Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is self-restraint possible? If so, what do I do for fun?

I am a very impulsive person. Attention Deficit Disorder makes it worse. (Oh, look, there's a butterfly!) I'm thankful that Heavenly Father has provided various medicines that help, but even so, I know I still have to learn self control and restraint.

One thing I've thought about and struggled with over the years has been this idea of getting myself to not do things I know are bad even when I really want to do them anyway, and getting myself to do things that I know are good when I'd much rather not. (It's easy to say no to a great many evils and yes to a great many goods just after church when the enthusiasm of the gospel is still upon me, but it is harder toward the middle and end of the week.)

At one point I was reading "Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O McKay" when I ran across this one little section that ended up changing my life:

May we realize as never before that mastery of one's personal inclinations is the heart of the Christian religion and of all religions. By nature the individual is selfish and inclined to follow his immediate impulses. It requires religion, or something higher than an individual or even a society of individuals, to overcome the selfish impulses of the natural man... (p86)

This idea that "mastery over our personal inclinations is at the heart of religion" sunk deep into my heart and I could see that if it was so, then mastery of my inclinations was actually possible. The idea was very exciting to me. The extent of my previous efforts to master myself extended to grabbing hold of every wave of impulse to do good that I could while it was still upon me and surfing it to its conclusion, or trying to anchor myself down when those bad waves came upon me in hopes that I wouldn't get tossed around too much. Do you see? I was just trying to cope with the impulses I had, not trying to control them.

But the idea of mastery! A master says, "Do this!" and the servant does it. The master says "Don't do that!" and the servant doesn't do it. If it was true that my impulses could serve me, instead of the other way around, then by golly any good work was possible for me to do, because sooner or later I would be able to master my impulses and inclinations and want to do it!

What I wanted was nothing less than the ability to change my desires. Have you ever tried to change what you want when you want something? It's dang hard! I knew at the outset that this was not something I could do myself. I thought, Heavenly Father always wants what it is good. If only I could have His desires somehow planted in me. I don't want my desires any more. I prayed about it. I asked Heavenly Father to help me want what HE wanted me to want.

Of course the natural woman wasn't going to let go without a fight. Part of me wondered, If I suddenly want what Heavenly Father wants, will I still be able to have fun? The answer came to me that if my nature was purified so that it wanted what Heavenly Father wanted, then my sense of fun would be purified too, and I'd enjoy doing those good things. My imagination did a loop-de-loop as I considered visiting teaching, temple work, family history work, missionary work, compassionate service all being transformed into something more enjoyable than duty.

I didn't change all at once. It sometimes seemed hard, especially when I was tired, but I discovered that I could still pray for the strength to do the things that I wanted to do that were good. That's when I really learned about The Grace of Christ. From the Bible Dictionary:
The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ....through the grace of the Lord...individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means.
(This not the only part of grace, but you'll have to read the rest on your own.)

The changes are still happening. I've gotten to the stage where weekly temple work is not just fun, but a necessity. It took me a while (a few years) to work up sufficient curiosity about family history to take a class on it, and that turned out to be pretty fun too. I've noticed that things I thought were fun before seem not as good now. Some movies and music that I used to like grates a little on my sensibilities now.

I suspect that my experience is part of what the prophets and apostles talk about when they say that we have to become "converted". I used to wonder just what they meant when they said it is a gradual process rather than a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now I know.


In The Doghouse said...

This self mastery is the unification process of the body with the spirit.

This is the "Zion" that the Lord is referring to in all the scriptures... being of one heart and one mind, with him.

Putting off the natural man and becoming a saint is the "wrestle with a man" that Jacob, son of Isaac had before he could be reconciled with his brother Esau.

This is the sanctification process where we are then admitted into the presence of God, because we are like Him.

This is a lifetime process of conversion... one step at a time.