Seeking to obtain, keep, and increase a personal relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ has been the focus of my study for several years now. That might be why I really noticed when this subject was mentioned again and again in October 2018 General Conference. Did you noticed how often we were counseled on this topic?....
WOW. Isn't that amazing?!!! It was such powerful, poignant instruction weaved into many talks and thus created a distinguishable theme.
I don't know about you, but I was left wanting added instruction. Namely, HOW do I worship, HOW do I increase in spirituality, WHAT should my holy habits look like, HOW do I encourage spirituality in others, HOW do I ponder and meditate, HOW do I receive His brilliant light so He can reveal His face to ME?
I poured over the talks for a week or two looking for more patterns or insights. In addition to Sister Jones's quote that I shared (We worship and love God by loving His children), Elder Gong provided what could be considered an answer to my questions:
These holy habits, righteous routines, or prayerful patterns may include prayer; scripture study; fasting; remembering our Savior and covenants through the ordinance of the sacrament; sharing gospel blessings through missionary, temple, and family history, and other service; keeping a thoughtful personal journal; and so on. -Gerrit W. Gong
While that is a pretty comprehensive and insightful list, I'm going to be honest, I was still wanting more. A class, maybe? An online tutorial? A pamphlet? Something! 'Just tell me what to do so I don't miss anything and so I don't do it wrong!'
Like I said, I was thinking along these lines for a week or two, when a quote from Elder Holland from April's conference came into my mind as if I could hear him actually saying it to me (possibly shouting it at me haha).
He said this in April when he was explaining ministering more in depth, getting to the point that we are now meant to follow the spirit instead of having a checklist. We are to do what makes sense and do what is needed when it is needed instead of what we were told to do once a month.
Finally, I got the message. He was talking about receiving the spirit as our guide, making choices based on what the spirit is telling us to do. Then, referring back to Elder Gong's suggestions, it was more apparent to me that his recommendations "may include" what he listed and he concluded by stating, "and so on." In other words, here are some ideas, your spiritual life doesn't have to include these ideas and certainly could include many, many other actions. And suddenly I knew that not only is a pursuit of increased spirituality and personal worship up to me (and every individual), but it is an amazing privilege that I get to pursue that course and figure it out with the Lord. The yearning, striving, and seeking are not impeding my progress, but are a critical, motivating, sanctifying part of the process!
Some of my spiritual habits
So with some trepidation and mixed emotions, I am going to share just a glimpse of ideas and habits I have developed. Some things I developed before October, some I established as a result of the nudgings to pursue this even more. This is not in any way a full explanation of the way I strive to live a spiritual life or to seek spirituality. That is far too personal and it's not my intention to create a checklist, when that is obviously not what our leaders want us to have! After I felt impressed to do this post and share some of these things, an insecure part of me kept thinking, 'If our leaders didn't share any specifics, why should I?' Ultimately, I'm sharing these things because the spirit told me to (going full circle here). Also, logically I see value in increasing our conversation about the importance of this type of life and/or get people thinking of ways they might implement spirituality that will truly work for them and improve their personal relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ!
Before I share any of these things, I have to mention my favorite resources on this subject, mostly because I do not want to assert any credit for any of this. At the same time, I'm not sure how to give credit because my habits are a compilation of ideas, feelings, and inspiration from many different authors, including the scriptures and the spirit. This is also not a conclusive list of resources, but several things I can and absolutely do recommend if you are seeking in depth understanding of the importance and doctrinal validity of pursuing a spiritual life as well as scriptures, quotes, insights, and ideas that could lead a person seeking this development to create new or edit current spiritual routines.
My Meditation/Holiness/Worship/Spirituality board on Pinterest: Besides personal prayer and scripture study, this is likely my number 1 recommendation because this is where I have compiled my favorite quotes and scriptures from all my reading of many conference talks and books.
Filled with All the Fulness of God magazine article by Patricia Holland. I almost tear up just thinking about this article and how it has impacted my life. It is long for an article, but it is worth it. Please read it!
The Temple Experience by Wendy Ulrich. This might not seem like it relates directly to my post subject, but trust me, it does. I also like Let God Love You and Habits of Happiness by the same author, but The Temple Experience was the most meaningful to me.
The Lord's Question by Dennis Greyson. Elder Holland mentioned this book in a training once and I decided to get it. I'm so glad I did.
The Latter-day Morning by Mark Bacera. If you want a checklist, this book gives one. This is a good place to start if you don't know how to start.
Let me preface by saying I do not consider myself any sort of expert on meditation. Not even a little. But I have studied quite a bit and have tried different methods over the last 4-5 years. I have established what works for me (at the moment). There are so many approaches to meditation and many opinions. Use discernment as you seek, yet also don't be afraid of things that are outside of your comfort zone (be open). I could write a novel just about that, but I'll leave it there for now.
I'm putting this first because I start my day with this. I try really hard to get up at 5:30 so I can dedicate time to my spiritual practice. I find so much power in sacrificing time and placing priority on my relationship with Heavenly Father. The demands of life require so much of us throughout the day, it's easy to put off then forget or run out of time. So very early in the morning is honestly the only thing that consistently works for me. But, of course, everyone should find what works for them.
I begin by doing some deep breathing. I remember that Christ is the breath of life and use an eye of faith to visualize Him giving me breath that is filled with light. As I inhale, the breath enters to shine a light on any untrue, unimportant, or hurtful thoughts or beliefs. As I exhale, I release those things. I do this for about 10 breaths. Then I set a timer for the amount of time I have (usually 10, 15, or 20 minutes). I sit comfortably in a chair as upright as possible with my hands open, symbolic of being receptive.
Then I follow this idea presented by M. Catherine Thomas:
Bring up a certain thought or intention in the form of words. Use these words as the object of meditation, continually returning to them as distractions arise... Bring ideas and images to mind to inspire the meaning. As the meaning of the words begins to penetrate, let the words drop away, and rest in that. Grow in your direct awareness of Jesus Christ within [see Light of Christ, Divine Nature, True Vine]. through entering the sacred silence of your being... Allow the light of love to arise and fill you. Spend some time just feeling this energy. It's real. Then let it radiate in all directions as you go about your day.
Almost always, the word/feeling I focus on is love. Again, with an eye of faith, I visualize receiving love from Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ and feel/share my love for Them. Sometimes, I experience in mind, body, and spirit, a profound sense of this exchange of love. Sometimes, with that eye of faith, I have interactions with Them. I have more than once escaped that out of fear, but as I allow myself to experience these things, beautiful healing and guidance can occur. Don't be afraid of what you might experience in this place of holiness.
After meditation, I like to go into a prayerful state. I word it that way, because it is different than how I prayed most of my life. Again, this is what I'm doing currently and I am not saying I'm right, wrong, or don't change it up often. But most of the time, I enter this state of communication with Heavenly Father. Before speaking, I just like to set the intention with myself and Him that I would like to have this time when the Holy Ghost can be with me as I pour out my heart and for Him to counsel me.
I love this concept by Elder Bednar (expounded upon by one of my favorite bloggers) about using morning prayer to spiritually create the day. This is such a simple yet powerful and important gospel principle to ponder and implement!
In this state of preparation, I like to focus on gratitude. Gratitude promptly turns to praise and worship, which is a beautiful way to begin prayer. I prefer to speak my prayer out loud. I think speaking out loud is very powerful, but certainly not necessary, as He knows our hearts.
Taking time to listen during and after prayer is very important. There is no prescribed amount of time, but taking time to be still, quiet, and listening is absolutely crucial.
I have written about my approach to scripture study. However you go about it, experiencing the word of God is definitely a holy habit to cultivate.
I am statements
I have shared before how I have turned the Relief Society declaration and mission statement into personal declarations. I've done the same with my patriarchal blessing, scriptures I love, and general conference quotes. These are the most impactful and meaningful to me. I usually pick 5-7 each week rather than read a long list. I think I read somewhere to choose only 5-7. Then I repeat each one 3 times. This drills it into my mind.
I like thinking of using affirmations as choosing thoughts about myself and encouraging and cherishing 'noble aspirations,' as referred to by David O. McKay. I can't believe how often I find myself making a better or different decision because one of my 'I am' statements comes to mind. It's amazing to experience it! I'm not going to share my list because it's personal and probably irrelevant to most people. But I will share a few affirmations M. Catherine Thomas recommended that I like and sometimes use:
I am seeking insight, purification, and enlightenment through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
I am impeccable with my word.
I am the power of my word and a creator with my voice.
I am taking responsibility for the quality of my life.
I am courageously living a life full of goodness and contribution.
There are an abundance of I am statements to select from. Find statements that nurture your true identity so you can cultivate truth and safeguard your identity from the attacks prevalent in the world. Know yourself, your true self, and honor who you really are.
Throughout the day
Elder Gong talked about righteous living along with spirituality and Elder Rasband talked about seeking spirituality in daily living. That is the fruit of the seeds you are planting with the rest of your habits.
I find that when I have an experience connecting with divine love and receiving counsel from Heavenly Father, I can abide in Jesus Christ so much more easily. I can feel glory and love and sense it more distinctly. I have had a few times when I feel that love radiating from my being so strongly that I truly do love everyone I see. I am more inclined to stay curious instead of judgmental when people are unpleasant to be around. I am more focused on finding ways to be uplifting or helpful in those instances when I would normally just feel irritated and try to get away as fast as possible. That hasn't happened very often, to be honest, but it has happened. It is beautiful and amazing.
Without a doubt, the spiritual journey includes caring for the mind, body, and the spirit. This includes taking responsibility for your body with healthy food and exercise. Time spent in nature is also of incredible value, as "the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law (D&C 88:25). Take time to feed your spirit in nature.
In addition to taking the feeling of love and light with me, I use music and pictures on my phone to help me recenter if/when I get off track. Music and art are powerful tools to use for counter-strategies to the adversary's tactics. Another counter-strategy I use when I find myself following the enticings of the wrong influence is to do some thought work. There are many mindfulness and self-help strategies out there. I find one of the most powerful things for me is to ask myself some questions. This forces me to mentally and spiritually become aware that I am responsible for myself and get clarity on what I really want. So I have a list of questions on the notepad on my phone. I just read them when I'm feeling a little (or a lot) 'off track' spiritually, mentally, or emotionally.
Can I find a way to be grateful for this moment?
Who can I bless or serve today?
Which thoughts or actions could I choose right now to reflect God's love?
It can also make a difference to get very clear with yourself what is important and what is not, what is a priority and what is not, and even what is essential and what is not. Eliminate the unimportant stuff or at least put them last, but do not let them dictate your life. This day is sacred, each moment! The clearer you get on that, the sooner you will find yourself on the path to enduring joy.
Pick from your care package
Instead of thinking of spiritual tasks as a to do list, I LOVE thinking of them as gifts in a care package to help me through the day. I got this concept from an April 2017 general conference talk:
Heavenly Father knows what you and I need better than anyone else. As a result, He has developed a personal care package suited to each one of us. It has many components. -M. Joseph Brough
This shifts my perspective so much! As I look at Elder Gong's list:
Holy habits, righteous routines, or prayerful patterns may include prayer; scripture study; fasting; remembering our Savior and covenants through the ordinance of the sacrament; sharing gospel blessings through missionary, temple, and family history, and other service; keeping a thoughtful personal journal; and so on...
...instead of feeling overwhelmed or inundated with things I need to do or guilty for not getting it all done, I see these beautiful gifts given from Heavenly Parents who are supporting me on my mortal mission! 'I'm needing a gift to remind me of Home, which one should I open today?!' ZERO guilt, 100% LOVE. Such a difference! Try it.
Gratitude and Journaling
Though I definitely would say gratitude and journal writing are different holy habits, I personally apply them in tandem so that's why they are combined here.
I have a list of journal prompts sitting on my desk that I refer to before I journal each night (ideally, though I certainly miss days). I don't answer every question every day, but I ponder the questions and they lead me to see things more clearly and write from a place of awareness and gratitude. I'm going to share only a few of the prompts I use. They are a combination of suggestions by Henry B. Eyring, Wendy Watson Nelson, and myself. I truly apologize, but I don't remember for sure which is which.
Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?
Did God send a message that was just for me?
Did I see His hand in my life or the lives of my children/family?
What can I do to learn from this difficult experience?
What can I start, stop, or keep doing to feel closer to Jesus Christ and to be/become more like Him?
Can I change my perspective about current trials and embrace the circumstances as gifts for growth, experiencing things with gratitude? How does that change my feelings and my plans?
Pondering these questions, my heart easily experiences genuine and deep gratitude. As I write, the gratitude transforms to a level of worship.
I have done a post on forgiveness previously. This basically explains how I apply forgiveness not only as a general aspect of my life, but as a holy habit I strive to pursue daily. This is something I ponder before my evening prayer.
Just do it
Creating a spiritual practice can be what you want it to be! So do what you feel a desire to do -- just do it! When you feel stagnant, don't get discouraged. Look into the care package from Heavenly Father to see what else He might have to give you that will help improve your spiritual life. Be encouraged and encourage others!
No matter where we are on the developmental ladder, God is there too, with us. We feel His acceptance as we so imperfectly work out our development in Him. -M. Catherine Thomas