In second Nephi, we find the last messages Lehi left with his sons before he passed away. His message to Jacob carries a lot of meaning to me. Of course, the most often quoted phrase from the second chapter is likely to be:
“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)
In my opinion, there is much more in the message to Jacob than this simple phrase. I also believe that it is the formula for the joy and happiness that Lehi referenced.
As Lehi talked about the necessity of the creation, here are some of the points that continue to inspire me to seek a better understanding of the purpose of life and the joys and sorrows it brings:
- By the law, no flesh is justified (verse 5)
- Redemption comes through Jesus Christ to those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit (verse 7)
- No flesh can dwell in the presence of God except through the mercy and grace of Christ (verse 8)
- We will be judged by Him (verse 10)
- Opposition in all things (verse11)
All of this is leading up to what I consider a key learning that I have taken away from this scripture. Without opposition, good/bad, there would be nothing. So we all should expect face opposition in our lives; the continual battle between self and God, the seeking of happiness or the reaping of sadness. In this drawing of contrasts in these verses, one that has taken on much meaning is found in verse 14:
“…for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.”
Being one of God’s creations, we also either act or are acted upon. As I look back on my life, I recognize that I have, in large part, received joy when I have acted while sadness has come when I have let other things act upon me. The conflict comes because, as Lehi said, in verse 11, ‘all things must needs be a compound in one.’ Sometimes, I act, and sometimes, I am acted upon.
We have, in this day, many conveniences; one that stands out in my mind is the much maligned remote control. Pushing a button on the remote produces an immediate and well-defined response. I push the ‘on’ button and the TV turns on; push it again and it turns off. This stimulus/response is ‘hardwired’ into the equipment.
If we allow it, we have buttons also. Certain conditions, words, images, or circumstances that trigger the expected response. What are the triggers for your addiction/character flaw? What is your response to being cut off in traffic? Ever have a ‘bad day?’ Have you ever said: ‘you make me so mad?’ This statement is typical of the perspective of life when we allow the stimulus from our environment to determine our response. In traffic, do we allow another driver to determine our happiness? Do we let our friends or family members to ‘make’ us mad and by so doing remove our ability to decide if we want to be mad or not?
Our ability to inject analysis in between the stimulus and response is what allows us to control our response. We are not hardwired unless we allow ourselves to be, unless we are acted upon. This idea is not new and is well covered in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey.
I would suggest that allowing ourselves to be ‘acted upon’ detracts from our ability to acquire joy. As in the 13 step programs around us, one of the keys is the recognition of triggers and consciously redirecting our thoughts and actions away from our ‘programmed’ response. As it states in verse 26, God has given man the ability to ‘act for themselves and not be acted upon.”
One of the stories the found in Covey’s book is about Victor Frankl who lived through the second world war. He was a psychiatrist and a Jew who was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we would shudder to even repeat them. His parents, his brother and his wife, all died in the camps. Except for his sister, his entire family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the temporarily saved who would clean up.
“Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him — mentally and spiritually. . . . It is this spiritual freedom–which cannot be taken away–that makes life meaningful and purposeful.
An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity–even under the most difficult circumstances–to add a deeper meaning to his life.” (From Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor L. Frankl. Revised edition)
One day, alone in a small room, Victor began to develop this concept of the “last of the human freedoms” They could control his entire environment. They could do what they wanted to his body, but Victor Frankl himself could decide how all of this was going to effect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.
What is the simple lesson we can learn?
Just as Victor Frankl had the ability to determine his response to the events around him, so we can determine our response to the events around us. We have been given the gift to choose, whether we act or be acted upon.
This gives us the opportunity to analyze our own situation. What are stimuli or “buttons” that we encounter in our day to day activities that we allow to control us? Can we begin a transformation, to break that automatic reaction that binds us to a particular behavior or attitude? It can be as simple as recognizing when one of our buttons is pushed and refusing to allow it to control our actions.
I would submit that we can find as much joy in this life as we allow ourselves. Joy comes from our ability to not react to our environment but to decide how, if at all, the stimulus will affect us.
What think ye?