It takes strength and courage – lots of courage – to live righteously. To make ourselves choose the right things, at each moment, against the push-pull of our natural minds and inclinations, the distractions of life, and the voices and trends of the world. It is hard. But we are to do it – it being hard doesn’t let us off. God knows it’s hard, and still commands us to do it – because we must, to oppose entropy and evolve. This, surely, is why God exhorted Joshua, repeatedly, to be strong and “very courageous”.
We can have that courage – the courage to act – though, because God is with us when we do it. When we’re trying, with all our might, to keep His law, we are not alone. We have His help, to make us more able, to make some of the way smooth, or at least passable, and sometimes through miracles.
But what are our efforts worth? We know they can’t save us; why must we make them?
I’ve written about this before, and here’s my current thought about it. Because our efforts are like the widow’s mite – not much, in the scheme of things; tiny and ineffective, compared with the power of God or what is actually needed to save us; but our everything. That’s the essential element. When we do our very best, as hard as it is for us in that moment, this has transformative power. It’s the level at which the ‘alchemical’ reaction is triggered. Until that moment, our efforts aren’t enough. At that moment, they are everything – not through their own power, but because they’ve brought us to that point of communion or connection with God, eternity, spiritual power; sincerity.
It’s like fasting. Fasting is hard – you want to eat; your body tells you to eat. Your brain keeps thinking about food. You dream of the big meal you’re going to have afterwards. You have to keep reminding yourself that you’re fasting, that it’s important, and that you want to go the whole way with it. Feel hungry? Drink some water. Do some good Sabbath things – pray, study scriptures and teachings, do family history research, talk to your family, watch General Conference, read good things, write on your blog…. You don’t start fasting and immediately get benefits; because that’s not the point of fasting, and because it’s not how it works. You commit to something that you know is good, and which is promised to have spiritual benefits; something that God has commanded. Up to a certain point – and if you stop early, you never get past that point – it’s all hard. All work and effort. You’re just hungry and trying not to worry about it. And then something changes. You’re still aware of hunger, but in the background; it’s not bothering you anymore. You’ve gotten involved in the spiritual pursuits you undertook; your spirit feels that bit stronger than usual; you have insights and deep feelings; you feel uplifted and in tune with that higher plane of things; your good attributes start to come out – patience, compassion, good humour – and you experience peace and calm. With your body’s appetites pushed a little into the background, through deliberate effort and perseverance, your spirit is more awake, more able and present for you. Your good self arises – even if it means you’re recognising your weaknesses, depending on the purpose of your fast. It’s not always like this, though; sometimes, perhaps often, the perceivable benefit is harder to see, and it does some other good, like improving our character, or adding to our store of dedicated effort in doing the right thing.
I think this is like our efforts at righteousness overall: it’s a hard trudge uphill, until we get to that point, each day, in each stage of our lives, in each thing, where our effort turns into beauty. Where our hearts have begun to change, and it’s just no longer so hard – still effort; always work, but kind of joyful and more self-sustaining. Where we can really see the benefits, experience them consistently, and have that motivation to continue. Elder Uchtdorf taught recently that it’s not the size of a person’s offering to the Lord that matters, but what it does to their heart. Our offerings of effort in living righteously change our hearts (just a little, each time), and connect us to the powers of Heaven.