Why Doubt Is Your Friend

Doubt has a job. Doubt is here to wake you up, sort of like an alarm clock. I think Doubt can be your friend, but not your best friend. Faith should be your best friend. Always. There is a big difference between those two.

There is so much to know in this universe and so little we do know. Doubt reminds you of what you don’t know and, in his way, of what you can know. Doubt can be helpful. He should be a welcome guest when he comes around, but only a guest.

Sometimes Doubt lingers beyond his welcome. He hopes you will adopt him into your family and make your home his permanent home. Don’t do that. Have him come over for an evening discussion now and then, but send him home when it gets dark.

I struggled with Doubt in the past. We used to hang out together. But then I discovered that, as smart as he was, he could be pretty stubborn and lazy. He also complained a lot. He wasn’t always the best influence on me so I have broken off our friendship for the most part. We still talk on the phone every once in a while. I consider him a friend but we don’t do much together. I appreciate him, nonetheless, because he has challenged me and pointed me in the right direction even though he didn’t realize he was doing that.

One of Doubt’s biggest issues is his vision. He has a huge myopia problem. In fact, he has to get new eyeglasses every couple of weeks. It’s expensive and time consuming. Must be tough. He also has sloppy eating habits, a weight problem, and a personal hygiene issue. I’ve had to tell him in public that he stinks! I really feel sorry for him, but I am careful to not be an enabler. I’ve had to use tough love with Doubt. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t answer my texts. Hmmm.

The main reason why Doubt and I aren’t close anymore is because of my friend Faith. Faith filled the vacuum Doubt left behind. She is always is positive and hopeful. She is never lazy or unkind and she is always a good influence on me. She is energetic, fun, and she just motivates me! She always tells the truth and she reaches out to me when I am down. Let me just get this out: I love her. She is my BFF!

I’ve never doubted my friendship with Doubt. We’ve been friends since childhood. We’re just not close anymore, but that’s okay with me. (I’m codependent no more.)

On the other hand, I found out recently that Faith is my sister! We are blood relatives! I did some family history work and found out that we come from the same Parents. Woo hoo! She is coming over for Sunday dinner tonight. I also plan to see her at church today. I am so excited!

You are always welcome to join us.

P.S. Yep, this is a variation of post on doubt I wrote last year.

Running toward the Sun

I am running toward the sun,
the bright, hidden star
at the far end of the universe,

collecting improbable stories
on my way (tales of erratic wonder)
though I cannot know

if I am the observer or the observed.
Each footstrike lifts me higher
until the earth becomes

a seed, secret and recluse,
a forgotten child far on the
horizon of a misplaced eternity.

Michael James Fitzgerald

How Do I Know Who’s Telling the Truth?

Communication has never been better on this planet and never worse. “There are . . . so many kinds of voices in the world” (1 Corinthians 14:10), such a clatter of discord and insinuation, on the airwaves and in the blogosphere, that “in the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often [say] to myself: . . . Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (JS-H 1:10).

It was a cold Tuesday afternoon in January 1977. I was in the mission home on North Temple in Salt Lake City—the old Lafayette School—getting ready to go on a two-year mission to Ohio. I was sitting near the back of the assembly room and in walked Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. One thing I remember about his talk is that he quoted, verbatim, without looking at his Bible, these verses:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15–20.)

I wrote in my journal that night:

He spoke to us for about 45 minutes about apostles and prophets. I know [by] the Spirit of God that he is an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I could hear it, see it, feel it and it was confirmed to me.

Elder McConkie taught me, memorably, to judge thorns and thistles as they really are.

When I hear strident voices, I ask myself, What kind of fruit is hanging on their limbs? What kind of spiritual children do they beget? What are they really after? Are their motives as selfless as they claim? Would I let them babysit my kids?

May I offer a few tests that have helped me navigate the choppy waters of dissidence?

1. What do their words taste like? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance . . . if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:22, 25, 26). If their words don’t taste like the fruit of the Spirit, I have to ask myself, “doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” (James 3:11).

2. Are they argumentative, belittling, accusing, contentious, or resistant? “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:29–30).

3. Are they respectful or disrespectful? Do their words unify or isolate? Do they connect people or do they cut them off? Are they inclusive or exclusive?

4. Are they manipulative? political (in the worst sense)? aspiring? egotistical? overbearing?

5. Is he or she a man or woman of God? “And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he [or she] be a man [or woman] of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” (Mosiah 23:14).

I welcome an open, respectful conversation on any topic. I love the truth, but I also know that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).

I trust God. I know His voice. I trust voices that echo His. If a voice does not edify, build up, encourage, give hope, or bring peace, it is not of God (see D&C 50:23).

I was once having a tense discussion with a minister of another faith. In the midst of our conversation, I quoted a few verses that I had gratefully memorized:

Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. (Moroni 7:12–13.)

The minister paused, looked at me and said, “That was a good scripture!” Quite a compliment to the Book of Mormon from an ardent opponent. It still makes me smile.

I believe there’s hope for everybody. Nevertheless, taste the fruit before swallowing.

Living in the Present

I know the idea of living in the present moment—mindfulness—is rooted in Eastern thought. Honestly, I don’t know much about it. I have never read a book by Eckhart Tolle or Alan W. Watts.

I don’t get the time-space continuum, but I have some inklings about it. When I think for very long about the length of eternity, I sort of blow a spiritual circuit. Maybe that’s because eternity can’t be measured by breadth or length, but is a continuum.

In the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire . . . all things . . . are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord (D&C 130:7).

 Neal Maxwell explained it this way:

Our own intellectual shortfalls and perplexities do not alter the fact of God’s astonishing foreknowledge . . . amid the mortal and fragmentary communiques and the breaking news of the day concerning various human conflicts, God lives in an eternal now where the past, present, and future are constantly before Him (Neal A. Maxwell, “Care for the Life of the Soul,” Ensign, May 2003, 70).

So God lives in an eternal now? I still don’t understand how that all works, but I believe it. I don’t have to see it. I just have to feel it. And I do feel it.

I’d like to share a few ideas about living in the present, if you are willing to read on. Here’s what I believe.

Little children, for example, live in the present. They are not mired in the past or worried about the future. It’s all about right now for them. That can challenge parents, but it’s just how little people roll. It’s pretty wonderful most of the time.

We grow up and while we grow up—and I don’t care if you are 70, you are still growing up—we are creating a past that is often made up of faulty perceptions about ourselves and others. When we live in the shadow of those perceptions, we live in the past, not the present. And if you live in the past, whether it’s a happy past or a sad one, you are stuck.

If you worry a lot, you’re living in a difficult, unknown future. In fact, you are probably creating an unhappy future. As the saying goes, worry is a prayer for what you don’t want. If you are worrying or longing incessantly for something you hope might happen in the future, you are stuck.

If you are stuck, you are likely not exercising enough faith to fully accept what Christ has already done for you.

He can redeem you from your past and any sadness it causes you, whether regret for missteps or loss of happiness due to lost love. And any future with Him will be a happy, fulfilling one because He is the Guardian of hope. If we struggle to accept this truth, we are struggling to accept Him and thus ourselves.

Living in the present means you can do something right now to calm the past and the future. Right now, this minute.

A good place to start is to be completely honest with yourself and to trust yourself in His hands. Look at yourself in the mirror and say, “How can I fix what’s wrong with my life today? Give it to me straight.” A straight answer will usually involve doing something kind for someone else.

Be honest with others, too, but you need not tell your whole story except to those you trust. Begin by trusting God. Who else can you trust? An unselfish person who makes personal sacrifices for your well-being and protection is usually trustworthy and safe—a Mom-type person, for example.

One last thing. Joy is in the present. Old joys can make us sad because they are gone. Waiting to launch our happiness in the future is no way to live. You can be happy now. You can do something to change your mood and optimism today, this hour, this minute. That happiness will eclipse the past, whatever it’s made of, and guide your future into something you’ll enjoy.

Don’t worry about the future or past. Just think about what you can do and say right now to make someone’s life easier, better, and happier. God won’t let you down when you lift others up.

P.S. Here is an interesting article on mindfulness from Psychology Today (Nov. 2008), “The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment.”

The Race of Life

For Haley, Eldon, Cynthia, Brittany, Joseph, Lance, and Ian

Feet in blocks, iron-willed and fearless,
you burst into life—determined, boundless, free.

Passionate and driven, you showed us what lies
in the heart of a true champion.

You never gave up and never gave in, but grief overtook our hearts when you broke the ribbon
one last time.

Our race goes on. We will see you again where
earth and heaven meet, when we will all cross
the finish line of the race of life.

Michael James Fitzgerald

What Is Happiness?

Most people want to be happy, but most of us aren’t sure where to find it. I am not always sure where to find it myself, but I have a few good ideas. Let me share some quotes.

Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:134–35)

That path that leads to happiness always seems to include self-discipline and self-denial. A few years ago a friend told me, “Most of the problems in this world are caused when people think they have to be happy 100 percent of the time.” He went on to explain that we too often seek for happiness in pleasure and then pleasure turns into addiction and disappointment. Pleasure and self-denial are incongruous. So are addiction and happiness. 

Wickedness never was happiness. (Alma 41:10)

I’m sure my friend was right. I don’t expect to be happy all the time and that helps me be happy most of the time. I don’t think I am on this earth to be happy all the time but to learn how to be happy. It takes practice.

I can’t experience happiness unless I also experience misery. Happiness and misery are one or neither exists.

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so . . . righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. (2 Nephi 2:11)

That’s why it seems that grief is a form of happiness. If I don’t grieve the loss of loved ones then I really haven’t known love. Happiness is not the absence of suffering. Suffering is its confidante.

When you seek happiness in pleasure alone, you are running from pain, suffering, and sorrow, seeking it in ease, distraction, surfeiting and inebriation. Only the happiness that joins with suffering lasts. Pleasure fades by dawn, if not earlier.

But I do know that happiness is my purpose, and that true happiness is found in joy.

Men are, that they might have joy. (2 Nephi 2:25)

Joy, happiness in its purest form, is a companion of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

If I am a companion of the Spirit, those things will naturally follow, but if I part company with Him, I can’t count joy as my friend.

If I want to be happy, I better be prepared for some tough times. Knowing this, I prefer “to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25).

Honestly, it’s times when I am suffering the most that I feel the most joyful. Much of happiness is anticipation, not relief, and in the kindness of those around you.

P.S. For the next few months, I am going to be working harder on discovering and appreciating what makes me happy. See 100happydays.com. If you want to join the adventure, follow me on Instagram (mjf2009) and I’ll follow you back.