I am blessed to have Beth as a friend. She is honest, wonderfully even-keeled and as true-blue as they come. Though our opportunities to talk, really talk, aren't as frequent as we'd like, I never fail to leave her presence feeling anything but completely uplifted and ready to "engage and conquer". (Okay, that was my high school's motto, but it just seemed to fit!)
Last week, after a Visiting Teaching appointment, we sat in Cafe Panini and caught up, over to-die-for steak wraps. We spoke of the latest in our children's lives, our callings in the ward, and our struggles to get ready for the ever-looming Ragnar Relay this summer. I was sharing some of my thoughts on my weight-loss and fitness journey, and what is making THIS TIME different from ALL the others. (We have been through many of these ups and downs together over the years.) I mentioned the spiritual connection that I've discovered is critical for deep, to-the-core personal change: reliance on meaningful morning / evening / CONSTANT prayer, striving for continual guidance from the Holy Ghost, the challenge to replace bad habits with good ones, and the importance of surrounding myself with a small group of people who are joyously supportive of what I'm trying to accomplish. Beth listened, and I could "see" her brain wheels turning. Then she said what will forever clarify my perspective on change: "I guess what you're talking about is sort of like repentance, isn't it?" Before I could even think about the power behind her question, I heard myself almost yelling "It IS repentance!" My dear friend provided me with a huge missing piece of my journey's puzzle.
Don't we usually associate repentance with more "serious" sin? I have learned for myself that repenting through the power of the Atonement can heal us from all of the poor choices we have made in our lives. It is the way to overcome our naturally selfish, physical natures and become closer to the Spirit, become better versions our ourselves, and make real progress toward "filling the measure(s) of our creation". (Doctrine & Covenants 88:19)
Embarrassingly, I've known for years that the change I was wishing for in my life had to be rooted in the Spirit. I had thought a little about what that could mean, would give half-hearted tries here and there, and then would fall back to my old ways. Still, the Spirit was patient and continued to whisper: "The path you seek must be a spiritual one. Let Him lead you. You will not find lasting change on your own."
Thankfully, on Sunday, February 20, 2011, I finally listened. And I mean really listened, with a blank notepad and a pen in my hand. I began to let my Savior lead me toward becoming better, inside and out. In those moments, I put behind me the diets of the world, and set out on the spiritual journey of a lifetime. The amazing thing is, I have lost the weight I'd hoped for at this point, but I've also broken through other roadblocks that have haunted me for years. As I have gained the spiritual strength to accomplish one goal, it has carried over to motivate and help me to make progress in other areas. This I know for sure: the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real and knows no bounds. It is not only for everyone, but it is also for me. I truly stand all amazed.
Have you heard this quote before?:
"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behaviors. The study of doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." (Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)
Think about that! We can spend our time in the latest cutting-edge self-help manuals, analyzing why we are the way we are, what is at the root of our struggles, and what various stimuli prompt us to choose poorly. (I think a little bit of this is healthy.) Or, we can spend quality and quantity time in the scriptures and the words of our modern-day prophets and apostles (the ultimate handbooks for living) and in earnest prayer, being led to understand what spiritual doctrines we've been ignoring or violating.
In a wonderful talk by Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy (November 1999 "New Era"), found HERE, he lists six vital precursors to personal change that we must not only believe, but internalize before we can access the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to affect real and lasting change in our lives. Those basic principles (in very small nutshells) are:
1. God lives, and He knows us by name.
2. We are fallen and unclean, and we need help.
3. One day we will die.
4. There will be a Final Judgment.
5. No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.
6. We are saved only through Jesus Christ. He is our only Hope.
When I look at this list, and think about each point, I realize that I have a testimony of each of them. Why, oh why, then, have I been trying to "save myself"? Why have I looked mainly to the world for answers to my struggles? Why have I tried and tried to develop willpower of steel? Why do I own a shelf of diet and health books, but had not really bothered to consult the Great Author as my ultimate Source?
Now don't get me wrong: there may be just the right solution "out there" in the world. Perhaps my physician could steer me in the right way, or the book "Superfoods RX" could give me needed perspective, or becoming a faithful member of Weight Watchers could be the answer I need. (Heaven knows, I've taken EACH of these paths many times.) But THE KEY is to go to the Lord FIRST and let Him direct my escape route from the ground up. I must invite the Creator to create for me my own personalized way out of this mess I've gotten myself into. In my eyes, this is putting "doctrine" before the understanding of the world.
This question has been at the crux of my "Excellent Experiment": is it really possible to lose weight and get healthy relying first and foremost on the Atonement of Jesus Christ? Could the suffering He incurred in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross really help ME with THIS? After nearly 12 weeks of trying it out, of letting the Lord lead my way, together with lots of pondering following BETH'S INSIGHTFUL QUESTION, I want to yell "YES!!!!" from the rooftops. I think I'm finally getting it.
"...I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6)
It can't get much clearer than that.
No matter what our "hard things" are, Jesus Christ is the Way through them. He wants us to become our best selves, and He willingly gave His life so that this is gloriously possible. For each one of us. We must each make the choice to "choose Him", to make our own personal journey to Him on our own time.
If we really believe the truth of Elder Jensen's six points (above), we see that repentance is the only option for us as imperfect people. For me, I have recently come face-to-face with the fact that I have been abusing my body for many years, and had become addicted to food. The doctrines or principles that I had not understood properly - and therefore sinned against - are: 1. My mortal body is a gift from God and has been likened by Him unto a temple, and 2. My ability to choose for myself is also a gift from God, given so that I may be tested in this life to see if I will choose Him in all things.
As I pinpointed the "laws" I had broken, I saw very clearly the need to view a part of my journey as real repentance. In the wonderful little gospel reference book called "True to the Faith", several elements are listed in the this process: (the book offers a more in-depth look at each)
1. Faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ;
2. Sorrow for sin;
4. Abandonment of sin;
6. Righteous living.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: "The gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan by which we can become what the children of God are supposed to become. This spotless and perfected state will result from a steady succession of covenants, ordinances, and actions, an accumulation of right choices, and from continuing repentance. 'This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God.' " (Alma 34:32)
Better understanding the ideas of repentance and the Atonement is allowing me to finally experience some success in difficult areas of my life. As I learn little truths here and there, I have such a desire to share them with you, in hopes that something I say may help in some way. Thank you, as always, for your wonderful feedback and for giving me the assurance that we are all on this journey together. Much love to each of you!