Saturday, October 6, 2012

Learning to Decrease: the 2 Desires Revisited (John 3:30)

I recently re-read an old post from January which incidentally features probably my favorite title on the blog thus far: "Souvenirs from Hell and the Altar of Sacrifice (Matthew 5:29-30)." Honestly, reading some of these older posts, as well as older journal entries (lately I've been reading my mission journals again) really causes me to reflect on my growth as well as important lessons I've learned in the past that I sometimes need reminding of in the present! I was actually really taken aback by that post from the beginning of this year. It presents a lot of very complex thoughts and concepts that take several readings to really digest properly. It seemed like I was reading something written by someone else and I guess in a way I was--because we are not static things; we are dynamic, changing beings. I AM in fact a different person than I was in January. And it was fascinating to see the views and mind of this earlier Obadiah. One concept I/he wrote about that I now remember pondering a lot back then was the idea of the two dichotomous desires we struggle with throughout our lives: the desire to "fit in" and blend into our community and the desire to assert our individuality. And now I'm once again thinking a lot about it and hope to add a few new insights on the subject here.

It seems that throughout our lives we oscillate between trying to fill these two desires. We generally devote our time to focusing on whichever one is more lacking at any given time and I think it is generally rare for anyone to go their whole life fixated too predominantly on one or the other, though certainly exceptions exist. We also don't generally consciously think about acting to fill the one or the other. It happens very naturally and subconsciously. In my case, I'd say that I tend to go back and forth every few months between focusing on the one or the other, though I also think that multiple-year segments of my life have tended to skew towards one or the other. For example, in elementary school I desperately wanted to fit in and focused more of my attention on that desire. In college I've experienced basically the opposite: I've given more attention to wanting to assert my individuality. And yet there are clearly exceptions and oscillations within those periods. If I look just at 2012, for example, I'd say most of the year has been focused on my individuality while the last month and a half I've really addressed my "fitting in" needs a lot more closely.

What's really tricky about all of this is that neither desire deserves to be lauded or derided over the other. Both can actually be important and both can be dangerous. For example, regarding the desire to "fit in," feeding this desire can be good if it reminds us to be cognizant of our place within a society and our responsibilities to participate appropriately in order to further the well-being of that society. On the other hand, if over-fed the desire to fit in could lead to being led astray to transgression by succumbing to a sin because it is popular (this was, after all, the tactic of the great and spacious building). Regarding the desire to be different and individual, this desire can be good as it could strengthen our ability to stand for the right even when we are alone in doing so. On the other hand, it could lead us to alienate ourselves from others, cutting us off from being able to help or connect with them. Overfeeding EITHER of them is fundamentally selfish.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of 2012 I focused on the individuality desire. I would say I hyper-focused on it so much that it reached a critical mass point in July that caused me to be completely disillusioned with individuality for a while and caused me to be in a state of emotional flux for a month or two. After I exited that emotional limbo I worked for a while on my "fitting in" needs again, which led to building some very healthy new social bonds and friendships and that brings me to the current moment. Once again, I never was consciously thinking about the one or the other, or at least not very often. It is primarily in retrospect that I recognize that I was feeding either one at any given time.

It seems that the dichotomy of these desires is an important asset as it tends to help keep us in check from feeding one or the other too much so we minimize the number of disillusionment points we have to go through like I did in July and August. The danger of these desires would come in feeding either--or both--in too great of abundance and either reaching those disillusionment points or perhaps worse continuing on without such disillusionment. Satan wants us to get lost and to lose focus on what is important. Hyperfocusing on trying to be individual or trying too hard to be like everyone else are both great ways he can accomplish his goals. The natural safety system of the fundamental dichotomy of the desires isn't always enough to keep us on track. But we've been given the guidance of the Spirit, our conscience, our rational thoughts, and the words and advice of inspired scripture and prophets to help us.

One particular passage of scripture has continually come to mean more and more to me over the years. I've recently come across it several times once again and it seems to address well a solution to the danger of predominantly feeding either desire. It is from the great sermon of John the Baptist recorded in the Gospel of John. While telling his many followers to look for and follow the Savior who would soon make Himself known, he gave the following profound one-liner:

"He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30)

John is telling his followers that he was just a messenger leading the way for someone much greater who was yet to come and that his influence would soon wane as Christ's became greater. But there is a lot of profound meaning to be found for every person who wants to, as the Baptist did, prepare a way for Christ. If we want to see Christ increase in the world, sometimes it means we have to get out of the way! This can often mean being willing to surrender our selfish interests for greater things. It is a natural remedy to the times when our desire to assert our individuality gets out of hand: we must learn to let ourselves decrease and put the Savior first! Likewise, with the Savior as an increasing priority in our lives, we are much less prone to put the world first in case we focus too heavily on fitting in.

As I mentioned, I've been rereading journals from my mission. I have not been reading in chronological order, but rather skipping around to certain periods I've felt more prompted to read. After recently reconsidering this verse in light of the 2 desires I re-read my notes from an evening meeting with my Mission President for the departing missionaries the final night of my mission. In other words, these were the final words of advice he gave to us before we came home. I remembered some of them very clearly, but going back to read them again I was blown away when I saw that the last part of his remarks he actually quoted this same verse and applied it to us. I actually wrote down some of his exact words at that point. He said, after quoting those same words of John the Baptist, "Some of you will be lost for a while as you go home, but do the BEST thing--let Him increase in you!" I must admit I got kind of emotional reading those words. I had not remembered that part of his remarks until reading them just the other night, now several years later. I don't think that at the time I ever imagined that I could have been someone who would get "lost" for a while after going home. Perhaps that's because I didn't quite comprehend that being "lost" didn't necessarily mean falling out of activity in the Church or into transgression. But certainly in many ways, especially in this last year, I have found myself "lost" from time to time. July and August are a great case in point, or perhaps even more in the months leading up to July and August in which I was overfeeding that desire for individual assertion. I was focusing entirely on personally increasing rather than putting myself aside and letting Christ increase within me.

The most wonderful part of the story is that Christ is ever willing to increase within us. In His infinite wisdom, He knows greater than we do what needs actually deserve our attention the most. To accept His help, we will have to be willing to decrease a little bit though! This goes back to what I wrote about back in that January post: laying our "souvenirs from hell" on the altar of sacrifice. Above all, our pride must be laid on that altar to be able to accept Christ's proposals and recognize that His way and will are better than our own. Ultimately, He wants us to securely fit within our communities AND excel as unique individuals with divine potential. As my mission president said, "Do the BEST thing--let Him increase in you!"

I ended that January post with a disclaimer of apology that it was probably a hard post to comprehend. I feel like this one merits the same general sentiment. I hope that at least SOMETHING in this jumbled mess of thoughts has been useful. I'll probably ramble about these 2 desires yet again in some future post as I continue to try to understand their complex interaction. Meanwhile, thanks for reading my half-baked and evolving thoughts on the subject.

My Best,


P.S. I hope you all enjoy General Conference this weekend! Always a good time to reflect on where we're at and how we can improve. :)

1 comment:

  1. Happy to have you back and posting regularly Obadiah! The message of allowing Christ to increase within us is exactly what I needed to hear right now in my journey of life. I thank you for your faith and for your example.

    My best to you brother.


Please feel free to comment or leave questions. Just be aware that I moderate all comments before posting. I won't post things that are offensive. I will post controversial comments and questions so long as they aren't mean-spirited. I'd love to hear your comments and answer questions; just play nice! :)