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.

I wrote this as a missionary is Lousiana shortly after hurricane Harvey devastated the area. At the time we were involved in relief efforts mucking out houses and I thought of this principle:
5 Sep. 2017 – “I have so missed hard, dirty work. Give me a claw hammer and I am the happiest person in the world. It is so fun! We go in, hug the crying homemakers, yessir the stressed homeowners, and the remaining 8 hours our attention is turned to ruined carpet, drywall, flooring, insulation, refrigerators, etc.  Pretty much we go into soaked houses and rip out everything within a foot of the water line. Simple right? Well, it would be if it was your typical sweet and toothy swamp water. Unfortunately it’s busted septic systems, and dead hogs, armadillos and pit bulls. Being the first work crews in, they say it hasn’t even started to stink. It’s all good though cause in a couple minutes you can”t smell anything. So as I sat among friends, thoroughly enjoying a brisket sandwich, I pondered this phenomenon, that when I first walked into this room, my olfactory faculties were telling me this environment was not conducive to continuing life, but now I was chilling eating lunch here. An application came to mind because for all things there is a spiritual parallell: When we begin to sin, there are red lights flashing in our minds. We may feel guilt, and our spirits cringe. When we ignore these signals, over time, they become easier and easier to disregard. Spiritual desensitization may not take minutes, like getting used to the smell of flood water, but as we continue to sin, there will come a time that we forget we ever knew that what we are doing is wrong.
     All too often we consciously consent to tolerate only a portion of that which offends our spirits. We rationalize that to a certain degree it is acceptable. We don’t acknowledge that we are killing the delicate and sensitive part of our spirit that would protect us from evil and bring us so much greater light and joy in the future. My friends, every one of us does this, and every one of us can do better. My limited perspective will counsel that some things truly are insignificant, but it is between each individual and God to determine what is or is not harmful to you and those who’s lives you influence. Prayerfully poder what changes you can make. What changes can bring you closer to our Savior and bless you and your family? What is limiting your progression? Remember the principle of desensitization.”
We will never sin without being warned by the Spirit first. Listen, I beg you. Ignoring the Spirit is responsible for the greatest heartache I have ever experienced in my life. The devil works through many ways to desensitize us and lead us with a flaxen cord down to Hell, as described in Alma 28: 21-22 (“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateththeir souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.)

To receive the blessings and happiness our Father desires to give us, we must prayerfully recognize that we need to change, and with the strength of the Lord, change. If we understand and embrace the law of sacrifice, we will be able to withstand the traps of the Devil, regardless of how weak we are, because Christ will make up the difference.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself. My will shall become your will. My heart shall become your heart.'”

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Everything She Desires

 

E. L. Rushton

Professor J. Nielsen

Personal Essay Assignment

Writing 150, BYU-Provo

7 May 2016

Everything She Desires

                At 14,000 feet above sea level, I felt no shortness of breath. I love the elevation. Mauna Kia is the highest Volcano making up the big island of Hawaii, and on its heights I might as well have been on another planet.  The lake was striking in its mere presence amidst this barren, rough landscape. The light snow and heavy fog were beautiful, but they constituted the only moisture that belonged up here. Such a lake spoke too much of life, yet here it was, nestled between two hills. The sign next to the path leading there read, “Hawaiian Sacred Site, no swimming,” but the path was not how my parents had found the lake a year before. They were on the other side of the hill when my mom heard singing over the ridge. The music was from a ritual or celebration going on with the spirits there. This time, she said, there was no party, just the constant guardians present, though it didn’t make a difference to me because I, like my dad, am a more typical mortal, very grounded in the physical world. If I ever saw or heard an angel, I didn’t know it.  All I saw now was a still pool of water with reeds pointing to the sky from the center, a practice my dad said came from ancient Egypt, allowing the spirits underneath to breathe. We placed offerings of rice on the stone altar near the water. I had artfully wrapped and tied them in banana leaves at Momma’s assurance that the spirits appreciated the gesture. Past offerings of nuts, fruit or banana leaf packages like those I’d crafted dotted the altar. Last year, when my parents were here alone, a warrior spirit had come and spoke with my mom. He’d been willing to answer any question they asked, so this time we were prepared, except my mom said it was another spirit who approached now. It was a woman with long dark hair and a flowing white dress. After she’d answered our questions through my mom, she addressed the three of us individually. She warned my dad concerning pride, a family trait that has certainly come to me, then she spoke to my mother, I believe words of comfort, to which she just listened. “Now, she’s speaking to you,” my mom narrated, “She says: And as for the woman; she will have everything she desires.”

                                                                           *

             My knees are criss-crossed as I recite a quick prayer atop my unmade bed. I thank God for my home, my family, and a warm bed, and ask his blessing on the missionaries, our military and the prophet, and that my cow will please, please, get pregnant this time around, for her own sake and mine. For the most part they are words I’ve said scores of times, but it is late; not a good time to make it heartfelt. Fortunately the two chapters of scripture that satisfy my daily quota are short, so it’s only minutes after saying amen that I whisk my rumpled blanket from the shiny hardwood floor on which my mattress sits, and sink my head into the down pillow I appropriated from my parents room. Sprawled comfortably across the entire width of my plush and open pallet, I absently observe that as inconvenient as seminary can be, at least its early start time is a good excuse to not let any of my littlest siblings sleep with me. Also, being able to turn over the milking on weekday mornings is definitely a plus. As always, my mind buzzes with clarity before my consciousness fades, regurgitating the events of the day for repeated inspection. As much as I can recall, I didn’t seriously offend anyone. I also didn’t practice the piano, a realization that triggers an all too familiar twinge of guilt, since my parents have been paying for my lessons for years. I’d done the work required for my online community college course and aced my anatomy test at high school, then come home, watched kids, cleaned the common areas with everyone, made dinner and then cleaned the kitchen with my sisters. The rest of the day blurred as sleep began to set in. I wonder where Kevin is sleeping. The thought coursed through my consciousness unexpectedly. No, I thought, bitterly realizing my mind was quickly reentering reality. That’s Momma’s job. She’s already checked on him. I tried to fall back asleep, but I wasn’t sure. With monumental effort, I extricated myself from the warm cocoon I’d created and stumbled across the attic floor and down the stairs. I briefly marveled at the places a 3-year old can fall asleep; he was on his stomach in the middle of the hardwood living room floor. A tiny blanket covered his back, but not even a pillow was underneath. He didn’t wake as I gently lifted him off the wood and into my arms, but still he gripped me and snuggled his cold nose into my shirt as I carried him a few feet to the couch, where Zion, at the capable age of 5, had spread a large, thick blanket before passing out. I laid Kevin on the opposite end and tucked him underneath, pressing the fabric around his neck and feet. Out like a rock. Before going back up the stairs, I peeked my head into the nursery to see the last one, Zarah, curled up in the crib. For a moment I watched her chest rise and fall. When I tightly wrapped my own blanket around me once more, snuggling fiercely into my own bed, it was cold. My last conscious thought was a hope that perhaps one of the little ones would wake up and come find me.

                                                                         *

               Approximately forty-five thousand times my feet had struck the soft sand since the sun rose almost six hours before. I was going to break the women’s course record for this race. More than 25 miles of desert, and steep, treacherous dunes were behind me. I had one mile to go and it was flat. Endorphins had honed my focus to a needle point and smothered the aching of the supporting ligaments of my ankles. Somewhere in my consciousness I knew my body was breaking down—that I was exhausted—but the chemicals in my brain told me I felt fantastic. So I believed it. At a later date, I would look at pictures and be concerned about my wide eyes and maniacal grin, but in the moment I felt nothing but a deep euphoria… and maybe a little bit of pain, but soon it would be gone. As much as I hurt, and as long as I hurt, there is always some good to focus on. Now I could focus on the finish, but for most of the race, ever since the sun made the sand hot enough to burn my palms as I clambered up a particularly steep ridge, I had focused on the wind. It was soft, but cool, and it blew directly towards my face, lifting the tendrils of escaped hair off my neck and evaporating the sweat that dripped behind my ears and down my back. It was all I needed. I willed more power to my legs, though they felt like they weren’t part of my body, and amazingly they responded, carrying me forward; just a little bit faster… I could do this. There was a break in the wind, and I immediately felt the sun beating down on me oppressively.  I just had to wait for the breeze to return, but more seconds ticked by in increasingly oppressive stillness. “Please,” I whispered, “Heavenly Father, please let the wind start again. I need it right now.” I felt it immediately, icily tickling my neck as softly as falling snow. Maybe it was only my imagination, a product of my hypersensitive, dopamine saturated neurotransmitters, but then it blew stronger, so there was no question in my mind that it was real. Hot, misty tears splashed against the dusty earth, quickly followed by my knees. I felt a fleeting concern that I might not be able to get back up, but I knew I had to say thank you. It wasn’t just for the wind; it was because He cares about what I want.

           Two days later, lactic acid lighted throughout my entire body whenever I moved, reminding me of what I’d done; what I am capable of. A smile touches my lips as I think on my perfect life, filled with every blessing I could never deserve. My petty discomfort isn’t a fraction of the trial so many have been forced to experience, but at least I can do something. I often wondered what I was going to eat, but never had I needed concern myself if I was going to eat. My family was financially secure. I had traveled extensively throughout my childhood and adolescence. I was taught to love reading, to value education and the significance of freedom. Most importantly, I was raised with a belief system, and I had personally adhered to it. This provided me with peace. Never had I wondered if I was loved. Nothing could touch me. I felt I could do anything, yet I still felt like I was accomplishing nothing of importance. I wanted to be tried, though I recognized how childish this desire was, so the request never passed my lips in prayer. I ran, studied, and gained capability in various skills. Regardless, I knew I was made for more. I suppose it’s easy to be disappointed with yourself when you have no excuses. When my mind was quiet enough, I  could understand slightly more; while I could improve significantly, I was doing what I should at this time, and though my path was obscured from my view as yet, as I followed in faith, all that it necessary for my progression would be revealed.

*

         How can two months feel like years, yet at the same time as though I’ve always stood on this porch. Maybe that’s what everyone feels like when they visit home for the first time, as opposed to going home. I’ve memorized the chips in the paint on the door, as well as the room behind it where my family gathers to council and pray; where I regularly slept the vast majority of my 17 years of life. Three little ones—though not as little as I remember—come running to hug me, screaming my name. I respond as always; there is nothing anyone could do but smile and hold these precious souls. I’m strong enough to hold them all as they cling tightly to me, smiles spilling into the air and mixing with anticipation for the spin they know is coming. As the room blurs to colors behind them, their wide eyes flicker, then look directly into mine for security. They are my sole focus. What deeper pool of joyful innocence exists besides that within a child’s eyes? What truer love, more heartfelt gratitude or transparency is captured elsewhere?  I know the answer: there is none. So many people spend their lives in pursuit of these things. They are all that I myself should ever desire, and right now they are in my hands.

         Like a cool wind in the desert, My God has granted me my every desire in the moment when I needed it most. He is constant and loving. In even the most seemingly minute details of my life, He has reached out to me. My path winds and spikes through sunlight and shadow, but I see where it’s headed. I know it will take everything I have to offer to get there, but I’m not concerned in the least. I have my family beside me, and I can do anything. I know that struggles will come, but in their face I will know without a doubt that I was prepared for such a time as this. I will always overcome..

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.