Self-Reflection and Its Uses

As I mentioned in a past post, I like to daydream and wonder about the universe and all the crazy stuff that’s in it. This often leads to thinking about something very important: Me! I really enjoy a good session of introspection and self-reflecting, especially at the end of the day when I am getting ready for bed. I talk to myself in the mirror, asking myself how my day went and what I could have done better. Usually this casual dialogue with my inner self becomes very serious and soul-searching. I think about my likes and dislikes, what kind of personality I have, and whether I am doing my best to improve myself as a person. I make plans to better myself, some of which I actually go through with. At the end of a session, I always feel better about myself, more satisfied with who I am and what it actually means to be me.

This might sound really goofy and weird, but I am a firm believer that a good bout of self-reflection can work wonders on the soul. I personally use self-reflection as a way to decompress, especially if I have been dissatisfied with life lately. It helps me to address the reasons for the issue and not just the issue itself. Does that make any sense? I guess another way to put it is that you need to get to the root of a problem, especially if you find that the problem stems from you! Sometimes self-reflection can lead you to places in your soul that you don’t really want to examine closely, but facing those dark thoughts and shadowy recesses can lead to a better sense of self-worth and allows us to address issues within ourselves that we might have never realized were there.

Now, why is self-reflection important from a Gospel perspective? Well, if we aren’t aware of ourselves and our own strengths and weaknesses, there is no way that we will be able to align our will to God’s and strive to follow his commandments. We have to be aware of the reasons behind our actions, whether they are because of something within ourselves or because of an outward stimulus. We can then change ourselves, or hopefully our surroundings, to alter what our actions are.

The other day, I heard someone talking about how they were easily angered and that they “just couldn’t help it.” I have a strong belief that anyone can change and that someone’s personality can be changed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. God, as our loving Heavenly Father, wants us to become better people. This can only take place through change and change can only occur in our soul if we allow the Atonement of Christ to work through us. My invitation for everybody today is to do a little soul-searching and find something you can work on to turn your heart towards God and allow yourself to be changed a little by the Atonement. Become a better person by striving to change some part of yourself today! Pray to have opportunities to change and God will provide them.

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Day of Worship

Today is the first post I have been able to make on Sunday (I wrote it ahead of time :D), so I want to talk about today being a day of worship. In the Mormon Church, we hold the Sabbath in very high esteem, often going out of our way to avoid working on Sundays and spending three whole hours at church. Why do we do this? Why do we devote so much energy to church when we could be out fishing or enjoying a beautiful afternoon on the lake?

These are questions I would get a lot when I was back home, but I would often jump into some long explanation that the Sabbath has always been a day of rest and we believed that we should keep the same commandments today, etc. Sometimes I would just tell people that it was one of the Ten Commandments to keep the Sabbath day holy, but that would sometimes create an argument about what activities were deemed “acceptable” to do and how we all interpret God’s laws differently. Well, after coming on my mission, I finally figured out the correct answer to those questions, one that was a completely valid and also allowed me to express our beliefs at the same time.

The magic answer is this: Sunday (the Sabbath) is a day of worship. It is a day set aside for us to worship God and recharge our spiritual “batteries.” As Mormons, we take the council literally when we are told the Sabbath is a day to rest from our labors, and it makes a bit of sense. We are always so busy during the rest of the week, hustling and bustling about trying to fulfill commitments, that we don’t have very much time to just sit and spend an extended period of time reading scriptures and learning the Gospel. Personally, I am very thankful for an entire day to put the worries of the world on hold and get to focus completely on the Lord. One might ask, “Well, that’s jolly good and well, but why don’t you go water-skiing on Sunday either?” That would be a good question! Well, the answer lies in the scriptures. In the Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-10, it says:

9 And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; 
10 For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;

We are to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” and “pay [our] devotions unto the Most High.” If we are busy water-skiing, it is awfully difficult to keep our minds devoted to God. If we are shopping for our next pair of shoes, we are probably thinking more about paying for our favorite brand names and less about paying devotions to the Most High. Remember why we have the Sabbath and take the time to worship your Heavenly Father!

Now, that being said, the scriptures also say “…[our] vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times” (D&C 59:11). This means that just because Sunday is a special day to worship, doesn’t mean that we can go crazy the rest of the week and forget all of our obligations as Christians and disciples of Christ. We have to remember the commandments and act accordingly, but that Sunday is a day specifically to put aside our troubles and worship the Lord. My invitation today is to keep the Sabbath holy by going to church and studying the scriptures. Also, remember to take the spirit of the Sabbath with you during the rest of the week too!

On Preventing Inactivity

As a missionary, especially here in Utah, I have talked to many people who have gone inactive or less-active in the church for a variety of reasons. Like President Uchtdorf recently said in the October General Conference, the reasons for leaving the church are neither general nor simple. I won’t talk much about that talk, partly because I already talked about it (see: My Favorite Conference Talk) and partly because today I want to talk about what we as members can do to prevent our own inactivity in the Gospel.

Personally, I wish it was just as easy as saying, “I am always going to stay active in the church!” I wish that outward exclamation of will would be enough to prevent a possible falling away from the Church that I love, but having seen so many other people go inactive, I know that must not be enough. Even more disturbing to me is the fact that there are missionaries who serve honorable, full-time missions only to go inactive a year or two off their missions. I admit that I have been worried quite a bit lately about that possibility with myself. I really can’t see myself doing that, but what on Earth can I do to prevent such a thing from happening?

The answer (or rather, one of them) came to me during my personal study a few days ago. I was reading the October 1996 General Conference talks when I came across one by a nearly twenty-years younger Thomas S. Monson. The talk is titled “Be Thou an Example,” and it primarily talks about how we can receive blessings from following the Lord’s commandments and that our example can change the lives of those around us. As I was reading the wonderful discourse, I came across an entire paragraph devoted to missionaries and the council that he would give them. Here are the three things that he asked his missionaries to do when he was a Mission President in Canada:

  1. “Prepare well for your vocation, profession, or trade, and be the very best you can be at what you choose to do.
  2. Quoting Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “Marry the right person [at the right time], in the right place, [and] by the right authority.” Thus far, their responses were spontaneous and enthusiastic. Then I would counsel:
  3. Always be active in the Church. Some of the missionaries would look a little quizzical before responding, and I would say, “Let me put the matter another way. Three words provide the formula: Pay your tithing.” Each would affirm determination to do so. I truly believe that the payment of an honest tithing will go a long way to ensure continued activity in the Church.”

After reading the each of the first two points, I was nodding my heading and saying to myself, “Yes yes, this is very sound advice.” When I read the third point, I did a mental double-take. Was continued activity really as easy as paying tithing? I am not sure I even finished the talk at this point because I felt like I had been given a nugget of metal more precious than gold. Perhaps this was the answer I had been seeking the whole time.

Well, after thinking about it and pondering why exactly tithing would help with continued church activity, I realized that the solution was not as easy as I had first mentally exclaimed. I thought about my own struggles paying tithing over the years and how difficult it was to give up one tenth of a hard-earned paycheck. I thought about my parents who had been dirt-poor during college and the fact that they made a concentrated effort to pay their tithing every month. My mom still speaks with great reverence about the blessings they received during those years and how she attributes them to tithing. I realized that the tithing we pay blesses us more than anything else. While it is true that the Church uses tithing to fund building construction and other projects, the Church really doesn’t need the money. President Monson could tell the entire membership that there is no need to pay tithing anymore and he would be guided to some mountain to find an untapped gold vein or something in order to fund the Church. So if the Lord doesn’t need our tithing, why do we pay it? Why is it a commandment to pay one whole tenth of the money we make to a church that could get along just fine without it?

In Malachi 3:10-11 regarding the payment of tithing, it states,

“…prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.”

Honestly, I think the opportunity to receive a blessing “that there shall not be room enough to receive it” is a good enough reason to pay tithing, but the Lord explains even further that “[He] will rebuke the devourer for [our] sakes.” Satan himself will be rebuked and have no power over us. The “fruits of our ground” will be protected and will be given to us in the correct time. While in many cases this includes financial blessings, it often also means our spiritual fruits as well. I assume that tithing helps our church activity in this manner. If we are paying an honest tithe, we will be blessed with more spiritual sensitivity and a desire to attend church. We will be given an increased capacity to serve in the church and opportunities to grow and progress, which is the ultimate goal of this life.

My invitation to you today is to pay your tithing and see how generous God will be in blessing you. I can testify that tithing has kept my own family afloat during difficult times in our life and brought us closer together. A family that pays tithing together attends church together. If you are currently inactive in the Church, I urge you to come back and enjoy the blessings that the Lord has (and wants) for you. Our Father in Heaven wants to bless us, but we have to follow His provided commandments in order to do so.

Take No Thought What Ye Shall Speak

 19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.
 20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. (Matthew 10:19-20)

As missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have the enormous responsibility of testifying of the Living Christ before everyone we meet. We bear His name on our name tags and we pray to Him to guide us to those who need our message most. Sometimes we are led to people and have no idea what we are going to teach them or what their needs are. I take particular comfort in the scripture above during those situations.

I have walked into someone’s home, sat down with them, taught a lesson, and left for my next appointment without remembering exactly what I even said simply because the words I spoke were not my own. I can testify that the guidance of the Spirit is second to none. No matter how much preparation someone puts into a lesson or how many scriptures they have memorized, the Spirit will always put into their minds the exact thing they should say at the proper time. If a missionary is properly attuned to the Spirit by living the principles they teach, there is no need to fear any man, no matter the strength of his argument or stature.

Strive to keep the Spirit with you at all times, so that you will be able to speak the words of God based on His guidance. If you are worried about doing missionary work because you don’t think you have enough scriptural knowledge or just don’t know what to say, remember this scripture and strive to say what the Spirit guides. I can promise that you will be guided and speak through the Spirit of God.

Hastening the Work Through Technology

Ok, so my Sundays and Mondays are insanely hectic, so I am going to try to make posts for those days ahead of time. Those posts will most likely be shorter messages and words of inspiration rather than the editorial-type posts I normally create, simply because of time constraints.

Anywho, so I have received some emails from family members who are curious as to what exactly how we use technology to spread the gospel in the Salt Lake City West mission. I had answered such questions before with short answers, but I decided to make a comprehensive explanation about this during my email time yesterday. Here is what I wrote.

Okay, so my mission (Salt Lake City West) is one of two missions in the world that are fully incorporating technology into the mission field. The other mission is Santa Rosa California. Basically, we use Facebook, iPads, mormon.org chat, and blogs to share the Gospel. Specifically, it gets a little bit more complicated. I am going to call the different technologies “Hasteners.” For sake of clarity, I am also going to split up the four different ways we use the technologies and how they are connected. I will start with the iPads.
iPads
When I was told we were getting iPads as missionaries, I almost didn’t believe it. It was my first day in the mission and I honestly thought my trainer was just playing a joke on me. Lo and behold, two weeks later we were all armed with a new digital storage of Gospel material to share.
 
How do we use it?
We use the iPads primarily as mobile gospel libraries. We have access to an advanced version of the church-sponsored Gospel Library app that includes many extra categories of manuals and missionary-specific help. We use the iPads during personal study to take notes, read the scriptures, and study Conference talks. Our notes sync with our lds.org accounts, meaning we can access them digitally on any computer, even after our missions. While studying is awesome, they are even more useful with the Areabook app. We are beta-testing an application created by a third-party programming team that consists of 6 guys from the church. I believe they worked with Go-Daddy to set up the program framework and server-side nuts and bolts, but I am not completely sure. The Areabook app allows us access to area-specific information, giving us investigator information and basic member information such as addresses, callings, and phone numbers. We use it at night to plan for the next day, which we then sync with our companion’s changes. It comes with a calendar, investigator list (replete with color-coded dots to specify different types of people), task list, and goal-setting feature. The program automatically updates our lesson numbers when we input the lesson info, such as principles taught, invitations extended, and commitments keeping. We also use the iPads as communication devices amongst missionaries using iMessenger. We also use the iPads to post to Facebook.
How on this good Earth did the Church come to the conclusion that we needed this?!
Well, we were told that a group from the missionary work committee of the Church presented the idea of iPads to the Twelve. They immediately voted on it with Elder Perry standing up and announcing that this was the next big step for missionary work and he saw no problem with it. They unanimously voted, without counseling among themselves, that the presentation be given to the First Presidency. At the end of the presentation, President Monson turned to President Uchtdorf and President Eyring and said, “I see nothing wrong with this. Do you?” The other two of course agreed and that was that. They decided that our two missions would be the test-beds of the project, working to iron out the problems and streamlining the process. We were told in the meeting where we received the iPads that if we did not use the iPads to plan study, etc, we were actually holding back the hastening of the work. I had no problem with this of course.
What kind of restriction is placed on this?
Well, because of various OS Profiles the Church has placed on the devices, we are not allowed access to the app store, cannot download any unapproved applications, have a white-list of websites we are allowed to access, and are of course limited to internet access by where wifi is located.
So how does this connect with the rest of the Hastening the Work Initiative?
We use the iPads to connect to Facebook and chat with people through Skype. Out of the four Hasteners, this is the least connected, primarily due to the restricted nature of the device. Technically, I can use my iPad to post to my blog through email, but it certainly a little tedious to do so.
Facebook
Facebook is the most readily-visible change in missionary work. While we were the first mission to have Facebook access, many more missions are able to access it now (primarily missions in the US). Feel free to add your local missionaries if they are on Facebook!
How do we use it?
We use Facebook to post inspirational messages and communicate with investigators/less active members who are interested in the Gospel. We also use Facebook to coordinate events such as baptisms. Facebook is a high-visibility way to spread the Gospel.
How on this good Earth did the Church come to the conclusion that we needed this?!
I don’t know the story about how it came about, but I do know that the Church has been testing missionaries on Facebook for quite some time, especially service missionaries. If you think about it, Facebook is a great way to share Gospel principles with your friends and family. The Internet has been provided to us as a gift from God, a miracle in ability to spread information and learn eternal truths. It just so happens that we are now taking advantage of the gift.
What kind of restriction is placed on this?
We are given 1-2 hours a day to access Facebook. We may use that time to teach an investigator or two and post an inspirational message. We are encouraged to post once a day. We are advised to Like Gospel-related topics and Share inspirational messages from other missionaries. We are not to post anything that is not Gospel or missionary work related. We can only Friend other missionaries who are in our district. We are allowed to be Friends with people back home as long as they are not active members or family members. This is for the purpose of teaching people back home one-on-one. Elders and Sisters cannot be friends on Facebook if they are in the same mission, but are allowed to Follow each other. Additionally, family members and such can Follow the missionaries (no friend requests please!). We are to deactivate our old Facebook accounts from before our missions in order to assist people in finding the new account better.
So how does this connect with the rest of the Hastening the Work Initiative?
I use Facebook primarily as a visibility platform for my blog. I have used it before to contact a friend back home to try and set him up with a missionary visit, but haven’t had many chances to talk to him. Really, Facebook is the nucleus of our online efforts. We try and get members to share our messages with the people who we are not friends with. I know of many missionaries who have received friend requests from people interested in speaking more with the missionaries because of such a message.
Blogs
Blogs are the least-visible of the Hasteners and require quite a bit of effort to maintain and grow. This means many missionaries do not have a blog. Through the use of tags and commenting on other blogs, blogs can be a powerful tool to share longer, more meaningful Gospel messages..
How do we use it?
Because there are so few, I can’t really give a general idea of how blogs are used, but I can tell you what I use mine for. I am partial to the blog medium because of its potential to reach a worldwide audience within the blogosphere. There are tons of people who spend their time on the internet to just look at other people’s blogs. Through tags and categories, as well as careful cultivation of comments and likes on other blogs, you can get people who are interested in specific subjects to visit your blog. It helps if the blog is funny and interesting. I use mine to describe what I learned that day from my mission. It is a daily blog, which not many people choose to do because of the amount of work it takes, but I am a pretty fast typer, so I enjoy it. I have already had my blog linked to on a prominent Mormon blog that is widely-viewed. I use WordPress, which I have been very pleased with. It has a very comprehensive connectivity feature, allowing it to link to Facebook and other social networking sites. Additionally, it provides useful stats such as: views per day, geological location of viewers, tags that have gotten the most views, and much more. Very helpful stuff for someone trying to get his blog known as much as possible.
 
How on this good Earth did the Church come to the conclusion that we needed this?!
I know very little about why we are allowed to have blogs, other than it is another outlet for missionary communication and the reasons I explained above.
What kind of restriction is placed on this?
I am not aware of any restrictions placed on blogs, other than to be careful about how many times we post a day and that WordPress and Blogspot are the only “approved” blogging sites. There is nothing that says we can’t use Tumblr or another type of blogging site, though I do avoid Tumble simply because of its distracting and often inappropriate nature. The same time limitations for Facebook are also placed on blogs.
So how does this connect with the rest of the Hastening the Work Initiative?
Blogs are used to provide more in-depth content than your average Facebook post. Where Facebook posts are designed to be read quickly and provide interest for the minimum words required, blogs cater to people who are more interested in editorial-length explanations and opinions. Facebook is a great platform to get your blog publicity. It doesn’t really connect with the iPad unless they allow us access to a blogging app (which I hope).
Mormon.org
So this one is kind of interesting. Mormon.org chat has been used longer than any of the other Hasteners. It is a platform designed to answer specific questions from investigators and members from around the world, catering to random people who want to know more about the Church. Missionaries in my mission have catalyzed baptisms in the US, Europe, Brazil, Russia, Taiwan, Australia, you name it. Mormon.org has arguably had the strongest impact on missionary work, as we teach online lessons that are pretty much the lessons we would give if we were face-to-face with the investigator.
I am not going to go into any more detail with mormon.org chat because it is fairly self-explanatory. People can talk to real-life missionaries who will answer their questions. It is difficult to do, especially if the investigator is bad at typing or has a question for something very tedious to answer through chatting on the internet. We get many people who just try to mess with the missionaries, but there are many people who are genuinely seeking knowledge. Those lessons are awesome.
Okay, that was long, but I hope it provides a bit of an explanation as to what we do with all this technology we have access to. If you have any specific questions, please ask! Like I said, feel free to share this with anyone you want. It is not an official explanation, but I spent some good time on this, trying to make it as comprehensive as possible.
Cheers!
Elder Dunford

Broken Vessels

So this year’s General Conference covered a myriad of different subjects, from a woman’s necessary role in the world to the blessings of paying tithing. In this spiritually uplifting meeting, there was one talk that was very different than the rest: Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk during the Saturday afternoon session of conference. Elder Holland spoke on depression, a very real enemy in the stressful world of today. His talk, “Like a Broken Vessel,” reminded me of my own struggles with depression early in high school and college. I won’t go into the details of my own struggles, mostly because they were very minor compared to many people’s battles with depression, but I will pull a few quotes from the talk that affected me most.

“…today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!”

Depression is so much more that merely a bout of mild discouragement, it is a crippling curse on the mind. I greatly appreciated that Elder Holland explained how serious depression is. It truly does affect one’s ability to think clearly and see anything positive in life. When I suffered through my mild depression, I wasn’t even able to plan more than a day ahead. Surrounded by the shadows created by my own worries and doubts, I lived day-by-day, struggling to do something that would give me a sense of purpose or accomplishment. Even thinking about it now gives a feeling of dread in my stomach that it could happen again. Luckily, I eventually found the answer that Elder Holland described later in the talk.

“So how do you best respond when mental or emotional challenges confront you or those you love? Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend.”

Like a ray of sunlight that pierces the dark clouds of a dispersing storm, I remembered my Heavenly Father and His love. I remembered that I could pray to him and ask him for strength. I remembered that He, above anyone else, could actually understand what I was going through internally. Where I was feeling such horrible anguish at the state of my life, I was able to see how great a gift it truly was. The skies cleared, and the sun shown brightly once again.

“Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are ‘like a broken vessel,’ as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”

This is the most powerful statement in the entire talk (in my opinion). While I never really considered ending my life as an option, I know that there are those who can see no other way to end the pain. Like Elder Holland pleas, do not end your life. There really is so much more to live for, but often the only way to overcome the darkness is to look towards the source of eternal light, God our Heavenly Father.

The divine potter is the perfect craftsman, able to fix any crack in the broken vessels of our souls. All He requires is that we reach out and grab the hand that He has offered us. Prayer, fasting, and pondering the scriptures, coupled with faith, allow us to grab that hand and begin the long process of mending the broken vessels. My invitation today is to everyone who is currently experiencing depression to reach out and turn to the divine potter. To those who have already trudged through that dark and lonely road, turn to help those who need your experience. Help them to see the light that got you through and provide support in their time of need.

Heavenly Communication

Some days, it seems like all I do is pray. I pray that we can have lessons, that people will be open to our message, that my family will be safe while I am gone, that we will be safe on our bikes, etc. There are a ton of things that I pray about, especially during days that it seems like nothing is going right for me. Sometimes I feel like I pray so much that I’m not sure God even wants to hear from me anymore! I don’t want to seem needy, but there is a lot of stuff in my life that I have no control over, so why not ask God to help out?

Someone told me the other day that they don’t pray because they feel like if they did pray, it would be hypocritical. They hadn’t prayed for all this time, why would God want to suddenly start to listen? Surely He has better things to do than listen to someone who has never made the effort to even talk before.

Well, like I told that person, it is never ever too late to pray. God is our Father in Heaven, and like any good father, He wants to hear from His children. Because He loves us so much, God has provided a way for us to communicate with Him, for the human race to continue to feel His presence even after the events in the Garden of Eden. Prayer is the way for us to receive divine inspiration, answers to life’s most burning questions, and guidance for difficult choices.

There is a fantastic article on lds.org that explains how to pray and seek answers. It can be found here. My invitation to everyone is to read this article and get some heavenly communication going! I promise that your life will change for the better and that your spirituality will be greatly increased.