Do you ever feel like you are trying really hard to live the gospel and do the things you know are right, but there is just this one place where you are fighting yourself? The conversation goes something like this:
"I really need to [insert you issue here]."
"I know I need to, but I just don't want to do that. It is going to take a lot of [your sacrifice here]"
"But I know it is something Heavenly Father wants me to do. Here are some of the blessings for doing it: ...."
"But I don't want to make those sacrifices. Look at what I have already done. Why is more required? I just don't want to do that."
I have this internal conversation all the time, and I am sure I am not alone. I think sometimes some of us just say, "I am not doing that. Period." (Inferred exclamation mark.) This is part of our heart work---the place where we make the effort to bring our hearts in line with what we know is right----it's called an attitude adjustment. (I was going to stick the words of the song 'Attitude Adjustment' right here, but I just read them and decided that maybe that wasn't quite the message I wanted to send or talk about. Read at your own risk.)
However, I have been known to say in my early days, that for me, the Lord apparently had to throw a brick before I would pay attention sometimes. Man, those things hurt. Of course, it wasn't literally a brick, but it felt like a spiritual brick.
But I digress.
My children are oozing with attitude. The truth be told, I know where they got it. It comes directly from me. I have an obedient brain, but I usually need an attitude adjustment (sometimes brick size) before my heart is willing to comply.
I am currently in the middle of a major attitude adjustment. I didn't need a brick, but it is taking a crane to get my heart in line with what my brain knows I need to do. I have been fighting it for more than a year now. I wish I was humble enough to just submit my will. But apparently I have a lot of will power, but I haven't learned yet how to make it do what I know I should because my heart is not quite willing to cooperate.
So down to the nitty gritty of the gospel. How do we do that heart work?? How do we learn to bend our will and comply? Here is where Alma steps in to take over our lesson (Alma 32 here, start in v. 21.)
First, we have to decide it is what we are going to do. We need to understand that our behavior needs to change. We need to know what we need to do. It is important to understand that we do not need to know why we need to change. It is enough to know that we need to change. The 'why' we need to behave a certain way, usually does not follow until after the change has been made. We can sit around asking why all we want, but it is not a very effective tool for making change. Understanding does not always bring desire. But almost always, making the change will bring understanding, because the blessing of knowledge comes after the trial of our faith.
Step 1: Want to change. Knowledge does not equal desire or willingness. Alma teaches that "...faith is not a perfect knowledge of things," but is a "hope for things which are not seen, which are true." Then he teaches us to exercise our faith, even if it is just a particle. What is that particle?
Desire. "Yea, even if ye can do no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words."
Desire is a part of the process. So if you recognize that you need to change, but you don't want to, the first thing you can do is to pray for the desire to change. Ask the Lord to help you, to soften your heart so there is a greater willingness to make the change. Now, you may get a spiritual brick. You'll certainly get an attitude adjustment. But my experience has been that the Lord knows exactly the right thing to say or the right information to give that will soften our heart and adjust our attitude, and if we are praying for desire, the answer isn't usually too painful. (It's when I am not praying for desire and He still needs to get the information in there that I get a brick.)
Step 2: Actually plant the seed of your faith, whether that be a temporal seed or a spiritual seed. Again, our brother Alma, "Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves---It must needs be that this is a good see, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me."
I think it is important to note that we recognize that seeds can be good or bad. Sometimes the change we desire isn't good. We need to make sure that the change desired is good, that the new direction we want to go will strengthen us and our families. Also, we can cast it out by our unbelief. In other words, we can dismiss important and heart changing seeds because we do not believe change is possible or that our behavior can change results. (I fight this one all the time with weight loss. I make an effort for a little while, or I stop doing something I know I should because I feel like it won't make a difference anyway. That is so untrue! (See Elder Condie's talk below.) We can make a difference and we can change, even lifetime habits. That is why we are on earth, to learn how to make changes and then to make those positive changes stick!) Did you know when we do that (cast the seed out), we are resisting the Spirit of the Lord? I definitely need an attitude adjustment so as not to resist the Spirit of the Lord (I think this is where I am fighting the current battle.)
Step 3: Recognize the seed as good. (Alma 32: 28-35 specifically, read for greater clarification.) How do you know if the seed is good? Basically, it increases your faith. You can see and feel the positive results of having planted the seed. What does this look like? Well let's just take something simple for example. Let's say the desired change is to pay your tithing. You know you should do it. You have prayed for the desire and now you want to do it, but actually writing the check and letting the money go is still a struggle. If you never pay it, have you ever planted the seed? No. You have to actually go through with the behavior. You have to write the check and turn it in to the bishop or one of his counselors. AFTER you have done this, the blessings come. For instance, your budget wasn't working out on paper, but you paid your tithing first, and sometime during the month a friend called and asked to buy that old thing you have sitting in the garage and it just happened to be enough money to cover the expenses (plus tithing) of what you were short for the month. Coincidence? I think not. Then Alma says, "Doesn't that increase your faith?" Did you see the result? Was it good? This step helps us to recognize the behaviors that bring positive change.
A lot of us stop at this stage of the process. Alma cautions us, "O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?
"Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith; for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the see was good."
We cannot 'lay aside our faith' by not continuing the behavior. We get tired and lazy and we think, 'Hey, ya...I did that. Things were good. That's enough.' Well, it isn't. That is step 4. If we stop gardening here, all of our plants will die. They are just tiny little things. Sure they have sprouted, but without care, they just wither away. The same thing happens with our faith.
Step 4: Nourish the plant. Alma says, "And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit."
That whole nourishing thing......it doesn't say every once in a while. You can't pay your tithing, attend church, read your scriptures, say your prayers, have family home evening (for myself I'll add eat salad and watch my sugar and avoid milk) every once in a while and have the desired results. Those behaviors have to be done 'with great care'. (Verse 38 tells you what happens if you neglect your faith plant.)
Step 5: Faith, Diligence, and Patience. I really, really struggle through this phase. Here is where I really have to kick myself into working. "But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith, with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
"And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof....."
Obviously, this step takes time, which in our current society, we aren't exactly thrilled with. We have a society bent on immediate gratification. We have fast food, fast internet, immediate money (even if it comes with high interest rates). We are spoiled in that when we want something, it doesn't usually take us too long to get it. We do not readily practice long-suffering, diligence, or exercise patience over many things. Those of us who have acquired the self-discipline to put off immediate gratification have to choose to do so with the mocking of the world in the background.
But it isn't until after all of this time and effort that Alma promises us the desired results of our faith. Verse 43: "Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you."
Step 6: Reap the fruit. Here is where your rewards come. But it wasn't without a lot of work, time, and effort.
If you need an attitude adjustment, just ask for one. Because He wants us all to return to Him and He knows what will bring us happiness and peace, our Father in Heaven will be happy to provide the incentives to motivate you for change. And if you ask, you may not have to be hit with a brick.
Here is a beautiful story of a change of heart, and it only takes four minutes of your time:
A Mighty Change of Heart--Elder Spencer J. Condie
Preserving the Heart's Mighty Change--Elder Dale G. Renlund