Sunday, August 14, 2011

Quiet the Mind, Accelerate the Spirit

Trial Lake, Uinta Mountains
This past week I was invited to go with my sons and grandsons on a camp out to the High Uintas near our mountain home. The campground at Trial Lake is a popular destination for city folks, and the elevation rises to 9800 feet surrounded by majestic mountain peaks. It puts one closer to heaven in every way.

My sons are all equipped with camping gear -- cool stuff to assure comfort and warmth outdoors. What used to be dreaded scouting experiences of my youth, are no longer. The food was great, the companionship was fantastic, and the scenery and the wind gently whistling through the trees overhead created an almost reverential mood late at night around the campfire. The full moon for two nights added to the magic. The mosquitoes were out in full force, but even repellent has improved to make their unwelcome presence bearable. Other distractions like an unhappy and quarrelsome family next door, barking dogs, and a crying baby nearby, eventually diminished.

We played their favorite game, "Would you rather. . ." It provided a lot of laughter. It began with one, "Would you rather drink a bucket of snot, or eat a bucket of scabs?" There are endless permutations and combinations spinning out of their fertile young minds -- try it sometime if you haven't heard of it. Trust me, it can take you on a wild ride from the frivolous to the imponderable.

Trial Lake, Uinta Mountains
Because of the nature of their work, their "other equipment" -- company-provided iphones -- were rendered useless. We were away. No Internet. No computers. And while they hiked and fished to their hearts' content, I had time to finish a good book I had been reading and to ponder and reflect. They took off the second day for a hike up to another little picturesque lake, not far away. It was great to see those fathers, once my little boys, returning to camp with their little boys whose legs are still too short, riding atop their fathers' shoulders. It's a joy to be a grandfather and to witness life replay itself.

To quiet the mind, to study and ponder the word of God, to be alone with your thoughts is an activity worth pursuing, but those rare moments must almost be manufactured, planned in advance, and savored to glean the full benefits.

I pondered about the High Priest lesson I was to give. I wondered how to approach a lesson on "Family Responsibilities," knowing how inadequate the vessel can seem when teaching the venerable brethren who have lived their lives to the fullest. How to teach them anything becomes a challenge. As I pondered and prayed about it in the open air in a quiet setting, white whispy smoke ascending from a dying fire one morning, I remembered Abraham and the covenant. I pondered Abraham 2:8-12, and considered how improbable his promised blessings were, and how unlikely it is that I have inherited the same promised blessings he did. Today I am still a son of God, a son of earthly parents, a grandson, a father, a husband, a brother, an uncle, a grandfather, and I feel in someways like I am holding hands in a circle of life spanning the pre-mortal world, mortality and the spirit world. Five more grandchildren are due in coming months.

I thought about the weaknesses I possess and how truly unworthy I am as a recipient of so much when I have done so little to merit such blessings.

I read Ether 12:27, and asked myself again where all my weaknesses came from. Did they come from the Lord? If he gave me all my weaknesses, why? I thought the goal was to grow in light and truth and to become like Him. Because Christ is perfect and my Father in Heaven is perfect, why would they give me anything but strength and powerful gifts to overcome?

I've heard a thousand false sermons taught about that scripture. People just say, like no one should ever challenge it, "The Lord gives us our weaknesses."

Well, it just isn't true. Moroni doesn't say the Lord gives us weaknesses. Instead, Ether 12:27 refers to our weakness. I pondered it anew that morning last week, alone with my thoughts in the mountains. I was renewed again in the realization that has become a comforting insight. The Lord defines words for us if we are attuned to His dictionary.

The Lord didn't give us weaknesses (the tendency to overeat, be impatient, angry, lazy, lustful, etc.). What we did receive from Him as a gift, however, is weakness. His meaning was not that we have character flaws, but that we will be in a mortal state where our physical bodies will tend to be weaker than our spirits in order for our spirits to be tested, tempted and tried in nearly all things this mortal laboratory can inflict upon us. (See Abraham 3:25). That weakness has more to do with the state of mortality than with individual character flaws afflicting all of us. As a spirit I didn't have mortal weakness. But when I was born into mortality I received a body in a fallen world — a state of weakness — because it was the only way we could become as He is.

The brother of Jared prayed: "Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires. (Ether 3:2).

The Apostle Paul, noting his "infirmities," spoke about his "thorn in the flesh." So troubled by it was he that he pled with the Lord three times to remove it. (See 2 Corinthians 12:5, 7-8). "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

As we study Paul's missionary journeys again this year in our gospel doctrine classes, I am reminded just how unworthy I am in the comparison with him. But when I quiet my mind, forswear the noise about me, my spirit accelerates with knowledge. Paul understood it was the conditions of the flesh constituting our weakness. He also knew what Moroni knew — the Lord desires to help us, not heap weaknesses upon us to increase our difficulties in this mortal probation.

It's the plan of a loving Father for us. That's what Moroni was talking about in Ether 12:27. Paul reached a point in his understanding we must all come to individually. He was actually grateful for the weakness of the flesh, for a merciful plan of mortality, for the expectation of exaltation.

Like Paul, my mind was quiet, my spirit accelerated as I connected with Christ, who helps make me stronger.

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