Habits. We all have habits; they take time to be developed and are difficult to change. They are our personal style of actions, or kinds of thoughts that occur repetitively and consistently --often without any forethought. Habits give definition to who we currently are, and how we daily act and re-act. The scary thing about habits is they can unconsciously control us; they often determine how we go about spending time, and what we do. We are all creatures of habit. Frank Clark said "A habit is something you can do without thinking - which is why most of us have so many of them." In the 1600's, John Dryden observed that "We first make our habits, and then our habits make us."
We each have Personal Habits, Social Habits, Health Habits, and even Spare Time Habits that we do not necessarily think about. Here are some thesaurus synonyms: our custom, routine, practice; an addiction, a dependency. Examples of habit are that each of us put on a coat by inserting the same arm in the same armhole every time; the same goes for the way we towel off, comb our hair and brush our teeth. Also swearing (or not swearing), using our hands when we speak, day dreaming in church, if or how intently we pray or read the scriptures, and how we approach responsibility and work. Often, we don't even realize we have developed a habit.
Habits do not have to be bad or limiting; they can be good habits. Habits are enabling actions that become traits which identify us. They either serve us or enslave us.
Perhaps we can understand the impact of habits when we think about how it gives meaning to some common words: Our habitation is the where we live. (The place we spend lots of time.); an inhabitant is where we are situated on a permanent basis (many of you are inhabitants of Laie); and habitual (Why are some people habitually late?). Habitual is how our habits control our actions. Like an old shoe, we just slip into our habits, without thought. It has become the way we do, or don't do, things. When we don't think, habits control what we do.
There's only one thing worse than a bad habit, that's an old bad habit. The more established and entrenched, the harder a habit is to break. We can have both positive and negative habits. But most often, they do not bless our lives if we do them without intention or thinking. The poet Henry Van Dyke wrote "As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge." Can you recognize some of your habits?
So, here is the relevant doctrine: We grow closer to Heavenly Father, and become more like Him, when we choose to do spiritual things with good intent -- when we consciously exercise our sacred empowering moral agency. We are eternal spirits on earth having mortal experiences. Thoughtless habits here in mortality can rob us of our time, and progression; when they mechanically lead us.
Patterns. Personal patterns, more than rote habits, provide a deliberate blueprint for our lives. Synonyms are: a model, example, or design; an intended relationship. Where habits are largely unconscious, patterns can be carried out as more of a conscious repetitive choice.
Chosen righteous patterns are reinforcing, and provide invitation and access to the Holy Ghost. They activate our gift of agency, and expand our ability to choose. As we use our agency appropriately, we immediately begin to grow closer to Heavenly Father and feel the difference. Alternately, when we use our agency poorly, we quickly spiral downward and a pattern that distances us from Heavenly Father is created. It is interesting and amazing, that our use of agency is a leveraged catalyst in inviting or dismissing the spirit from our presence. Our pattern of choices makes all the difference in the world and in eternity. Wise gospel-centered choices invite and build necessary requisite spirituality, and change us from within through the plan of our Father. The change is made possible by the atonement of Christ.
So, I ask you, are your personal behavior patterns becoming of an elect lady or a holder of the Lord's priesthood? Will your current habits and life pattern facilitate becoming like Heavenly Father? If you stay exactly on the path you are on, and follow your current direction, what will be your final destination? Patterns need goals and direction.
We have always been counseled by the Lord to choose, establish and follow righteous patterns. In the New Testament, Paul tells us in Titus "In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works:" (Titus 2:7); and in Timothy "...Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." (1 Timothy 1:16) In modern times, the Lord speaking to the prophet Joseph taught "And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived." (D&C 52:14)
Our behavior patterns are the conscious, consistent exercise of our agency. They show who we are, and determine who we will become. They are only beneficial if they provide the means to get us to our desired destination.
So what are your life-patterns and goals? What do you want to accomplish? What are your current patterns in prayer? Have you thought about what constitutes meaningful prayer? What do you think the Saviors' prayers were like? Is that something you want? Are you willing to pay the price? Spiritually create and envision how you should act, and make decisions pertinent to who you really are. Before we set a pattern, we must envision the goal. Are your current patterns of fasting, or paying tithing, or scripture study, or moral behavior actually magnifying your calling, or, is this the time to re-identify and spiritually " ˜gird up your loins and fresh courage take' and create a work plan. Remember the law of the harvest; we reap what we have sown. Later, hoping for crop failure won't change what we could have yielded.
A celestial inheritance requires a serious celestial candidate.
How do we anticipate obtaining Christ-like traits & virtues, if there is not a spiritually created goal and planned behavior patterns that embrace the envisioned result? The Christ-like attributes in Preach My Gospel can be developed and honed; and when earned and used for the benefit of others, the giver and the receiver are each blessed. Heaven is not just a place, but a quality of character. It is all within our grasp.
The Lord's plan from the beginning is that each of us be given agency - the right to choose. We fought for that right, and we understood its eternal significance. We would reap eternal life if we chose to sow the proper seeds and follow reinforcing patterns. We experience miraculous spiritual growth when we choose to pattern our life after the Savior. There will be no better time to make these choices, and especially at the beginning of the school year when we are evaluating who we are and want to become. But, each of us needs to set actual action patterns to reach our goals; otherwise they just become good intentions and wishful thinking.
Finally, I would like to comment on this Process of Becoming. When I was a young missionary, we had the six Brother Brown lessons. In teaching, where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going, the dialogue explained that just as our earthly parents are created us physically, God created us spiritually. As our physical bodies grow and develop, we become more like our earthy parents. As our spirits mature and we take upon ourselves the attributes of godliness, we become more like our Father in Heaven. This called the Law of Eternal Progression. We are each in the process of becoming; the question is, what are we becoming? Alma explains that we receive the wages of him we listed to obey. (Alma 3:27) You are going to become something or somebody; who will make that determination of what you will become? When are you going to do that? In theory, it is never too late; but in truth, it is never too early.
Fortunately, this is a gospel of repentance; therefore a gospel of change -- of putting off the natural man, and of experiencing through the influence of the spirit the mighty change in our hearts as we prepare to become more like Heavenly Father. One of the miracles of the gospel is, that through Christ's atonement, change is not only possible, in fact, it is promised. When we align ourselves with the Lord and are brought to a knowledge of the truth, our new found
"..faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart.." (Helaman 15: 7) In Mosiah the Lord said, "..marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;" (Mosiah 27:25)
"Choose you this day who ye will serve..." (Joshua 24:15) Actually, we need to choose every day, according to our pattern, and demonstrate real intent by building a trust relationship with the Lord through the consistency of our actions.
Many of us can seemingly rise up to meet special spiritual challenges or circumstances, and succeed for a time. However, like Lamon and Lemuel, we then fall back to normal daily habits and loose the goodness gained by having been with the Lord for a season. Paul told the saints in Thessalonica, "Quench not the spirit." (I Thessalonians 5:19) Don't do a spiritual yo-yo, build line upon line.
To become like Father, we must humbly and worthily call upon Him for help, and through the atonement of Christ, we can permanently correct our course, like the sons of Mosiah and Alma the younger. The Savior's promise is "Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you" (3 Nephi 18:20).
My remarks are a call for each of us to acknowledge and responsibly rise above our bad habits and to establish stronger virtuous patterns in thought and deed, using "all your heart, might, mind and strength" (D&C 4:2). It may not be easy, but there will never be a better time to break the habitual negative chains that bind you. We can be released through His grace. It is a great privilege and honor that our Lord has made this possible for each one of us. Our Father in Heaven loves us! He will empower us, his children, as we invite and commit to align ourselves with Him. But, we are the only ones who can institute the change.
Again, the Doctrine: What we do with our gift of agency determines who we become.
Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, has made millions simply sharing gospel teachings. His 8th Habit is to engage our whole self (body, mind, emotion and spirit) in proactively exercising our moral agency choices based on principle centered behavior, and we will empower ourselves and those around us to find fulfillment.
You and I are endowed from on high with the gifted-power to choose our priorities. As we subsequently commit to develop good habits, and pattern our thoughts and activities to become more Christ-like, loving, sharing, serving, being full of charity, diligently keeping the commandments, our countenances change, our hearts fill with joy and gratitude, and we literally grow to become more like our Heavenly Father. We will recognize him when we see him, for we shall be like him. (1 John 3:2-3; Moroni 7:48). We will become like Him. The journey is all of ours, but the choices are for each of us to make individually. We can determine who we will become and our quality of life; or, we can just let life happen to us.
It is my prayer that as covenant individuals, we understand and acknowledge that we have controlling habits, and that we need to exercise our sacred moral agency to change or enhance our current life patterns, so that we can become like our Father and inherit all that he has. Change is possible through the atonement of Christ -- and we can have joy and rejoicing on the journey during these days of our probation. Of this I bear witness, in the name of Jesus Christ.