I love this time of year. Thanksgiving brings with it all the flavors of fall foods as well as a reflection on all the blessings in my life which prompt me to gratitude.
It’s also the first of what I call the Holy Trinity of Holidays, the other two being Christmas and New Year’s Day. It all starts with gratitude and then moves to the ultimate reason for gratitude and concludes with a renewal of commitment to that ultimate reason. That’s a great backdrop for my Sermon on the Mount study, an annual tradition in which I renew my discipleship to Christ.
Of course, friends of other faiths have their own commitment to following Christ, though their understanding differs from ours and the manifestations of that commitment also differ. I appreciate other perspectives because they help me to question my own, and that helps me to seek after core naked truth. That process strengthens my own faith and commits me more on my own road of discipleship.
Gratitude as a lifestyle
There’s a sign from another church that did just that for me. The messages change often, and I like them because they often make me think about what I truly believe. This latest iteration was no exception to that rule.
We’ve all heard the admonition to have an attitude of gratitude. But the simple message “Thanksgiving is not a day; it’s a lifestyle” really got me thinking. Sure, it sounds catchy. It’s phrased such that most of us would be quick to agree with it. But do we really believe that? I had to question that for myself.
What does it mean to make gratitude a lifestyle? Taking one day out of the year to reflect on what we are grateful for is great, but one day out of 365 is not even one third of one percent of the year. That hardly qualifies as a lifestyle.
Lifestyle implies if not outright means more or less everyday. Am I doing anything on a daily basis to include gratitude as a part of my life? Are you?
Making an attempt
I had my own struggle with that question earlier this year. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say this time last year. I wanted to do something that would make gratitude a larger part of my life, and by the end of the year I had determined my approach.
I determined to begin each journal entry by listing three things for which I was grateful. It seemed like a good idea. I wanted to do better writing in my journal every day, and I wanted to make gratitude a larger part of my life. Why not kill two proverbial birds with one stone?
The problem was that I wasn’t writing in my journal that often, and by Easter I was writing in it sporadically if at all. And with that absence of journal writing came an absence of gratitude from my life.
It wasn’t all for nothing, however. There at the start of the year I was doing pretty good with the practice, so I did reap some benefit from it. And looking back now I can see recent events as a call to return to reaping those benefits. I need to embrace gratitude as a lifestyle.
Embracing the lifestyle
It was hard at first. I had not yet developed the habit of recognizing good things in my life for which I was grateful. I struggled to find just three things to start each journal entry.
But as I persisted with the practice, it became easier. And not just at the end of the day when I wrote my journal entry. It was starting to happen all throughout the day! As I started noticing good things more and more throughout my day, those good things began to fill my focus. And as I’ve posted before, your focus becomes your reality. So guess what my reality became? It got really good.
Thanksgiving really is more than just a day. It’s a lifestyle. And when we make gratitude a part of our lifestyle, the wonder and splendor of living begin to open up to us. I drifted out of that practice, but I see now the clarion call to return. I’m grateful I don’t have to wait to have my life open up to me. And I’m not going to wait.
And neither should you. Don’t wait to have your life open up to you. Find your way to make gratitude a part of your lifestyle. When you fill your focus with good things, you begin to see how many good things already fill your reality. And that lays the foundation for even better things to join your reality.
We’re all hardwired to follow habits. They help us traverse daily life without needing to think about what we’re doing. But not thinking about what we’re doing can sometimes be a problem.
Everything can be a habit. So it’s good practice occasionally to question what we do. The routine parts of our lives are especially ripe for evaluation because a routine is nothing more than a habit.
Left unquestioned, our habits can lead us to a life on autopilot. That means we’re going nowhere because our habits can remove intention from living. Not living with intention means not extracting the joy from life that’s ours to have right here and now.
That’s why about four years ago I started looking for a way to revitalize my discipleship. I wanted a new tradition that would provide perspective and renewal for the spiritual aspect of my life.
Developing a new tradition
The Savior once taught, “Seek, and ye shall find.” Well, I sought. Here’s what I found.
What portion of scripture qualifies as an instruction manual on discipleship? Could any passage qualify more that the Savior’s own words to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount? I think not.
Incorporating a Sermon on the Mount study tradition into my scripture study rhythm seemed natural. But what would it look like?
I felt prompted to divide the Sermon on the Mount into smaller pieces for daily devotion. But how many pieces? Forty came to mind. Curious, I wondered what the scriptures had to say about this quantity. As it turns out, quite a bit!
Obviously, my study needed to last 40 days.
I needed more than just intellectual exercise. So I included key questions like “How can I better live this aspect of discipleship?” and “What more can I do or what can I change to live this principle more fully?” I identify an action to take and then resolve to complete that action that very day.
This is where the real power of the study lies.
Only with action do we achieve our full potential. Only with action do we develop and show true discipleship of Jesus Christ. The day after I take action, I start my study by reviewing the results. Then I look for the action I should take that day.
An annual tradition
My first time with this study was hugely successful. I adopted it as a personal annual tradition of spiritual renewal. Knowing I needed 40 days for the study, and seeing New Year’s Day as symbolic of renewal, I developed a schedule in which the last 40 days of the year are devoted to this study. That means the study starts November 22nd.
The next two years of this tradition brought additional enlightenment and growth. I’m far from perfect and am still the walking construction zone I’ve always announced myself to be. But I intend on keeping this end-of-the-year tradition for the rest of my life.
I’ll be starting again on Sunday, so if you’d like to join me, click the link below to download a free copy of the schedule.
Your focus determines your reality. Developing an annual tradition of spiritual renewal has helped to shift my focus towards the weightier matters. And that has made my reality all the brighter. You can make your reality brighter also. Adopt my annual tradition or develop one of your own. Your reality will become right when you focus on the right things.
Last week I posted about our need to love the people God has given us to love. Sounds great in theory, but how does that translate into the real world?
We all have busy lives. Many of us, single and married, are struggling to keep pace with modern living. Technology supposed to simplify our lives easily complicates them. Having access to more and more information can lead to serious indecisiveness and burnout.
So if we’re not loving the people that God has given us to love, it’s really easy to think, Gee, that’s one more thing for my already overloaded plate! How ever will I fit that in?
Read on for the answer (or at least my answer) ....
It's not that hard
It’s actually easier than you think. You don’t climb a mountain in one fell swoop (unless you’re Superman ... but I’m guessing you’re not him). You climb a mountain one step at a time. By taking just a single step, you move in the direction of conquering the mountain.
Likewise, when it comes to loving the people God has given you to love, you don’t need to do everything, just something. By doing just one thing more than you’re doing already, you move in the direction of your heavenly home.
Thinking about everything you need to do to climb your mountain can easily overwhelm. That’s the experience I had when I started taking notes during General Conference; I was so overwhelmed that I froze and did nothing. That’s why you should focus on just one thing — the one thing you need to do to move in the right direction.
That one thing doesn’t need to be huge. It doesn’t need to take tons of time or even require you to adopt a new role. Often times a simple smile or a warm compliment can brighten someone’s day. Being alert to those around you and quick both to identify needs and offer assistance for seemingly small matters can make a world of difference
In a previous post, I suggested inviting singles to sit with your family as one of the top four things that marrieds can do for singles. Seriously, what does it mean to look around when you enter the chapel and invite someone sitting alone to sit with your family? Less than half a minute for you and the world to many singles who feel like they don’t belong.
But you don’t need to be married to ride this train. That’s the best part! Singles can extend the same invitations I previously encouraged from our married friends. Singles can smile and complement. Singles can be alert to others around them and offer assistance. Doing just one more thing to love the people God gave us to love is no one’s special province. No one has a monopoly on love.
Joy comes faster when you partner
Perhaps the fastest and most effective way to learn what one thing you should do to love those God has given you to love is to partner with the Lord. I think Isaiah said it best when he wrote
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
Isn’t that awesome? By partnering with the Lord, the word of counsel and guidance you receive from Him will “go forth” and “not return ...void, but it shall accomplish that which [God] please[s].” And check out that last verse. That totally shouts from the rooftops of the world the joy to be had in our mortal journey.
If you don’t feel the truth of that deep inside yourself — if you don’t feel the access to joy that God has for you right now — then please start taking the Lord at His word.
The best way to start doing start taking the Lord at His word is to follow Elder Lawrence admonition during the October 2015 General Conference to “ask the Lord for directions.” If you approach Him humbly and sincerely, He will indicate your next step towards your heavenly home. This is what partnering with the Lord is all about.
Adopting a personal ministry walks hand in hand with partnering with the Lord. I’ve posted before about the great joy singles can bring to their lives by adopting a personal ministry. You need to do no more than just one thing to start, because doing just one thing starts you moving in the right direction.
In fact, every good thing in life starts with just one thing. And the Spirit can help us to understand what one thing we each need to do to love best those whom God has given us to love. So don’t delay. Begin today. Partner with the Lord and ask what one thing you should do to love better those whom He has given you to love.
My mother doesn’t drive herself anywhere anymore. So when she needs to go somewhere, someone else drives her there. And sometimes that someone is me.
Here’s how it usually happens. I make plans to meet my own goals, and Mother dashes them all with “Are you busy tomorrow?” I know what that means. Usually it means driving her to the store, pushing the cart for her, lifting heavy items for her, reaching items she struggles to reach, and helping her decide when her anxiety becomes overwhelming. But I don’t really mind. After all, it also means I get to put my own items in the cart!
Of course, I do what I do for my mother because I love her. She’s someone God gave me to love. So I’d be doing it all without the added benefit. It’s just nice to get a bonus every now and then.
We all have similar people in our lives. It’s part of the experience God wants us to have in mortality. Only by loving others can we grow to achieve our full potential. Only by loving others can we fully enjoy the journey home.
Yet how often do we judge who we’ll love? How often do we reject those who don’t meet some pre-established criterion? Ironically, those we reject may be the very ones God has given us to love.
While I served as a missionary in Belize, my companion and I visited with a married couple from the local branch. Their son-in-law Ricardo wasn’t a member. Many missionaries had tried unsuccessfully to baptize him. My companion and I of course wanted our own attempt, but Ricardo dismissed us as he had dismissed many a missionary before. “I just wouldn’t fit in,” he explained as he brushed his hand over his head of long, flowing hair.
Unlike the missionaries before us, we weren’t deterred. We knew God had given Ricardo to us to love. We began by thinking of ways to serve him. What needs did he have? And how could we help him to meet those needs? Answering those questions led to specific ways to love Ricardo.
We never pressed him to take the discussions. We simply narrowed our intent to loving someone who God gave us to love. As Richard felt the authentic sincerity with which we offered love, he wanted more. Eventually he accepted baptism.
But what of his long haired appearance? He actually cut his own hair of his own accord. I remember well the first time seeing him after his spiffy haircut. He looked sharp! But, surprised he would part with his beloved locks, I asked him why he did it. He answered, “I just felt it was the right thing to do.” My life was blessed as the Spirit confirmed to me Ricardo had responded to that still, small voice leading him along.
Had we judged Ricardo by his outward appearance, his life wouldn’t have been blessed with baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. And my own life wouldn’t have been blessed with the lessons of love and acceptance that experience taught me. Everyone would have lost.
Surrender to love
Who has God given you to love? If you’re a parent, surely God gave you your children to love. We all have friends, relatives, fellow ward or branch members, work associates, and neighbors. Maybe God gave you a stranger to love. Perhaps the Spirit has brought into your mind the name or image of someone.
I’ve posted before about our need to surrender to love. You might not want anything to do with the person God has given you to love. But that inward consideration prevents you from surrendering to love. Only by looking outside yourself will you achieve God’s purposes for you.
We singles so easily engage in binary thinking. We become so fixated on getting that eternal companion in our lives we fail to embrace the joy God wants us to have on the way home. We often don’t even see that joy, because we discount every relationship which doesn’t lead us directly to our desired end.
It’s easy to allow your unmet needs to blind you to the unmet needs of others have. Yet God has given you someone to love so you can have the strength to release the burdens you cannot carry and to carry with more joy those burdens you cannot release.
Who has God given you to love? Whoever it is, do something today to show that person your love. Only by working to meet the needs of others can we ever hope to meet our own.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and now I produce a weekly radio show 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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