Thursday, January 28, 2016

Anger: A Key Emotion on the Road to Destruction

This week we've been studying Alma 43-63, which is a huge chunk of scripture to try to read in one week, much less to try to stop and digest. One thing that stood out to me was in Alma chapter 48 where Amalickiah is seeking to gain power over the Nephites by inciting the anger of the Lamanites against them. In verse 3 it mentions that he "hardened the hearts...and blinded their minds, and stirred them up to anger.." I thought about how easy it is for us to be stirred up to anger when our hearts are hard and our minds are blinded. In that state of mind we often don't see clearly and make rash judgments. We make poor choices that usually result in hurt feelings, damaged relationships, and spiritual decline. When we act out of anger we leave behind reason, understanding, and charity. We lose sight of the divine within those around us.

We are also far more likely to be swayed by the arguments and "reasoning" of those who are contentious or power hungry. Anger and fear are powerful emotions and are likely to be used by those who seek to control us. Just like Satan does. Satan uses manipulation, flattery, and lies to deceive us and to persuade us to give in to emotions that will end up causing pain to ourselves or those around us.

If we stop and compare Amalickiah with Moroni we see striking differences. Amalickiah was proud, power hungry, manipulative, cunning, and filled with hatred. He worked diligently to bring others into subjection to him, and thought nothing of killing those who got in his way. Moroni, on the other hand, was humble, understanding, faithful, and committed to liberty and freedom. He did everything in his power to preserve lives and freedom. Moroni could have easily given in and acted out of anger, but at every opportunity he chose to be firm and fight if needed, but with obvious reluctance. I think of how much integrity and self control it would take for a man to be able to stand up against a deadly enemy and not respond with anger and hatred.

The end result of Amalickiah and his shared anger was death and destruction. No good came from his followers giving in to his fiery rhetoric or his persuasive reasoning against the Nephites. There were no great advances during his brief reign, no opportunities for his people to develop art, intellect, or scientific discoveries. By giving in to their anger, they gave up the chance to advance their civilization and created a period of suffering and mourning instead. Anger is a waste. It's a waste of time, energy, and potential.

Sadly, the world we live in today is overflowing with anger. People get angry about politics, religion, opinions, rights, entitlements, differences, and perceived threats. We've got more than enough men who give in to their anger and lead with loud voices as they incite others to join in their anger, and not nearly enough who show their strength and power through their integrity, humility, and sound reasoning. It makes me long for a leader like Moroni to come and save the day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Seeds of Faith

What types of seeds of faith do you want to plant in your heart? From Alma chapter 32 we read that if we give place for a seed to be planted in our heart that it will grow. He states that if it's a good seed it will grow and if it doesn't grow it isn't good. I have to respectfully disagree on that point. I think that we can plant different kinds of seeds within our hearts and those that we nourish are the ones that grow, whether they are good or not. In fact, it is often easier for the seeds of weeds like doubt, contention, and selfishness to take over our hearts than the beautiful seeds of faith, hope, and charity. 

I understand that he was trying to teach a people who had a gross misunderstanding of faith, God and the gospel, so I know that Alma's lesson may not necessarily apply to all situations and people. I just read it and couldn't help but to think about how what we focus on is what ends up growing in us. If we focus on Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and their gospel, then the seeds of faith, love, service, and obedience will likely grow. If we focus on the things of this world then the seeds of greed, lust, anger, and discouragement will probably take root. 

I loved how even though Alma's analogy didn't quite hold up for me, his teachings about how to tell if you have a "good" seed (one that is based on truth) still taught a valuable lesson. He taught that a good seed will enlighten our understanding, expand our mind, and is discernible. I know that in my personal experience, I have often found that as I study the gospel my mind is opened and I understand in ways that I hadn't before. I am able to see situations more clearly, am able to discern between the good and bad influences around me, and can more readily hear and feel God speaking to me and guiding me. On the other hand, I have had instances where what I am reading has left me with a feeling of darkness or confusion. There's a distinct difference in the effects that truth and lies have on our minds and souls. Sadly, if you haven't been nourishing the seeds of faith it's not always easy to recognize and cast out those seeds of doubt and negativity. That's why it's so important to be careful of what seeds you sow in your heart. What we put our faith in is what will grow within us. 

As for me, I am putting my faith and trust in Jesus Christ and His infinite love, mercy, and grace. I want to grow a Redwood tree of faith in Him within my heart, one so large that there's no room for the enemy's seeds to take root. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sheep (and Chickens) Who Stray

I've got 14 chickens right now. I've raised these chickens from the time they were 2-3 days old. I've fed them, kept them warm and sheltered, I've protected them, and have watched them grow and mature. They went from my brooder (a four-sided box with a heat lamp for warmth) to the outdoor coop and run, to finally being able to free range on our land. Before I ever let them loose I followed some advice I found online and tried to "train" my chickens to come when called. This basically consisted of calling "chick, chick, chick" loudly and in the same way each time, followed by a reward for the chickens that came to me. It took a couple of weeks of doing this at least once a day, but soon most of the chickens would respond reliably (and the stragglers eventually follow because they don't like to be separated from the whole flock.) It's rather gratifying to let my chickens out to roam around the yard and then watch them all perk up and come running when I call them. They know my voice and know that if I'm calling them in that certain way, they're going to get a treat for listening and coming to me. To my husband they are just a bunch of dumb birds who poop way too much (can't really argue with either point!) but to me, they are my pets that I have nurtured from the time they were babies, and I want to keep them safe, happy, and healthy.

My chickens and the relationship I have with them is what came to mind when reading Alma 5:37-38 where it  talks about how the sinners have gone astray, like sheep without a shepherd. They are left to fend for themselves, and have no one looking out for them. They are like ignorant chickens who can't wait to be let out but don't have the sense to come back to safety when called. The saddest part is that they do have a shepherd, one who has known them from before the day they were born. He has watched over them, nurtured them, and watched them grow. I'm sure the Savior looks fondly on each of His sheep, knowing each of their different personalities, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. He knows which ones are really loyal and stay close to him because they love Him, just like He knows those who feel the need to roam far from Him, or those who just don't listen.

Those sheep who stray can't see the love they're turning their backs on. Somewhere along the way they've misunderstood what the shepherd's role is, and how much He cares about them. Unfortunately, because they separate themselves from the fold, they no longer belong to the good shepherd. They no longer have claim on His protection, His nurturing care, or His grace. They are free to roam, free to do what they please, but with that "freedom" comes a lot of dangers they aren't even aware of. Only the shepherd has the wisdom and knowledge to know all of the dangers that they face. Being silly sheep, they see only the green fields and miss the wolves lurking in the shadows at the edge.

Like sheep, my chickens aren't really knowledgeable about all of the dangers they face. They tend to be aware of flying predators like hawks, but have had no experience with fox, coyote, raccoon, or even neighboring dogs. They are too young, inexperienced, and ignorant to know of all the dangers that await them when they stray from the safety of their coop. However, as their protector I know to keep an eye out for predators, and will gladly grab my gun and go after anything that is threatening them. I won't always be able to get to them as quickly as needed, or be able to kill every predator, so their safest bet is still to come running when I see danger and call them back to me, just like our safest bet is to stay within hearing range of our Shepherd and to trust Him to watch out for us.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Things I Wish I Had Known or Been Taught When My Daughter Was Young

My husband and I were talking about how it's ironic that neither of us had been taught much about parenting and so we had to learn as we went and made lots of mistakes that could have been avoided, but now that we're older and wiser we don't have any children to use that knowledge on (not currently anyways.... looking forward to grandchildren someday!)

This got me thinking about the top ten things I wish I had known to do or not to do when my daughter was younger so I decided to write them down here, just in case my daughter or anyone else ever wants some advice on raising their children. A lot of this advice comes from my own experiences, some is what I've learned from other successful parents, and some is what I've learned as I've gotten older and have had opportunities to teach other people's children.

1) Young children are like sponges. They absorb everything around them. They come to us with no knowledge of anything and are eager to learn about everything. The number one thing I will tell my own daughter when she has children is to teach, teach, teach! It's never too early, and during those first 5 years or so they will willingly soak up just about anything and everything you try to teach them, as long as its within their ability.

2) Young children are a lot smarter and capable of learning than we often give them credit for. The only time they may not seem as intelligent to us is when we are judging them by adult standards. If you aren't familiar with the different life stages and their accompanying skills, abilities, and traits- educate yourself and then adjust your teaching to what your child's needs are at their particular age.

3) Children learn more about how to live their life from their parents than they will from school, church, peers, or anywhere else. If you're doing things that you don't want your child to learn, stop doing them. And if you want them to learn to do things that you don't know- learn how to do them yourself so you can show them, or find resources to help them learn it. Learn about the difference between healthy and dysfunctional relationships and work to model healthy ones for them.

4) Think ahead. Don't just think of your child at the age they currently are, but think about them as an adult. What do you want them to be like? What do they need to know to be successful in life? Teach them and raise them with the "end" in mind- imagine them as the self-sufficient, intelligent, respectful, kind, loving person you want them to be and then teach them to become that. If you don't know how to teach that, do what you can to educate yourself and ask for help from others who have already "been there and done that" successfully.

5) Be there for your child. Not just physically in the same room or house, but actually WITH your child. Spend time playing, teaching, talking, listening, and bonding. Don't just sit on your butt- be an active part of your child's life! Turn off the TV (and other electronics)!! The things your child can and will learn by spending time away from a screen is invaluable. Read books, explore nature, take the time to notice and teach about the world around you. Remember, it's all new to them!

6) Don't assume that school is going to be enough of an education for your child. They aren't going to learn 1/2 of the things they'll need to know from school. Also don't assume that "educational" children's programs are going to contribute much to their learning. Too much screen time is detrimental regardless of what it is.

7) Don't just want a better material life for your child. Many want their child to have things they didn't have, but in trying to provide the material things they lose sight of the fact that what we should want most for our children is for them to be more happy, more content, more socially capable, more hardworking, more loving, more intelligent, and more kind. Those are the "mores" that we should be aiming for, not just more stuff, more electronics, more toys, more fashionable clothes, or more money.

8) Put your child's needs before your own wants. I'm not saying to neglect yourself or make your child the center of the universe, but a child's needs (not wants) should come first. They need love, food, clothing, shelter, learning, and attention. They, and you, can do without electronics, TV, the latest toys and gadgets, nicer clothes, and a bigger house, but they aren't going to thrive if their basic needs aren't met. Be mature and learn to sacrifice for the sake of your child.

9) In contrast to #8...don't make your child the center of your entire universe and don't sacrifice everything you are and have to satisfy their every whim. A child needs to know that they're loved and that they're special, but they don't need to think that they are more important than everyone else, or that their wants should be fulfilled every time. They should know and respect the word "no."

10) Be consistent with discipline. As much as possible, work with your spouse (or other parent if not married) and come up with the rules that are most important to both of you, what the punishments should be if the rules are not obeyed, and agree to back each other up. Children can't play one parent against the other if the parents present a united front. Often one parent will be more authoritative and the other more lenient and that can work to balance things out, but it can also create disagreements as to how to and when to discipline the child- try to work those differences out BEFORE the situation arises, or take the time to counsel with each other before deciding on a punishment. Be consistent and follow through!

I know I said I'd list the top ten, but the absolute number one thing that goes with and affects all of these others is to teach your child the gospel. Teach them about Heavenly Father and His infinite love for them. Teach them about Jesus Christ and all that He has done for them, and how His atonement can help them in their daily life. Teach them about the commandments, and how obedience isn't burdensome but actually gives us greater freedom. Teach them to repent and how to forgive. Teach them to love others. Teach them to sacrifice, to serve, and to give generously and willingly. Teach them to have an eternal perspective and to think about how their choices affect their lives.

The gospel gives a child the solid foundation they need to learn everything else they'll need to know to have a better life than we've had. They'll have more love, more peace, more wisdom, and more joy in their life. Of all the things I think I did right with my daughter, I think that this is the one that's made all the difference, and has helped to make up for many of our other educational and parenting shortcomings. It's what I've seen with many other parents, also. The children who have the most solid foundation in the gospel do all right, regardless of the parent's ignorance or inexperience in any other subjects.