The Greatest Danger

I love good questions; both answering them, and hearing others thoughtfully try. I have often asked, “what is your greatest fear?” For the longest time, I considered mine to be letting down someone who depends on me; someone who trusts me and should trust me…  But another has pervaded my thought.

I now think what scare me most is something more subtle and much more personal. It happens inside our minds and by our own choice. Put simply, it is desensitization. Whether to sin, to the present, or any other good thing, it is what allows us to act in opposition to deeper, truer understanding. 

Desensitization is a process. Just as self-discipline is like a muscle that strengthens with consistent use, every single time we perform below what we truly desire, we lower our threshold for what we find satisfactory. Over time, what we once held in high esteem becomes negatable. Through many tiny offenses to our sense of purpose or our moral code, we become desensitized.

Desensitization is weakness. One bad choice makes it easier to follow up with more choices that you know you will regret later. The process of desensitization stands in oppositions to the process of strengthening self-will through exerting initiative, and one of these processes is always working. It sets us apart. You will find that the most intrinsically powerful people you know of are function on the high side of the spectrum. They have learned to recognize the danger in the small things where they are prone to rationalize, and they have learned to hold to a higher standard.

The idea that we can reach a pre-determined point and stay there is a myth. It’s not enough to aim for the minimum threshold with which we are comfortable because in our fallen state, we will make mistakes, and occasionally underachieve. If we are not actively trying to improve, we are falling backwards. It may be so gradual as to be practically incomprehensible, but if not caught, the tragedy can be limitless.

It is difficult to recognize where we have become latent. We teach ourselves to either heed or disregard the conscience of our subconscious over a lifetime. To ignore the slightest sensation that something is wrong, facilitates the eventual feeling that nothing is wrong, which is why it is so difficult to recognize that you began ignoring it the first place! To wake up to the error of your ways requires intense introspection, perceptivity, or a strong—often painful—stimulus.

Desensitization is the process by which we take our blessings for granted. It contributes to every rationalization or excuse we make.

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My mind has recently been drawn back to a time years ago as I lay in bed, preparing to sleep. I contemplated my existence on this earth, the purpose of my life, my potential as a daughter of God, and what lay ahead. I contemplated the undeterminable period of time I spent preparing to come to this earth, to be tested and tried, to experience pain and joy, to live in a state of mortality, with no recollection of my existence before birth, or surety of life after death. I was to experience all this and so much more within a mere century. Could I have imagined just a few decades would seem so long? Weeping silently and softly, I wondered how on my own attic floor mattress, I didn’t feel home. A parable unfolded in my head–based on something I’d been taught before–and it helped me understand just a little bit more.

Surely, before passing through the veil separating premortal and mortal existence, I thought of earth life as I would mortally consider the taking of a scholarly test. You walk into the testing center–which of itself is not a particularly fun place–and alongside many other test-takers, you demonstrate what you know, extrapolate your knowledge to guess what you don’t, and in a matter of minutes you walk out of the testing center back to the trees, wind and sunshine of real life. What you may have spent hours preparing for determines your performance in that comparably short test. Its end brings relief.

Imagine you are stuck in this testing center, but while inside, you have no understanding of the expanse outside this shuttered building from whence you just came. You are aware that the test is timed, but you have little surety of the precise length of time. It would be miserable. However, a lucky few have other test takers approach them and explain that this is only one testing center on a vast planet. They would point out the light, seeping weakly through the blinded windows and they would tell you of the sun which is its source, set in space infinitely larger than that contained in these walls. They would point to the test in your hand and tell you, “That test is the reason you are here. Remember your preparation and do your best, and you will come out of this center with no regrets, and again see the sun.” Even choosing to believe that there is a purpose to this test and that it will be worth every effort, the time spent in the testing center would still be tedious. We certainly could never be satisfied staying forever. But because our perspective is limited only to the time spent there, it would literally be forever. Thus we would never be satisfied.

Though the scale is many trillion times too small, this example helped me understand that earth is like a testing center. The rest of the world–its mountains and cultures, richness and diversity, sun and wind and snow–represents the realm in which we were created; the sphere in which we are meant to inhabit and thrive. It is not a realm where time exists as we know it. It is an eternal sphere, and we are eternal beings. We have been placed here for a time that is so relatively insignificant, we could never fathom just how tiny a fraction of eternity our entire mortal life will be. We were not created to exist here. This realm is not the sphere we are designed to inhabit. This is not the end to which we were made. We are children of God, and contained in us is the potential to become Gods and Goddesses just like our Heavenly Father and Mother. As they are eternal, so are we. Eternal beings are not meant to dwell in in time or even mortality. We were conceived and raised in eternity. That is our home, and it is back to that existence we will return after this brief time here. We will then be home, and mortality will seem as the blink of an eyelash. We will immediately wonder how we ever got distracted by such insignificant things that may have even seemed important to us during earth life. We will rejoice in our righteous decisions, for they will color our eternal existence, but the pains and loneliness and turmoil of that limited and fallen sphere will fall from our minds, leaving only understanding to be applied here, home, eternally.

Right now, we aren’t at that point yet, but we have such a rare and blessed opportunity to determine what that moment will be like, based on what we do now. Our time is limited, and the test is in our hand. It is a format unique to only you, but it is open book. Though others may fool around and deny the importance of those problems you diligently attempt to solve, you’ve chosen to believe that your effort will be worth it. Your eyes, your mind and your heart are fixed. You know that the Sun awaits beyond those doors, so you endure with diligence. When you finally feel its warmth and experience His light, you will have no regrets.

 

Excuses

In my opinion, there is a continuum upon which each person falls. On one end is someone who finds and uses the excuses available for their situation, and on the other end is someone who sees themselves, their responsibilities and abilities in the same way, despite their circumstances. These people, rather than using their challenge to excuse under-achievement, hold themselves accountable to what they desire and know they can become. These are the people you hear about who were born in abject poverty, into broken homes with seemingly no opportunity; yet became surgeons, talk show hosts, politicians or supreme court judges; revered by the public and renowned for rising above their circumstances.

Looking further down the continuum you must realize that the excuses I speak of are most often completely acceptable. For example, say that someone is religious, loves God and is highly involved in church. But one day their house burns down with one of their children inside. This person falls completely away from their religion, with the statement, “I can’t believe in a God who would let this happen.” Few would judge this person for having such feelings and reacting in such a way.  Now to change perspective, let’s look back in the lives of many extraordinary people. You will see that disasters have victimized them, but when life was too hard for them to stand, they knelt. It’s very simple. They didn’t use their challenge as an excuse. In their situation with the excuse available to them, no one would have judged them for falling into depression, becoming dependent or being angry. But they didn’t. They held themselves to a higher standard inside. That is what makes someone truly extraordinary.

Seeing that few people are in as advanced a position on this continuum as Ben Carson or Luke Skywalker, it can be assumed that most of us fall far beneath, finding and using excuses every day, every hour or every minute of our lives. Usually these are tiny and arguably insignificant, but it is out of small things that great things come to pass. Spiritual downfall could begin with sleeping rather than attending early morning seminary because that paper kept you up till 3am and you are “so tired.” It’s so important to understand that every time we choose to act in a certain way, every time we make such an excuse, it’s easier the next time. Each time we reject an excuse our initiative and will  is strengthened.

In the same way we recognize the amazing individuals who don’t make excuses even when it’s most understandable, we can’t help but notice and often judge those who have everything going for them, and yet make choices that cause them to fall terribly short, like the wayward teenager with awesome parents, taught truth from infancy, but who somehow chose a path of rebellion, darkness and fleeting pleasure. You wonder how they impossibly took all their blessings for granted. How could they be so short-sighted?  Sometimes we don’t consider that we make excuses too. You see, we’re all capable of extraordinary status, but we are making excuses that hold us back. The excuse is what causes procrastination, and allows us to be content.

Think of the freedom you enjoy, the truth you’ve been taught and the opportunities you have. For just a moment, don’t take it for granted that you eat three meals a day. Now decide if you are using an excuse to define what you can do. We all can do better and it’s tough, but it’s supposed to be. We must first be faithful in the little things before God can entrust us with more.  Your progression is not designed to ever end. Every step you take forward makes the next step easier, and when life does get too hard to stand, kneel. Our challenges allow God to bless us so much more than he could otherwise.

Zell am see Kaprun

After leaving home and watching a sunrise in Iceland, I enjoyed a gloriously deep sleep with my dad and Mary on a down pillow at Johannahof’s Gausthaus in Kaprun, Austria. Finding our first meal in 24 hours was the singular endeavor that drove me to extricate myself from bed at 6:30 this morning. The thought was to locate a grocery store so that when it opened we would have an immediate heading, but to our surprise we found one just over a mile away up and running! Only a portion of our spoils survived past the footpath home, but with more than half a kilo of nectarines in my belly, the alpine valley through which we moved was impossibly even more beautiful than before. I marvel at this world and at the blessing I have to see so much of it. God’s hand was definitely in our journey here. No one batted an eye in security or customs when Mary handed them a passport and boarding pass for different people. It was easy to call her Kristen, but she doesn’t exactly pull off 38 years old. Needless to say, getting her and ourselves over the Northern hemisphere couldn’t have been more smooth. Minor adventures of the last couple days would be driving on a bike path to avoid a construction zone and my own falsified identity to register to compete at the 70.3 on Saturday. To the Ironman World I am officially Rebekah Rushton, of the youngest legal competing age of 18.

Hours later…

… I have no desire to sleep right now, though it is the middle of the night. I listened to a conversation, first from bed and then from beneath the stars where it was held between my dad and a friend, Jason, who’s spent the last month in Europe. He spoke briefly of a person he casually met. This man had no title or visible sign to the world that set him apart, but as I heard about what he’d been through and the cause he had and continues to risk his life for, I knew that he was great in a way hard to describe. I realized that heroism is not in events or something that just comes out when the need is there. There is a greatness, a nobility, a courage, clarity and fire possessed by some people and cultivated over a lifetime. This man possessed it. As Jason gave him a ride to hut, far from civilization in the mountains of Italy, this man spoke of things that happen in the world that aren’t heard of in the US. You see, this man was from Egypt, where riots and civil upheaval abounded. Horrible things happened as part of the persecution and violence. There were rapes and murders within the crowd and people just walked around. People just walked around. Almost everyone, but not quite. Though it didn’t take anything to recognize the need for action, just a few did. This particular man joined with a group that protected women in the most literal way possible. He so casually related to Jason a recent time when he and 10 others were fighting to protect three women in the street. They were outnumbered, backed against a wall fighting desperately with anything they could, in a ring with the women inside. One of this man’s friends died that day, but the story just continued, for this was this guy’s life. People were killed, but more importantly, other people needed to be protected. This man spoke of the unbelievable events in his life as they seemed to him, just how things were: Ordinary.  But the way he reacted is extraordinary. When so many disregard morality when it’s inconvenient, they become insensitive to its call. But there remain those who stand; those who understand what is right and do it, no matter the cost. Till they die, they will not remove themselves from their integrity. And in doing so, they not only are the means of saving others, but they preserve their own souls, burning so intensely with a depth of character and purity of heart because they never smothered it out of fear, out of convenience, or because no one else was doing anything, anyway.

We have an eternal responsibility to be guardians of virtue. We aren’t now told to cross the sea and die for the cause. At least most of us aren’t. Rather, it’s little things; the media we accept, our thoughts and our preparation that proves us. It’s hard and the glory is not obvious. Every day, it requires wisdom, discipline, kindness, faith and fire. The resulting power is held by ordinary people, but it is there. It is real and fierce and righteous, and it is never passive.

While I like to think of myself as pretty self-sufficient, as a girl and young woman I’ve always found a profound peace in being watched over by a guy who carries this mantle. I really can’t express how thankful I am that for me this need has always been met, thanks to my dad. I couldn’t ask for a better example of the provider and protector I strive to be worthy to marry someday.

Well, that concludes my first secret digital journal entry. The thoughts of my heart, often frivolous, intended for whatever small audience with whom I choose to share. Keep it secret, but share any thoughts that speak to you and please argue with me about the points upon which I am mistaken. Gute Nacht.