Sunday, September 13, 2009

Meaningful Associations

Some people pick their battles. In our house, we have to pick our games. With five kids who are all fairly close in age, games can be the source of both unity and division, especially if Dad gets a little competitive. For the most part, I think I do pretty well. Our family is really pretty good, too. (Although, in this setting, Liz is more of a peacemaker than the rest of us combined.)

One of our favorite games is called Apples to Apples. Inside the game box resides a few decks of cards. The smaller deck of green cards contains descriptive adjectives with a few related words as hints. Each of the cards in the red deck lists a person, place or thing. Play begins as one person, who acts as judge, draws a green card and places it on the table. The object of the game is for each of the other players to place one of their red cards on the table as quickly as possible so the judge can then pick the card that has the strongest association. The results can be pretty humorous when a green card with the word “Haunting” is matched up with cards like “Bates Motel,” “Dating,” or “Poison Ivy.” You get the idea. The choice is pretty subjective, especially when the judges’ ages and experience are spread by a few decades.

When I was the age of our youngest daughter, I remember disliking a particular girl’s name very much. It wasn’t a very good association for me. I think it was because of a particular girl who was particularly not nice to me. I made a conscious effort to NOT like her name. Later, when I found out my sister was going to have a little baby and had decided to name her Heidi, I wondered how she could make such a choice. I had been betrayed. Suddenly, I had to wrestle with my opinions. It didn’t take long before I had changed my mind and absolutely adored the name. I have loved my niece and the name ever since.

I find it fascinating how we can choose to like or dislike something based on a deeper meaning that we associate with the object. I may not like ladders because I fell off of one when I was a kid. I may like ginger snap cookies because it reminds me of my grandpa. Or I may be completely indifferent towards something because I have never made a meaningful association with that object. I think people are much like things in this regard.

People I like are people I’m like. This is a little phrase I have been rather fond of lately because it seems to resonate true. It is not to say that I don’t like people who are different than me; I just tend to be more like those that I like most. I change. For better or worse depends upon the friends I choose. Much depends upon the associations I make.

“Pick your friends carefully.” This is advice that I often heard from Mom growing up. As I have tried to honor her, I am grateful for the difference it has made in my life. She has saved me from heartache and has allowed me some treasured moments.

We move like magnets. Gravity is not just a principle of up and down. The phenomenon of gravitation occurs when any two objects with mass are placed together and the objects naturally attract each other. We are attracted to the earth because of our relative proximity, and the size of the earth.

I believe that gravity also applies to relationships we have with others. We are attracted by both proximity and the importance we place on the relationship. Like magnets, our attraction is also based on orientation. When two magnets are positioned with a common focus, the attraction becomes stronger. Similarly we can also lose attraction when we increase distance or diminish the priority of a relationship.

I tend to feel a great deal of gravity when I make certain choices. It is divinely given to each of us to make choices between right and wrong. Our attraction to one choice or the other depends heavily upon the orientation of our moral compass. If our compass is pointed towards moral integrity we may find an increasing magnetism towards those decisions. If the needle of our compass is oriented more towards selfishness, we will find ourselves making more and more decisions that benefit ourselves at the expense of others. Occasionally our needle vacillates back and forth, leaving us a bit disoriented as to what is right and wrong. Like the example of the map I referenced last week, it is important to look closely at our destination before we set our compass.

I have found a valuable tool for tuning my compass to true north. The key is to set my heart, and my compass, in a true course that does not change before I make any subsequent decisions. By doing so, I increase the magnetism of my needle to an eternal destination – I increase my relative proximity to God, and I place greater priority on my relationship with Him than with anything else. In Doctrine & Covenants 88:63, the Lord tells Joseph Smith, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me….” I love the idea that the attraction is not just one way. Father wishes us to draw nearer to Him to allow Him the same opportunity. He only comes as close as we let him, out of respect for our agency.

Of all the relationships I have, I feel safest when Father is my friend. I do not replace reverence, respect or worship with casual familiarity. I do, however, maintain a deep dependence upon Him for happiness, confidence, and support, more than any other friend. The more I follow Him, the more love and gravity I feel towards Him. Each time my faith is rewarded, I develop deeper associations with Father. Covenants, obedience, and discipleship become synonymous with happiness and contentment.

When a green card representing my relationship with Father is placed on the table for me to respond to, I am more confident about winning when my hand is full of meaningful associations.

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