A Fresh Perspective on Jacob 5
RESOLUTIONS! GOALS! AND CHANGE! OH MY!!! Take heart, my fellow, changers…those of us who are devoted this year (for real) to make some necessary changes to our behaviors, habits, circumstances, or relationships. What you are about to read may very well eliminate your laundry list of “This year I am going to…”
‘And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit…and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once…and ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad… Can you see the parallels about self-improvement. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it last fall. The doctrine taught here is so beautiful and so comforting and the idea is so clear-when setting goals and trying to improve and really, really change we have to be measured and wise. “Ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once”…See it? Grand sweeping goals of great change all at once are not wise. As Jacob explains through Zenos’ allegory-adding too many good branches to a bad (or weak) root is unsustainable. The root cannot sustain the branches and the whole tree fails. But, if the grafts are small and made in increments, then the root grows with the branches and compensates and gets stronger and deeper and better equipped to handle the healthy tree. It makes so much sense. It’s the same principle that Alma teaches in chapter 32 and we hear echoes of it in 1 Nephi 16:29 and DAC 64:33. If you like to read, a wonderful little book about making 1% changes is called Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. Short and powerful. And about customer service. Such a fascinating little read on exactly what I am talking about here.
Hopefully I have established a case for not making long lists of overhauling changes. One carefully chosen change may be all you need to have the most impactful year of your life. This sounds so easy. Read on:
…and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit…and it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them…So, our responsibility in this scenario is to labor with our might. This is vital in permanent change. We may look at Alma the Younger and assume that he made a vast sweeping change all at once (much more than 1%). But if we read on and ponder true doctrine, we know that this cannot be true. What he had, as do we, is a moment of decision. Those moments are critical to change. It’s when we make up our minds that we will override our natural will until we have formed new habits. THIS IS NOT EASY. But, we must have these moments. Maybe we say, “I am going to walk away to my bedroom instead of yell at my children” or “I am going to get up at 6:15 every morning to study my scriptures-despite what time I went to bed” or “I am going to visit my parents once a week even if I’m out of town part of the week”. “I am going to get professional help for my addiction.” These are the small decisions that become huge game changers. These moments are critical. We fall back on these moments of decision when we feel weak or we want to falter.
So, we have our moment of decision and then what? Alma tells us that he ‘fasted and prayed many days that I might know these thing of myself.’ (Alma 5:46) This is Alma the Younger-the one that made a decision and spent the rest of his life resolutely following that path. He was a prophet. He saw an angel. He was eventually (most likely) translated. (Alma 45:18-9) But HE STILL HAD TO FAST AND PRAY TO GAIN A TESTIMONY AND TO SOLIDY HIS DECISION TO CHANGE. There is no magical pathway to change for anyone. Alma’s pathway was no different than the one that you and I must walk and that’s what I love about true principles: they apply across the board and are available to all. Don’t discount the power of fasting and prayer to keeping your change a permanent part of you.
So, we’ve had our moment of decision. We have chosen one small thing to change. Now we have to labor with our might. This implies that these simple things that we have chosen may require a mighty effort on our part to accomplish. But, look who is working alongside us-the Savior. He is laboring with us! He wants to help us to be successful. He will not leave us unaided. My favorite line from the LDS Addiction Recovery manual is on page 35 under Step 6, “He will wait patiently for you to weary of your own unaided effort to change…” Notice ‘unaided’. He doesn’t take over. He AIDS us as we attempt the change. And I love the patience stated in this line. He is patiently waiting and quietly allowing us to attempt the change without Him. He comes only by invitation-either by us or by someone praying for us. God will NEVER, EVER override our agency. EVER. Patiently He awaits us.
Now look what happens when we labor with our might:
and there began to be the natural fruit again in the vineyard…And thus they labored with all diligence…even until the bad had been cast away out of the vineyard, and the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit …And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them…blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit…behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit…
The promise is there…eventually the good fruit can overtake the whole tree and the fruit is worthy of being harvested, stored up and enjoyed by the servants and the Lord.
I cannot leave this without another sweet lesson buried within the words of the allegory. Notice that what begins to come forth from the tree is the ‘natural fruit’-it’s not a new and improved fruit, it’s not a gmo fruit, it’s the natural fruit that God created from the beginning. It was already in existence. This same story is found in Luke when the Prodigal Son finally hits rock bottom and decides to change. One part of this story may well be my favorite line in all of holy script: “And when he came to himself” (Luke 15:17). When he came to HIMSELF. When he came to the natural fruit. God isn’t trying to make us in to something else. He is trying to awake us to who we already are. That’s powerful stuff-but a topic for another day. For now let us reflect on what our personal ‘natural’ fruit is and how we are going to begin grafting it in…today, 1% at a time. Now that’s transformational resolution.