Our insecurities, preoccupations, or addictions may even lead us to believe that the time we have here in this life is our own, to be spent in the way we deem appropriate. We may be angry with God because of our suffering. Our will gradually begins to take priority over God's will. Elder Neal A. Maxwell reminds us that it is at this stage that things like regular scripture study, daily prayer, weekly family home evening, regular church attendance, home or visiting teaching, and temple attendance may no longer represent rich opportunities to grow spiritually and serve others. Instead, these activities may feel like intrusions on our time that keep us from enjoying the things that we think we want instead.
At this point, family problems and personal hardships may become too difficult to bear. We may respond to others and to God with bitterness, anger, and even rebellion as we face these challenges.
In response to those of us stuck at this stage of spirituality, the Lord, through King Benjamin, invites us "to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19). What does it mean to submit our will even "as a child doth submit to his father"? When our daughter, Lauren, was three years old, she did what many children do when they discover a pair of scissors in the house-she gave herself a haircut. Lauren cut off her bangs and big chunks of hair on both sides of her head. A few days later, a friend of ours-upon noticing Lauren's handiwork-jokingly commented to my wife that Lauren looked like a self-made woman. While my wife was grocery shopping with Lauren several weeks later, a stranger approached them and said that Lauren was a cute little girl. In response, Lauren loudly proclaimed, "I am not. I'm a self-made woman!"
Certainly, as Heavenly Father's spiritual sons and daughters and as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we understand that we are not self-made individuals. We owe our very existence, all that we have and all that we obtain in this life, to a loving Father in Heaven. Therefore, it should be our lifelong goal to strive to emulate the Savior's example and seek to do his will.
In Luke 22 we learn of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and his willingness to submit his will to Heavenly Father's, despite having to suffer overwhelming pain and agony from bearing the sins and afflictions of the world. Concerning the need to submit our will to God's, Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote, "Only by aligning our will with God's is full happiness to be found. Anything less results in a lesser portion." He goes on to say:
So many of us are kept from eventual consecration because we mistakenly think that, somehow, by letting our will be swallowed up by God's, we lose our individuality. What we are really worried about, of course, is not giving up self, but selfish things-like roles, our time, our preeminence, and our possessions. No wonder we are instructed by the Savior to lose ourselves. He is only asking us to lose the old self in order to find the new self. It is not a question of one's losing identity but of finding his true identity! Ironically, so many people already lose themselves anyway in their consuming hobbies and preoccupations but with far, far lesser things.
Humbly seeking to do what God would like us to do is challenging. I've had to work at it. On a number of occasions, I would have preferred to spend time engaged in personal interests rather than in serving others. However, I've learned that when we do what he wants us to do, everything inevitably works out the way that it should.
Let me illustrate with a personal example. Several years ago, while working full time just after the arrival of our third child, I was trying to complete my dissertation for a graduate degree. My struggle with depression and anxiety made everyday stresses seem even more challenging. After a year of frustration and little progress in organizing and writing the dissertation, I was ready to give up. It was at this point that I received a phone call from the stake executive secretary inviting me to meet with the stake president. A few days later, the stake president extended the call to serve as second counselor in our ward bishopric.
I accepted the challenge but thought to myself, I've been praying for help in completing my graduate work, and this is what I get-a call to serve in the bishopric? This calling-combined with my personal struggles-seemed like too much, and I felt that I didn't have time in my busy life for one more thing! It just didn't make any sense. I was extremely frustrated over the situation. I wanted to finish my degree, but it appeared as if it wouldn't happen. However, just three months after receiving that call, everything seemed to fall into place. I finished writing my dissertation and successfully completed the graduate program. I now know the Lord had a hand in helping me make it through. I believe it was by humbling myself, turning to God for help, and putting him first that I was able to accomplish something that previously seemed impossible.
Our Father in Heaven loves us too much to let us be content with the level of spirituality we have achieved currently. He allows us to experience certain individualized challenges that provide us with opportunities for spiritual growth. These opportunities help us draw closer to him. How we respond to each of these challenges and opportunities largely determines the amount of spiritual growth we experience.
There is a story written by Elder James E. Talmage called "The Unwise Bee" that illustrates how we sometimes respond to life's challenges:
A wild bee from the neighboring hills once flew into the room, and at intervals during an hour or more I caught the pleasing hum of its flight. The little creature realized that it was a prisoner, yet all its efforts to find the exit through the partly opened casement failed.
When ready to close up the room and leave, I threw the window wide and tried at first to guide and then to drive the bee to liberty and safety, knowing well that if left in the room it would die as other insects there entrapped had perished in the dry atmosphere of the enclosure. The more I tried to drive it out, the more determinedly did it oppose and resist my efforts. Its erstwhile peaceful hum developed into an angry roar; its darting flight became hostile and threatening.
Then it caught me off my guard and stung my hand-the hand that would have guided it to freedom. At last it alighted on a pendant attached to the ceiling, beyond my reach of help or injury. The sharp pain of its unkind sting aroused in me pity rather than anger. I knew the inevitable penalty of its mistaken opposition and defiance, and I had to leave the creature to its fate.
Three days later I returned to the room and found the dried, lifeless body of the bee on the writing table. It had paid for its stubbornness with its life. To the bee's short-sightedness and selfish misunderstanding I was a foe, a persistent persecutor, a mortal enemy bent on its destruction; while in truth I was its friend, offering it ransom of the life it had put in forfeit through its own error, striving to redeem it, in spite of itself, from the prison house of death and restore it to the outer air of liberty.3
Do we sometimes resist or even fight God's spiritual tutoring? When faced with challenges, do we humbly seek to understand and do God's will, or do we resist and choose to do things our way?
Obedience to God's laws and submitting to his will is vital to our happiness and success in life. It helps us to draw closer to him. So, then, in what ways can we demonstrate our obedience to God, or in what ways can we become more spiritually submissive? There may be others, but the following seven suggestions have helped me.
1. Keep the Sabbath day holy. The Sabbath day is a wonderful opportunity to rejuvenate your spirit and obtain the spiritual strength necessary to manage personal challenges. Honoring the Sabbath includes attending church each Sunday and actively participating in sacrament meeting. We are spiritually renewed as we strive to worthily partake of the sacrament each week, listen-really listen-to the sacrament prayers, think about the covenants we make, and then strive to keep them.
2. Pay a full tithing. Paying tithing is one way we demonstrate our faith and trust in God. It helps us to become more spiritually submissive. I've learned that the faith required to pay tithing is the same faith that enables us to be successful in our other life activities.
3. Serve others. Faithfully fulfilling church callings, regularly attending the temple, and (for priesthood holders) magnifying our priesthood-especially in the home-empower us to put personal issues in perspective and to learn to do God's will rather than our own.
4. Seek learning and work hard. Some may wonder how this relates to being obedient to God's will. I think it has a lot to do with it. President Gordon B. Hinckley repeatedly counseled us to obtain as much education as possible. He knew that a good education, hard work, and industry contribute to our happiness. In my life, education and hard work were two of the keys to breaking free from the consequences of abuse and related unhealthy patterns of behavior. I've discovered that lifelong learning, which includes regularly studying the scriptures, provides answers to daily challenges. Understanding and doing God's will is not a passive process but an active one. It requires work!
5. Stay morally clean and obey the Word of Wisdom. Most people who suffer from abuse may also have addictive personalities. As a result, they may easily develop other forms of addictions. Today's world tries to glorify pornography, immorality, and tobacco, drug, and alcohol use. They are not-and never will be-acceptable. They lead to addictions that destroy one's ability to feel the Spirit. Bishops can provide inspired guidance to assist those struggling to overcome these addictions. If necessary, an LDS therapist who specializes in treating addictions can also provide the support and counseling required for recovery.
6. Cultivate a sense of humor and participate in wholesome recreational activities. Real joy and happiness in life are the results of keeping God's commandments. A balanced perspective about life increases our desire to do his will. Therefore, it's important to see the humorous side of things. Good humor helps us put our daily challenges in perspective. It enables us to not take ourselves so seriously and to see the goodness in others. In addition, wholesome recreational activities help us to appreciate the beauty in the world around us. Like humor, recreational activities provide us with perspective, balance, and enjoyment-all of which are especially important for individuals who have experienced emotional trauma. Even in ancient Greece, the preferred treatment for individuals struggling with emotional challenges was to require that they attend theatrical comedies.
7. Show love and respect toward family members. We must learn to forgive and let go of any anger that we may feel toward a family member and work to replace it with love.
Elder Maxwell said,
The submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. The many other things we 'give,' brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God's will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!4
We each need to draw nearer to our Heavenly Father by letting go of anything that would impede our ability to grow spiritually. This includes sacrificing our obsessions, addictions, and other dysfunctions on the Lord's altar and replacing fear with faith and love.