I started my scripture study on scripture study last week. And while I’m nowhere near finished, I found a verse that exemplifies the role I want my daily scripture study to play. It’s inside a very simple formula for peace in life:
The scriptures are an obvious repository of knowledge about the Prince of Peace. And while they aren’t the only repository, the scriptures should be the first resource we consult when our peace in life is challenged.
That’s part of what I want daily scripture study to provide. I want to feel my knowledge and intellectual mastery of gospel principles expanding. I want to feel spiritually nourished. That doesn’t happen for me with a simple rote reading activity because I’ve progressed beyond satiation with simply milk. I need meat!
And the scriptures have lots of meat, particularly for those willing to search for it, because many of the golden treasures in the scriptures aren’t lying on the surface for just anyone to pick up. To get the gold, you have to dig. And digging means interacting with the scriptures in one way or another.
Those in educational circles would call this active learning. You’re reflecting on the meaning of words or looking for patterns or identifying themes or making connections between different verses based on their use of the same word or pattern, often with the purpose of answering a question or accomplishing some objective.
Of course, peace in life requires more than increasing our intellectual mastery of the gospel. Study does provides the foundation, but the foundation is not the entire edifice. Knowledge is not power; power comes only when we act on our knowledge. To build on the foundation scripture study should provide, we must listen to what we learn.
To listen means simply to hear, but it also means to follow and to comply with. And if the Spirit is the true teacher, as is often said, then the real learning comes as we hear the voice of the Spirit and follow what that voice tells us to do. After all, true comprehension comes by doing.
I take all this to mean I need to incorporate time for listening into my scripture study ritual. After all, hearing and receiving instructions requires time. My focus cannot be checking off the box next to this daily ritual appearing on my to-do list. After all, your focus determines your reality. My focus must be on acquiring the information the Spirit conveys to those who listen.
That brings us to the third element in the peace formula — “walk in the meekness of my Spirit.” I understand this phrase to mean more than simply following instructions. It means incorporating truth into one’s lifestyle.
The ultimate purpose in gaining mastery of gospel principles is to deepen discipleship, to become a more effective servant of the Prince of Peace Who we have covenanted to serve. And the promise to those who follow this three-step process of learning, listening, and walking is peace in Christ.
What a wonderful promise! For me, the best part is it’s not conditioned on marital status. We LDS singles can have peace in the midst of our challenges. It all starts with a solid scripture study ritual, then continues with sensitivity to the Spirit and adopting the truth we learn into our lifestyles. You might say peace comes from scriptures, Spirit, and assimilation.
Obtaining peace from the Prince of Peace won’t necessarily eliminate our troubles. But it will help us to approach them with confidence and faith that all is in the hands of a loving Heavenly Father. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
Last February, I devoted a radio program episode to that very topic. I examined the Word of Wisdom, just letting the words say what they say, not reading anything into them. And the inescapable conclusion was that the Lord recommends a plant-based diet.
That doesn’t mean going vegan. I’m certainly not grilling a veggie burger as part of my holiday celebration. The meat I grill will be the real deal. Sparingly doesn’t mean forbidden.
At the same time, sparingly does mean not often and certainly not every day. The Word of Wisdom promises significant blessings to those who keep it. And we choose whether or not we receive those blessings. That’s part of the freedom we enjoy because of veterans who sacrificed theirs. They gave us the freedom to eat.
The freedom not to eat
Now I can hear some of you getting ready to quote D&C 49:18. Rest assured I’m not going to suggest we transform the traditional start of summer into some vegan festival. As I just said a moment ago, I’m eating real meat this weekend. And I won’t feel the slightest pang of guilt over it.
This is the freedom we enjoy because of our veterans’ sacrifice — the freedom to eat what we want (provided of course the pandemic hasn’t sparked a shortage). But freedom runs both ways. The freedom to do something is also the freedom not to do that same something. And exercising the one freedom can make the other freedom more precious.
For example, since I discussed the Word of Wisdom back in February, I’ve limited my meat consumption to no more than 20% of my meals each week. That means at least 17 of my meals each week are meatless. And I’ve seen some significant weight loss. I’m now about 14 pounds lighter than I was just three months ago.
But I’ve also taken more pleasure in eating meat than I did previously. Because it happens less often, it has become more special. My experiences pleasing my palette with the taste and texture of meat have truly become precious to the point of enriching my life.
The absence of guilt
That scenario has contributed to an anticipation for future meaty meals, like the premium hot dogs I have planned for Memorial Day. Of all the meat products I could select, hot dogs are probably one of the worst in terms of promoting health, if not the absolute worst. But I eat meat so infrequently now, it doesn’t really matter.
That’s why I don’t feel even a remote pang of guilt over my anticipated consumption. Exercising the freedom not to eat meat has made exercising the freedom to eat meat more enjoyable. And you should never feel more guilty over experiencing more joy in life.
When you think about it, you could extend that relationship to other areas of life as well. The pandemic has limited many of us in our daily activities, forcing us to exercise the freedom not to do this or that. When the time comes that we can exercise the freedom to do those things formerly restricted to us, the experience will be truly liberating and precious.
The “new normal”
If you would have approached me a year ago about embracing a mostly meatless diet, I would have laughed at you. But now I don’t think I could ever go back. The weight loss has certainly motivated me in my mostly meatless direction, but the delight in the freedom to eat meat after exercising the freedom not to eat meat has pleasantly surprised me.
That’s actually a bigger benefit for me than the weight loss. It makes me wonder what other delights I might find in that dichotomy of freedom both to do and not to do something.
This Memorial Day, as we celebrate freedom, may I suggest we include our freedom to eat in that reflection? Consider how you’ll use that freedom to reap all the blessings of living all the Word of Wisdom. When you own your life, you accept the past for whatever it is and look ahead to better days to come. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
As I read the specific aspects of the fast President Nelson proposed, I remembered my own participation in that worldwide fast. President Nelson said, “Good Friday would be the perfect day to have our Heavenly Father and His Son hear us!” But that raised this question: Did God hear us? How effective was the worldwide fast?
To answer that question, I searched for evidence regarding the specific points in President Nelson’s invitation. What I found gives me hope and a strengthened testimony in the power of fasting in opening the heavens for help.
Examining the trends
President Nelson declared the first purpose of the fast was “that the present pandemic may be controlled.” And so I searched Google this morning for “covid 19 deaths worldwide” and obtained an informative chart. It shows the general trend of COVID-19 related deaths rising around mid-March. But then after April 10, the general trend becomes more constant.
We see something even more hopeful for those living in the US. A similar search in Google for “covid 19 deaths us” produced another chart. Again, COVID-19 deaths rise after Spring Break. But after April 10, the general trend actually decreases!
Now, what drives that decrease is a separate question, one I’m not tackling here given my limitations of space and time. But did the fast lead to a control of the pandemic? As I’ve often told my statistics students, correlation is not causation. Just because two events happen at the same time doesn’t mean one causes the other. But is it a coincidence that the turning point for the trend in both of these curves is around April 10, the same day as the worldwide fast organized by God’s living prophet? I think not.
Hearing the stories
The second pleading President Nelson invited us to make in the worldwide fast was that “caregivers [be] protected.” What can we say about that?
We often think protection means physical safety, especially in a pandemic context. But protection could apply holistically to include other areas such as emotional and psychological health. In that light, I searched for stories relating what support health care workers have received. The American Hospital Association has a page on its website dedicated to stories about health care workers serving on the front lines of the pandemic. And these stories are amazing.
What I find especially encouraging is the HERO registry, an initiative launched by the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. The registry collects stories from health care workers so that administrators and public health officials can better understand and work to solve the problems health care workers face both in real time and over time.
For me, the especially encouraging aspect of this effort is its launch date — April 13, just three days after the worldwide fast. Again, just because two events occur together doesn’t mean one causes the other. But again I ask, “Is this coincidence?” And again, I think not.
Looking forward in faith
President Nelson’s invitation for a worldwide fast ended with two final pleadings: one for “the economy [to be] strengthened, and [one for] life [to be] normalized.” So what about these aspects? Did God hear us in these?
Well, what measure should we use to assess economic strength? Whatever we choose isn’t going to tell us much; it’s only been about a month since the worldwide fast. In that time, we’ve seen the devastation of many economic sectors resulting in record unemployment numbers. And what exactly does “life normalized” mean? What standard do we use for “normal”? However we define our terms, many of the issues affecting the economy and daily living have yet to find resolution. And so we look to the future with hope that God will resolve these issues to the satisfaction of His purposes.
What we see so far after the worldwide fast gives us hope that all of God’s promises will be fulfilled. He will prepare the way for His promised blessings. Indeed, fasting can open the heavens for help. Looking for the ways in which God hears us gives us greater encouragement to look for ways in which we can hear Him. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
That one part is completely true. They are torturing themselves. Your focus always determines your reality, so when you focus on what you don’t have, your reality becomes one of lack and emptiness. Because each one of us has agency, we choose our focus. And that means we choose our reality. Indeed, these sisters are torturing themselves. Their wanting serves only to amplify the effect.
Of course, that truth doesn’t excuse married Church members from lacking sensitivity. In recent years, I’ve noticed more married Church members displaying more sensitivity. Nevertheless, not every ward is like that. We still have work to do.
In the meantime, it’s productive for all of us to shift our focus towards what Mother’s Day was intended to celebrate. All of us have a mother who bore us and a mother who raised us. For some those two women are one and the same. But either way, we can each answer this question: “How’s your mother?”
Just as focusing on your lack produces a reality of scarcity, focusing on what you have produces the opposite reality — one filled with abundance and plenty. Your life shifts substantially in the improvement direction when you exchange your expectation for appreciation. It’s all starts with an attitude of gratitude.
So many create disappointment by expecting too much. We want, want, want. And very often what we want, however righteous that desire, centers around something we don’t have. Because our focus always determines our reality, focusing on what we don’t have produces a reality of lack. And the more deeply we want, the more deeply felt that lack becomes.
But exchanging your expectation for appreciation creates something amazing. By constantly expressing gratitude, we can shift our focus towards what we do have. And focusing on what we do have creates a reality of abundance. The more deeply we appreciate, the more deeply felt gratitude becomes. We can bathe in the joy of feeling richly blessed.
Shift your focus
That feeling is completely legitimate because it results from how we’re constructed. Your focus determines your reality. That principle applies to everything, including Mother’s Day. Focus on what you don’t have, and you’ll take no joy in the celebration because your reality will be so full of emptiness you won’t want to celebrate. On the other hand, if you can focus on the good about the day, then you can have a joyful reality you’ll want to celebrate.
I know that can be challenging. As I said before, not every ward displays sensitivity to singles. It’s hard to stay positive when the dream you don’t have but most desire gets highlighted every week at church. I know what it’s like to get constant reminders of what you lack rubbed in your face every week. I know it’s hard.
I also know what hard means. It doesn’t mean impossible. It just means difficult. And difficult can become easy when you partner with the Lord.
The Lord can guide your focus towards the blessings you have today because your mother sacrificed. When you trade your expectation for appreciation, you open yourself to receive more of the joy life has to offer.
And if your relationship with your mother needs work, you can focus on what you can do to improve that relationship. Even good relationships can be improved, so focusing on doing something in that arena is good advice for all of us. Even if your mother has passed on to the other side, you can still find ways to express appreciation and improve your relationship on your end.
So I ask once more, “How’s your mother?” which is really just another way of asking “How’s your focus this Mother’s Day?” Your focus will always determine your reality. So make the positive choice. When you embrace a positive focus, you’ll receive a positive reality. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and since 2018 I've been producing a weekly Internet radio show and podcast to help LDS singles have more joy in their journey and bring all Latter-day Saints together. Let's engage a conversation that will increase the faith of LDS singles and bring singles and marrieds together in a true unity of the faith.
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