Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Lessons from Backpacking in Yosemite
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.”
Often we set out to be anxiously engaged in a good cause without first building on a sure foundation. In the next 15 minutes I would like to lay out a plan to prepare us to be immersed in doing excellent things. First, we must build upon the Rock. Second, we must have a change of heart and third, we ought to engage in self-improvement by doing away with the Natural Man.
The great leader and prophet, Helaman, stated boldly that Christ is the Rock on which we should build, “that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down…because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”
As we are learning to build upon the Rock, Moroni tells us how to look at each situation to discern what is the right action, “…for everything which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.”
As we stand on the firm foundation, which “is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God,” we begin to see things as God sees them. We begin to have an “eye single to His glory” and to experience a change of heart. Alma describes this change of heart as being born again.
With a change of heart we begin to see the error of our ways and conclude that we must expel the Natural Man from us, who is “an enemy to God and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.”
Let us examine a few thoughts on the damaging affects of the Natural man.
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “Mankind [is] naturally selfish, ambitious and striving to excel one above another.” Neal A Maxwell reminded us, “Jesus put every thing on the altar without fanfare or bargaining. Both before and after His astonishing atonement, He declared, ‘Glory be to the Father,’ Jesus, stunningly brilliant, nevertheless allowed His will to be ‘swallowed up in the will of the Father.’ Those with pride-hardened minds are simply unable to do this…the Natural man is truly God’s enemy, because the natural man will keep God’s precious children from true and everlasting happiness. Our full happiness requires our becoming the men and women of Christ.”
Building upon the sure foundation with a mighty change of heart and banishing the evil ways of the natural man, we can then align our minds with Christ and fulfill the measure of our individual missions and purposes with an anxious heart and mind “bringing to pass much righteousness”
I would like to illustrate a recent experience that taught me about the “natural man” in me and gave me a change of heart.
I was invited to a special backpacking trip for educators in the beautiful Yosemite Wilderness. We would hike an average of about 10 miles a day carrying our gear and food for 6 days. I felt that being raised in a “backpacking family” and continuing the tradition with our own family would lend great stamina to my experience and I felt that I had prepared adequately for the physical burden I would face this last May. I imagined in my mind that I would be a great strength to others needing help along the way and that I would lift the spirits of those who were struggling. I now cringe at that prideful thought. God had something else in store for me on this trip.
I quickly learned several things. First that my backpack, which belonged to Dave and which I insisted on using because it was an up-to-date “internal frame” and better than my 20-year old, old-fashioned “external frame”, was too big for me; it was made for a man. It tore at my hips and caused excruciating pain at almost every step.
Secondly, the traction on my 23-year-old boots had disappeared and I had not been careful enough to check before embarking on the journey. I slipped and fell many times. Thus, I went awfully slow causing the whole company of 9 to move at a snail’s pace.
Thirdly, I learned that it would not be me who would help others, but that I would be the recipient of help rendered to me. If I were humble, I would have graciously, at first, accepted the service given me. But instead I was humiliated, especially when one of the mentors asked to see my backpack and then hoisted it up in front of him and carried it the remaining 2 miles or so to our first camp site, while still carrying his own heavy pack on his back. This act was repeated more than once during the week.
I wanted to be strong and physically able. I felt embarrassed. On one of the days we hiked about 2000 feet up and then 2200 feet down steep switchbacks into a beautiful valley. I trudged painfully slow and I knew it and everyone knew it. I must say that I never heard or felt any mumbling or murmuring from the group, in fact, all were so kind and seemed genuinely involved in great conversations on inspiring subjects. But, I sadly concentrated on my own worth, or imagined my own lack of worth in their eyes and carried that heavy burden along with my pack. This was the more onerous burden: this humiliatingly slow pace that weighed me down into the profundity of desperation. It is important to note that I was dwelling upon this burden and because of it; I filtered everything through this perspective.
On a particular cloudy day as I was pondering my struggles during solo time, my mentor sat down beside me for an interview. He asked me where I get my value. I thought some and then said, “from doing things.” He questioned back, “So, then, what about Joe down the road who doesn’t do much, does he have less value?” I was caught off guard. “No,” I hesitated, “he is still just as valuable…” I pondered for several minutes and he repeated the question. Where do each of us get our value? Suddenly a light turned on—I knew! I get my value from God!
From the time I could remember, I had allowed my service to others be as a pedestal for all to see and praise. I used this praise as a way to give myself a false sense of value, probably because I didn't fully understand where value came from. Now I knew that nothing I “do” can add or detract from my value.
My struggle with humiliation resulted from the wall I had built up to protect my ego, or what I thought was "my value". This was the single most important lesson of the trip and could be summed up in two parts. First, knowing that my value comes from God and that each and every other human being is equally valuable under God lets me know that I am "enough." Secondly, everything I do is linked to happiness or misery according to the law of God. My actions are not linked to my value, but are linked to the quality of my life.
This powerful turning point led me to glean and garner assiduously from the scriptures concerning “value”. Nephi taught me that “all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.” Alma, that our “souls are precious.” Christ reminded the prophet Joseph Smith to “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” And Bishop Edgely recently commented “Our commitment as members of Christ’s true Church stems from the fact that the Lord suffered for every single one of us—the nonmember, the less-active member, even the sinner, and every member in our own family.”
Understanding this seemed to “put off the natural man” in me. I was no longer interested in holding fast to my ego. No action affects my value under God. I seemed to have been lifted to the very tops of the highest peak in Yosemite that day. I felt free from this part of the natural man.
This lesson on value stands alone as a turning point in my life that will affect the way I lead in my home and community. I will have more power against the negative voices that tell me, I am not enough or I am worthless. Also, I will be less judgmental towards those who don't "do" their part. I will understand their value is as mine is and that their lack of action can only affect their happiness and not mine. I can go on and do what I was created to do and do it, as Aristotle says, beautifully, without connecting my work with my value or other's acceptance of me to my value. Our value is steady and always will be. We have no control over our value. Our work and actions are connected only with our happiness and are the only things of which we have control. This is empowering!
Can you imagine the great good we could do collectively if we could continually chip away at our egos in order to slough off the natural man? I am envisioning all of us as brothers and sisters who can see who we are, where we get our value and what our purpose is in life. I am seeing all of us seeking those things we were created to do here upon this earth. I see repentant souls, forgiving souls; I see small and great service rendered to one another. I am imagining all of us anxiously engaged in a good cause to affect righteousness because we are firmly planted on Christ’s foundation.
I am eternally grateful for inspired leaders who have guided me to put off the natural man and make changes in my heart so that I can more effectively do good things. I am reminded of the summer before the Twin Falls temple was in operation. It was during that time that a mighty change was wrought upon my heart.
The story begins many years ago. During my mission, my mother brought into her home a person who had lost her way. She had joined the church as a young adult, had gone on a mission and had become engaged to a nice active member. When things did not work out as intended, this woman became sad and lost her way. She turned to the vices that she had known before joining the church and was in this state when my mother took her in. Over the years, I listened more to the adversary than to the Spirit and began letting judgments on her character build up inside me. At times I would see and hear leaders teaching me the words of Paul, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” At other times I would hear the Savior say, “For, if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you; But if ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” I let these teachings sink in, but only superficially and would offer only a token repentance. Had I let them sink in more profoundly and begun to practice unconditional love I would have seen her as truly a child of God. It wasn’t until my Stake President, Joseph Sagers asked us to clear up any poor relationships in order to be prepared to go to the Twin Falls Temple. Through fasting and prayer I prayed diligently and with all the energy of my heart to have that pure love of Christ. Slowly but gradually it came and it seemed that my whole being was transforming, that each cell was rebuilding on this new realm of love. I felt a charity for her that I had never felt before and it continues today and she has responded to me kindly. I testify that this love converts individuals to Christ; both the giver and the receiver. I testify that as we learn to more fully repent and forgive one another because we are building upon the Rock, we will be more prepared to serve anxiously as the Lord’s hands in our families, our callings, our community and in the world.
Joshua told the children of Israel, “Be strong and of a good courage.” I imagine having dealt with the children of Israel for all those long years, Joshua knew that building upon the Rock, achieving a change of heart and putting off the natural man required strength and courage.
Our Heavenly Father pleads with us to “come unto Christ and be born again, yea, born of God, changed from [our] carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God becoming his sons and daughters.” The only hang-up is that he wants us to choose it for ourselves. This principle is beautifully taught in one of my favorite hymns:
Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n”
That God will force no man to heav’n
He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.
May we no more our pow’rs abuse,
But ways of truth and goodness choose;
Our God is pleased when we improve
His grace and seek his perfect love.
President Uchtdorf in recent years spoke about the Statue of Christ in one of the European towns that was severely damaged in World War II. He says, “When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives. Experts [repaired] most of the statue, but its hands…could not be restored. Some suggested [hiring] a sculptor to make new hands…[but] ultimately, the statue remained without hands…The people of the city added on the base of the statue…a sign with these words: ‘You are my hands’ President Uchtdorf continues, “As we emulate His perfect example, our hands can become His hands; our eyes, His eyes; our heart, His heart.”
Brothers and sisters, I testify that we can become his hands if we so choose. I testify that as we prepare ourselves spiritually by building upon the Rock, Experiencing a change of heart and ridding ourselves of the debilitating affects of the natural man, we will have insatiable desires to be anxiously engaged in a good cause. We will know who we are and who our brothers and sisters truly are in the great realm of things and we will not want to cease our labors. This I know in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
 D&C 58:27-28
 Helaman 5:12
 Moroni 7:16
 Helaman 5:12
 D&C 82:19, Mormon 8:15
 Alma 5:14
 Mosiah 3:19
 comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1980, p. 201.)
 D&C 19:19; Moses 4:2
 Mosiah 15:7; John 6:38
 General Conference, October 1990
 D&C 58:27-28
 2 Nephi 26:24-25, 28
 Alma 31:34
 D&C 18:10
 General Conference, April 2013
 Ephesians 4:32
 3 Nephi 13:14-15
 Joshua 1:6
 Mosiah 27:25
 “You are my hands” Uchtdorf April 2010