Doctrine: True Love (i.e. Charity) is not one attribute; it is a combination of attributes that must be conquered one at a time to turn us into a being that has and shows true love. The common thread in each of the attributes housed within Charity is the ability to transcend selfishness, self-focus, fear, and doubt.
The definition of Charity is available in both the New Testament and The Book of Mormon. It is the pure love of Christ. It is unselfishness, it has no guile (or personal agenda in its actions), it is not prideful or vain (over pre-occupied with self) or materialistic, it is not easily angered, it is patient and full of love, it has no fear, and perhaps most importantly, if we do not have it we are nothing. Charity is also preceded by and complemented by faith and hope.
For me, the hardest part about all of these attributes which reflect pure and true love is that it never explains how to arrive at them all at once—to attain charity. We know Christ embodied all these traits. In fact, it was charity that enabled Him to live a perfect life and ultimately give up that life willingly that each of us might be given grace and the opportunity to be made perfect and return to live with and like God. This is the love, housed in a multitude of attributes, which we are commanded to have. This is true love.
This is the love that when sought and being attained by a man and woman can produce the true love we imagine, see represented to varying extents in songs and movies, and believe exists for us. This is the love that is not natural to us but is the kind that when sought produces the results we expect from the lesser forms of love we are continually failed by. This is the love that has the power to save souls, change hearts, effect reformations and revolutions, and enact change in society.
Charity is not one, but a multitude of Christ-like attributes
We always talk about charity as one attribute. However, to look at it this way is to try to become everything Christ was all at once. Perhaps looking at it as one feeling or attribute is what makes it so impossible to comprehend and daunting to try to achieve. By seeing it as once characteristic we have basically rendered charity as some idealistic floating bubble of perfection far beyond anyone’s reach.
Yet, if we look at the definition of charity in the scriptures, it is clearly broken down into several pieces, or attributes. They are: patience, kindness, contentment, humility, selflessness, not being easily offended or angered, virtuous in thought, rejoicing in goodness, not enticed by iniquity, willing to bear all things, believing, hopefulness, and enduring all things.
If we are truly to attain charity, I think it is necessary to look at each attribute of charity separately. It is not one big thing we can pray for and attain. It is something we must tackle a small piece at a time.
What is patience? Patience is a natural suppression of restlessness, annoyance, temper, and emotion in the face of irritation, delay, provocation, misfortune, and complaint. Someone who is patient doesn’t overreact in the face of what may appear to be something painful, unfair, terrible, unkind, or frustrating.
If this is truly the definition, then it would seem that to be inherently patient a person may need to be emotionless. How else could a person naturally and easily be patient in terrific trials, injustices, sudden distresses, and life-changing problems? In other words, how can we naturally suppress our inherent reactions to life’s oppositions? Is it even possible?
When life’s troubles and struggles come in waves, especially to the righteous or innocent, some people will ask, “How can God not intervene? How can He let this happen? Why hasn’t He helped us, or them?” How is God, who is supposed to love us unconditionally, able to allow us to suffer in the ways we do here in mortality? How can He be so patient?
Since God is love and full of emotion, then there must be another reason God is patient, because it seems as if it is love and emotion which leads us to not be patient. Remember Christ who was petitioned to come when Lazarus was dying. He could have arrived before Lazarus died. Yet, He didn’t. He was patient. He took His time doing the things He knew needed to be done as He made His way to Bethany. How could He be so unemotionally driven? Why did He delay?
As far as I can tell through Christ’s example, the answer to patience is eternal perspective. With God all things are present, even our past and our future. He can see what was, what is, and what will be. He can see our state of existence beyond our current trials, sins, and weaknesses. He knows where every choice and trial will lead us. He also knows what effects all kinds of opposition will have on our faith and spiritual and mental growth.
So, why doesn’t God act impatiently? Because with Him we are presently forgiven, presently saved, presently changed, presently healed, resurrected, and so forth. We are in one moment. But while He suffers with us in our present moments He is able to simultaneously see our healing and salvation in the future. Therefore, He can patiently lead us through our trials and through this life.
Eternal perspective is a frustrating principle for those of us currently in this very temporary and emotional mortal state. Clearly, without divine intervention and/or revelation, we mortals are incapable of remembering clearly too far into the past. We are also easily overwhelmed by the emotions of a moment. Additionally, we cannot see into the future, and what hopes we have for the limited future we can imagine, are easily dashed by opposition.
How then can we become patient if we are not omniscient? As far as I have been able to tell, the key to patience is an unshakeable and immovable testimony of God’s eternal plan of salvation and incredible faith in the atonement. This kind of testimony, or faith, is not built upon a cursory understanding of the plan, nor is it built upon casual and convenient obedience. An unshakeable and immovable testimony of Gods plan must be built by obedience, study, prayer, faith, and perseverance.
The plan of redemption is situated perfectly upon the atonement of Christ, which atonement overcame both physical and temporal death. The atonement overcame weakness, it overcame sin, and it overcame all suffering and opposition. It has saved, past tense, all who will repent both now and in the future. It has healed and resurrected all who have and who will die or suffer physical pain or deformity. Because of this infinite atonement, God’s plan was meant to have opposition, suffering, trials, and temptation. We were meant to learn patience by strengthening our knowledge, understanding, and testimony of His plan.
Some people are afraid to pray for patience because they are afraid of what God will allow to come into their lives to answer this prayer. They are afraid to seek this attribute of charity. However, fear is not necessary. Patience is not about being put through trial after trial in some morbid way until we submit to despair and resignation—which is the mortal idea of patience. Patience leads to peace and joy, not misery. Patience is about using whatever experiences God allows in our lives to strengthen our faith in the atonement and His plan. The stronger our testimony of the plan of salvation the greater our capacity to wait upon blessings, to wait upon wayward loved ones to return to God’s covenants, and to wait upon psychological, emotional, and physical healing.
Those with patience understand not only in their minds, but in their hearts, that they do not have to worry about if or when blessings will come. This is because that they have sure faith; they know and feel with a surety that all things are part of God’s plan and that all will be completely fixed, explained, made clear, or restored in God’s timing. As well, the knowledge of God’s timing doesn’t bring them anger, resentment, despair, or bitterness. It brings them hope, reserve, and peace. They don’t worry about if. They only wait patiently for when.
If you have a difficult spouse, do you wonder when he/she will repent and change? Or do you exercise patience while you wait for when they will? If you have a child who is ungrateful, unkind, or wayward, do you wonder how you can make them grateful, kind, or repent? Or do you exercise patience while you wait for when they will learn it on their own? If you have lost a job or your health, do you agonize over when these cups of opposition will be removed? Or, do you exercise patience while you peacefully wait for your promised blessings—whenever they are ordained to come?
Anything in your life that causes you a feeling of unrest and impatience can be turned into a question like those above. Faith, hope, and charity are interconnected. To attain the patience that is a deep part of charity, we must first have faith in the atonement and firm hope in the plan of salvation, and also that God has an individual plan for each of us. For faith and hope in these things will make patience possible.
What is kindness? Kindness is the quality of being innately generous, considerate, and friendly.
While many of us can go through the motions (or appearance) of kindness, it is not necessarily something that comes naturally or easily. Nor are the motions of kindness evidence of an innate charitable-kindness. I have often wondered why this is. Why isn’t it easy to be kind? Why do I have to force myself to serve? Why do I often feel annoyed when I know I need to show kindness? Why is the natural man (or woman) usually the opposite of kind?
I have seen many examples of people who find it easier to be kind to animals than to humans. I have seen people who find it easy to be generous with children but not with their adult peers. I have myself often struggled to be considerate to those whose personalities tend to annoy me. I don’t wish them ill, but neither do I naturally want to go out of my way to bless their lives. If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?
Kindness is so simple a trait that it is overlooked more often than not. But, in my experience, it is not the simplicity of the trait that leaves kindness so underperformed. It is that kindness is not solely an action but a condition of the heart. A heart condition of kindness is much more difficult to create. It requires us to become kind, not to simply act kind.
Christ was kind. He embodied kindness. It was who He was. He was kind to all, without regard to their actions toward him. As He was being crucified, did He not say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?”
If kindness is not an action only but a condition of the heart in the doer, the level of complexity jumps up to Godly standards: standards from which I have often shrunk. I have often felt so frustrated. How could I get my heart saturated with kindness that I didn’t have to force there?
There are likely many reasons for an unkind heart. However, for myself, I found that kindness came much easier when my motivation for giving kindness changed. Because kindness requires emotional, spiritual, and almost always physical effort, the motivation for kindness is important.
Often, we are kind because it’s a commandment. We think in the form of an equation: be kind = blessings. We do to receive. This isn’t evil. It is good. It’s the natural course of growth and is usually the first step toward becoming kind at heart, but it isn’t charity.
When I was younger, still a teen and young adult, I keenly remember my mother giving a talk in sacrament meeting on charity. Like me, she had always struggled to ‘like people.’ She certainly loved people as children of God, but because she didn’t always like them as friends and as such, she struggled to be actively kind. In her talk she talked about a spiritual epiphany she’d had about charity. “For me,” she said, “charity is helping people through the plan,” meaning the plan of salvation. This was also a revelation to me.
If I think about going out and serving someone, just to be kind for the sake of keeping a commandment, I’m not likely to be excited about it, or to feel a genuine ease of doing so in my heart. There are all sorts of excuses I can make, such as: this person doesn’t care about or need my kindness, or, someone else will do it, or, they don’t like me anyway, so going over there to help probably won’t make them happy, and so forth. It’s a commandment, but why keep it with slothfulness? Isn’t that worse than not going? Or, wouldn’t I feel more prompted to go if it was important?
Being kind to just to keep a commandment cannot always produce the heart-changing motivation I need. This is because the motivation is self-focused. It’s me doing something to keep my own report card looking good. It’s about me keeping a commandment so I can get the blessing.
However, if I think about going and serving someone in the hopes that my kindness will open their heart to the Spirit, to truth, to a step forward in God’s plan for them; that is something I can get excited about. The reason why this motivation is different is because it’s not focused on me. It’s focused on the possible outcomes I can help create in helping another through the plan of salvation. I’m thinking about them, not my own checklist or desired blessings. The minor change in my motivation makes a huge difference in the condition of my heart.
Kindness is a commandment. But it not something we do simply to get blessings, to check it off a list, or to feel better about ourselves. We do it because our acts of kindness toward others are a key part of helping them to get through God’s plan. Whether we help them move, take them meals, bear with their idle chatter, weed their garden, forgive their lack of tact, visit or home teach them, donate money or resources, etc.; we do it not because they are our favorite people or because we have a specific friendly emotion in our heart, but because we want them to have the help and resources they need to get through the plan of salvation. We want them to have access to God’s covenants and to have what they need to make it home. Certainly, we don’t want to be the reason their journey through the plan is delayed. Kindness…it’s about God’s work and His merciful plan.
Christ said in 3 Nephi 27:7 (as well as in many NT scriptures):
Behold, I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
Like Christ, we to have come into the world to do the will of our Father, because our Father has sent us. Once we embrace the gospel ourselves, God has commanded us to take upon us His work and glory for our own. Like Christ’s life, no matter our powers, talents, or graces, all was meant to be consecrated wholly to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of our fellow man.
Now, there are those who have a genuine spiritual gift to like people in general, to envelop them in their social circle, and to show kindness and befriend them with little effort. These individuals have an incredible gift and are critical examples to those of us who struggle a bit more. However, even for those who find kindness is already a part of them, they still have to act to use this God-given trait in a purposeful, powerful, and God-focused way: to help people through the plan. A talent is of little worth unless it is invested and multiplied in God’s service. That’s why the talent was bestowed to begin with.
Christ was kind to all because He saw clearly His role in their lives. He was there to help them recognize their Father in Heaven. He was there to help them have the knowledge, physical strength, spiritual boost, or necessary Christlike reprimand to get them on the path to eternal life. Kindness was as much in His heart as it was in His stewardship. So it should be also in ours.
Contentment: charity envieth not
To be envious is to have a feeling of discontentment or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. It can also be the idea of possessions, qualities, or luck. Simply by our preoccupation with the blessings of others we become discontent with our own life whether to a great or miniscule extent. We may even feel denied a particular blessing by some secret divine decree; one we are certain we should be given. After all, we have fasted, prayed, acted, done our part, and yet the desired blessing hasn’t come, and we feel entitled to it.
The day I realized I was full of envy was the day I read the definition. Two words popped out at me: resentful longing. Now, I would never venture to say that longing by itself is wrong. But resentful longing certainly is. For me, resentful longing was a deep, very well hidden ache that plagued me about several blessings which I desired. For all intents and purposes, I knew I was living as God wanted me to. I often felt peace regarding my standing before Him; and yet, deep within was a resentful longing for things I felt I had been denied.
There are many righteous, faithful saints who have as yet not received blessings they may feel they have earned by obedience and hard work. How many sisters are childless despite years of desire and efforts? How much money and stress have they invested in medical assistance and still nothing? How many men have never achieved a desired profession or level of education, or expertise or rank in their chosen career path and its accompanying paycheck? How much money and effort have they expended in additional education and work experience to arrive and yet no one seems to recognize them from among job candidates? How many righteous, willing, single saints date and date and date and yet never feel a confirmation of the Spirit that those they are in company with are a satisfactory eternal companion? After all, they are following prophetic counsel. They have even been willing to settle or compromise.
So, how do we beat down these feelings of disappointment, discouragement, and resentful longing? How can we change our propensity to compare our current circumstances, bodies, incomes, clothes, educations, talents, and smarts to others? How can we become inherently content? Instinctually, we might answer this question with the commandment to be grateful, to have gratitude. But, like kindness, gratitude is not a forced mindset, nor will unenthusiastically vocalizing thanks create in us a content and grateful heart, though it certainly helps and is a good habit to get into.
I have often struggled with a sense of envy throughout my life. I didn’t see it as envy for a long time, because in general I felt quite grateful for all that I had. I could easily count my blessings. I could easily recognize where I had been protected and blessed. I could easily see and verbalize my gratitude for things I had been given that others had not. But, my ability to count or recognize my blessings didn’t actually create in me a content heart. It didn’t remove the deeply hidden resentful longing.
When I think of Christ, I try to imagine what He may have longed for that others had. When we compare Christ to anyone else, He always comes out ahead. So, does that mean He was not tempted to be envious of anything? Was His ability to be content a piece-of-cake?
As a member of the church, I was raised keeping the word of wisdom. However, in my youth, when most people are tempted, there was never a desire in me—to any extent—to experiment with drugs, alcohol, tea, or even coffee. I had opportunities, but the opportunities held no power or enticement over me. I simply had no interest. I didn’t see the draw.
However, in my adult years I experienced a few heartbreaking trials. These trials were accompanied by very real and crippling emotional and psychological wounds. Like any physical wounds, they needed time to heal. The healing did not happen quickly, and it couldn’t be rushed. It’s progress was to a great extent, beyond my ability to control—though I did all I could to try and speed it up.
Now, when I go to the dentist, I happily accept all forms of pain killers. I get the shots that keep me from feeling pain when work needs to be done. And, I certainly accept with gratitude any prescribed pain medication that will hide the pain of my dental work while my body heals. The same goes for other medical issues and visits to a physician. When pain is anticipated or caused, I happily fill my approved prescriptions to kill the pain.
On the other hand, during the trials of my life, when I have been under very real intense emotional and psychological distress and pain, it has occurred to me that there were no prescribed pain killers for this stuff. Not only did the trial come and enact upon me a very real injury without any anesthetic, but when the unfair procedure was done, I was given nothing to kill the pain while I healed. It has been in these times that I have joked with those closest to me that being a Latter-day Saint I can’t go out and kill the pain. Because I know what’s right, I can’t go get drunk or take drugs or sleep around to hide my emotional and psychological pain while I heal. Because I know what’s right, I must grin and bear my struggles and find righteous ways to apply healing salve to a wounded soul.
It was during these healing years that for the first time I understood the draw for alcohol and illegal drugs. I didn’t desire to break any commandments, but there were days when my psychological and emotional pain was severe enough that I resented those that could drown their sorrows without guilt. If I were to go out and try to drown my sorrows in the same ways I would be left with guilt. I couldn’t do what they could do because of what I knew and what I had been taught. I had resentful longing to kill my own pain.
Now, I’m not advocating that Christ looked longingly upon pigs and wished that He could have some bacon. But, I am suggesting that His burden was so heavy, His calling so elevated and taxing, and His love so great, that it might have been tempting to long for, or envy, a lesser cup. If it be thy will “let this cup pass from me”, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done (Matthew 26:39).
Christ was ridiculed throughout His life. He was treated unkindly, inhumanely, and He was the subject of abject hatred. I can’t presume to know what He felt, but since like His Father, Christ was the embodiment of love, it is possible that His righteous longing would have been for a return of that love. To look upon His brothers and sisters who were preparing to betray and kill Him and long for them to recognize Him, to realize what He had done for them, to love Him in return so that He might save them.
Did Christ have longing? Certainly. But fortunately for us it was never resentful. He understood His role and while He longed for many things, He never resented His role nor the stations or possessions of others.
The truth is, though Christ was likely tempted, He didn’t waste any time resenting His role, His mission, or even His sacrifice. Though He may have been tempted, He didn’t dwell on the fact that His path was the hardest any would ever be called to take. He didn’t resent the fact that despite all the service He rendered, He still had very few friends in comparison to others. He genuinely rejoiced in those who did call Him Lord, Savior, and Friend. He embraced His role in God’s plan and therein He found His joy and fulfillment.
As I have struggled with envy, I have found it most easy to diminish and overcome when I stop comparing my life to others. I have had to stop wondering why God has given others the blessings I clearly want more (or so I think) and have worked for. I have had to gain a testimony that God has a specific mission and plan for my life and that if it doesn’t entail what I desire or feel entitled to then there is a good reason. Not a reason I should resent, but a reason I should embrace. God has a plan for me! He has a mission for me! No matter my perceived gifts or abilities, no matter my efforts or focus, no matter my powers or capabilities, God has a plan for them and it’s His plan I should seek out, embrace, and do with all my heart. That is what Christ did.
This is one way I have found out how to be content and to envy not.
To be humble is to have or show a modest or low estimation of our own importance. It is to inherently be able to see our own role and mission, talents or gifts, as the property of God and not of ourselves. It is to get to a point where we stop comparing ourselves to anyone but Christ.
The problem with the idea of humility is that it often gets confused with self-deprecation. People misunderstand the idea of “modesty” or “low estimation” as the need to devalue and degrade themselves. In an attempt to not be overly self-focused or prideful they merely change their act of pride, comparison, and self-focus. Instead of finding themselves better by comparison, they use comparison to focus on their faults in an effort to be humble. Thus, they are still prideful and self-focused in a manner which is nearly, and sometimes more, destructive as the first.
I have discovered that the key to humility is to remember that “it’s not about me.” Now, the world would turn this phrase upside down and inside out and accuse me of telling people they don’t matter, that their lives don’t matter, that their efforts don’t matter, and that they should take up some sort of religious obsession in place of normal every day life. The world would argue that by preaching the idea of “losing self” I’m convincing people to neglect their self-esteem and self-worth and in effect destroying them as they get run over by other people and by life. Therefore, before anyone begin to think I’m encouraging self-deprecation or unhealthy religious obsession, let me explain what I mean.
Christ was the most powerful being to ever walk this earth. He was more intelligent than us all. He was capable of being an infinite and eternal sacrifice. It would have been easy for Him to be prideful. For, certainly He had all power. Yet, though His mission was central to the Father’s plan—indeed, without His atonement there would have been no plan—He didn’t focus on Himself and how wonderful He was being. He knew His mission, His power, was not about Him. It was about ‘the Father’s plan.’ It was about us. He didn’t place Himself as a God to be worshipped. He gave the glory to God, the Father, and pointed us to Him. He didn’t claim a greater reward because of His greatness. He used His greatness to bring us the chance of the same reward, in Heaven. As great as Christ was, He was still the son of God. His mission was still ultimately about God and His plan.
On the other hand, though Christ gave all the glory to God, the Father, He also never put Himself down. He never made a big deal about being lesser than the almighty. Rather, He rejoiced in His station. He also never diminished His own role in God’s plan. He owned it, did it with confidence and surety, and yet never tried to exceed it. He didn’t back away when people wept on His feet and then wiped them with their own hair. He never turned away gratitude and gifts. He accepted all “charity” with grace and yet never made people feel awkward for giving by a show of arrogance or self-deprecation.
Each of us has specific talents, abilities, smarts, intelligence, knowledge, and spiritual gifts. Some of us are gifted in many ways. Some of us are gifted in fewer ways. But ultimately, no matter how many gifts or talents we’ve been given; no matter how intelligent or knowledgeable we are, our gifts are not about us, and they were never meant to be. All that we have is about God and His plan for His children. As small or as great as we may often feel, none of what we have matters in comparison to others because what we have is not about us. It’s about God and His plan.
It doesn’t matter that we can’t play the piano or sing like someone else. It doesn’t matter that we can’t teach or speak like someone else. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t Ph.D’s like someone else. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have a knack for gardening, canning, and food storage like someone else. It doesn’t matter if we have 20 million dollars or 20 dollars. It all belongs to God and He expects us to use it in His service. Whether they had one talent or ten, the servants of the Lord were expected to own their gift, invest their money, and return it to their Lord with usury.
It’s tempting to think we keep a commandment better than others. It’s tempting to think we are better teachers, speakers, leaders, piano players, church administrators, parents, or missionaries than others. It’s also equally tempting to think others are better, by comparison, and that we have been given so little that we are nothing. It’s tempting to beat ourselves up emotionally and psychologically in order to make sense of our lack of testimony or of our value to God.
It’s tempting to think that motherhood is unfair in comparison to fatherhood. It’s tempting to think that being born in an affluent home or country is better than being born elsewhere. It’s tempting to resent not being born in an affluent home or country. It’s tempting to resent others who appear, by comparison, to have been born to privilege or money when we’ve been born to abuse and poverty. It’s tempting to compare our efforts for a job or career versus someone who already has what we want and seems to have achieved it at so much less of a personal cost.
Comparison looking down or up can consume our lives. It will do so, to some extent, until we are able to see that our lives are swallowed up in God’s plan. Our individual lives, whatever their content, are about God and His plan. Whether it’s God’s plan for our individual salvation and exaltation, or whether it’s God’s plan for how we are to use what He’s given us to lead others to salvation or exaltation, it’s never about us. It’s always about God and His plan.
To be selfless is to be more concerned with the needs and wishes of others than our own. At first glance selflessness appears to be similar to humility. But, while humility is an absence of incorrect comparison and an inherent understanding of our place in God’s plan, selflessness is a condition of the heart that leads us to forget ourselves within that plan. In other words, we stop worrying about missing out on something. We stop worrying about what we want, what we may be denied, and what we may or may not get.
In the New Testament (Mark 8:35) we learn: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
I find that the key to this scripture is “lose his life for [God’s] sake”. We aren’t asked to lose everything simply to make a show of loss. We aren’t asked to sacrifice and to take stripes in order to have evidence for our righteousness. We are expected to be willing to put others first because we recognize that nothing offered, given, sacrificed, or missed out on ‘to help others through the plan’ is actually lost. It is lost/given for God’s sake; for His plan’s sake. In fact, anything we sacrifice is multiplied each time we give it up. The more we give for the sake of God’s plan the more we shall receive.
A good friend and sister I knew in my home ward growing up said something to the effect of: you can’t give God a slice of break and not get a loaf in return. God knows how to give good gifts to His children. Christ said in Matthew 19:29:
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
So, how do we overcome our natural preoccupation with getting and receiving? How do we eliminate the worry of losing out on some blessing or opportunity that we are certain is the best path or opportunity for us? We’ve even given God a list of how many amazing things we could do in His name, if He would only grant us this thing! How do we put off the natural man and lose our life for God’s sake?
Each of us has in our mind’s eye and life plan of some sort. We have dreams and desires. We imagine the joy of arriving at some future rest. This may take the form of a dream job, a dream house, a dream educational degree, a dream family, or a dream situation of some kind. We have this dream and we naturally design our lives around arriving at this future rest.
As we dream, we come up with ideas of how to get what we want. We focus on these paths to our dreams in attempt to have what we want in the way that we think is best to achieve that desire. This is a natural process, and certainly not inherently evil. In many ways, it is a good mental effort and helps us to be anxiously engaged in a good causes and to bring to pass much righteousness.
Then, life happens. Trials, the agency of others, health issues, mistakes, oversights, and other unforeseen issues begin to barricade the path to the rest we have dreamed of. What is our reaction? Panic. Whether we express it moderately or to extreme, we begin to panic. We begin to problem solve. How can we find the shortest route around this barricade, this issue? We become preoccupied with our destination. We work to get it back at almost any cost to the people around us. We are solely preoccupied with getting our way back on track to our rest.
Or, on the other hand, life is great. We are headed forward toward our dream with relatively minor setbacks and we are on a roll. During our leisure time we begin to add detours and side trips to our future rest. Things are going so well we see no need to look around at what we can do for others. Instead we create bigger and bigger dreams for ourselves.
Whether we are in panic mode or in excessive dream mode, we are selfish. Our own perceived needs make the needs of others appear far less important. We plan to help others, or to serve God better, once we have gotten what we believe we need and want first. We are far from selfless.
God has a plan for each of us. This plan is tailored to make us like Him and includes receiving all that He has, worlds without end. Yet, sometimes we get comfortable with our own dreams and plans, which in general are far beneath what God has imagined for us. We think we know what will bring us true joy and current happiness. Or, sometimes our path to our future rest takes seemingly unfair and devastating detours and we get sidetracked troubleshooting to get back to something that God already has a plan for restoring.
It’s like a child wanting a tiny, cheap sucker from a road-side candy stand, when the Willy-Wonka candy paradise is a 20-mile walk down the road. Yet, that child sees the sucker and is so worried about not receiving anything sweet that it throws a fit, gets mad, yells unkind things at its parents, picks a fight with a more patient sibling, and so forth. In the moment, this child is so preoccupied with self and what he wants that what’s available or how everyone is being affected never crosses his mind. He is blinded by his own selfishness and lack of trust.
The parents may say, you have to walk 20 miles and be nice to your sister, but at the end you can have 1 billion suckers if you want. But, the longer you delay, you keep not only yourself from Willy Wonka land, you are slowing down our progress and your sister’s progress to receiving it also.
We become selfless when we lose our fear of missing out or being overlooked. We become selfless when we come to know for ourselves that every blessing and joy we could ever imagine and more can never be denied us if we follow God’s plan and example for us. Giving a generous fast offering will not cripple us financially nor will it enable the lazy. Giving our used car to a needy family member or friend rather than selling it for a profit is not going to cripple us. Will we miss the money we might have made on the purchase? No. For we have enough and having more won’t make us happier if we leave another in need.
Not easily provoked
To provoke someone is to try to anger them, exasperate them, stimulate a rise or response, or to purposely vex them. To be easily provoked is to be like a dry pile of hay. One spark and you become a raging inferno. To be easily provoked is to be easily offended. It is to perceive offense even when none is intended. It is to look for reasons to get offended. To be easily provoked is to have a negative mindset that merely waits for a possible provocation and to act on it with the inherent belief that the actions of others is what has caused you, and given you right, to be vexed.
Charity is not easily provoked. This means that it is nearly impossible to provoke someone with charity. Instead of a dry pile of hay, a person is a wet log with no dry kindling nearby. Instead of perceiving offense, charity assumes none or sees instead that others are hurting which is why they are lashing—charity doesn’t take it personally. Instead of looking for justification to be vexed and to lash out, charity sees no purpose or value in taking things personally or in an outward show of anger.
So, how do we do this? Does this mean that feeling angry or hurt or offended is wrong? Again, do we have to cease having emotions at all to avoid getting provoked? Especially when a person does it on purpose? Certainly it is much harder to not get vexed when purposeful offense is given.
It is important to note that because of the gift of agency, the actions and words of others have real impact on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is because of this real and valid impact that the atonement was necessary. Our actions and words have to matter or we could not sin, nor could we do good (which people often forget…the power to do good is part and parcel with the power to sin). Agency is what makes the plan possible. Purposeful action is what makes God’s plan work.
Therefore, when people give purposeful, or even perceived, offense, it is a natural reaction for us to feel hurt, slighted, and offended. It is natural to feel a sense of anger. However, those who are easily provoked respond to these valid feelings in a self-focused manner. They feel the impact and choose to take it personally. They want to lash back. They want to judge, or punish. They want a sense of revenge or restitution. Or, they are looking for justification to act on some other sin or negative action and because they are focused on self, they use the offenses of others to provide their justification.
Sin is not compulsory (or in other words, we can’t be made to sin).
Christ certainly felt hurt, anger, frustration, and offense. How then did He keep from getting provoked?
Though we are allowed to have our natural feelings and responses, we are expected to learn to respond to them unselfishly. We are expected to view our response in how it will help others through the plan. If I am angry and I choose to yell and scream, belittle and demean, and cause fear in those around me, how does my reaction bring those around me a chance to participate and embrace God’s plan for them? It doesn’t. But, if I am angry and yet I choose to openly forgive, to have courage and be kind (borrowing from the current Cinderella), or to righteously rebuke, then while my anger was appropriate, my response was Christ-like.
When Christ entered the temple and found moneychangers and unrighteous financial dealings, He was certainly angry. I venture He felt hurt and betrayal for the sacredness of His Father’s House. He certainly dealt out a righteous rebuke. But even in His reprimand He did not purposefully belittle, injure, or act with tyranny. He taught firmly, “Ye have made it a den of thieves.” The Jews knew better, for they had “been given much” and therefore received “the greater condemnation.”
To be continued soon with:
- Thinketh no evil
- Rejoicing in goodness
- Not enticed by iniquity
- Willing to bear all things
- Endures all things