My eldest sister, Tawnee, is a health and life coach, and she’s very knowledgeable about health supplements. She often tells me how people don’t take a supplement long enough, or the correct dosage—to let it build up in their system—and so they don’t see the amazing benefit. She also often tells me about people who stop taking a supplement, because they can’t tell if it’s doing them any good. Then, a few weeks after they quit, they notice that they feel worse—because they aren’t taking the supplement anymore. I remember once, when we were walking together, she mentioned that she’d been having some sciatic nerve pain. Then, she said, “Oh! I know why!” She realized she’d never restocked her curcumin supplement (turmeric), hadn’t been taking them for about three weeks, and resolved to pick some up that day to fix her inflammatory struggle.
This blog post is something that builds on her excellent coaching and the experiences she shared with me. It’s that success in spiritual things is the same as supplements. Ultimately a person has to decide what they desire for their life, how they want to feel every day, and be willing to pop in the supplement, at the right dosage, and then remain consistent.
So, before I begin, I’m going to ask you to read the following phrase a few times:
Commit and Don’t Quit
Commit and Don’t Quit
Commit and Don’t Quit
Okay, now onward…
People think obedience comes easy to me…
No one has ever said it to me in quite these words, “Obeying is just easier for you,” but they have said it several times, more or less, in various ways. Sometimes it sounds like, “I wish I could know (or quote) the scriptures like you do,” or “Wow, the way you can pull truth out of something is just so unfair,” or even, “The talent you have for writing…I wish I had that.” People have made comments about me playing the piano, or various other things as well. But most of the time it is directed at what they consider to be my spiritual capacities. They treat me with the awe of “Wow, I wish I had been born with that like she was. Then I could do what she does,” as if I’m superhuman in my spiritual capacities.
Though I don’t believe anyone really thinks about what they are saying, and they don’t really mean “it’s unfair”—though some may—I get frustrated by these comments. This is a bit acerbic, but their idea of fair is “give me what you have worked so hard for because obviously it just came to you without any effort; which is how I want it to come to me”. Getting something without effort—now that’s unfair. And it seems falsely obvious to them that I’ve somehow just inherited or magically clicked a button and attained all these things…things that they think they want—but if they did really desire what I had then they would have it. It’s that simple.
It begins with a desire…
I grew up in a fabulous family with faithful parents who loved God. But they both came from humble beginnings. Most of the people who revere my parents today, if they had seen my parents in their teen years, or as newlyweds, might never have guessed they would become the people they have become. They were poor, largely uneducated beyond a high school diploma, and while their families loved them, they were not given any special monetary inheritances, complementary education packages, or any other “legs up” in life. They fought, long, and hard (and still do) for all that they desire that is good. They received, line upon line, here and there, because of their diligent obedience, blessings and help through a difficult—though now fulfilling—life.
So also, if anyone had seen me as a young child, they would never have considered me to have an inordinate capacity to be obedient. I was a pretty good kid. But I was annoying to my siblings, not always obedient to my parents, a little rebellious for a year as a teenager, and I came to this world with absolutely no inclination of becoming a blogger, or writer, or artist…and certainly not a publisher. I was ordinary, except perhaps in height and build; I was always taller, heavier, and of bigger build.
I got good grades because I desired to be smart. I studied for tests and tried to get a high GPA because I looked up to an older sister (who did those things) and because I desired to win awards like she did. I did like achievement generally, but that is certainly not extraordinary. I might have been—in some ways—more of an “old soul” than most teenagers, because so much of teenage-hood had little appeal to me, except perhaps wanting to be liked by boys. I was introverted, for sure, and that is somewhat less usual in teenage years, but certainly not unheard of, and rarely is it viewed as a trait that gives people an advantage in life.
There was never, and has never, been anything unusual about me that makes it easier for me to be more obedient than others. If there is now, then I cultivated my unusual-ness by effort, faith, hard work, and consistency. But…I’ll get to that later.
Like most people, I had role models. My mother and my older sister Kalley—I always admired them. My mom was an amazing gospel teacher (and still is the original doctrine lady). I watched her. I looked at her busily marked scriptures. And I felt the value of her effort. I saw what I could have if I chose to put forth the effort. My sister Kalley was academically focused. She got scholarships for college, and I could see the value in that. So, I worked hard at my academics. I didn’t want to have to struggle to go to school or to get work, and I didn’t want to be poor. I made academic plans that I thought would help me have money. I really liked having my own money.
Therefore, thus far, the only things I did to get on a fairly acceptable track in life were emulating those I admired and desiring not to be poor. Which, consequently, is no more than anyone else is capable of doing. Effort is the great beginning of accomplishing any desire; and not quitting is the hallmark of true desire.
Spiritually, I “experimented upon the word” of God, and His promises (Alma 32). And, I saw for myself that being a good Christian worked—at least as far as I could tell up to that point. It decreased the possibilities of suffering (from my own choices) and gave me the tools and power to endure and overcome the suffering others inflicted upon me.
I was not born a Beethoven by any stretch of the imagination. But after seeing my sister Sara take piano lessons, I began to look through her books. Learning to play became “desirable” to me. So, I picked through her books and then eventually it was my turn to get piano lessons. I loved to play and it brought me peace and joy. So, even though I quit lessons (because I disliked music theory, or playing for achievement or performance, and the piano books were annoying), I taught myself to play for joy. I still play to serve and because it brings me joy.
Writing—ha ha ha—I never cared about writing, though I did enjoy all my high school English courses (except Literature…isn’t that funny?). I hated all of my college English courses. I have always disliked a lot of classic literature, as well. Funny, right? I was terrible at grammar, but I could put together a great research paper. I didn’t care about writing one bit until I saw the power writing had. Being introduced to books that changed me in the reading of them gave me a desire to do the same. Most people would assume if I was destined to do something, I would exhibit abnormal and extraordinary capabilities after birth, sometime in my childhood. I think we give that idea too much weight. It’s a limiting belief.
The pattern for becoming a writer was the same as emulating my Mom and sister. It was the same as seeing something desirable about playing the piano. I saw that writing could do amazing things and so I desired to write. It was after I desired to write that I began pouring my heart out to God, asking Him to help me become a great writer. There is nothing extraordinary about this process. There is nothing extraordinary about me. I had to admit myself to the process and commit and not quit.
I was not a natural writer. If I have a talent that God gave me, it is the capacity to organize information in my head with ease. Outlines have always come easy. But that’s it! Once I dove into book writing, developing a plot was not easy. However, once I had a plot, it was easy to organize the information in-between the bullet points. If that’s a leg up…it’s not much of one. My grammar…(laughing, snorting…crying) took a lot of work. Dangling modifiers, gerunds, passive voice…whew…I really struggled with every single one. I have written and honed my craft through lots of painful experiences and hard critiques over the years. I can’t even tell you how many tears I have cried…and cried…and cried… I was not an Isaac Asimov. I could never just sit down and write a book from beginning to end. The plot never just happened. Characters and character creation were also hard. Very hard. But with desire and effort, and God’s enabling grace, it got better and better; more and more natural for me.
My first 10 years of writing, my writing was nothing more than mediocre—and usually quite terrible. So, why then did I keep going? Because I wanted to write because I wanted the power to influence others, to entertain and engage them, and to change them—through the power of words—the way I had been changed. I have never been an Emily Dickinson…or any other writer hatched into the world. And yet, I doubt that even Beethoven and others with such focused and extraordinary talent could have gotten far had they not put in the work to hone their talent.
Even talent does not create success…
I have seen countless people (there are many in my life) with brains and intelligence above the ordinary human. Those that recognize their capacity usually do one of two things. Some of them take their already God-given brilliance and develop and utilize it so that it blossoms into something mind-blowing. They know they are brilliant. But they also know that even brilliance needs to be trained, cultivated, and used humbly. They endure a continual process that takes their innate talent and they become—through effort—the type of person that changes the world and blows all of our minds.
Others take for granted what brilliance they have. They end up in a prideful route of life, assuming that they are so much smarter than everyone else, that their brilliance is wasted on the world…and it never serves them (or society) in any way except to puff them up and help them manipulate others in their journey to the top. Some reform. Others vacillate back and forth.
Sometimes, not only do these individuals waste their brilliance and intelligence; often they look all the more stupid because they take for granted what they have and use it ill. Thus, even a “leg up” of talent does not serve them or make it easier for them than for others. In some ways, such talent—unwilling to be cultivated through spiritual hard work and commitment—makes life harder for them, and certainly their spirituality suffers because they want God to tell them all He knows (because they can handle it) without any commitment to do as He wants them to do (because they know as well as He does…maybe even better). They want everything to come easy and when it doesn’t, they chalk it up other people’s stupidity. Again…their brilliance is actually a barrier to their happiness and progression because they don’t put in the hard work.
This is similar to assuming obedience or spiritual effort is easier for others. And that this is why we aren’t getting the results they are. I have known many amazing people with incredible spiritual capacity and talent. When they put in the effort, they blossom quickly—usually too quickly for their own good. But because it happens so quickly, and easily, when the going gets tougher, they are quick to drop out because now the real effort of commitment and covenant has set in. It has stopped coming quite so easy, and so they start looking around and thinking…it must be easier for others, that’s why they can stay committed.
Showing up is 90% of success…
I have never been extraordinary or different than most people about anything, certainly not obedience. Some people get this idea that waking up to go to Church or paying tithing is just a “piece of cake” for someone like me. Some people think that I never have trials or crises of faith; that I never wrestle with God or wonder if anything I do is worth it. Some people think I just put the scriptures in my lap and absorb them supernaturally. If I could do that, it would be awesome. But, like I said earlier, if I could, then I would be in danger of not putting that talent to work making it a barrier instead of a leg up in life.
So, let me dispel all of these ideas. If I come off a bit acerbic, forgive me. It’s in the spirit of making a point.
So. It’s not easy for me to go to regular church (2-3 hours every weekend). I’m an introvert. COVID-19 has seriously been the best thing that has ever happened to me with regard to church meetings. Having church at home with the curriculum and guidance from the Organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and a living prophet), has been absolutely utopic. The Sabbath has been truly a delight. I have enjoyed it and look forward to it every week. It has been restful and peaceful.
However, every Sunday, for the rest of my life (outside of COVID), I have had to go to church and sit in meetings and classes with people who want to be around other people—to chat, and talk, and have potlucks, etc. Which are good things. I just don’t love them, generally. Do you know how many times I wished I could just sit at home and study my scriptures on my own, or with only my husband, or a few of my family members? Or minimally, a few close friends—or my parents—whose viewpoints always expand my own? Let’s not even try to count how many times I wished that…it wouldn’t be good to dwell on. Do you know how hard it was for me to go sometimes? Wait, nearly all the time?
But think about it, what kind of Christian would I be if I wasn’t willing to love and serve others different than me? Not a very good one. It’s not rocket science to see that some things that are uncomfortable or contrary to my personality are good for me. And, if religion were all about me, then it wouldn’t be religion. Christianity is about learning to become selfless like Christ, and learning to submit to God’s will. Was it hard to go every Sunday? You bet. And if it wasn’t a choice that took some effort and thought, it would also produce little value. And I desire value.
However, I do like to teach and speak. So, on the Sundays I get to teach or speak I am very happy. I also think playing the piano for Primary (younger kids Sunday School) is utopic—because music and simple gospel doctrine is all that’s shared. It’s beautiful. But just about everything else with regard to regular church…is exceedingly draining and often frustrating. But that’s part of developing charity—the pure love of Christ. And I knew I couldn’t develop it sitting in my home bubble (ha ha, that would be too easy). So, I went every Sunday; and I can still count on two hands, the number of Sunday’s I’ve missed church in my life. Has it been hard? Yes. To say the least…
So, why go, if it’s so hard? Here’s the answer. It felt right. It was always the right thing in my mind and heart. And I never regretted going—not for a minute. But did it come easy? Did I love it like I have loved home church? Certainly not. But I do love knowing that my life is in accordance with God’s commands and will. I do love feeling the Spirit and the peace of being “right with God”. I do love teaching and speaking. I admit I was never in love with sitting and listening, but I have always, frequently, been uplifted despite my personal pride (which I’m constantly working on casting off) and internal difficulties—evidence of God’s mercy on me and His love of His other, far more patient and loving children. He helped me learn from others despite my internal barriers. That, my friends, is miraculous. And, it was also a further testimony to me that going was right.
It’s about desire…
Now, let’s talk about paying tithing. I began paying tithing as a kid because my parents taught me to pay tithing. I didn’t really feel one way or the other about tithing, because when you don’t have much money—and you’re not the one paying the bills—tithing is “no sweat”. But I’ll never forget the time I lost my purse at the mall. It was a purse my sister Tawnee had given me and I was so in love with it. It was made of leather patches of different colors. I remember she had got it at a nice retail store and I had loved it as long as she owned it. So, when she gave it to me, I felt so special having it on my shoulder—it made me feel “in style”. And since we didn’t have a lot of money, it was precious to me.
Somehow, while we were at the mall one time—likely just walking around—when I was a young teenager, and I lost that purse. I pined over it after we left. I was so sad! Then, within a few days, the mall customer service called me. That had found my purse. And they had been able to find me because…my yellow, canary copy of my tithing slip was in there with my name and address.
Maybe if the purse hadn’t been so precious to me that might have seemed like a coincidence. But the Spirit testified to me—during that phone call—that paying my tithing had allowed God to bless me and to rescue something important to me. I have never looked back because of that, and have always paid my tithing. But that doesn’t mean that paying tithing comes easy to me. If I’m honest, though I’ve developed other reasons for paying tithing over the years, one of the primary reasons I pay tithing is because I’m afraid of what God can’t do for me, what rescuing He’ll be unable to do, if I don’t meet the conditions for the blessing of tithing (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21).
Obeying out of fear of loss of blessings is not the highest reason for paying tithing…but I admit it is still one of my primary motivators. If I ever discover I’ve missed even a few dollars I pay right away, no matter how miniature my bank account, because I fear the consequences. Thus, paying tithing isn’t easy for me, I just have the type of personality that likes to avoid pain and suffering. I’d rather overdraw my bank account than offend God about tithing (Malachi 3:9-12) and not get “rescued” when I’m in need.
The more faith, the more trials, and that’s a good sign…
Trials of faith? Oh yes. My last was only very recently. I dare say it was one of the biggest of my life. Horrific…numbing… Because you see, the more obedience you have shown the more tempting it is to think “I deserve blessings in a certain way…my way…in my time.” Obedience can deceive even the most obedient and humble into thinking we’ve “earned” things. Entitlement is a terrible monster.
Obedience doesn’t give us the right to demand God bless us in the way we want. Obedience allows God to bless us in the way He wants. So, when His idea of blessings and mine don’t coincide—at least initially—I have often crashed, broken, and wondered why I had ever tried. I can’t explain to anyone my relationship with God. Suffice it to say, His love and mercy and grace have gotten me through to today. And, despite my faith crises, He has helped me forward…even if He was dragging me onward because I had given Him permission by holding up my hand…feebly.
Despite what people think, obedience and acting in faith doesn’t cure a person from faith crises. In fact, faith crises come to the best because they have exercised faith. Crises of faith—despite how wretched they are—are good things. Click here to read one of my favorite monologues on crises of faith. The point is, faith crises are more common and more difficult for those who have exercised faith for longer and at higher levels. The more faith you have exercised the more difficult your trial of faith, your crisis. If you haven’t exercised that much faith, then your crisis simply cannot reach the difficulty of those who have been “working out and eating right” a whole lot longer and harder.
For example, let’s use food and health since I went that direction. If a person, we’ll call him John, ate McDonald’s every day for at least one meal, never exercised, and he wouldn’t eat fruits and vegetables unless they were overprocessed and hidden; then if he got diagnosed with heart disease or high blood pressure, or diabetes, or he had a heart attack, everyone would feel sorry, but few would be surprised. Right? In fact, the severe health issue would likely motivate John to be healthier. The “crisis” would re-orient him toward a healthier life.
But contrast that with a person who exercises all the time, eats super healthy, gets lots of rest, and takes the best supplements. If a person like that, let’s call her Jane, has a heart attack, or gets diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease, then everyone is surprised. “Wow! How could that happen to Jane? She’s so healthy and fit?” Might not Jane wonder, after being diagnosed, “Why in the heck have I been eating healthy for all these years and exercising if it wasn’t going to keep me from getting diabetes?” What was the point, right?
Where a health crisis actually leads John to live better, Jane might be horrifically mad and feel betrayed by her body and the world of health and all its preaching and promises and practices. She might be tempted to eat whatever she wants and exercise less, if all her hard work isn’t going to bless her life the way she expects. “I can just take insulin and eat what I want!” she may exclaim. “To hell with salad and protein snacks!!!”
But what happens to many—eventually—though not all, is that they step back and realize that eating healthy and exercising makes them “feel good”; and that even if they don’t get all the health benefits they expected (because they eventually learn that some diseases are caused by genetic pre-disposition or other factors outside their control), it is certainly the better way to live. It brings them more peace even if they can’t always predict all its blessings and results.
Faith crises…they afflict those trying to be the best the most. And they serve the same, but also different purposes, every time they come. But most often, a faith crisis insists that we reconcile a misconception that we have about God—and how He works with His children. Every time I have a faith crisis—especially most recently which was one of the worst of my life—I fall back on the one thing I know: that living the gospel fully feels good. Whether or not it actually gets me what I think I want ends up being far less important. Then, when I calm down, and give God a chance to talk to me, He always rewards my obedience, and my poor and inadequate attempt at humble submission, with answers. Then boom—PEACE. Then, it’s all worth it. Every bit of it.
So, when people think that people who seem to be righteous and obedient don’t have crises of faith…oh ho ho ho…you are sooooo wrong. We have them. They hurt. They suck. We get mad. We grieve. We get angry. Then, we keep being obedient because it feels good, and only then does God come in—because we’ve chosen Him despite our anger—and reconcile what we thought we knew with what He’s really like.
Line upon line, precept upon precept, that’s how He teaches His children…
Now, finally, let’s address the foolish idea that I merely absorb doctrine from the scriptures without any effort. First of all, that’s just plain ridiculous. What I have, and what I continue to cultivate, is my desire for my scriptures to look just like my mother’s. I have a desire to know God, to understand how He works, and to understand it well enough to get the blessings I hope for, avoid the most pain and suffering I can, and to transform myself into something better than I am today, tomorrow, and so on. Because when God levels me up, I can feel it. And it feels sooooo good. It’s worth all the sacrifice. When it comes, I think, “I’m soooooo glad I didn’t call it quits. This was soooo worth it!”
(Though, if I’m to be frank, I have a lot of “Frodo and Sam on the foothills of Mount Doom” days, where I’m laying on the ground, willing my body to somehow keep heading toward the door so I can toss the ring into the fire…)
So, at the age of 14, I decided—because of the influence of my older sister Kalley—to start reading my scriptures. Then, I saw people dear to me lose their faith. And I desired that that would never happen to me. Because I desired it, I worked harder to understand what I was reading—because I didn’t understand it at all, at the time. Then, I got a priesthood patriarchal blessing that told me that if I read my scriptures and prayed, I would never stray far from God’s path for me. Boom. That was all I needed. God had made it VERY CLEAR. Here’s the equation:
Read scriptures daily + pray always = never lose faith
It’s logical. It’s not hard. Anyone could understand this equation. It doesn’t take talent to understand this spiritual math. So, when I struggle—which is a lot—one of the things I NEVER stop doing, no matter how mad I am at God, no matter how sad, or depressed, or numb, or despondent, or despairing, is I never stop reading my scriptures and saying my prayers. Now, that being said, sometimes I barely skim the words. Sometimes I open my prayer, say a few trite phrases, and then close my prayer—because I’m numb, or angry, or cynical; certainly not full of faith. Sometimes I just cry and end with “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen”. But I NEVER stop. Because God gave me the equation and it’s very clear. Anyone can do it.
And, because I never stopped, over time—lots of time—things in the scriptures not only began to make sense, they began to be obvious, and clear. And then, when I’d come back to a scripture story the next time, I’d see things I’d never seen before. It kept happening. And it was totally cool. And it felt amazing! And, I desired for it to keep happening, so I kept reading—the same scriptures—over and over and over and over…and still over and over and over…and I’m still doing it over and over and over…
So, let’s be very clear. Being obedient isn’t any easier for me than it is for anyone else. It comes down to “what do I desire” for my life. It comes down to “what brings me peace and helps me feel good”? And the answers to those questions don’t change. No matter how angry I am at God—or others. No matter how annoyed I am by any people on the earth—whether fellow Christians or not—what I desire is what fuels my actions. And that’s a normal thing for us all. And that doesn’t make it any easier for me to obey than for anyone else.
What does it come down to? It comes down to what you desire. It comes down to the best way to get what you desire. Unfortunately, we will all find out someday that God can give us far more than we can imagine. And if we desire the best, then we have to submit to His plans—even when they don’t make sense. And God will only give us what we are willing to receive. He won’t force us to choose what often seems to be the harder path. But, as I always say, God’s way is harder initially, but it is the easier path in the end. All other paths seem easier at the onset, but never get us where we really desire to go. In fact, we often settle for lesser paths thinking we can change them into the path God has at some point—take a rainbow slide, or draw a special card that gives us a secret short cut; but it simply doesn’t work that way. There are no shortcuts with God. Only desire, effort, obedience, commitment, love for Him, and not quitting.
So, if you feel like obedience is hard for you and “just easier” for others. I hope you’ll consider reconsidering this viewpoint. If you believe that, then you are placing the blame for your struggle on something out of your control. And if you believe your own obedience and spiritual progression is outside your control, then you are powerless—made impotent by your own, self-created, limiting belief.
Obedience isn’t easy for anyone—initially. It is never comfortable—initially—anymore than the first few days of a new exercise routine or diet plan. Obedience’s rewards come only to those who commit and don’t quit.
So, here’s your guidance for spiritual (and life) success:
Commit and Don’t Quit