Sunday, August 30, 2009

To Be Content...

A sign that says, “Please feed the bears!” would very much be appreciated at our house. It might serve as a needed reminder to my wife and me of something we already know very well. As we have raised our children, we have observed an interesting phenomenon in which our children undergo a transformation process when they aren’t fed. They turn into bears. On further reflection, we have wondered if they weren’t really bears to begin with, and that feeding them merely kept them domestic. We would be remiss if we failed to recognize where this genetic trait comes from – that their parents are likewise bears who occasionally need to be tamed.

Some of the most peaceful moments in our home are when everyone’s needs have been taken care of. Everyone has had enough sleep, enough to eat, and the right amount of attention. Interestingly enough, those are also times when we have found our children receptive to discussions that help them spiritually. It can be very difficult to help someone with their spiritual needs when their basic needs are not being met.

In contrast, what a difference there is in our home when one of our children’s needs are being met and another’s are not. “It’s not fair!” is a funny little anthem that will echo down the halls of our memory for many years to come. If only I had a dime for each time that expression was repeated, I would have a generous sum. All the same, a piggy bank full of dimes would not negate a store of unmet needs that are often felt by the individual. Needs are real, and so is the desire to be content.

As a boy, I remember a number of occasions when I was hungry and I asked my mom for something to eat. Matters were worse when my hunger was triggered by the smell of freshly baked cookies. The smell seemed an open invitation to come and eat. You see, bears like homemade cookies, and I was no exception. My mom might reply to my request with some nonsensical statement, such as, “You’ll have to wait until dinner so you won’t spoil your appetite.” It wasn’t my appetite for cookies that she was concerned with. Though I wasn’t happy about it, it was really my wellbeing she had in mind.

Our pantry had some specific rules that I sometimes ignored. Then, instead of having my needs met, I got to taste the consequences of my actions. While the occasional treat was mine to enjoy, taking without asking is a practice that is more likely to catch up with you than not. As a fully grown bear, and a tiny bit wiser than I was then, I recognize that life is more complicated than fresh cookies and pantries.

We live in a world full of open invitations. Most of them are not marked with “SALE BY OWNER” signs. Rather they are yard sales full of other people’s things – goods that have somehow found their way to the wrong sale rack. They may smell good, but they are often things that were never intended to be sold for money at all. To make the sale easier and more certain, however, generous third-party partners in the retail business are ready to hand out applications for credit cards and other types of credit. “Buy now, why wait,” is another silly anthem that resonates loud and clear. The world has a misguided definition for satisfaction. Strangely enough, this definition has nothing to do with being “content.”

Like my mother, our Eternal Father is concerned about our wellbeing. He is also very interested in making sure that our needs are met. He has promised, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For everyone that asketh receiveth…. What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:7-11) I believe this direction to be the simplest and safest way to have our needs met. Father will take care of our needs without putting our wellbeing at risk.

Perhaps being satisfied has more to do with being content than satiated. Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “the craving of the natural man… can never be satisfied. It is an insatiable appetite.” If this is true, then it makes no sense to pursue something that has no end. We are much wiser attempting something that is actually possible to attain. Why search for happiness in places you will never find it when there is a well of living water that never runs out. Jesus taught the woman of Samaria in John 4:14, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

From these passages of scripture, we learn that if we can learn to rely upon the Lord, He will take care of our needs and His supply will never run out. I personally have found these blessings to be both temporal and spiritual. But what is Father really interested in? Of course it is His children, but what does He want for us? He wants us to become like him as I want my children to follow me. I can’t imagine anyone being happier than our Father, so why wouldn’t I want to become like him. I believe the answer is fear.

Usually when I choose not to follow Father, it is because I am afraid. I fear that I will not get what I want. I’m afraid that I will have to wait too long or that my needs will not be met. I start to feel some risk that His words aren’t literal and that I have to choose between what I want and what He wants, as if both were not possible. Simply put, I am deceived and I forget that He will take care of our needs without putting our wellbeing at risk.

Knowing that His children are prone to fear when their faith is weak, Father gives us commandments – His rules of the pantry. He promises blessings when we are obedient, not because He is stingy with what He has, but because He knows that obedience will teach us to rely upon Him. Obedience will ultimately teach us to be content with what He has to offer, which is everything. Following Him and relying upon Him will give us what we need without risk to our eternal salvation. It will teach us not to accept substitutes that cannot satisfy. It will train us to be inherently good like He is.

One danger I feel we often face is feeling that the commandments don’t apply to us – that we are above the rules of the pantry. For some this may be ignorance or indifference to the commandments. For others, we may feel that we have met the letter of the commandments though we may not have met the intent and purpose for which they were given. The latter is carefully illustrated in the Savior’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

I believe that many are apt to think that they keep the commandments because they do not commit murder and they do not commit adultery. Jesus enlarged the scope of these commandments to both the Jews and to the people who inhabited ancient America. In 3 Nephi 12:21-22 we read, “Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, and it is also written before you, that thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment of God; But I say unto you, that whosever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment.” Similarly He teaches us in verses 27 through 28, “Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery; But I say unto you, that whosever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.”

I believe the commandments are more effective in our lives when we understand why they were given, and what Father hopes we will learn from them, rather than simply meeting the requirements as an obligatory payment for goods. The adversary tries to deceive us into thinking that immediate action will result in satisfaction. So many times this logic is false. Our Father, on the other hand, knows that we will be happiest if we can learn to live the way He lives. This life is intended to be a learning experience where we choose to become like our Father.

In another verse, the Lord explains an important principle for our happiness. In describing the actions of David and Solomon, ancient kings in Israel, the Lord says in Doctrine & Covenants 132:38, “and in nothing did they sin, save in those things which they received not of me.” I believe this principle can be applied to many other commandments besides adultery. Do we choose to rely upon God for our blessings, or are we too impatient, anxious to take matters into our own hands. Are we willing to ask for permission, or are we afraid that the answer will be, “No, not right now,” even though that may be the right answer.

What happens when we look at coveting in the same manner as the commandments described in the Sermon on the Mount? In Exodus 20:17 we read, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” There are many times that I have felt I met the requirements of this commandment, to not covet, because I did not plot to have something that belonged to my neighbor. Perhaps there is more to this commandment than I had previously contemplated.

Coveting is not just wanting something that someone else may have, it is a failure to be content with what I already have. This does not mean that I can’t hope for more, but I certainly should be grateful and content with what I have been given. Learning to be content is not easy, but it does show Father that we will wait upon Him for our blessings. It shows that we have faith in His promise, that if we ask we shall receive.

Another principle that will help us see that our needs are met has to do with the sanctifying our hearts and the purifying of our desires. The Lord told Joseph Smith in Doctrine & Covenants 50:29-30, “And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done. But know this, it shall be given you what you shall ask….” As we prayerfully consider our needs, the Holy Ghost can help us to know if it is in our best interest or not. If it is, then we should ask. We are commanded to. If it is not right, then why should we pursue a path that does not lead to our happiness?

In 3 Nephi 19:24 we read an account of how the Nephites were taught to pray by the Holy Spirit. We read, “And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.”

The more we turn our heart towards God, the more we are filled with desire to do what is right. As we do so, He will help us to know what we should pray for to make sure that our needs are met. When we pray and find that He always answers our prayers, our faith in Him increases because our trust is rewarded. If we truly want to be happy, we should check our desires before seeking to have our needs met. In the process we may find that our needs have become simpler. If nothing else, we may at least gain greater patience to wait upon the Lord. His way is always best. If we are faithful, He always gives us more than we deserve.

It is not always easy, but I am learning to be satisfied with what I have and then rely upon the Lord to see that my needs are met. The alternative is not worth coveting. I have learned that to be content is to be happy.

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