Friday, March 28, 2014

Always Remember

Researchers increasingly believe that will power is a limited resource and that resisting repeated temptations takes a mental toll on us. Will power seems to be like a muscle that can increase in strength with proper use but with overuse can become fatigued. This theory makes sense as I well know that when a plate of fresh, soft, cinnamon crusted snicker doodles is placed in front of me it will take only a matter of minutes before I am overcome and inhale said plate of yumminess. The time it takes to indulge is even shorter if I have been eating vegetables all day.

With Mormonism and Christianity in general, there is a long laundry list of behaviors and items that require the use of will power. The Lord asks us to overcome our “natural man”. Our natural man seems to be the guy who lives in us who wants to party, carouse, and abuse everything in sight. He is like an out of control frat boy who is swinging from the chandelier, swigging a bottle of Absolute, and saying “how you doing?” to every cute thing that walks by. He thinks only of the here-and-now and how much fun he can have in this moment with no thought of the future. If it feels good let’s go, right now. Living a Christ-like life necessitates the ability to smack Bucky down and set our sites on the long term, the really eternal long term.

This fight against our natural man is tough and the casualties of the battle are all around us. Pornography addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, affairs, child abuse, overeating, gossip, unkindness, the list goes on and on. Pretty much everyone on planet earth is involved in the conflict and having different amounts of success. 

Since we know that God isn’t the type of Father who just shoves His children out the door with no protection, what has he given us to aid in this epic fight?

The last couple of years some interesting research has been done by evolutionary psychologists trying to understand why “mankind created religion?” Obviously, I disagree with their premise that man created religion but their findings are really amazing. 

Researchers ran a series of experiments that were similar to this: Test subjects were invited to unscramble a short sentence. Half of the people were given a neutral phrase such as “the train goes fast” and the other half we given a sentence with a subtle religious reminder. Words such as bible, divine, and spirit were used with that group. The subjects were then moved to another room where they were asked to drink as many paper cups full of an orange juice and vinegar mixture as they could. This mixture generally causes a gag reflex and is patently gross. 

What the researchers found was that across the board the group who had received the reminders of religion and God were able to drink at least twice as many cups of this disgusting stuff. It didn’t matter if the test subject was an atheist, agnostic, or deeply religious. Those who were reminded of God had more will power to complete an unpleasant task than those who didn’t. This test was completed on hundreds of people.

The conclusion drawn from this group of psychologists was that religion must have been developed so that man could promote self-control which is necessary for us to survive as a species. With all due respect that seems like a pretty complicated way to achieve that goal.

What I submit is that one of the many powerful gifts that a loving creator gave to his children is a deeply rooted psychological tool that helps us to do what he has asked. We all seem to have it even if we are unaware and so the call in the scriptures to “remember” becomes all that more poignant. It isn’t just an exercise in obedience, God is giving us the key to self-mastery if we will but do! 

This week during Sacrament Meeting my six year old was being unusually reverent. This anomaly allowed me to reflect a little on the words of the prayers that were being offered by my two older sons, who served as the Priests blessing the bread and water. (By the way that was a sweet and proud moment.) Both prayers use the language “always remember Him” that His spirit may be with us. Why is this so important that it is repeated in ritual every week and exhorted over and over again in the scriptures? It may be that there is an eternal law at work and that remembrance activates the process in our psyche that allows us to overcome the temptations in our life.

Elder Terence M. Vinson gave this short story in the last conference.
A young boy was trying to smooth out the dirt area behind his house so he could play there with his cars. There was a large rock obstructing his work. The boy pushed and pulled with all his might, but no matter how hard he tried, the rock wouldn’t budge. His father watched for a while, then came to his son and said, “You need to use all your strength to move a rock this large.” The boy responded, “I have used all my strength!” His father corrected him: “No you haven’t. You haven’t had my help yet!” They then bent down together and moved the rock easily.
Remembrance seems to be a way to activate this God-given gift and enlist His strength. Science is beginning to catch up to what prophets have known since the beginning.   

Helaman 5:12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; 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 to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

So when your natural man is beating you about the head with your favorite temptation you can remember by reading your scriptures, saying a prayer, singing a hymn, repeating a favorite psalm, attending the temple, keeping your covenants or whatever it is that helps you to think about Him. The Lord has given us all the tools we need to do what He asks, all we have to do is have faith and use them. And in those times when our natural man wins a round we can get up and try again. With the Lord's help that muscle of will power will get stronger and stronger until that bright day when we overcome all things.


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