Saturday, March 4, 2017

To Act for Ourselves

*Excerpt from a lesson I gave in Relief Society. You know....Instead of throwing it in the rubbish, I can read it later and recall the powerful lesson I learned.

To Act For Ourselves.
Several months ago a phrase from the scriptures kept popping into my head:
"Not to be acted upon."

I'd be jogging up the big hill and it would just appear in my mind:
"Not to be acted upon."
I'd be driving my son to school and there it was again:
"Not to be acted upon."
I'd be woken up by my toddler at 3am and once again there it was lingering in the forefront of my mind:
"Not to be acted upon."
I think God was trying to tell me something.....

So I finally sat down and looked up the scripture to make sense of the message I was receiving from my Heavenly father. It's in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 2: 26
"And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of times, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall, they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given."

Aha! It all made sense to me now. I knew what God was trying to tell me. I knew immediately the important principle I had to put into practice, even though it was difficult to do.
You see, recently I'd made some big changes in my life, working towards some personal goals and letting go of projects I wouldn't have time for, making room for college. I had a plan in place, my ducks all lined up in a row, everything organized the way I needed to, then BOOM-everything seemed to be falling apart. I struggled immensely with the changes.
I suddenly felt like I had no more control over my decisions, like they were being pulled out from under me. It felt like other people were deciding for me; I was becoming a puppet on a string who couldn't make choices for myself. I began feeling angry towards my family, resentful towards my ward, overly protective of my time, depressed and confused...all over these uncontrollable circumstances thwarting my big life plans.

Then that scripture started popping into my head repeatedly: "Not to be acted upon."
That's when I knew I needed to gain a better understanding and testimony of not only what Lehi was telling Jacob before he passed away in these verses, but what the Lord was telling me during my times of struggles.

First of all, what does it mean to be “acted upon?”
I began to look up references in association with the scripture.
In a General Conference address from the apostle James E. Faust he explains that, being acted upon means somebody else is pulling the strings.”
Another apostle, Robert Hales, explained,”To avoid being acted upon means acting for ourselves to avoid evil. The holy Ghost will prompt us in how to respond. But if we ignore these promptings the light of the spirit will fade. Our agency will be limited or lost, and we will lose the confidence and ability to act.”
Lastly, Elder Bednar said in a Leadership meeting, "I just don’t know an undergirding principle more important than acting and not just sitting and waiting to be acted upon.”

Well, first of all I know that Satan attains a grip on our lives through sin. When we continuously make wrong choices we let the light and spirit fade within ourselves as we ignore promptings from the holy ghost on how to act for ourselves. We allow ourselves to be controlled by our malicious brother as we hand over the reigns of our freedom. Through sins we become victims of our doings, feeling miserable, sad, rejected, downtrodden, unhappy, confused, guilty, and then we so often continue to make poor choices over and again. (I've been in this trap and it's no fun at all.)
However, Satan has no influence on us unless we allow him to. Satan can't pull our strings if we don't let him.
Was I letting Satan pull my strings as I allowed myself to feel angry and resentful and controlled? I was supposed to trust God from the beginning that He would lead and guide my life in the direction it needed to go! Yet here I was not trusting, and not believing, and feeling cheated by everyone around me. I was allowing my light to fade and allowing Satan's misery to take over.

And what about just sitting there and doing nothing? We can't act for ourselves if we just sit there and feel like a victim of everyone else's choices.
It's easy to do nothing as we wait for life to happen, for others to tell us what to do, what to think, how to manage our lives, or how to react to a difficult situation. We all know people like that; people who are quick to blame others for the difficult circumstances of their lives. People who are constantly pointing the finger at others waiting for someone else to claim their problems and fix them.
But God did not create us that way. He created us as divine, spiritual beings, who can act for ourselves and not be acted upon.
In my case I was being acted upon by my inability to accept the changes happening around me. I literally felt like a puppet on a string of my own doing. It took the Spirit to remind me (to prompt me)  that I was truly a spiritual being, a daughter of God, a Goddess in the making, who was designed to act and not be acted upon.
I had forgotten that within me I had the ability to take charge of my situation, adjust to the changes, reform my schedule, stop resenting everyone and everything, and trust that God had a plan for my life. God was telling me very clearly through this scripture to stop being a victim and to start being His proactive daughter!
Here's another quote I found from the Apostle David A. Bednar which goes along with these thoughts:

In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon. As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of agency—the capacity and power of independent action. Endowed with agency, we are agents, and we primarily are to act and not only to be acted upon—especially as we seek to obtain and apply spiritual knowledge.”

This led me to recall a time over 12 years ago when I was engaged to my husband. I was starting to get cold feet about our upcoming marriage. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go through with it! I started doubting our relationship and doubting all of my feelings. I broke up with him twice in the weeks following up to our wedding. I was terrified of getting married and unbeknownst to me, I was starting to become acted upon by my own fears and doubts.
Just as I was feeling confused and lost again, I finally prayed really hard about it, asking God to please give me the answers I needed about whether or not I should marry him.
I remember the answer as clear as day: I heard the Spirit tell me in a very gentle but powerful way,"Sally, you are a daughter of God and you are entitled to the revelation you need to make this decision.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I needed to act as a spiritual being and make a choice based on the promptings I felt from the Holy Ghost, not to sit there and freak out and wait for life to happen to me. I needed to act on the revelation God gives us freely when we sincerely ask with a true and open heart.
I was capable of making big choices for myself and capable of making the right choices, I just needed a reminder to do it. (Twelve years later I am still married to the love of my life and my best friend in the world, thank goodness.)

To act for ourselves is a principle of faith which can be applied to both our temporal choices as well as to spiritual sins.
For example, if you overspend and go deeply into debt, you allow the chains of debt to control you. You no longer have any money for the things you need, or for emergencies, or for savings. You might start bickering with your spouse, feeling stressed in your daily life, and overwhelmed at all the things you need to spend for your family. You have been acted upon by your bad choices at managing your finances and now your bad choices are acting upon you!
Another example is how you choose to spend your time and energy. If you choose to give in to the temptations of constantly checking social media, you are choosing to form an addiction where now you are being held hostage by the overwhelming need for sensations of instant gratification and approval through the constant need to "check in."
Of course these temporal choices affect our spirits in a very real way as they two go hand-in-hand. You can't be temporally strapped down without it affecting the state of your soul.

One story in the scriptures that I love is the story of the sick woman in Mark 5:24-34 who had so much faith that all she did was touch the hem of Jesus' garment and she became healed. I think hers is a beautiful example of how she acted on her desire to get well instead of sitting around waiting for life to get better on it's own. She actively sought out Jesus, followed him, and then took the first chance she could get at healing herself. Through the power of Christ her faith and determination made her whole immediately.

Sometimes we wait around for something to happen when we are the ones to make it happen for ourselves! I learned this principle early on as a young(er) mother. I have 4 kids now, but back when I had just 2 little ones I had so many desires in my heart to teach them the gospel and create a loving home for them that I felt like I couldn't do it all!
It was too much for me to think about all at once, that I wanted to give up before I even started.
First of all I wanted to get up and pray with them each morning, have a devotional, and then get started on our important things like breakfast, teeth, getting dressed, and daily chores. In my mind this task seemed insurmountable because there were too many factors blocking our way...i.e. I woke up too grumpy, I never got a good night's sleep, my kids were either too hyper or too whiny in the mornings, I had to clean the house first thing because it was too messy from the day before, and on and on... til suddenly it seemed my desires were just far off dreams that would never happen, until that fateful day when I finally realized that my desires would never happen unless I absolutely made them happen, and I was the only one who could make them happen because I was the mom of the house and nobody else was going to do it but me. (my husband gets up and goes to work every day.)

I had to stop letting everything else act upon me as I took control and acted for myself.
I started by creating an ideal routine and schedule for the mornings. (I say ideal because sometimes no matter how much effort you put in you still have to be flexible with little ones and their little changeable needs.) But, I also found that as I stuck to my ideal schedule and routine it slowly started forming into something permanent, constant, and real.

Although this was years ago, it has come full circle. I am actually in this similar state right now- creating and implementing a morning schedule that works for our growing family. Now that I am homeschooling again it's not just me doing what I want and need all morning, I am also making sure my boys are staying on track. We wake up, eat breakfast, drop J off at school, take M to his little pre-school 3 days a week, then focus on reading our scriptures, saying our prayers, and taking care of our important things. I am trying to wake up earlier so I have time to work on college math. I am trying to night wean M (again!) so I won't be woken up so much at night and lose precious sleep. I am trying to be not so grumpy and tired in the mornings so we can have morning scripture study as a family. All these things I have to make happen in order to act for myself and accomplish the things I feel are most important, even when it feels like everyone and everything is against me. (I struggle, but I'm trying...!)

I am so grateful for the revelation God gives us to make good choices for ourselves. It is a right and a blessing and a gift from Him, to ensure that I always have the assurance I need to move forward in my life. I am also so grateful for my free agency to make choices on my own--to have the light from the spirit, to know in my heart good from evil, to decide for myself, and to feel the freedom within my heart to make those good choices.
I know I will always have the light of Christ within me. I know it shines brighter and brighter as I make these realizations in my life for the better. I know that by acting for myself and not being acted upon I am living true to the divinity within myself as a daughter of God.

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