With 2017 almost upon us, many are reflecting back upon 2016 and making plans for the new year. I’m doing more than that, though. I’m comparing my intention for 2016 in January with what I actually have in December.
I had such high hopes in January. I was convinced that this year would be my year in so many ways. And I did make a valiant effort. But comparing my hopes with the reality, I find myself wanting, and not by a small amount.
In some ways many LDS singles feel similarly about their lives. They had such high hopes when they began adulthood. But as years go by without any achievement or even apparent progress on the road to eternity, they find their lives working our very differently from that cultural life plan.
I understand that sentiment. I can look upon the intervening years in my life and see how far I haven’t come. That career hasn’t quite worked out for me, and that companion is still missing from my life. If I see nothing but these cold facts, I’ll easily find despair and feel like a failure.
But I don’t have to stay that way if I remember the power of yet.
Learn a lesson
We can get so fixated on timetables for anything to happen that we set ourselves up for discouragement when reality differs. In my new career as an educator, I’ve noticed an emerging discussion around this topic. We insist that students learn on our timetable. If they don’t learn what they need to learn within a semester, students receive a grade that reflects that performance.
That’s fine for students who don’t make any effort. But what about the ones who did and still couldn’t make the mark? These students can be easily discouraged from ever trying again.
Does it matter in the long run that they couldn’t learn quick enough? Yes, some jobs require employees to ride steep learning curves, but not every job demands that. And students who take longer to learn aren’t going for those types of jobs anyway.
That’s where the power of yet comes in. What if students received a grade of “Not Yet” instead of a failing grade? Would this nurture the potential of students who would otherwise waste it in surrender to discouragement and false identities of being a failure?
Apply the lesson
Many LDS singles aren’t very different from the students discussed in education circles. We all know the life plan our culture gives us. But what happens if your career and/or your companion don’t materialize according to that timetable? Just like the students who wrongly label themselves as stupid and unable to learn, many LDS singles wrongly label themselves as failures and unable to achieve their righteous desires.
That all changes when we invoke the power of yet. If we are not now what or where we want to be, then our performance alone is the failure, not us. We haven’t done all that we need to do to be what or where we want to be. We just haven’t arrived yet.
That word yet offers hope that the future can be different than the past. And so it can! We truly fail in any endeavor only when we stop trying. By telling ourselves we haven’t succeeded yet, instead of declaring simply that we haven’t succeeded, we orient ourselves towards the light of a brighter tomorrow.
Of course, we can’t simply use the same approach and expect different results. If we want different results, we need to adopt a different approach. And that means learning from our previous approach what we need to do differently so that each next attempt is better than our last.
Feel the power
Looking back on 2016, I see the excitement I felt in January to put a dent in the universe differs substantially from the reality in December. Although discouraged, I remain undaunted because I remember the power of yet.
I simply haven’t yet achieved all that I want to achieve.
That’s the great promise of 2017 and every new year we encounter. We have the chance to review our approach and identify ways to improve. We have another opportunity to renew our effort and keep pushing forward.
If you’re looking at your life and feeling far from what or where you want to be, what are you going to do about it? Will you tell yourself you haven’t succeeded before you lie down to die? Or will you tell yourself that you haven’t succeeded yet as you improve your approach and keep trying? With the power of yet, we can all take hope as we work towards a brighter tomorrow. And that will certainly provide us more joy in our journey.
I mentioned last week how much I love Christmas. I can’t really remember when I started loving Christmas or recognized it was my favorite holiday. I think it’s always been that way.
Of course, kids love Christmas. And as a kid, I loved Christmas. The presents, the decorations, the dinners, the special treats to eat, and the debates with my father about why children should be allowed to open one present early and how leaving cookies and milk out for a myth was just wasteful are among my cherished memories.
OK, so the debates about Santa really took place when I was a teenager. They’re still cherished memories because of the life lessons I learned.
Now that I’m an adult, I think more about traditions. And the older I get, the more I hunger for real. You can’t get more real than with small acts that point towards Christ. These truly light the world. And they make the memories that matter most in the end.
Keep the good you’re given
Two traditions from my childhood Christmases involve my mother. As Christmas approached, we’d list all the things we wanted to eat. Then on Christmas Eve, we’d go get it.
Ordering more than we could eat in one setting was the whole point; it gave my mother a break from the kitchen for a few days. We’d all help prepare a huge Christmas morning breakfast, but thereafter we simply ate leftovers from our Christmas Eve feast.
The second tradition came when we opened presents on Christmas morning after everyone helped to clean up after breakfast. Mother would always be first to open a gift. My father insisted on both traditions every year to show respect to my mother. He made no secret of why.
After moving away from home, I kept these traditions as best I could. The memories are sweet and remind me of the respect for women my father taught me. They always remind me of how Christ always honored His mother.
Find the good you can give
Over the years, I’ve tried to develop other traditions pointing to the Savior. One year I decided to make loaves of bread and give them away. Making bread from scratch involves some work, but that was the point. Christ is the bread of life Who we should always work to remember.
I had this tradition only one year. The loaves I made took far more work than I imagined, and the end product was not that great. As it was, I appreciated the learning experience, and the intended result was realized.
And I didn’t stop looking for new traditions. The one I have now — my 40-day Sermon on the Mount study — seems especially suited towards my current situation in life as a single adult. I’ve described before the growth this study provides me. Were it not for that, I might have adopted a form of the Church’s current Light the World campaign into a yearly tradition. All in all, the traditions I have and might have had all point to Christ.
Through the years, my traditions have helped me make memories that matter precisely because they point to the Savior. By acting on His teachings, we can all make memories that matter.
My brother doesn’t always visit for the holidays, so I was glad he came this weekend. While here, he approached me about a dysfunctional but distinctively designed pocket watch our grandfather owned.
Given my interest in everything about her father, Mother had given the watch to me. I don’t have room to detail here the experiences that connect me to this man who died before I was born. But I don’t blame my mother for giving the watch to me.
However, my brother claimed Mother promised him the watch. I said he could have it, but he didn’t take it, saying things shouldn’t be more important than people.
Last night as he prepared to go, I noticed he still hadn’t taken the watch. I felt strongly impressed to slip it into one of his bags and did so without hesitation. I don’t know what will result, but reflecting on it has helped me feel closer to the Master Who taught others to give everything for righteousness.
We can all follow inspiration. As we do, we point others to the real reason for the season while making memories that matter. I don’t know of a better way to do that than by living the truths Christ taught. No matter our current situation in life, when we walk more decidedly the path of discipleship, we can’t help but have more joy in our journey.
Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year, and I’m far from alone in that sentiment. Part of the attraction assuredly is the increase in good thoughts and good deeds everywhere around us. While there are exceptions as I discovered this weekend among the shopping crowds, there are also bright spots of goodness that convey the true spirit of the season.
In fact, if we look for them, I believe we will see there are more bright spots around us than the alternative.
This holiday season the Church has been promoting a new effort to celebrate the Christ in Christmas. If you have not heard of it, then you need to get up to speed. Participating in that effort can help you to see there really are more bright spots of goodness around us than the alternative. Very appropriately, it’s called Light the World.
In that respect, Light the World is like my traditional Sermon on the Mount study. Each day during the last 40 days of the year, I study a pre-selected number of verses from the Sermon on the Mount and then choose how I’ll apply those verses that day. It can be large or small, but it must be completed that day. I’ve learned how real the gospel is because I’m living it.
Making the gospel more real has helped me to love it more. I can’t predict the future, but I can have faith that God is good and will bless me abundantly. That goodness is easier both to see and to feel when we actively participate in spreading that love to others.
People don’t light candles to hide them but rather to provide light so all may see (Matthew 5:15). In like manner, we should freely bring goodness into the world so that others can see and feel the love of God in their lives. When we do, we can’t help but love our lives more.
The Church has provided a tremendous help with their Light the World calendar. Each day has suggestions of ways to spread goodness and thereby light the world. But we can also adopt our own ideas for action. I know one LDS single who used Facebook to organize an effort to help a needy family this Christmas season. It started with just herself, but as others slowly added their efforts, the entire contribution became much, much larger. If you were to ask this single adult how she feels about her effort, I’m sure she would tell you how much she loves not only it but also the family she decided to help.
I haven’t organized any such effort, but I have felt love in my heart grow as I have taken daily action in response to my Sermon on the Mount study. Most of my actions have been small in nature, but the added light I feel inside of me has been substantial. How can any honest soul not love that?
That seems to be at least some of the intention behind Light the World, and I love it. We make the gospel more real by actually living it. And anyone who has read my posts since 2014 knows I’m all about real.
Of course, that reality doesn’t have to stop with the coming of Christmas Day, nor should it. We can feel God’s love every day by continuing to share that love with others every day. The Church’s Light the World calendar is a great aid during the 25 days leading to Christmas, but what’s to stop any of us from making our own calendar for every day of December? What’s to stop us from doing the same for any other month of the year? Only ourselves.
It’s only by living true principles that we come to feel their reality in our lives. It’s only by giving love to others that we can feel the full extent of love in our own lives. We can choose for ourselves what light we will give to others. And when we live true to that conviction to bring goodness into the world every day, we will have more joy in our journey.
I love Christmas time! Why wouldn’t anyone? It’s a time of merriment, a time for drawing near to family and dear friends, and a time for rejoicing in the goodness of God.
That said, many LDS singles radiate negativity during the holidays. Last week I advocated the perspective that even the worst days can be great days if we recognize every day as a gift from God. Some may find that perspective hard to grasp, especially if they’ve been so focused on the negative aspects of their lives that their reality is overwhelmingly negative.
That’s why we all need to spread the cheer of the holiday season. Reaching out to others in that spirit of the season can help them to find a better focus that can lead to a better reality. And helping others to experience joy can bring joy into our own lives.
That’s what those who feel overwhelmed with negativity during the holidays really need. They need to feel loved so that they in turn can help others to feel loved. We can kickstart that cycle of joy in their lives as well as ours when we reach out and spread the cheer.
Obey the law
Yeah, life is hard, and woe to you because you’re single. I get it. Believe me, having been single for more than 20 years, I really do get it.
Here’s what I also get — happiness comes from giving your all to the right things. Negativity and a constant vision of what you lack is never one of those right things. It never has been, and it never will be.
That’s because the universe obeys natural law, one of which is the Law of the Harvest. You can’t get carrots from planting apple seeds. If you want to reap carrots, plant carrot seed. Likewise, if you want to reap happiness, then plant happiness seed.
And what’s happiness seed? It’s giving your all to the right things. Certainly keeping those covenants we have made is among those right things. But it’s more than just checking items off a to-do list. It’s a way of being that defines who we are.
That means giving to others can’t be just a project or something nice to do. It has to express a sincere interest in sharing joy we really feel inside.
Lend a hand
It’s certainly hard to share something you don’t have. Serving others can bring positivity to those overwhelmed with negativity. But negativity doesn’t prompt positive action, which provides an obstacle for those who most need to take such action. That’s why we need to reach out and lend a hand.
Natural law still holds true regardless of what anyone chooses. Those who focus on negativity will have a negative reality. If we choose to help them, they might change their focus, which will give them a different reality. If we choose not to help them, they likely won’t change their focus and will reap the same reality they’ve been having.
That’s why we need to spread the cheer. A positive reality comes only from a positive focus. Being creatures of habit, we all need some external force to break the bonds of inertia that keeps us keeping on in negative habits. We can provide that external force for others when we spread cheer into their lives.
Solomon once said, “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13). We need to fill the tank of others so they then and fill the tanks of still others. If you’ve ever had to run on empty, you know how difficult it can be to continue serving others when you really need someone to serve you.
What a glorious promise! The Lord will lead us to every blessing we lack. How can we believe Him and not rejoice? We have every reason for cheer.
And we have every reason to spread the cheer to others. So what cheer are you spreading? Whose heart will be lifted because of your cheer? When we spread the cheer of the holiday season in any season, we share the love of our Lord such that we cannot help but also be partakers. And that brings more joy into all of our journeys.
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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