The Value of Struggle

I want to talk to the rising generation. We live in a constantly changing world; one that can be difficult to keep up with. With change comes struggle and adaptation. This can be painful for those already set in their ways, but those who embrace change know how much better life can be when you become familiar with and take advantage of what is available.

A basic definition of struggle is to strive to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance. We all struggle with something.

Struggle helps inspire change

I recently heard a story about a young man who was living away from home and working in sales. After doing this for a while, he began to feel unfulfilled and wasn’t sure that this was the right career path he should take. One hot summer day it all came crashing down. There had to be some way to release all of these negative feelings. He got in his older model car, which happened to have a superb heater in it, cranked it up and started driving home. He immediately started sweating profusely and his suit was drenched in no time. The negative feelings started to leave. He got home, cut his suit up into pieces and flushed them down the toilet. The next day, he applied for a job at a local radio station and was immediately turned away. Day after day for about a month, he kept coming back and asking about a job there. Finally, they offered him an entry level position. Shortly thereafter, the host of one of the shows was fired and the young man was immediately promoted. Several years later, he is now successfully hosting his own show with literally millions of listeners each day.

Think for a minute about how the young man in the story must feel today. Do you think he takes for granted where he is, considering where he’s been? Of course not. Real appreciation comes out of the struggle. He earned his way to the top. Sure, he had help along the way, but his success was not just handed to him.

I don’t know the heart of the young man or if he realizes the plan God has for him. It is my personal belief that God has a plan for all of us; generally and individually. He truly cares about our happiness and has allowed us to experience mortal life in order to learn through our struggles.

Part of the Plan

In the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Lehi speaks about the necessity of learning by experience while speaking to his son Jacob:
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.” (2 Nephi 2:11)

I believe an important part of God’s great plan of happiness for us all is dealing with personal weakness and imperfections. I can honestly say at this point in my life that I am grateful for these things. I wouldn’t be where I am today without learning from my mistakes.

The Lord spoke to the Prophet Moroni in the Book of Mormon about this:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)

Lehi’s son Nephi taught:
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (2 Nephi 28:30)

I still struggle and I’m still young, so I know there’s a lot left to learn. However, I find comfort in knowing that as I try to follow God’s plan for me and allow him to shape me through my experiences, I will grow. I will appreciate more. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know!

How has struggle and opposition helped you to draw closer to God?

The Need for Human Connection

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quantity and quality of my use of technology. I’m asking myself how much time I’m spending online; what it’s doing for me and how it’s helping me serve others. I invite all who read this to ask themselves the same questions.

Consider for a second, the following: Timothy D. Wilson, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, led a team that explored our capacity for solitude. People were asked to sit in a chair and think, without a device or a book. They were told that they would have from six to 15 minutes alone and that the only rules were that they had to stay seated and not fall asleep. In one experiment, many student subjects opted to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit alone with their thoughts.

A little about myself
I was born in 1982. I grew up in the 80’s, but the 90’s probably influenced me the most. High school years usually have the most impact on a person and is the era you can claim. The 90’s was an interesting decade. Prior decades all have their unique and specific fashion, music, movies, etc. The 90’s was the beginning of a lot of change. Rapid change. Technology has absolutely exploded since the 90’s. Things are constantly changing, unlike any other era in the past.

A history lesson
A common question I hear is, “How did we survive without cell phones or computers?”. Well, how did we? Sure, everything moved a little bit slower back then and often required more patience to wait for a response without email and text messaging. For those who were born after landlines became ancient history, if you wanted to get a hold of somebody or give them a message you had a few options. Call them and hope they are home, if not, leave a voice message and wait for them to return your call, not knowing if they are home or when they will return. Then, once they get back to you, you may or may not be home, further delaying the connection. You could always go to their house or send them a letter via snail mail. Sounds fantastic, right?

Both sides of the coin
I don’t think society was fully prepared for the changes that took place during and after the 90’s. Although it was an incredible time to be young, we had no idea how much we would miss the power and necessity of face to face communication and connection. Honestly, I can’t blame anybody for not seeing that coming. No doubt, these advances in technology are in and of themselves a good thing. I don’t think anybody could argue with that. There is so much good that can be done using technology and the world relies on it heavily in so many ways. There’s nothing wrong with this. On the flip side, technology also provides a way to escape reality. Yes, we all need a break every once in awhile, but escaping isn’t the answer. As human beings, we will always have personal imperfections to deal with. Things don’t always work out as we plan and we are susceptible to injury, illness and death. These things are natural! We are given two options when faced with adversity – become bitter and angry, or try to deal with the problem the best we know how. If we choose the first option, the problem won’t just disappear. While the second option is easier said than done, it will ultimately bring peace, despite the fact that it will require a lot of work.

By nature, I am typically not one to strike up a conversation with a stranger. I usually keep to myself as long as I don’t need help from anybody else. I am very comfortable being alone and disconnected from the rest of the world. However, having been married for almost 12 years now and with 3 kids, most of my adult life has not been quiet! I don’t really have the opportunity to be on my own for very long. Before I go on any further here, I want to make it known that I am incredibly blessed. My wife and children are the reason I am the person I am today and I can’t imagine life without them. Okay, well I guess I can imagine it, but the price I would be paying for dealing with the challenges of life on my own might be too much for me to handle. They have literally saved my life, especially my wife. I feel very fortunate to have known her in high school and then to later be married and start a family. I didn’t have to experience the challenges young single adults face in today’s world. I didn’t have to wonder who I would spend the rest of my life with, or if I would even be able to find that person.

As an adult, I have experienced depression and anxiety. When I look back on my youth, I’m sure I had those feelings growing up but I definitely didn’t recognize them for what they were, nor did I know how to deal with them in a healthy way. I’m grateful that I surrounded myself with friends who uplifted and supported me. There’s no doubt that they helped carry me through those difficult times. Now that I have a family of my own, it is they who are my support. My wife loves me despite my many imperfections and my children love me because I try to be a good father. I have also been blessed by those outside of my family who have helped me to find positive outlets and have given me opportunities to connect with those who understand how I feel.

Dealing with adversity
We all deal with adversity, nobody is exempt. No matter where you live or how much money you have, there will be challenges. Sometimes these challenges come from our own choices we make and sometimes they are the result of somebody else’s choices, whether they intended to drag us into it or not. We can’t control the choices other people make, but we can certainly control our own choices.

How do you deal with your challenges? How often do you turn to something other than a friend or loved one for relief? I’ve admittedly been guilty of this many times. The alternatives are endless and the options ever growing. Whatever your problem is, there’s an app for it! Think about it. More than ever before, connecting with another person face to face has almost become obsolete. Most communication is done over social media, text or email. Most of our “friends” are online. While this is an incredible convenience, if we don’t take the time to talk in person, openly and honestly to somebody who cares about us, we are missing out! Although technology is powerful, it is nothing compared to the power of real person to person conversation.

From the hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth:

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

Never forget
As life becomes more automated and distractions become more readily available, don’t lose sight of what’s most important. When the Savior Jesus Christ walked the earth, he spent his time with other people. He listened to, served and taught them. His last and final sacrifice was for us all. His perfect example of love shows us all the way to live.

I don’t believe we are supposed to shun technology or entertainment, but use it when it is needed and when you disconnect from electronics, or whatever is distracting you, take the time to connect with a human being. Spouses, parents and children, siblings, coworkers, even strangers need to see and hear our true selves. You never know what somebody else is going through. You could be just the thing they need to get through a difficult time. God often answers our prayers through another person. Be that person that somebody is praying for. Look for opportunities to serve and uplift. You will find those opportunities if you look for them and it will do so much more for you than you can imagine.

A Lesson from Cleaning Blinds

We go along, busy with life, work, school, church responsibilities, families, thinking things are okay. But when we take time to sit back and ponder having the Spirit or the Light with us, we look a little closer and we can see that there are some things, or “dirt,” that we can clean out of our lives to be clean and pure before the Lord.

I went to Utah to help our son with his boys while his wife went to Girls’ Camp – a week-long camp for teenage girls. I knew she had been busy, not only with her three small boys, but there is a lot to do when you are in charge of a Girls’ Camp: you are planning activities as well as food. So I wanted to help with some of the deep cleaning that I knew she had not had time to do.

One of the things I wanted to do was clean her blinds and windows – sometimes those are the things that get forgotten or are last on the list. I told my son one evening that that would be my main focus the next day. He looked at them and said, “Mom, don’t worry about it. They don’t need to be cleaned.” I thought, “Well, it’s dark, and you can’t see that they do need it without the daylight.”

So the next day, their oldest son and I started to clean them while the other two played beside us. We were about done with the first big window when we looked and saw how dirty the wash water had gotten. I started to think about how this can relate to our spiritual lives. We can sometimes get so caught up in our everyday activities that we forget to do some of the little things that help us stay close to our Father in Heaven. We could say, “I don’t have time to read my scriptures today, so I’ll read extra tomorrow,” and then tomorrow it is easier to put it off one more day. Extracurricular activities may get in the way of Family Home Evening. “I’m too tired to pray on my knees tonight, so I will say a quick prayer in bed.” But we never get to the ‘Amen.’

We are counseled by our church leaders to do these things daily as a family and personally, because, if we don’t, our lives can soon become like the blinds in the darkness. We can’t see the dirt or ‘sin’ that we are letting in. Only with the Light of Christ can we truly see that those little things we do daily can bring us closer to Him and our eternal salvation.

John 8:12 – “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

For guys: Learning to communicate your feelings

One of the struggles that has characterized my late twenties/early thirties has been learning to express my feelings. To be sure, I was (and maybe still am) more emotionally inept than most, but it does seem like this is something a lot of others (especially men) struggle with, so I’d like to take a minute to share what I’ve learned about it with you.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a cognitive psychologist. I’m sure there’s a well-documented body of work that explains everything I’m sharing here, probably in a more helpful, useful way. If you’re aware of any such resources, I’d love to read them.. Otherwise, please enjoy my story for whatever it’s worth 🙂

My background
Those who know me know that I was a computer geek and a gamer for most of my young life. I had some serious dress/style problems that lasted at least until I was married when my wife took away my velcro wallet. I had some strong (albeit uninformed) opinions — it still makes me cringe to read some of the stuff I used to write about. All I knew about “emotion” was that some people sure had a lot of them (not me, of course) and they seemed to get in the way a lot, causing perfectly normal/smart people to do and say illogical things.

Becoming aware of my emotions
I have to credit my wife with first introducing me to the ideas of emotional awareness and intelligence. The polar opposite of me on every personality test we’ve ever taken, she’s a pillar of purpose, love, meaning and humanity. She’s not much for facts & figures or to-do lists & calendars, but she’s an incredible human. Over time she began introducing me to emotion, but I still didn’t really believe that they were an important concept, so it was a long struggle. I think one of the first real “breakthroughs” she had with me was when she got me to read “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. Long story short, the book teaches that when we are unwilling to feel/experience negative emotions, we also inadvertently deaden our ability to feel positive emotions, and that most people have developed a series of numbing “shields” that prevent them from feeling more deeply

As this idea started to solidify in my mind, I took another step and enrolled in an online “Leadership through Emotional Intelligence” course from Case Western University. I didn’t actually finish the course (oops!), but one concept really stuck with me — in order to teach emotional intelligence, the teacher didn’t just go through concepts but instead invited students to remember and write about specific types of experiences from the past. As I wrote, those emotions were recalled, and then the teacher would say “That was the emotion of fear.” I learned that to learn about emotions, I needed to feel them — not just read about them.

The biggest step of my emotional intelligence journey so far came from making the decision to participate in an encounter group or “T-Group” put on by instructors at Stanford University in October 2014. I’ll explain more about the impact of this experience below, but essentially it amounts to putting 10 strangers in a room to practice communicating with each other while simultaneously paying close attention to the feelings that the conversation generates. As we communicated, I learned a whole range of emotions I could feel, and I remember being surprised at (1) how nuanced they were and (2) how many I could feel simultaneously or in short succession.

Noticing the effects of my emotions
Emotions are a big part of life at home, but I think I first started becoming aware of them in the workplace. They just seemed more obvious at work — probably because they kept either helping or getting in the way of work to be done. I credit my business partner, John Gough, here, because for whatever reason he has always been extremely emotionally intelligent and has probably helped me hundreds of times in business meetings to consider how others are feeling, be aware of how I’m feeling, etc.

As I began to notice the effect of my emotions, one of the first things I realized is how much my emotions were related to my underlying beliefs about people/things. It was around this time that I read Ownership Spirit by Dennis Deaton, which turned out to be a fantastic read that I now highly recommend to just about anyone. In the book, Dr. Deaton teaches precisely this — that what we believe about a situation dramatically impacts how we feel about it, and that our beliefs are not always right. For example, someone cuts you off in traffic and you curse at them — how could they be so rude? But if you instead imagine to yourself that they’re speeding to the hospital with their mortally sick child in the back seat, you suddenly feel empathy, patience and helpfulness instead of anger. The same thing happens at work — are your co-workers lazy and out to get you? Or are they just busy trying to keep their own lives together and doing their best to work with what they have? Dr. Deaton encourages readers to examine the thoughts/beliefs that are giving us negative emotions, then practice seeing them in a new light that puts us back in control, which is what “taking ownership” means.

One other thing I’ll say that I’ve noticed about emotions is that, at least for me, they are heavily influenced by how tired I am. Over 90% of the fights Katie and I have had have occurred after 9pm, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When I’m tired, I can’t feel as well, and I notice that my negative emotions are amplified. I think for others it happens when they are hungry (“hangry”). Conversely, I’ve found that early in the morning is the best time for me to do my most important work, because I’m bubbling with energy, creativity, positivity and patience — before the work of the day has run me down 🙂

Learning to share the emotion
Once I had learned to name my emotions and became aware of the effect they were having on me, the next step was to learn to share them. Again, the T-group was instrumental here. I learned that an amazing thing happens when we share our emotions — others can feel the same too! In T-Group we were encouraged not to use the word LIKE, but instead to name the actual emotion. So for example instead of saying “I feel like you don’t care” (which not only implicates the other party, but also doesn’t really tell us how you feel about your observation), try saying “I feel hurt because the story in my head is that you don’t care.” When you express the second one, the typical response is remorse, empathy, care and concern whereas the response to the first is typically defensiveness, anger and retaliation. You tell me which one you’d rather have others feeling towards you 🙂

After being taught this concept, I began to notice others who were really good at sharing their emotions, and I started to join in on the fun. My bishop, Bishop Ken Bawden, is awesome at this. I’ve watched him in dozens, maybe hundreds of interactions with others where he has simply expressed his feelings — be they love, gratitude, care or concern — and the other party has responded in incredible ways. It has been powerful to me to see another man who is so comfortable expressing his feelings, and has gone a long way towards dispelling my own mistaken notions about how men should handle their emotions. There have been others too: John Gough, Ben Skinner and Russ Perry to name a few. I’ve also watched with sadness people who are unwilling to share their emotions — either because they can’t or don’t know that they should, and I’ve felt sorry for all the life they’re missing out on. I hope in time they’ll get to experience what I have experienced.

I don’t mean to get all soft on you here, but I do think there’s way too much societal pressure on men to keep up a stern facade and never let their emotions show. If they’re anything like me, they may not even realize they have emotions, although of course everyone does. And as long as they’re ignoring them, they’re not feeling them, which is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

Thoughts? Experiences?

Mormons and Their Rules – by Joseph Gardner

My sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to compete on the school’s track team.  In addition to enjoying to challenges associated with competition, I also experienced a great camaraderie with my teammates, most of whom had distinctly different backgrounds and interests.  

I’ll never forget one particular experience with my team, warming up for the day’s practice.  It was a Monday after one of those beautiful, cool spring weekends and everyone was discussing their weekend…let’s say “exploits.”  Ironically enough, the conversation turned to the appropriateness of their “extracurricular activities” with the discussion finally escalating when someone said, “well, let’s just ask Gardner!  He’s Mormon, he knows all the rules!”

The funny thing is, that wasn’t the first nor has it been the last experience like this that I’ve had.  Whether it’s coworkers joking that I must have been the culprit that finished off the office coffee without starting another batch or questions from neighbors, I’ve found that people typically associate members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with having lots of rules.

This has lead me to ask myself, “so what IS with all the rules?!”

Purpose of Commandments
First off, to use biblical jargon, we’ll refer to rules as commandments.  And whether we are looking at the Old Testament, New Testament, or the Book of Mormon, there are TONS of mentions of commandments.  Let’s just say, it would be a trending topic on twitter.

One of my favorite scriptures on commandments comes from the New Testament. Specifically John 14:15 and 21 where Jesus said, speaking to His disciples, “if ye love me, keep my commandments…he that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me…”

I read these verses to mean that keeping the commandments or following the rules, is an expression of my love and discipleship of Christ.

Using two examples from the Old Testament (Proverbs 4:4 and 19:16) provides an additional and different insight into the purpose of commandments.  They read, “…keep my commandments, and live,” and “ he that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul.”

The vibe I take here is that following the commandments also has a guiding purpose, and that keeping them results in a positive outcome for me.

Putting the Old and the New together, I get that God lovingly gives me these commandments for my benefit.  They provide guidance and instruction on how to live a happy and fulfilled life.  

This makes sense to me.  I mean, I have a hard time imagining a Father in Heaven chuckling to Himself saying, “now to make life even MORE difficult, I’ll give them commandments!  Mwah ha ha!”  In fact, in 1 John 5: 3 reads, “his commandments are not grievous,” with grievous meaning burdensome and oppressive (emphasis added).  

Seen in this light, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints go about life with all their “rules” because they see them as an expression of discipleship in Christ and believe they provide a guiding “hand rail” if you will, to life.

However, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m guilty of letting things become more about the rules and less about their purpose.

Can We Take It Too Far?
I’m a task-oriented person.  What I mean by this is, I tend to create a level of business in my life.  The day is only 24 hours and I’ve got stuff to take care of!!

Extending this to the discussion about commandments, I begin to see and behave in such a way that these guiding rules simply become “to-dos” on my every growing list of things to get done that day.   I approach them like a checklist and sometimes even expand their scope, furthering the  busyness of my life.

This hustle and bustle that I carry with me is the main window through which others get a glimpse of my faith. Probably not the best impression.

In fact, Christ spent a lot of His time on earth condemning this sort of behavior, (see Matthew 23 for example).  He taught and reminded the people that life isn’t about commandments for commandments sake.  They are meant to guide me to God (John 7:17).

Dieter Uchtdorf, whom members of the church support as a modern day apostle recently said, “salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God” (May 2015 General Conference).

When I heard him say I had an “oh-duh-light-bulb” moment.  I realized/remembered that I don’t go to church or practice my faith to take copious notes on how to make my life more busy and challenging.  I want to worship Christ because He has saved me. I need His grace.

Uchtdorf went on to emphasize that with Christ’s grace, commandments have yet another purpose, “living the gospel faithfully is not a burden.  It is a joyful rehearsal—a preparation for inheriting the grand glory of the eternities” (May 2015).

Clearly, my zealous busyness misses the mark, and doesn’t necessarily reflect well on my discipleship of Christ.  One particular commandment comes to mind here, the commandment to repent.  My favorite definition of repentance comes from Ezekiel where he says to turn from where I was facing back to God and live (see chapter 33).  

After that, commandments aren’t just rules.  They have a specific purpose: to help teach me about Him, to guide me to Him, to show me how to be more like Him.