Focused and Deliberate Discipleship — Seeing Things as They Really Are
Thank you so much for that beautiful number, what a wonderful spirit that it brings to this room and also to our learning experience. And thank you Sebastian, and to Lindsay, and to President and Sister Kusch for the opportunity to be here.
I am honored and it’s a joy and in a wonderful sight to see all of you, and my dear ones here and to talk about the things the Lord has inspired me relative to you and your lives. Isn’t the mission and assignment of the Holy Ghost remarkable? He works in such a personal and specific manner to help us come unto Christ. It’s been my prayer that we will enjoy an outpouring of the Spirit in our time together, and we will be taught what we need to understand, remember, and actually do to enjoy greater happiness in our lives.
I also express appreciation to Heavenly Father for what He’s taught me about you (and about me) as a result of this invitation. I loved President Kusch when he invited you to show that you are an engaged learner, having to give a devotional talk is definitely an engaged learning experience, where we seek the Spirit and we seek to be taught and hopefully, as I share the message it will inspire you something relative to your own individual circumstance.
I was reminded that we are the children of perfect, loving, eternal parents (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World”). And every one of us has divine genetic attributes, which means that we have the capacity to become as they are (see Ensign, February 1982, “Is President Lorenzo Snow’s oft repeated statement – ‘As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be,’ Official Doctrine of the Church?”). Heavenly Father prepared us by sharing His “great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). And it meant for us to have eternal and a “fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33-34). Implementation of that plan depends and demands that we learn by our choices, especially mastering our “natural man” (Mosiah 3:19) tendencies, which is the physical and spiritual combined, and those strengths and gifts, including using our body in the right way. I was especially reminded that we live in a time that has been very uniquely blessed; and we also have the opportunity to have wonderful challenges that are a result of those unique blessings and we have the principle of the “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11), so we have to learn to experience distractions specific to our time. And we must learn to overcome those, if we are going to achieve our full potential and prove our discipleship (Abraham 3:25).
President George Q. Cannon, (1827-1901) who happened to be a member of the First Presidency for four prophets in early church history said this about our day and your abilities:
“God has reserved spirits for this dispensation who have the courage and determination to face the world, and all the powers of the evil one, visible and invisible, to proclaim the gospel and maintain the truth and establish and build up the Zion of our God fearless of all consequences.”
One of our current prophets, seers, and revelators, Elder David A. Bednar, shared this counsel with the rising generation, which is you emphasizing his sensitivity to our need to be able to truly SEE deceptions and distractions:
“…the spiritual gifts and abilities activated by the power of the Holy Ghost enable us to avoid deception—and to see, to feel, to know, to understand, and to remember things as they really are…. As we heed… inspired counsel, we can and will be blessed to recognize and repel the attacks of the adversary—today and in the days that lie ahead. We can and will fulfill our foreordained responsibilities and contribute to the work of the Lord in all the world.”
Today, I’d like to explore the concepts of focus, being deliberate in our efforts to follow the path of discipleship, and really acting upon the direction that we receive and building our capacity to discern truth. The Lord knows exactly what we need, and He is anxious to help us discover truth and help us change for the better and grow. As we apply His direction through the Spirit, we can become the person we are meant to be, in order to fulfill the mission that is uniquely our own.
Superpowers, FOMO, and TEAM WINs
I wanna start by telling you that have an unusual superpower. I know that you all have some too, but my family teases me that when I turn my attention to one thing, especially reading or when I’m focusing on something I really want to learn, that I may as well be wearing noise-cancelling headphones and a blindfold because I might be there in body, but I cannot see, or hear or comprehend anything that anybody else may say to me. This ability to focus is a great blessing, especially if I need to zero in on a specific effort and “shut out the world.”
And I’ll share an example from my own life from when I was exactly your age that will help illustrate this point.
I realized a lifelong dream when I was accepted to attend Brigham Young University.
When I was 12 years old, and I received my first personal progress book, I wrote in there that I wanted to receive a degree in college and that I wanted to attend Brigham Young University and also specifically, that I wanted to be basketball player. While I realized that a lifelong dream when I was accepted to attend Brigham Young University.
My first few months in college went by in ablur as I learned to navigate campus, as I learned to do my homework, and also as I trained with the team. While I was confident in my abilities, I was humbled pretty quickly when I realized I was a member of the 20/20 team (now that doesn’t have anything to do with being able to see perfectly!). As a freshman I got in the game if we were up by 20 points or if we were down by 20 points – and it was certainly not the role I thought I should have. As we finished the winter semester I visited with our assistant coach, Hiram Akina, and after telling him of my desire to earn a starting role. I let him know that I would be attending school that spring and summer and that I’ve been working out and I asked him if he would be able help to help me and if he could design workouts, so I could accomplish my goal to be the kind of player who could be a starter. He agreed to help me improve.
He was the perfect coach for me. He designed a specific plan to improve my performance and invited me to go to work. I had to be there at a specific time, and also do work on my own outside of our regular conditioning program. It was hard, but I was focused, and I repeated the drills again and again, and felt like Coach Akina cared about my progress. He and I would meet each day and I would show him what I was doing, and he would challenge me to use a specific skill in our pick-up games. He was very skilled and so he would play with me, alongside as we joined any faculty and any football players who came to the workout. I would make mistakes or use a skill in the wrong way or at the wrong time and he would give me feedback in the moment, and he would also show me what I should’ve done afterward and made me practice it slowly again and again. I would get mentally tired as I worked to get everything exactly right and it was very tedious. I did this everyday from May until August.
I can report that I made a quantum leap of improvement and I earned the starting role as the shooting guard from my sophomore through senior year. I guess the question remains, did I just have a great talent for basketball, or did I somehow discover how to overcome my shortcomings and learn what I needed to do to be successful? I don’t think I had any special athletic talent and for our message today, I want to zero in on the principles of FOCUS that resulted in purposeful changes.
I’ve since learned that I had the privilege of experiencing what researchers and writer Geoff Colvin calls “Deliberate Practice” (Talent is Overrated: What really separates World-Class performers from Everybody Else, By Geoff Colvin). This process allowed me to significantly master and continually improve my skills in ways I had never done before. The principles include:
- Practice designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help
- It can be repeated – a lot
- Feedback on results is continuously available
- It is highly demanding mentally
- It is hard work and not inherently fun.
- Requires constantly doing things just beyond our comfort zone
Time and again, the researchers found that using this method resulted in a clear separation between average and excellent performance.
These principles of deliberate practice, when applied expertly in any specific domain, also resulted in a magnified ability to see and perceive more, know more, and remember more. It sounds like a great recipe for success in almost any aspect of life, but I’d like to apply it to our efforts to become better disciples of Jesus Christ.
We live in an ever-darkening world. All of us, but especially those of the rising generation, are bombarded daily with “the fiery darts of the adversary that seek to blind us and lead us away to destruction” (1 Nephi 15:24). Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, and the adversary’s skill has sharpened over time. He is a master utilizing technology and other insidious strategies that cause an epidemic of “blindness” since there are fewer and fewer who develop the ability to consistently recognize truth and “see things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13).
In the world we live in today, we are inundated with information and media. I might even call it an “epidemic” of advertising (much of it false). There are more opportunities today than ever before to engage with useless, unnecessary and frivolous experiences or activities that invite us to “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die,” (2 Nephi 28:7-8). Sadly, we live in the age of FOMO (fear of missing out) instead of FOCUS. Sadly, for the vast majority of the world, most don’t realize that when they simply follow the crowd, they are “suffer[ing] themselves to be lead by foolish and blind guides,” (Helaman 13:29) who will take them nowhere near truth, joy, or happiness.
Satan is a master marketer. He deliberately uses worldly means to divert our attention from the things of eternity to the temporary now. He knows if he can get us to lose focus from who we really are and what we are meant to accomplish – even if it’s just for a minute – that he has succeeded.
Let’s consider the experience of Moses. I’ve been fascinated with his remarkable mission and all that he was asked to do, especially the way the Lord prepared and taught him to distinguish between what is divine and what isn’t. If you’ll recall, he had the experience of visiting with the Lord face-to-face in Moses Chapter 1.
Notice how deliberate practice principles are at work as the Lord first confirms his own reality then Moses’ own beloved place in creation, and gives him ONE THING to focus on that is designed specifically for his training and purpose (and ours as well):
“And he saw God, face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence.
And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years and is not this endless?
And behold, thou art my son…and I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in similitude of mine Only Begotten…
And now, behold, this one thing I show unto the, Moses, my son, for thou art in the world, and now I show it unto thee” (Moses 1: 2-3, 6-7).
Next, Heavenly Father shows Moses the earth and ALL the particles and the people who are and ever would be part of this particular creation. Then he is left “unto himself” and it takes several hours for him to recover and he realizes that “man is nothing” which is something that he’ve wouldn’t understood before. Again, considering the deliberate practice principles, it was highly demanding mentally and Moses recognized there was a process for continuous feedback from a source that he could trust.
He also makes a discovery that there is a difference between seeing with our natural eyes and our spiritual eyes and the distinct contrast between the two. Let’s pick up again in Moses 1:12:
“ …Satan came tempting him saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.”
Satan immediately emphasized his mortal character and wanted to draw attention to the things of the world. Fortunately, Moses had just had a transfiguring experience with God and knew absolutely and without doubt the difference between the two. Picking up again:
“And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory that I should worship thee?
For behold, I could not look upon God except his glory should come upon me and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely?
Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God… Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not…” (Moses 1:12-16).
Moses continued to explain to Satan what he had learned and “the practice” God had asked him to do – to call upon and worship Him – and that he had more questions he wanted answered. He KNEW Satan could not give them to him. He told Satan to depart a second time, then Satan threw a fit and he ranted to such an extent that Moses started to be afraid (the opposite of faith) and allowed worldly cares to creep into his view. Isn’t it interesting how fearfulness, doubt, and adopting a worldly view seem to go hand-in-hand? It was at this point that Moses really saw the “bitterness of hell” which is the absence of ANY light and the influence of God and commanded Satan to leave a THIRD time.
Satan continued to whine, and Moses finally commanded him to leave in the name of the Only Begotten. He left, but not without “weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth” (Moses 1:22).
We learn from this example that the adversary is VERY persistent (it took MOSES four times to get him to leave), yet Moses’ experience shows us that we can distinguish things as they really are AND we can distinguish the light from the dark as we enjoy the blessings of the Spirit through deliberate focus and practice with the Lord as our perfect teacher.
We also learn from Moses’ experience that Satan’s goals and outcomes are the polar opposite of Heavenly Father:
- Uncertainty/ No Promise
Satan’s strategy is to use whatever means necessary to distract, distort, to obscure, and filter to make the true, pure, and peaceful look boring, fruitless and wrong. He will flat out lie to accomplish his goal of making us just like him - miserable and alone - (see 2 Nephi 2:27) because he doesn’t care about anyone but himself. He won’t support those who follow him (Alma 30:60) and we know, in the end he WILL go out of business.
Now can you imagine buying anything from a brand that has no intention of ever delivering on its product promise? Who in their right mind would purchase a product guaranteed to fail? Satan obviously knows many will buy his lies even though HE already knows that his particular “brand” of life will surely fail.
Ironically, WE have the ability to ensure we don’t ever “buy” what Lucifer is selling, yet his market share in the world seems to grow daily. We could literally put him out of business if we boycotted his products, his sales people and distribution channels. Sadly, we don’t always remember who we really are and the power we have to use the tools and strategies that the Lord has freely provided to build our capacity and sharpen our focus (so we can see things as they really are). Far too often we follow “blind guides” and allow our vision is blurred so we look away from our intended goal without realizing what is at stake. To find the joy and success we seek, we must commit and focus, and use a deliberate strategies daily that builds our capacity to discern between what’s right and what’s wrong.
Let’s return to my story to learn more about the verb aspect of focus which is gaining clarity. As I’ve grown more mature, I’ve realized that every superpower has a downside. The downside in mine happens to be when I use my gift to focus so intently that I focus on the wrong things and I miss seeing what is right in front of my face.
That summer my power to focus and work hard also isolated me to the point where I almost missed the opportunity that was most important in my life. I was taking a class with a friend. And it was a critical prerequisite for the sports medicine major that we hoped to be accepted to and we knew we needed to do extremely well in that class if we were going to be able to be accepted. My friend would pick me up for school each day, and one day he brought a friend with him in the car and that friend has agreed to tutor us because he had already been accepted into the major. This tutor was very outgoing, fun, smart, handsome, and athletic. In fact, he would also participate in the pick-up basketball games, and he’d spot me in my workouts in the weight room, he would rebound for me as I shot, and in general he worked hard to become my friend that summer. This is a significant credit to him because I was two-dimensional – I only saw school and training – and as my superpower didn’t allow me to see this amazing guy who had interest in me beyond class.
Well, that fall as I earned a starting spot on the basketball team as the shooting guard, I finally had my eyes to see and they were opened enough to realize that my friend was someone that I could actually love for eternity and we finally went on a real date (NOTE: That means it was planned, it paid for, and we paired off instead of just hanging out) (“Dating versus Hanging Out,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, June 2006). On Thanksgiving we became engaged and were married following my sophomore season. I’m forever grateful that he helped me focus on what was most important – eternal relationships – and with our Father in Heaven and one another.
We’ve learned so many amazing things as we’ve grown together as a couple and as a family. My husband is a remarkable coach and it is famous for teaching in acronyms.
This method it’s very important because it communicates information quickly and it also helps us to remember. Because we’re a sports loving family, he taught us a way to think about helping one another succeed – in our individual and collective team efforts combined on the right thing each day will accomplish a TEAM WIN:
Today, every action matters!
And we have to ask ourselves, what’s important now?
This simple reminder brings agency and choice into perspective when we think about our big picture commitment to return home to our Heavenly parents. We need to realize that we only have today to act (Mosiah 2:21, 25), and we must think about the people and work in front of us while still keeping our eyes on our long-term goal of eternal life.
I’d like to bring our message together with five strategies to help us in our deliberate discipleship. Of course, you’ve heard them all before, but I want you to think of these principles as sure-fire antidotes to the epidemic of spiritual blindness. Even if you start with one and build your capacity to use all five, you’ll improve your ability to know and to recognize truth as you see things as they really are with even greater confidence.
I think it is good to start with the first principle of the gospel – Faith. As we learned from Moses, We focus our attention on our Savior, Jesus Christ, and remember that salvation is only possible through Him. Unlike the adversary who is unstable, unreliable and uncertain, our Savior has, as the Bible Dictionary notes: “revealed Himself and His perfect character, possessing in their fulness all the attributes of love, knowledge, justice, mercy, unchangeableness, power, and every other needful thing, so as to enable the mind of man to place confidence in Him without reservation.” Remember what we learn from Alma’s wonderful discourse on faith (see Alma 32): we are assured that as we act, we will see evidence and our faith will move from hope to belief and knowledge.
“Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the Gospel and is more than a belief, since true faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical or mental action,” (Bible Dictionary).
As our principles of deliberate practice showed, it takes mental and physical effort to get better and improve.
Nephi exhibited this trait again and again as he followed the direction of his father, Lehi, and sought to learn for himself what the Lord wanted to teach him. One of my favorite examples of this is when Nephi was asked to go back to Jerusalem, and he shared one our most iconic declarations on faith: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7). Do you think this promise only applies to Nephi? What things has he asked us to do where we must exercise our own faith that surely He will prepare a way? Nephi’s faithful example continues after he and his brothers had failed with Laban, and he refused to leave without accomplishing the task that the Lord had asked them to do. An angel had appeared to them and Nephi also recounted the example of Moses as he asked his brothers, “wherefore can ye doubt?” (1 Nephi 4:3) Nephi had Faith! “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand what I should do. Nevertheless I went forth…” (1 Nephi 4:6-7). We can be deliberate in our commitment to practice faith daily.
Next, we must focus our efforts to actually DO the will of God obediently, so we can know of the doctrine (John 7:17). As we act upon the doctrine, we show the Lord that we love Him (John 14:15) and also have the privilege of abiding in His love (1 John 2:5). The Lord is bound when we do what He asks (D&C 82:10) and if we keep the commandments, we will see his face and know that He is (D&C 92:1). If we really want to know things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come in our own life, we must keep the commandments until we “know the truth of all things,”(D&C 93:22-24). Our Savior has set the perfect pattern of obedience to follow when he said, “Not my will, but thine be done,” (Luke 22:42).
I love the quote from President Ezra Taft Benson that illustrates how our capacity is magnified as we are obedient, he said:
“When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power” (as quoted in Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience – Life’s Great Challenge,” Ensign, May 1998).
The Lord has given us covenants to bind us to Him and reinforce our focus on His certain commitment and promise that we can and will be forgiven of our sins, and we WILL overcome death. His product promise is guaranteed! As we make and keep sacred covenants made at baptism and in the Holy Temple, we are strengthened and improved through the gift of the Holy Ghost.
This helps us literally see through the smoke and mirror distractions of the devil and increases our ability to remember what is most important and who we really are. The Comforter acts as our coach and teacher to give us constant feedback on what we can do in our deliberate practice each day. Renewing our covenants also helps to cleanse our lives from sin, purify our minds, and keeps us “unspotted from the world” (D&C 59:9). Our body actually conforms, and is physically changed – as we become NEW CREATURES – (Mosiah 27:26), when we have the Spirit with us, and not just by enhancing our “superpower” to see through the worldly façade, but because of the light that also accompanies those who allow their Spiritual nature to be the gatekeeper for what they choose to focus on each day. Just think, as we show the Lord we are willing to make and keep sacred covenants, indicated by worthily taking the sacrament and attending the temple, we become even more attractive!
Unlike Satan’s constant reminder that in the world, only those with fame, resources and the world’s brand of beauty are considered special, the Lord explains that we can ALL be considered his “chosen” people if we are willing to make and keep sacred covenants so we have the gifts of the Spirit and the power of the Priesthood in our lives for eternity, he said:
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men and do not learn this one lesson – That the rights of the Priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled or handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121: 34-36).
Understanding is the ability to discern between good and bad, to make wise judgments, to gain knowledge and to perceive the meaning of truth, including the application of life. What could be more important in our world of confusion than to increase in our capacity to “know His voice” (John 10:4) and to know the things of God from the things of the world (1 Cor. 2:14)? The “eyes of our understanding can be opened” (D&C 138:11) so we can know the “mysteries of God” (Alma 26:22).
The Lord is willing to give us “line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little…and blessed are those who hearken…for unto him that receiveth” for the Lord is willing to give more that (2 Nephi 28) will stretch our understanding through deliberate discipleship.
Focusing on others instead of ourselves is a true key to gaining clarity and happiness in our lives. Sacrifice is used to make something holy, which we can do with our lives as we put the Lord first over our own selfish desires and other worldly perspectives. The Lord invites us to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit (3 Nephi 9:19-22), which indicates to Heavenly Father that we are humble, teachable, repentant and willing to become new creatures through the Atonement (2 Cor 5:17). President Eyring taught us in our most recent General Conference:
“It seems to me that we receive the Holy Spirit best when we are focused on serving others. That is why we have the ...responsibility to serve for the Savior. When we are engaged in service to others, we think less about ourselves, and the Holy Ghost can more readily come to us and help us in our lifelong quest to have the gift of charity bestowed upon us” (Henry B. Eyring, “Inspired Ministering,” April 2018).
These five strategies can be remembered with the FOCUS Acronym:
I’d like to invite you to join me in an experiment. For the next week, I’d like us to follow the example of my good friend, Sharon Eubank, who followed her FOCUS to a single thing each day that she could actually DO to make a difference. Her goal was simplification and seeking the Lord’s will. In the 2018 BYU Women’s Conference she related her practice of praying and reading her scriptures each day to know just ONE THING that she could do that the Lord wanted and needed her to do.
She said she was gratefully and surprised when one day, the instruction was for her to take a nap! It won’t always be about us, but sometimes it might be something we should do more or less of in our lives. Are we willing to take action? It might be something that will be hard, and it may be tedious, but if you’re willing to join me, I hope that you look at your happiness level each day and you’ll consider what it is that you’ve accomplished and your ability to see clearly will be improved. Imagine if we all did this how much good could be accomplished and how much better we will be at discovering, growing, and becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ? By using our FOCUS strategies and being deliberate in our discipleship, we will clarify our ability to see things as they really are and recognize what matters most in our lives.
In closing, I’ll like to bear testimony that I know God lives! His plan is perfect and it’s guaranteed! He’s given us foolproof solutions to bind Satan, but we MUST DO the small and simple things daily and use our superpower to FOCUS on what matters most. Don’t buy the lie! Unlike the adversary who wants us to be filled with Fear (of missing out), and to be confused, and to lose our capacity to see clearly, God has given us everything we need to discern truth. I know that as we exercise faith in our Savior, we act with obedience, make and keep sacred covenants, increase our understanding of what the Lord wants us to do each day, and we FOCUS beyond ourselves, we WILL enjoy the TEAM WIN that will bring us safely home. I say these things in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.