Monday, January 3, 2011

Of Things That Matter Most

(find the talk here)

I loved this talk the first time I heard it, which was probably when I was running or cleaning or taking care of some other mundane task. I wasn’t able to listen to the Saturday session of General Conference, so I made it a point to listen to those talks first when the audio was available (which was practically the day of conference).

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf often uses analogies about planes in his talks, which is why his comments about trees and what they had to do with planes was so amusing.

I am often guilty of doing too much – over scheduling my life – and especially determining my self-worth by how frantic my pace is. President Uchtdorf says “Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list.” This becomes my problem occasionally – and I frequently am dealing with the consequences: “Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.”

Last week, my husband taught the “Teachings for our Times” lesson (the lesson on the 4th Sunday of the month in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings usually comes from the most recent General Conference addresses). The talk assigned was this talk. While reading the talk before Church, my husband mentioned to me “You need to read this talk.” At first I was offended, since I had been listening to the General Conference talks consistently for a while, and I knew that I had heard the talk probably two or three times, if not more. I knew that I had enjoyed the talk, and had been enlightened and felt its meaning for me personally. However, I did, indeed, need to read the talk.

Listening to the talks is a lot different for me than reading them. For instance, with President Uchtdorf’s talk, when I was listening to the talk, I got stuck on the introduction to his talk, when he speaks of slowing down and steadying the course in times of trial and tribulation. But as I actually read the talk, I realized that he was telling us that this life itself is a time of stress – meaning we need to be simplifying our lives and steadying the course because that is what will help us in this life. So instead of narrowly applying this talk to times of extra stress and tribulation in my life, I am now able to apply it to my life even in times of calm weather, such as now. I feel like our life is pretty calm, and I feel like I can put on the gas a little more. But President Uchtdorf’s words hold me steady. “There is a beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions.”

I have been reading a lot of minimalist and simple living blogs lately, trying to grasp this concept and apply it in my life. But all those blogs and writings, good as they are, pale in comparison to the inspiration of the Latter Day prophets, and the Spirit I feel when reading their words.

While President Uchtdorf does mention at one point that we should “proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances,” I think that we often overestimate the optimum speed for our circumstances, much like inexperienced pilots. We should do all “
things ... in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that [we] should run faster than [we have] strength. [But] it is expedient that [we] should be diligent, [and] thereby ... win the prize.” “That is why ‘we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, ... that [we] may know to what source [we] may look for a remission of [our] sins.’ In the complexity, confusion, and rush of modern living, this is the ‘more excellent way.’”

President Uchtdorf has a great heading for the next part of his talk, “So What Are the Basics?” – I love headings, and I especially  love ones that feel like they just asked my own question for me.

President Uchtdorf speaks of “the importance of four key relationships: with our God, with our families, with our fellowman, and with ourselves.”

“We improve our relationship with our Heavenly Father by learning of Him, communing with Him, by repenting of our sins, and by actively following Jesus Christ, for ‘no man cometh unto the Father, but by [Christ].’” He then speaks of spending quality time alone with Heavenly Father. We need to be having daily personal prayer and scripture study and strive to be worthy of a temple recommend. I struggle in communing with Heavenly Father, and I really always have, as I confided once long ago to my sweet sister in law. She spoke of the difficulty being because we often talk and preach and rejoice in Christ, so it is somewhat easier to have a relationship with Christ – but because we only pray to Heavenly Father, and do not speak and preach of Him as often, that relationship often takes a back seat to our relationship with Christ. But if we can realize what our relationship with Christ is really all about – He is our advocate with the Father – then perhaps that will help us develop a more meaningful relationship with Heavenly Father.

“We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together.” I struggle with this one, because my husband and I define “fun” in different ways. For example, a lot of hard work, and some mundane tasks, even, become “fun” for me when the whole family is involved, when we’re spending time together doing them, and when we are all enjoying the process together. My husband finds mundane tasks distasteful, and enjoys being alone while doing them so he can simply get done with the task. He enjoys watching movies, playing out doors, and doing other less mundane activities. Occasionally I find myself viewing those things as a waste of time – after all, there are dishes to be done and clothes to be washed. This probably feeds into the “simplicity” thing – if we had less clothes, less dishes, less “things”, we would have fewer “mundane” tasks to accomplish. But, like I said, I actually enjoy the mundane tasks – when I am doing them with family. Perhaps we will address that in our family and see what kind of compromise we can come up with.

“We establish a divine bond with each other as we approach God together through family prayer, gospel study, and Sunday worship.” Here we do pretty well. Our children are very young, so our “gospel study” together consists of lessons from the nursery manual - “I will share.” “I will be reverent.” “Heavenly Father loves me.” – you get the picture. But isn’t it ironic that even that goes back to President Uchtdorf’s counsel to focus on the basics? What is more basic than the doctrine taught in the nursery?

The one of of the key relationships that I feel I have a pretty good grasp on is that with my fellowman. “We build this relationship... by being sensitive to the needs of others, serving them, and giving of our time and talents.” In fact, I think that often the other three relationships suffer because I am too wrapped up in my relationship with my fellowmen, and not enough concerned with my relationship with Heavenly Father, my family, and myself.

President Uchtdorf says, “As we evaluate our own lives with a willing mind, we will see where we have drifted from the more excellent way.”

President Uchtdorf’s fourth relationship is with ourselves. He says some of us “criticize and belittle themselves all day long until they begin to hate themselves.” I don’t think I have progressed to “hating myself” – but I am very guilty of criticizing and belittling myself. He says to “take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God’s creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally.” When the weather warms up a little, I will enjoy going for early morning runs (not so fun to run in 10 degree weather), and I am covetous of my early morning time by myself to study the gospel, as I am doing now. If one of the children wakes up before I have completed my gospel study, I often find myself becoming annoyed and frustrated. But if I truly want more time to myself, I’ll have to wake up earlier, which means retiring to bed earlier... which honestly never sounded better.

I’ll end with these three quotes:

“Let us joyfully partake of [the pure doctrinal waters of the restored gospel] in their simplicity and plainness.”

“Strength comes not from frantic activity by from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light.”

“Let us simplify our lives a little.”

What things do you focus on to “simplify your life” a little? How do you focus on the four key relationships that President Uchtdorf mentioned? Do you sometimes feel too frantic and rushed? How do you come back to peace and simplicity?

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