Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Beautiful

A few years ago I was increasing my focus on self-improvement.  I was interested in becoming more beautiful to my Savior.  Whenever I work on developing my talents I’m motivated by the desire to draw closer to Him.  That’s the reason I want to be the best I can possibly be.  I know “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven” (“Praise to the Man”).  If you read my blog regularly you know that for me sacrifice includes finding greater balance in my physical body, eliminating the fat, increasing the muscle mass and flexibility so that I am healthy and fit. It’s about disciplining my body against my natural woman desires. Avoid junk food, treats, and overeating. Exercise within my zone consistently—not too little, but not too much either. Get enough water and rest. Keep the commitments I make. Take time every day to shower, get dressed, put on my make up, do my hair.  Spend time studying the scriptures and then figuring out how to apply the principles I’m reading about to all my relationships. I know that in the past when I have consistently engaged in this sacrifice process I have become acutely aware of the presence of the Lord in my life.  That’s what I want.

“I believe when a woman chooses to have Christ at the center of her own heart, at the nucleus of her personal world, she brings the Lord into the core of her home and family, be it a family of one or a family of many.” ~Anne C. Pingree

“The unmarried woman [and the married woman!] careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit:” ~1 Corinthians 7:34

“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” ~Galations 5:16-17

Looking Beyond the Mark
So I had been working on this and making pretty good progress.  I was striving to keep these commitments on a daily basis consistently.  But never fails that whenever I up my sacrifice level, temptation conversely increases. I am tempted to look for other forms of evidence (besides the Mark--my proximity to the Lord) that things are really improving. I am tempted to compare myself to others to see how beautiful I’m really becoming.  It’s almost unconscious. That year, when I was working on physical self-improvement, I was also working on spiritual self-improvement so I didn’t fully accept the temptations but it took me a little bit of time to identify them for what they were and then make an active decision to kick them out of my head.  

I went to a women’s conference at BYU in Provo, Utah with my best friends from high school. Thousands of women come anally from all over to attend this event.  As I was walking around campus, I could not help but notice there were so many beautiful women!  “What the heck?” a voice in my head said.  “It looks like you will never win.”  I began to think I was nothing compared to these other women, both physically and spiritually.  The tempter then pointed out other women to me who appeared to be presently losing the battle of the bulge or were further back in their journey in some other way and suggested that I compare myself to them to feel better about my results.  All this was semi-unconscious.  

“And [the devil] saith unto [Jesus], All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” ~Matthew 4:9

“Please, my beloved brothers and sisters, we must stop comparing ourselves to others. We torture ourselves needlessly by competing and comparing. We falsely judge our self-worth by the things we do or don’t have and by the opinions of others. If we must compare, let us compare how we were in the past to how we are today—and even to how we want to be in the future. The only opinion of us that matters is what our Heavenly Father thinks of us. Please sincerely ask Him what He thinks of you. He will love and correct but never discourage us; that is Satan’s trick.” ~Elder J. Devn Cornish

Resolving Conflicts
When I got home, I went for a long walk.  I like to pray when I’m walking and discuss whatever I’m in conflict about with the Lord.  So the topic was this thing about beauty.  I could feel the censure for those comparison thoughts.  When I entertained them I felt more distant from him instead of closer.  So I stopped the thoughts and asked how I was supposed to be the best I could possibly be when it was evident that I was never going to be as beautiful as some women.  Those were just the facts.  Genetically I have been given certain limitations.  I’m never going to be model-perfect.  I will never win any competitions against the world’s standard of beauty no matter how balanced I can become.  In short, I’m never going to be Miss America.  And spiritually I have been given certain boundaries I can't cross.  I can't do certain things I would have to do in order to become valuable in the world's eyes.  So why even try?

The answer I received was that beauty, in His eyes, wasn’t determined by my beauty AS IT COMPARED TO SOME ARBITRARY STANDARD. He was not holding up Miss America or Miss High-powered Career Psychologist and expecting me to rival these women.  But he did want me to continue striving for my personal physical/spiritual best.  Seeking to become the spiritual master of my body is of God.  Consistently living that way as well as the results from that kind of living please him.  A healthy fit body and a clear and intelligent mind are pretty good indicators that we are successfully caring and developing our talents.  But he also wanted me to master how I viewed myself in relation to others as I was working on achieving that.  Did I play the Pride/Envy game?  Did I only think I could be my best when I thought I was better than others?  Was I motivated and deflated by comparing my level of beauty or talent to others’?

“Good women always have a desire to know if they are succeeding. In a world where the measures of success are often distorted, it is important to seek appreciation and affirmation from proper sources. To paraphrase a list found in Preach My Gospel, we are doing well when we develop attributes of Christ and strive to obey His gospel with exactness. We are doing well when we seek to improve ourselves and do our best. We are doing well when we increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help others who are in need. We know we are successful if we live so that we qualify for, receive, and know how to follow the Spirit. When we have done our very best, we may still experience disappointments, but we will not be disappointed in ourselves. We can feel certain that the Lord is pleased when we feel the Spirit working through us.9 Peace, joy, and hope are available to those who measure success properly.” ~Julie B. Beck

Two Kinds of Beauty
I learned there are two kinds of beauty and balancing them is the key.  The first is to fulfill my responsibility to take care of myself physically and spiritually (#ParableOfTheTalents).  Spiritual balance is derived from striving for physical balance within my zone.  The Lord lets me know if he is pleased with my results.  When I am more aware of his presence, I can know he is pleased. So my task was to put my trust in that reward and form of validation.  I needed to let go of the constant question in my mind:  Am I good enough?

He wanted me to stop the comparisons all together, get myself out of the picture, and focus on the beauty of others when I was around them.  My own goals and results were separate from theirs.  When I am out among other people, it is not the time to think about myself, my results, my achievements.  It is time to forget myself and love others.  For example, when I read Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer books, I love them!  They are so brilliant.  I am so thankful for their existence.  If they didn't develop the talents they did and share them with us, I would not have had the Joy of reading their books. Same with Amy Grant, but she is a singer, song-writer.  I've been singing her songs (with her) in my kitchen, in the car, and on my walks for years.  She has been such a source of strength to me.  Her music has helped me through a lot of tough times.  I am so thankful for her!  If I can love these women and totally admire their talents, can I not love other women of talent who I associate with more closely?  

My responsibility is to let them know what I appreciate about them.  If they look beautiful, act beautiful, or demonstrate beautiful in any way, praise it.  Be thankful for it.  Admire it.  When I do that I feel so much love for them.  They actually became a “treat” for me to see, be around, listen to, and evaluate.  And when that love flows, I feel the Savior’s presence at an intensity level that brings me Joy.

“If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” ~Article of Faith 13

Timing and Accountability
The time to evaluate my results is privately with Him when we have our Commitment/Report meetings.  And value is assessed by the commitments I have kept verses the commitments I have made.  It is assessed by how much I’m actually implementing what I know to be true.  And it’s assessed by how much I’m receiving vs. how much I’m sacrificing.  The more He is around me, the less I need to turn to other sources for my comfort and validation.  Turning to them is taking his name in vain.  So the more he is consistently with me (Relationship Proximity), the higher my level of accountability.

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” ~Deuteronomy 5:11

“None of us will ever be “good enough,” save through the merits and mercy of Jesus Christ, but because God respects our agency, we also cannot be saved without our trying. That is how the balance between grace and works works.” ~Elder J. Devn Cornish

Opportunity Costs
I realize that I can’t progress in the development of my spiritual and physical talents if I’m going to turn to Pride/Envy evaluations as motivators.  I can’t because I can’t love from my heart when I do it.  Instead I hate.  And when I hate, I don’t like myself very much.  And the Lord is not with me on that journey.  If I can't stop doing that, rather than develop my talents to higher levels by upping my sacrifice level, I would rather plateau and retain my Charity—His presence.  So the challenge becomes stripping myself of all Pride/Envy Processes—thoughts, words, and actions. Those kinds of Processes are the only things getting in the way of reaching my personal best. If I can use my acquired strengths to help others in empathy and confidence (Christ-Charity) at the same time as continuing to recognize the strengths in others in gratitude and humility (Christ-Charity), then I will retain my strengths and continue to grow.