Tag Archives: The Book of Mormon

Comparisons Make Us Bitter, Not Better.

Many of us often spend precious time and energy comparing ourselves to other people. Some use this practice as motivation for becoming better, and are careful enough to prevent it from affecting their worth. However, for most of us, myself included, comparisons tend to make us bitter, not better–bitter toward our self, other people, and even God.

What is it that leads us to compare ourselves with each other? How does this happen? Elder Holland has offered his opinion:

I think one of the reasons is that every day we see allurements of one kind or another that tell us what we have is not enough. Someone or something is forever telling us we need to be more handsome or more wealthy, more applauded or more admired than we see ourselves as being. We are told we haven’t collected enough possessions or gone to enough fun places. We are bombarded with the message that on the world’s scale of things we have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.6 Some days it is as if we have been locked in a cubicle of a great and spacious building where the only thing on the TV is a never-ending soap opera entitled Vain Imaginations. (The Other Prodigal, 2002)

Social media could be labeled as one of the locks on the door keeping us in the cubicle of the great and spacious building. While this technology offers many things that are good, the temptation to compare ourselves with others when using it is almost unavoidable. Because of this, social media has the potential to deliver damaging blows to our confidence and view of our self.

When dealing with social media, we often, in Steve Furtick’s words, “compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Arthur C. Brooks, has similarly observed that when we use social media, we usually broadcast the smiling details of our lives but not the hard times at school or work. We portray an incomplete life—sometimes in a self-aggrandizing or fake way. We share this life, and then we consume the “almost exclusively … fake lives of [our] social media ‘friends.’” Brooks affirms, “How could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are, and the other part of your time seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?” (Arthur C. Brooks, Love People, Not Pleasure)

How can we overcome the tendency to compare ourselves with others? To start, we can spend less time on social media. But this will not be enough. We need to recognize first–what we are doing when we make comparisons, and second–why it is wrong, and the potential consequences.

Pride

Comparison denotes pride at its very core. When we compare ourselves to others, what arises is a sense of competition–who’s prettier, who has more friends, who has the more exciting life, who is more talented.  As C. S. Lewis has noted: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, 1952) When we compare ourselves, we are choosing to be prideful by competing.

We are hardly fair with ourselves in these competitions either. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has observed when we compare ourselves to others, we are “usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does.” (Forget Me Not, 2011) Thus one of the consequences is we have a hard time seeing good qualities in our self, because although they may be good, someone else’s are better. And we often become bitter toward those people.

Ungrateful

Comparisons also indicate ungratefulness. When we compare, what we essentially saying to God is that what we have been given in the form of a stewardship–our body, our resources, our opportunities–is not good enough. Instead of making the most of what we have been blessed with and being grateful for it, we are concentrating on what we have not been given. This can lead us to covet what others have, and to even become jealous.

If we choose to remain ungrateful, one of the dangers is we fail to see the many ways God is blessing us. We fail to recognize that He does love us, and is involved in our lives. We can potentially come to feel like Henri J. M. Nouwen, who observed, “In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a [divine] love that does not do the same. When I hear someone praised, it is hard not to think of myself as less praiseworthy; when I read about the goodness and kindness of other people, it is hard not to wonder whether I myself am as good and kind as they; and when I see trophies, rewards, and prizes being handed out to special people, I cannot avoid asking myself why that didn’t happen to me.” (The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1992) This mindset can lead us to become bitter toward God, or even doubt his existence altogether.

Solutions

I offer two solutions. The first comes from Sister Patricia T. Holland, former member of the Young Women general presidency and wife of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.

“My greatest misery comes when I feel I have to fit what others are doing, or what I think others expect of me. I am most happy when I am comfortable being me and trying to do what my Father in Heaven and I expect me to be.

“For many years I tried to measure the ofttimes quiet, reflective, thoughtful Pat Holland against the robust, bubbly, talkative, and energetic Jeff Holland and others with like qualities. I have learned through several fatiguing failures that you can’t have joy in being bubbly if you are not a bubbly person. It is a contradiction in terms. I have given up seeing myself as a flawed person because my energy level is lower than Jeff’s, and I don’t talk as much as he does, nor as fast. Giving this up has freed me to embrace and rejoice in my own manner and personality in the measure of my creation” (On Earth as It Is in Heaven, 1989).

We must each say to ourselves, as she did: “I have given up seeing myself as a flawed person because my _______ is not as good as _______’s.” We are not all meant to be the same, we are each on our own journey and have been blessed with different qualities to make it through. She said that doing so freed her, and allowed her to embrace and rejoice in her own manner and personality. When we can do this, we enable ourselves to choose to encourage and commend others, instead of compete with them.

The second solution is found in Alma chapter 29 of The Book of Mormon. Desiring greater abilities, and a greater stewardship Alma laments:

“O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of my heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God. . . and cry repentance unto every people!”

He then states:

“But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” (Alma 29: 1,3)

Each of us can look at ourselves, and recognize that we are imperfect and may not have earned what we are coveting or desiring that someone else may have. We can, like Alma, be content with what the Lord has allotted unto us. This contentment springs from an understanding of the wisdom and justice of God.

“For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations. . . all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.” (Alma 29:8)

We must trust that God loves each of us equally; and realize that whatever He has seen fit to give us to work with here in this life, He has done so with our best interests in mind according to that which is just and true. If we can do this, we will choose more often to be grateful for what we do have instead of focusing on what we don’t have.

We would do well to remember the words of Elder Holland:

“Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us—insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other.”

Crutches and Training Wheels: The Role of a Teacher

A crutch is a staff or support used to assist a person in walking, usually used when a bone in the leg or foot has been broken, or seriously injured. It relieves someone of the burden of putting pressure on their own limb, and essentially serves as a substitute leg. Without the crutch, it is difficult for the individual to walk at all.

Training wheels are small supporting wheels attached to both sides of the rear wheel of a child’s bicycle. They are used by kids who want to ride a bike, but have not yet developed the ability to fully balance. Ideally the wheels are eventually removed and the child, having fostered confidence and competence, rides on his own. I believe much can be learned in regard to teaching by examining the contrast between crutches and training wheels.

Not long after being called as an Area Authority Elder David A. Bednar attended a training meeting where he received instruction from President Boyd K. Packer. He recounts that he has “never forgotten one question that was directed specifically to President Packer and the answer he gave.”

            “President Packer, would you please teach us about the Atonement of Jesus Christ?”

President Packer then gave the following response:

            “Thank you for your excellent question. Read the Book of Mormon as many times as you reasonably can in the next several months. When you are finished reading, write a one-page summary of what you learned about the Atonement. Next question.”

After much reflection, and putting the answer into practice, Elder Bednar came to understand that President Packer “gave us much more than an answer to a single question. In that training session he did not tell us what he knew; rather, he taught us how he had come to know. If any of us truly desired to know what he knew, we absolutely could—if we were willing to pay the price and obtain the knowledge for ourselves. President Packer’s answer emphasized the importance of procuring for ourselves the oil of conversion; it cannot be borrowed or conveyed from one person to another” (Bednar, Act In Doctrine, p. 122).

Occasionally, with good intentions and misplaced zeal, we figuratively try to convey, or transfer, the oil of conversion from our own lamp to the lamp of another by spoon feeding them the knowledge we ourselves have studied and worked for. They ask a question, and we take it upon ourselves to relay all that we have learned in a lifetime of study on the subject through a one-way lecture. We thus place ourselves in the crutch category, relieving them of any responsibility to put pressure on their own intellect, allowing them to lean on us in a way that stunts their spiritual growth and, in all reality, undermining their free agency by turning them into an object that we act upon.

We must remember this truth: “Knowledge cannot be given or borrowed; it must be obtained” (Bednar, Act in Doctrine, p. 122). As teachers in any capacity, we must allow the questioner to obtain knowledge, rather than trying to bestow it. We should permit the learner to learn by their faith. This can be done by enabling them to be a participant in the learning process—telling them where to receive their own answer, or, in a classroom setting, taking them to where the answer is, and then inviting them to read, reflect, and apply.

When we give our consent to being used as a crutch, we are, in a sense, exercising unrighteous dominion over those whom the Lord has entrusted to us with the sacred responsibility of teaching and influencing, because we act upon them. This is a slippery slope that can quickly lead to priestcraft, defined as men preaching and setting “themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion” (2Nephi 26:29). Offering ourselves as a crutch by supplying impressive answers will likely receive praise, however, it will be done at the selfish expense of the welfare of Zion, including the spiritual welfare of the learner(s).

Another danger of the crutch approach is it begets fertile grounds for pride to swell up within the instructor by creating enmity between him and the Lord. The enmity comes from getting in the way of the Holy Ghost, and preventing Him from doing His assigned labor in the learning process—teaching. We read in section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants: Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.” We preach, He teaches. When we give too much information outright, and absolve learners of the obligation to seek and knock, we are bringing too much attention to ourselves. This may lead others to believe that we are the teacher, instead of merely a facilitator.

Elder Bednar puts it this way:

“We must be careful to remember in our service that we are conduits and channels; we are not the light. . . This work is never about me and it is never about you. We need to do all in our power to fulfill our teaching responsibilities and simultaneously “get out of the way” so the Holy Ghost can perform His sacred work. In fact, anything you or I do as representatives of the Savior that knowingly and intentionally draws attention to self—in the messages we present, in the methods we use, or in our personal demeanor—is a form of priestcraft that inhibits the teaching effectiveness of the Holy Ghost.” (Bednar, Act in Doctrine, p. 130-131)

On the other hand, one of the best examples of the training wheel style of teaching is found in the interaction between the Lord and the brother of Jared in Ether chapter two.The brother of Jared, lacking a way to light the barges he and his company were to use in crossing the sea, appeals to the Lord for an answer to his problem:

“I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether 2: 22)

In other words, to parallel the question posed to President Packer:

Jesus, would you please teach me about the best way to get light into my barges?

The Lord could easily give the brother of Jared a discourse on the greatest and most efficient way to produce light, or He could even reveal all he knows on the subject. However, this could stunt the brother of Jared’s growth by giving him a crutch when he is perfectly capable of walking.

“The Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire . . . . Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea? (Ether 2: 23, 25)

The Lord delivers the perfect training wheel response. He presents His questioner with just enough support and guidance to get him going, and an invitation to act in faith and try to find the answer for himself. He allows the learner to learn by faith. Well Mahonri, that’s an excellent question. I will tell you that windows won’t work, nor will fire, can you come up with another solution? The brother of Jared then exercises his faith and does his best to ride the bike by molting small stones out of a rock and asking the Lord to touch them.

If the Lord had not followed the proper teaching pattern, He would not have been able to take the veil “from off the eyes of the brother of Jared” or to say to him “never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast”, or to fully show Himself to him. If he had used the crutch technique, the brother of Jared could not have earned true knowledge and reached the point of riding on his own: “And he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.” (Ether 3:19) Are we missing out on results in students, ward members, and children by using the crutch method instead of training wheels? As Elder Bednar has asked, “Are you and I encouraging and helping those we serve to seek learning by faith?” (Seek Learning by Faith).

I have found in my own life that the teachers who have had the most profound impact on me have done so in the same way–by setting an example of faith and diligence in study, or riding their own bike, and then giving me training wheels in the form of advice or recommendation on where to find for myself, the same knowledge they had secured. I have learned for myself, as Elder Bednar has taught, “that an answer given by another person usually is not remembered for very long, if at all. But an answer we discover or obtain through the exercise of faith is typically retained for a lifetime. The most important learnings of life are caught–not taught.” (Bednar, Act in Doctrine, p. 127)

Now, this is not to say that direct answers to questions should never be rendered, nor that helpful instruction is completely unnecessary. What is meant in what has been presented is that we are not obligated to tell anyone everything we know, nor should we inhibit real spiritual growth by giving easy answers to someone who is fully capable of finding them on their own. We should avoid the tendency to make ourselves available as a crutch, and strive to discern the difference between providing someone enough assistance to enable them to act, and acting upon them. We should, in short, take the training wheel approach. To do so, is to put a check on priestcraft, pride, and narcissism.  Less attention may be acquired, but the pure in heart, who intend to eventually ride the gospel bike on their own, will recognize the Savior’s true pattern of teaching, and will be grateful their agency was respected, and even enlarged, in the learning process.

The Waterfall: A Short Story

Once there was a ship with a full crew sailing out in a sea, renowned for its unforgiving waters. The edge of this sea led into a large river whose end split into two smaller rivers. At the end of one of these smaller rivers there was a giant calamitous waterfall, which, if sailed into, would lead to the death of all the sailors and the destruction of the ship. At the end of the other one was a beautiful lake surrounded by a tropical paradise with a town full of friendly welcoming occupants. The crew had heard much concerning the calm and peaceful scene of the paradise, and reaching it was their objective, yea, even the whole reason for their travel. When they left they knew that this goal would be best accomplished if they listened to their guide.

In the upper part of the main mast of the ship, known as the crow’s nest, was a wise yet scruffy old grey haired man who served as the lookout. Up there in the nest is where he stayed for the whole voyage, because he could see everything. He was the ship’s guide, and it was his responsibility to keep the crew safe and lead them to the paradise they were searching for.

While out at sea the old man was loud and diligent in his duty to warn the shipmates of danger, repeatedly alerting them of treacherous storms and menacing waves ahead. Sometimes he would advise them to steer clear, other times to drop their anchor and stay put and wait. When the crew followed the admonitions of the old man, their journey oftentimes was slightly longer and required more effort on their part, however they always enjoyed security, and after following it, were left with a more confident hope of reaching the paradise they set out to find.

However, the crew eventually became impatient with the time it was taking to reach their destination, and grew tired of the continual exertion it required from them. At length, many in the crew forgot all the times the old man’s warnings had saved them, and the ones that did remember, attributed it to luck, instead of his ability to see. Finally, rather than appreciating the faithfulness of the old man in the crow’s nest, they became annoyed by his constant cautioning and stopped listening to him.

Luckily for them this didn’t bring any immediate consequences because the waters at the edge of the sea leading into the river were calm and full of smooth sailing. This only fueled the idea that they no longer needed a guide, and they promptly ceased paying any attention to him at all. When they noticed their rations were beginning to run low, his were the first to be cut. The old man understandably became frustrated with the crew, but still resolved to fulfill his responsibility of warning them.

After a while the ship drew near the point where the river diverged with two options of courses you could take. The divide was not close enough for the crew to see yet, although it was easily visible to the old man. He watched anxiously as two ships who had set sail before them each took the left route. He peered further ahead through his old brass monocular in disbelief. The left course led straight into the terrible waterfall. Helplessly he cried out, “No! What are you doing?!” Astonished, he thought to himself, why did their guides tell them to go left? To his horror, as he looked through his telescope at the crow’s nest of both of the ships ahead, he saw their guides’ dead—one surrounded by a pool of blood had been shot with a musket, the other, curled up in the corner, lifeless as a rock, had been starved to death.

At this point the water his own ship was sailing in began to flow in a soft current toward the left route. Quickly, he warned his own crew, telling them everything he had seen, encouraging them with all the energy he had left to steer the boat out of the current and onto the course that led to the right, but they wouldn’t listen. He couldn’t believe it. Even after telling them exactly what he had seen, his own crew, still would not listen to him. In fact, they mocked him, and angrily shouted up to him that if he said another word, they would kill him. They wanted nothing more to do with him.

Disheartened, and left with nothing else to do, the old man looked woefully ahead through his monocular and watched as each of the other boats sailed right into the waterfall. Coming to a full realization that he was also going to sail into the waterfall and die just as those before him, he decided to take the roll of parchment that he had been detailing his ship’s voyage in and complete their story. He described what he had seen, and his attempts to get his crew to listen to him in vain, then included a solemn warning not to take the left route, and to listen to the guide, clearly laying forth what the consequences would be if this counsel was ignored. When he was done, he took the roll and stuffed it in his canteen, then closed the lid. He threw it back in the direction of the sea as far as he could, hoping that maybe, just maybe, someone would find it and learn from his crew’s mistakes.