10 July 2022

Leveling up in Life

I was walking the track around the ballfield one day after work with a couple friends, Mark and Lyle. 

Lyle was a barrel chested tank of a man, and Mark was a short and round, and he was having trouble keeping up with Lyle and me. 

Mark made the comment, "When does this get any easier?" 

To which Lyle replied, "It doesn’t. You just get to where you handle it better."

I always thought that was a very profound statement that can be applied to a lot more than just exercise.

Our bodies are meant for work. In Genesis 3:19 God tells Adam, 

'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground;..'

When we lift heavy things, our bodies learn to adapt and build stronger muscles so they can handle the lifting of those heavy things. When we walk long distances, our bodies build lean muscles that are more full of energy and can better handle the long walks. 

But the body isn't the only thing that God gave us that adapts to it's challenges.

Our minds, our emotions, and our spirit are all strengthened when we "lift heavy things" for each of them.

When a student studies, their brain carves new grooves, pathways that store the knowledge. When they apply that knowledge, those pathways are reinforced and a stronger connection is made to that knowledge.

The same applies to our spiritual muscles. When we read our scriptures, pray, participate in our Sunday School, ponder the teachings of the gospel, and, as Nephi said, "feast upon the words of Christ," we build those spiritual muscles that will support us during challenges.

We must be challenged

In the movie The Matrix, The Architect is telling Neo about how this is not the first iteration of the Matrix, but the sixth. 

"The first matrix I designed," he says, "was quite naturally perfect. It was a work of art; flawless, sublime, and triumph equaled only by it's monumental failure."

He is telling Neo that the first matrix, in it's "perfection" provided mankind with all their needs. Everyone could be happy. 

But instead, it failed. And while the Architect does not say why it failed, we can look at a real world experiment to see what may have happened.

In the 1960s, a behavioral researcher named John Calhoun created the "Mouse Utopia" experiment. Calhoun created several habitats for mice to observe overcrowding in a perfect world.

He provided the mice with limitless food, and secluded rodent condos on several levels, and no natural predators. Because food and space was so plentiful, they expanded their population quickly. 

At the peak population, most mice spent every living second in the company of hundreds of other mice. They gathered in the main squares, waiting to be fed and occasionally attacking each other. Few females carried pregnancies to term, and the ones that did seemed to simply forget about their babies. They'd move half their litter away from danger and forget the rest. Sometimes they'd drop and abandon a baby while they were carrying it.

The few secluded spaces housed a population Calhoun called, "the beautiful ones." Generally guarded by one male, the females—and few males—inside the space didn't breed or fight or do anything but eat and groom and sleep. When the population started declining the beautiful ones were spared from violence and death, but had completely lost touch with social behaviors, including [mating] or caring for their young.

Mouse Utopia, John Calhoun

The mice and rats had no challenges, and basically went insane. I think the Architect meant the same thing about his first 'perfect' matrix.

God, in contrast, did not create a perfect world where all our needs were to be met. In fact, if you remember from what was revealed of the war in heaven, that was Satan's plan: 

In Moses, chapter four, verse 1: 

Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

But just like in the Matrix, God knew the only way it would not be "a monumental failure" was that man had to be given choice, and with that choice the opportunity to make poor choices that come with consequences.

But it is in those consequences that we have the opportunity to grow stronger, in whichever area of life the challenge lies. 

In James, Chapter one, verses two through four: 

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

It is never the case that we are strengthened by avoiding challenges. When we avoid doing difficult things, our life area atrophies, no different than if we lay in bed all day, never lifting a finger. If our muscles are never used, the body will not keep them up. The same is true for our mind, and our spirit. 

I'm not sure if you've heard his lectures on YouTube, but Dr. Jordan Peterson gives great advice. One of the things he often says to those who don’t know what to do with their lives, is this: "Pick up the heaviest load you can, and carry it."

Dr. Peterson is specifically talking about seeking responsibility. Not just about moving furniture, or bringing in the box of books from the moving van, but pick up the heaviest burden you can, and take responsibility for it. It is in this that you will find meaning.

So in that, our challenges do not just build our mind, body, and spirit for no reason, but they build those things that we will be able to handle more difficult challenges.

all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good

I play video games in my spare time with David and Matt. We like role playing games, like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, and Divinity. One thing these games all have in common is, as you complete challenges, you gain experience and 'level up'.

The other night David and I were playing Divinity, and we were having a heck of a time with a fight. The opponents were tough, and the terrain was not in our favor. After a few tries we thought it would be a good idea to go out and look for other challenges that were more appropriate to our skills, increase our abilities, and then try again. 

We fought other battles. We gained new equipment and abilities. I think one character even leveled up. We formed new strategies, and we went back to that fight and won.

Yes, this is just a game, but our story in that game could not progress unless we defeated that enemy. And it was seeking out other challenges and experiences, and formulating a new plan that allowed us to overcome, which provided us with even more experience and equipment, to prepare us for challenges that were coming later.

In Doctrine & Covenants 122, Joseph is in Liberty Jail. He cries out about the unfairness of it all, asking why the Lord would allow this to happen to his chosen people. And the Lord gave him an answer:

5 If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;

6 If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;

7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. 

All of them. 

The Lord sees challenges as opportunities for growth, and to 'level up'. He does not want us to shy away from the difficult things that come before us, but to face them, learn from them, grow from them, and be better because of them.

Brothers and sisters, my little round friend Mark, as we walked around that track, was leveling up in that walk. And as we pick up the heaviest thing we can find, as we take responsibility for it, as we seek challenges to give us experience, the Lord has promised that those things will be for our good.

I leave that with you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, 



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