Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering – Part 8

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It was this same prophet speaking to these same people who explained the role as comforters we all receive when we are baptized, “And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9). A main responsibility we have as Latter-day Saints is to help alleviate the suffering of others. We have been commanded to “look to the poor and the needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer” (D&C; 38:35). As Latter-day Saints and Christians we have been commanded to, “Bear ye one another’s burden’s, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

The miraculous thing is that by mourning with those who mourn and helping other people bear their burdens, our own burdens and suffering are alleviated. The Savior’s whole life was spent focused on others but in the act of the Atonement, His will was completely swallowed up in the Father’s. The Atonement is an infinitely Other-focused act – it was not done to benefit Himself. In the pre-mortal world, Christ answered the call to act as propitiation for the sins and sorrows of humankind. He performed the greatest selfless act the world ever knew or will know. As we turn our focus outward and serve others without seeking personal gain, we will find the cure for suffering. In doing good to others, we will overcome our sorrows and sufferings. It is not possible to suffer while selflessly serving others. I’m not talking about playing a martyr’s role (e.g., “I do so much for other people; I suffer in silence”) as we sacrifice for others. There is an attitudinal difference between helping others and feeling, even to a small extent, unappreciated or underappreciated – even in hindsight – and simply serving truly without thought of oneself – without feeling inconvenienced or that we are playing the “Suffering Saint” role.

The problem with playing the martyr’s role is that it’s exactly that – playing a role, acting, putting up a facade. Being a martyr usually is honorable; playing a martyr is not. Playing a martyr’s role is taking upon ourselves the black shroud of victimhood – it is assuming the victim’s role and attitude. The only way to feel victimized is to focus on yourself. [Note: There are many true victims in the world; however, there are some people who have been victimized who don’t act like victims; you can be a victim without having to feel like a victim. I’m not minimizing any who have been truly taken advantaged of or victimized; I just think that true healing only comes when the feelings of victimization are gone]. However, when we honestly are focused outwardly, inwardly we find peace, comfort, and balance.

Fasting and Prayer, Part 2

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The book of Isaiah contains many plain and precious truths of the gospel that have rarely been expressed as succinctly and beautifully by other prophets. There is a reason that Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the scriptures. There is a reason the Savior specifically told the Nephites to read his words. In Isaiah chapter 58 we learn much about the law of the fast, about fasting. Isaiah criticizes those who “fast for strife and debate,” (Isa. 58:4) who fast for the wrong reasons and are irritable and short-tempered. If we do not fast with sincere purpose, we are just starving ourselves for little benefit. We are more likely to “exact all [our] labours” (Isa. 58:3), or in other words, make sure others know we are suffering. This is what the Savior taught about on His sermon on the mount. “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matt. 6:16). Then the Lord continues with how we should fast. “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:17-18).

Returning to Isaiah, we learn more about fasting. When we fast we should bow our heads down and express sorrow for sins, becoming penitent before the Lord. “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isa. 58:6). Through fasting we can free ourselves from the bondage of sin. We can be free from oppression and lightened of burdens. The yoke we use to pull our heavy cart of sin can be replaced by the Lord’s, which is easy and light [see 2 Ne. 15:18; Matt. 11:30].

Isaiah continued with things that we should do in conjunction with fasting. “Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isa. 58:7). When we fast, we should also help feed the hungry and care for the poor and clothe the naked. That is what our Fast Offerings do today. They go to those in need in our ward, then stake, then the wider church. Through our offerings, we literally can bless the lives of our neighbors. Fasting gives us opportunity to stop focusing on ourselves so that we can focus on those around us.