Let me give you a few scenarios of events that may happen in your life. I'll try and make them varied, so hopefully one of them applies to you.
- You're watching a TV show and all of a sudden things turn a little dirty and crass. This has never happened before on this particular show so you figure it must be just a short part of the show. You decide that you might as well just wait it out since it will be over soon enough. Plus, the remote is all the way up on the TV stand.
-You're walking through the store and see a woman struggling with a bunch of kids. All of a sudden her kids bump a shelf and a whole bunch of merchandise falls down. You think to yourself that since you're in so much of a hurry you'll have to let this lady take care of herself, so you quickly walk past.
-You're at home sitting on your couch, reading a book. Next thing you know you wake up and it's like 1 in the morning. You quickly toss on your pajamas and roll into bed. You can pray in the morning, and if you haven't studied your scriptures yet, that's okay. Heavenly Father will understand.
-You're walking down the sidewalk on campus and you see a girl with a puzzled look on her face studying a piece of paper, then glancing around, seemingly lost. You decide that you've only got a few minutes to get to class, so you'd better hurry up. Someone else will probably stop and help her.
-You're sitting at home reading the newspaper, and all of a sudden you get the thought that you should call your son. You remember that last night when you talked to him, he seemed kind of down, but you couldn't get him to tell you anything. However, you decide, he's probably gotten over whatever it was by now, he didn't seem to be doing too bad. Besides, it's already 10:30 and he's probably out with friends or just relaxing. He won't want to talk to me.
Do any of these seem familiar to any of you? Have you ever had any of this happen in your life? I know that I sure have. Most of these have happened to me at some point or another. So the question is, why, when the moment to make a right choice approaches, do we not seem to be able to make the right choice? Why does it seem impossible to exercise the willpower to do what we know we should do?
I don't pretend to know the end-all be-all answer to this question. But I have learned a thing or two that have helped me, and are helping me right now, to realize how I can do the right at all times. Because the number one thing I've learned is this: I of myself am not strong enough to make the right choice when it comes down to it.
We are mortal men and women. We are subject to an imperfect body that we're still trying to get the hang of. Our spirits are learning and growing, that is true, but we cannot do it all on our own. In fact, without divine help, we'll never become what God needs us to be. A prophet named King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon said this:
"For the natural man is an enemey to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord..." - Mosiah 3:19
As mortal beings, we are subject to the natural man. The natural man is that part of us that seems to want to do everything bad. It's the desire to be dishonest, the part of us that resists helping others, the thing makes us focus on ourselves. It's basically the root of all base and inappropriate desires or wants we ever feel. And you and I came here to earth to learn how to subject the natural man to our spiritual selves. That is the true test of our lives.
So the key to overcoming the natural man in the moment when it most matters, the key to feeling the desire and being able to make right choices, can only come through one source: our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Now you may be thinking, "Ben, I already know this. But that answer is kind of vague. How can I access the atonement in my life so that I can make the right choices?" If you're asking yourself that question, then you've started down the right path. Let me just share with you one thought, one idea, that I feel impressed to share with you all that I know makes a difference in my life.
You need to start your day out right.
That's it. If you look at all of the scenarios listed above, All of them take place after we wake up in the morning. (That should be kind of obvious). On any given day, when we face a difficult decision, we have probably already chosen, hours before, what choice we would make. When you got out of bed and decided to mumble a half-asleep prayer before getting ready for school, you decided that you didn't want help making your tough decisions today. When you reached that point during the morning where you usually read your scriptures, instead of reading your scriptures, you decided that you didn't want help during the tough times in the day.
Those are the two key things: start out your day with a prayer and with some time alone with your scriptures. And not just any prayer, and not just any time with your scriptures. It needs to be a heartfelt, open and honest prayer with your Father in Heaven, in which you tell him about your day and implore his help in the hard times and his spirit at all times. Your scripture study needs to be an active searching and yearning for truth. The nuggets of truth that you find are your sword and shield for the day against Satan's followers. Those truths will instill in your soul and strengthen you.
I know this to be true. I have seen in my own life that when I choose to ignore the promptings to read the scriptures and when I choose to say a half-hearted prayer, I feel the effects later on. I notice that it's easier for me to give in to temptation during the day. It's easier for me to ignore promptings. But when I start out my day right, I feel the Spirit with me throughout the whole day. I feel Him guiding me and giving me the push that I need to do the right thing when the tough decision comes. This is the power of the Atonement. Christ himself suffered for all of your temptations. He suffered everything that you would suffer, and he overcame it. He knows what you need to overcome temptation, and he will give it to you when you need it. This I know to be true.
So my challenge to everyone is to make your choices in the morning, instead of in the moment. Choose in the morning to start your day off right. Choose to invoke heaven's blessings and heaven's help upon yourself every morning. I promise that as you do so, you'll be able to change the channel, help the woman with the fallen merchandise, pray when you don't feel like it, help the lost girl, and be a positive influence in your kid's lives. This is what God promises us as we live the gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is what he needs us to do, and what he needs us to teach to our families.