Open Communication

June 25th, 2008  |  Published in Mormonism, Spirituality

Welcome to Above Yourself, a blog about self-improvement and faith. If you're new here, you may want to subscribe in a reader or subscribe by email. Many of the topics here are related to my faith in Jesus Christ and Mormonism, but all are welcome to share their own beliefs. Thanks for visiting!

Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a training course that focused on Communication Skills. Among all of the things that we talked about in that training, I learned that I needed to focus on being a better active listener and to be direct and straightforward in my own communication. Being straightforward and direct ensures that our message is clear and understood, and it helps to emphasize the importance our message has to us. Active listening means that not only do we hear the message, but we can communicate it back through paraphrasing. As our instructor said, it’s “<em>para</em>phrasing, not parroting”.

Although this was a training class for my job, it was clear to me from the beginning that improved communication skills might help me in other aspects of my life as well. When I put the things I learned into practice in my own personal life I can see the benefits of better communication. When I looked back over some of the course materials this morning, I realized that better communication could help me in the spiritual aspects of my life as well.

A significant part of our personal spirituality can come from our communication with our Father in Heaven through prayer. As we pray to Him, He can communicate with us through the Holy Ghost. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said the following about the communication that can be had through prayer:

As we commune with our Father in humble prayer, our hearts receive the gentle outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Lord tells us, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

Those who do not have this light ever struggle with disbelief. They cannot understand the things of God because their souls have little light. On the other hand, as our souls become filled with light, we begin to understand clearly things that once were dark.

-Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Improving Our Prayers,” Ensign, Mar 2004, 24–31

Prayer is an invaluable tool for communicating with God. As we improve the sincerity of our prayers and our own messages to our Heavenly Father, these messages earn increased attention from our Father and help us to be better guided by Him through the Holy Ghost. Our prayers earn new power when we become more open in our prayers, more sincere, and more in tune with our own personal feelings. In the same message, Elder Wirthlin said this about making our prayers meaningful:

There are many reasons our prayers may lack power. Sometimes they become routine. Our prayers become hollow when we say similar words in similar ways over and over so often that the words become more of a recitation than a communication. This is what the Savior described as “vain repetitions” (see Matt. 6:7). Such prayers, He said, will not be heard.

Our beloved prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, has observed:

“The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for and then speak to the Lord as one man speaketh to another.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (1997), 469.)

Do your prayers at times sound and feel the same? Have you ever said a prayer mechanically, the words pouring forth as though cut from a machine? Do you sometimes bore yourself as you pray?

Will prayers that do not demand much of your thought merit much attention from our Heavenly Father? When you find yourself getting into a routine with your prayers, step back and think. Meditate for a while on the things for which you really are grateful. Look for them. They don’t have to be grand or glorious. Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite food, or the sound of a loved one’s voice.

-Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Improving Our Prayers,” Ensign, Mar 2004, 24–31

As I focus on increasing my communication skills, I will also focus on increasing the sincerity and meaning I put forward in prayer. Each time we communicate well with others we can enhance our relationships with them by getting to know them better. Each time we pray we become closer to our Heavenly Father and we better know His will for us.

A Promise for All Times

April 14th, 2008  |  Published in Mormonism

Although the news seems to be filled with promises of a recession and difficult times ahead, God’s promises for us aren’t tied to the value of the dollar or any other concept. Our blessings from him depend on our keeping His commandments. A verse from the second chapter of the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon highlights that fact:

And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it. -Mosiah 2:41

Celebrating Easter

March 20th, 2008  |  Published in Goals, Mormonism

I was talking with a coworker today, and we seemed to agree that Easter shouldn’t be all about hiding candy in eggs and wearing our fanciest clothes to church. It’s a great time to think of Jesus Christ, his Atonement, and the Resurrection of Christ. I’m not planning on locking out the Easter Bunny from our house, but that conversation did make me think about how I can establish traditions that bring more thoughts of Jesus Christ into our family’s Easter traditions.

In Elder Richard G. Scott’s devotional at Brigham Young University this week, he highlighted the importance of learning about the Atonement. Here is part of BYU NewsNet’s recap:

“The Atonement is that essential ingredient of our Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness,” Elder Scott said, “without which that plan would have no significant meaning.”

Although this challenge applies specifically to students at BYU, we can all learn from studying about Christ’s Atonement. As part of our Easter celebration this year, my wife and I are participating in part of our church’s Easter pageant, specifically in a scene that takes place at Christ’s tomb. It’s a very moving scene, and I’m glad that it has helped us remember our Savior this Easter season.

Elder Scott then challenged students to “establish a personal plan to better understand and appreciate the incomparable, eternal, infinite consequences of the perfect fulfillment by Jesus Christ.” He testified as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ that one’s understanding of the Atonement will enhance the knowledge and skills learned at this university.

Finding the Right Metaphor

January 31st, 2008  |  Published in Mormonism, Spirituality, Testimony

I often learn best through metaphors. Metaphors take an concept that might be unfamiliar and dress it up like something that I am very familiar with. When we learn, we often visualize things better if they are presented in terms that we know well. When we teach, we try to explain our lessons using terminology that is familiar to our audience. Finding the right metaphor for our own learning or for our audience can unlock a deeper understanding. Here are a few examples of good metaphors that have recently been on my mind:

Tee ‘Em Up - My friend Richard was recently thinking about the way he wrote tasks on his to-do list. He wanted to set up his tasks in such a way that unfamiliar items could be easily tackled. He uses the automatic tees on a driving range to introduce this idea:

Growing up in Las Vegas, our favorite place to hit golf balls was Desert Pines. It was 30 minutes away, but it boasted a double decker driving range and automatic tees. After each hit, the tee dropped into the floor and re-emerged with a new ball. You could hit ball after ball without the pesky work of bending down to tee them. You could keep your stance and stay in the zone.

Imagine “teeing up” your tasks. Thoroughly prepare each task so the actual work of doing it is a simple, fluid stroke. Poorly prepared tasks require you to lean down. Well-prepared tasks are ripe for the hitting.

Bad: “Do taxes”
Good: “Find W2 forms and receipts in folder. Call accountant to setup appointment.”

Bad: “Christmas shopping”
Good: “Spend 10 minutes with pen and paper brainstorming what David might like for Christmas. Ask Mom for suggestions. Wait a few days to think about it. Order it online.”

Richard K. Miller - Tee ‘Em Up

Baseball and Perspective - Chelsea tells of a metaphor she heard in a talk at church that was presented by a BYU physics professor who wanted to explain “how he reconciles scientific theories with his testimony when they appear to conflict”.

 Say you got a ticket to a baseball game, but you got a seat where you could only see the pitcher and the batter. You couldn’t see the umpire, the catcher, the other fielders, or even the other bases or the scoreboard. This is a really terrible seat!

But as you watch the game, you start to notice patterns. This is like a scientific theory. You figure out that when the hitter hits the ball, he takes off running. You figure out that there must be a catcher, since the ball keeps being thrown back to the pitcher. And after a few games (you got a season pass in this awful seat), you start to figure out more technicalities, like balls and strikes. You start feeling really confident in your theory. Every time the ball is thrown, it fits into your theory of baseball.

But then one time when you’re watching the ball, there are three strikes and the runner takes off towards first base. What?! That doesn’t fit into your theory at all. So you modify your theory. You add the “third strike drop” rule that accounts for when the catcher drops the ball on a third strike, then the hitter gets to run to the bases. Now your theory works again.

But do you really understand what it is to watch baseball? Do you really understand all the rules? I’m sure you don’t. But from your terrible seat and limited perspective, you’ve done a lot to figure out what’s happening.

Scientific laws and theories are actually both theories. Newton’s Laws are called laws because that’s what HE called them. And they’ve been proven to be wrong in some situations, but they’re still called laws. Then we have Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which has never been proven wrong but is still called a theory, because Einstein called it a theory.

So going back to the religion thing. How can someone believe in the Big Bang theory, the theory of evolution, AND Adam and Eve? Well, it all comes down to perspective. We don’t know exactly how anything worked out. The account of the creation in the Bible is very brief and doesn’t go into too much detail on HOW things were created. And from our limited standpoint, we’ve found a lot of evidence that supports the scientific theories. Should we just throw away that evidence because we can’t make it fit in what we know to be God’s truth? No. But neither should we throw away God’s truth just because we found some evidence supporting some theories that seem to contradict it.

Fishing for Chelsea: Baseball and Perspective

How to Develop a Sense of Scale - In an article on his website BetterExplained, Kalid uses metaphors to help us put things in perspective. Here are his tips for understanding big numbers using smaller numbers that are more familiar:

Instead of looking up at the “big numbers”, we can shrink them to our level. Imagine the average person makes 50k/year, and a rich guy makes 500k/year. What’s the difference?

Well, instead of visualizing having 10x your money, imagine that things cost 10 times less. A new laptop? That’ll be 150 bucks. A new porsche? Only 6,000 dollars. A really nice house? 50k. Yowza. Things are cheap when you’re rich.

To understand Bill Gates’ scale, don’t think of 50 billion dollars and 5 billion/year income — it’s just another large number. Try to imagine having things cost 100,000 times less (and 100,000 is a pretty large number).

A laptop would be a few pennies. A porsche would be about 60 cents. Your $50M mansion would be a mere 500 bucks. You could “splurge”, spend $1000, and get everything you’ve ever needed. And you’re still earning 50k/year.

It’s much more vivid than “50 billion in the bank”, eh?

BetterExplained: How to Develop a Sense of Scale

The Gospel of Jesus Christ - Prophets have always used metaphors, parables, and allegories to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. These literary devices are so common in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and modern scripture because these books deal with topics that are not always easy to visualize. Metaphors in scripture give us the power to understand, with the help of the Holy Ghost, things of a spiritual nature. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, God can reveal us the truth of the things we learn in this way line upon line, helping us gain a personal knowledge of things of a spiritual nature.

With all of these metaphors our understanding can increase, but we must be careful that they accurately represent the truth and we interpret them in the correct way. For example, as we seek to understand spiritual matters, we should pray for the truth to be revealed to us by the Holy Ghost, because “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things”. Moroni 10:4-5.

Learning About Mormonism on the Internet

December 15th, 2007  |  Published in Mormonism

My primary reason for starting this blog was because I wanted to have a place where I could share my own personal feelings about gospel topics with the world. My hope is that some of these words will reach those who don’t know much about Mormons and Mormonism, but who want to know more. I know that there are many, many places for learning online, but I feel the same way as Elder Ballard, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon church) who described the potential of this new medium in a commencement speech he gave today at BYU-Hawaii. In this speech, he describes how members of the church can use the Internet and other “new media” to spread the message of the church. It is certainly true that political events have people talking more and more about the Mormons, and as Elder Ballard said, “conversations about the Church would take place whether or not Church members decided to participate in them.” It is our opportunity to join in on this discussion.

Today we have a modern equivalent of the printing press in the Internet and all that it means. The Internet allows everyone to be a publisher, to have their voice heard, and it is revolutionizing society. Before the Internet, there were great barriers to printing. It took money, power, or influence and a great amount of time to publish. But today, because of the emergence of what some call New Media, made possible by the Internet, many of those barriers have been removed. New Media consists of tools on the Internet that make it possible for nearly anyone to publish or broadcast to either a large or a niche audience. I have mentioned some of these tools already, and I know you are familiar with them. The emergence of New Media is facilitating a world-wide conversation on almost every subject including religion, and nearly everyone can participate. This modern equivalent of the printing press is not reserved only for the elite.

–M. Russell Ballard, Using New Media to Support the Work of the Church, Brigham Young University-Hawaii’s graduation ceremony, 15 December 2007.

In my personal view, the Internet is becoming an ever-increasing resource for learning things. It’s an ever-increasing trend for blogs to give better coverage than traditional media on all kinds of topics, from local sports teams to personal finance and beyond. As they continue writing about these topics, bloggers tend to gain a view of their topic that is in many ways unique; for example, sportscasters don’t often interact directly with fans as part of their daily routine, so a sports blogger can provide commentary in their own way. Opinions are more easily shared, and interaction between writers and readers is encouraged from the start.

There are many ways to share the gospel online. For more ideas, you can visit the More Good Foundation Blog and Know Your Neighbor, which both have many excellent resources and ideas. You can also read a summary of Elder Ballard’s speech, or the full transcript. Do you have your own ideas or experiences on how to share your thoughts on Mormonism? Let us know in the comments.