never murmured when things got difficult, never cried, “Why me?”, or “It’s not fair!” Nephi was the golden child, the perfect child, the child the other children love to hate, for he never seemed to waver or make a mistake. He was always faithful, always obedient, always the one with clear sight. Sometimes his vision of what they needed to do was even better than that of his father, the prophet. Would we be amiss to say that Nephi’s world, though their outward circumstances were identical, was far more perfect than the world Laman and Lemuel lived in?
Nephi chose an attitude of obedience, gratitude, humility, and love. He sought for the welfare of his wayward brothers, even when they were cruel and awful to him. Nephi chose to seek ways to be thankful to the Lord for His blessings, even when he was on the verge of starvation because none of their bows worked. They were in the middle of one of the most treacherous desserts in the world, and they were starving to death. Yet for all this, he chose to humble himself and seek God’s guidance. Instead of complaining, like every other member of his family, including the prophet, he did what he was physically capable of doing to solve his problem, but still included the Lord in his behavior. He made a bow the best he could, and made a single arrow out of a straight stick. It may not sound very promising for killing enough food to feed all those people, but it was all he could do. He sought out the Lord’s servant, his father, and asked his priesthood leader for his counsel. The result of his humble and obedient behavior was the physical salvation of the whole clan.
We also choose our world. Laman-and-Lemuel type people always find a way to complain about every situation. They always feel slighted, put upon, and disrespected. Life for them is only good when things are handed to them, and ease and plenty is the order of the day. They are not interested in the trials of this life and the growth we are supposed to achieve by going through those trials. They only want comfort and to be left alone.
People like Nephi face trials and difficulties with humility, seeking to become better through the sufferings we are all called upon to bear in this life. Nephi represents the kind of person we are all supposed to become like. In the section below I have stated some pretty common circumstances many of us have, do, or will face in the Church. Underneath each of those circumstances (in red) are responses as Laman and Lemuel might have given. The responses in green are something Nephi might have given. I hope you will see yourself in one or the other of each of these responses.
Modern examples of choices we make
|The Bishop called on me from the pulpit to come up and say the opening prayer in sacrament meeting. He did not ask me beforehand so I was surprised by the announcement.
|I was offended that he would not extend me the courtesy to ask me first. What if I had a reason for not wanting to be put on the spot like that?
|I was grateful that he felt he could freely call on me to fill an assignment when he found himself in a pinch, because the person who was supposed to say the prayer didn’t show up and there wasn’t time to ask anyone else to say it. I appreciate that he trusted that I would accept the assignment graciously.
|I just received yet another request from the elders quorum to go and help a family move tomorrow afternoon.
|What is wrong with these people that they can’t ask ahead of time? I am busy. Why do they always expect us to just drop everything and come running to help them at their convenience. What about my convenience? And those who expect us to just come running whenever they call are so rarely even remotely grateful for what we do for them! And half the time they aren’t even completely packed up yet!
|I understand that service is often not convenient, but I am grateful to help in any way that I can. If I can arrange my schedule I will be there. I may not be able to do much due to some personal physical limitations, but I will gladly do what I can.
|I am new in this ward and don’t know anyone well yet. Going to Church is uncomfortable because I don’t feel anyone cares that I am even there.
|This is such an unfriendly place. Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother with these people. They can be real snobs. Their unfriendliness makes me not want to even set foot inside the building on Sunday.
|I haven’t had much experience getting used to new groups of people, so I need to be the one to put out my hand and try to make friends. I understand that they have already made friendships in the ward, and they don’t know me and my family. I need to show them I want to belong here and be their friend. I’ll try to introduce myself to at least one new person each week, and learn their name.
|I am told I am to accept the calls extended to me by my ward leaders.
|I don’t believe these calls are inspired. They sound more like desperation or like they threw a dart at a board and the dart hit my name. These calls are an imposition. Why can’t they get someone else to do some of the work around here?
|I understand that the Lord has commanded His servants to do their best to lead the ward as they feel they need to. I also understand that not every call is preceded by heavenly visions. Sometimes the Bishop or leader has to use their best judgment to make a choice in who they call. Though it can be difficult to juggle several callings at one time in the ward, I am grateful I am considered one my leaders can count on to help when other won’t accept assignments. I will do my best to fulfill my callings, even though I have weaknesses. I trust the Lord will strengthen me.
How we choose to face the inconveniences of this life, the trials of this life, and the unfairness of this life, determines where we will go after this life. But we need to remember that telestial people already live telestial lives – of their own choosing. Celestial people learn to live celestial lives – of their own choosing. The choices we make determines the world, the state in which we live. Our challenge in mortality is to learn to live a celestial life under any condition we may be in.
Christ lived to serve. He ministered to those around him all the time. He didn’t worry about what was convenient for himself, but for the welfare of others. That was all that mattered. To refer back to the opening sentence of this article, when I thought about what a privilege it was to serve my elderly neighbor, it struck me that service is a privilege, and it carries with it spiritual rewards. Christ received the greatest rewards because he gave the greatest service.
Our world, the state of mind in which we live, is something we create by the choices we make. As we humble ourselves and seek to change our attitudes to be more focused on the welfare of others, God is able to change our heart and open our minds to new perspectives. Growth happens to those who seek to be like God. Ministering to the needs of others, and putting our own desires second in our lives to helping God bless others is what teaches us to be, and feel, and think like Christ.
Perfection – a state of flawlessness – is not possible in this life. But perfection – to become whole and complete through Christ’s atoning sacrifice – is possible in this life. This is the world in which we can each choose to live our lives. This is the life in which we will live each day in gratitude and joy for the blessings we receive, despite what goes on around us.
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