Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

22nd Ask Josh – Getting Friends

In Uncategorized on September 22, 2008 at 10:36 pm

sarah said…

Josh, how do I get friends?


Good question.  This all depends on your operational definition of friends.  My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. M, once asked us all if we had any friends.  We all raised our hands and she said, or rather yelled, “you’re wrong! None of you have any friends!  All you have are acquaintances! A friend is someone who would die for you!”

She really yelled when she said it.  I don’t know why she told us that.  But it stuck with me.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none.”

I have thought on both of these sayings for some time. Having multiple friends in the context that perhaps Mrs. M and Mr. Franklin might be something that none of us are really able to handle.  I mean, I love being gregarious, but I have to agree with what Plautus said:

“No guest is so welcome in a friend’s house that he will not become a nuisance after three days.”

Anyway, you only have so much time for friends.  And there’s no trick to it.  If there is one then I don’t know it.  Brutal honesty comes to mind as a possible trick.  

Dealing with not being as popular as we might like to be is a problem the majority of us face, and maybe even those whom we consider popular wouldn’t mind trading all the popularity of their own in exchange for just a little more.  

A tragic story that I will not go into detail about ended with a boy being picked on by his peers then later ending his life.  He was found with a note pinned to his shirt saying, “Dear Mom and Dad, I know you loved me very much.  But a guy just can’t live without friends.”

Honestly, I never felt like I really had close friends in high school.  And it wasn’t something I spent time stewing over.  I had fun teammates, sharp  classmates, wonderful church buddies, great colleagues and associates.  I was surrounded with people I loved all the time.  Yet I always thought my little brother Andy was about the only friend I had through it all.

So, needless to say, I don’t do the whole popular thing.  And I can’t tell you how to get one person to be your friend in the sense of the word that has been shown above (I know, this post is really starting to sound like a lame cop-out even as I write it).

I guess the best thing for me to quote from you will be just towards the back of the Bible.  How is it that Jesus was able to have so many friends?  John’s answer:

“We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Ella Wilcox Wheeler said, “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone.”

In any case, I would rather be respected than liked.

I’m closing with this poem by Edgar A. Guest and then I am going to bed.  

Have a nice day.

Be a friend. You don’t need money; 
Just a disposition sunny; 
Just the wish to help another 
Get along some way or other; 
Just a kindly hand extended 
Out to one who’s unbefriended; 
Just the will to give or lend, 
This will make you someone’s friend.  

Be a friend. You don’t need glory. 
Friendship is a simple story. 
Pass by trifling errors blindly,
Gaze on honest effort kindly, 
Cheer the youth who’s bravely trying, 
Pity him who’s sadly sighing; 
Just a little labor spend 
On the duties of a friend. 

Be a friend. The pay is bigger 
(Though not written by a figure) 
Than is earned by people clever 
In what’s merely self-endeavor. 
You’ll have friends instead of neighbors 
For the profits of your labors; 
You’ll be richer in the end 
Than a prince, if you’re a friend.


21st Ask Josh – One Favor for the World

In Uncategorized on September 15, 2008 at 6:51 am

Jessica G of George Fox University said:

if you could do one positive thing that completely changes the world what would it be


Dear Jessica,

I think this is my favorite question I have ever been asked thus far. Deep down in my mind I have always wanted to share my feelings on this topic. But I have to start with a story. 

A certain man named Alma, the son of a revered prophet and statesman of the same name, had spent the days of his youth as something of a rebel.  In fact, one historian described him as “a very wicked and idolatrous man” (Mosiah 27:8).  Nobody in his family or community knew what to do with him.  He was just a bad kid.  “He became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the Church of God” (Mosiah 27:9) and he himself later would admit that he “murdered many of [God’s] children, or rather led them away unto destruction” (Alma 36:14). The only solution his family and community saw was to pray for the man.  They just prayed for Alma.  They had no other solution.

In answer to those prayers, an angel appeared with a voice that shook the earth and gave Alma quite a scare on behalf of God Himself and in answer to all those prayers.  Alma was so shocked, he was catatonic for three days.  I have been reprimanded before, but never so much that I had been left completely speechless and motionless for three days.

Anyway, when Alma came to, he was a changed man.  And he spent the rest of his days in the service of God and his fellow man.  He eventually became so revered and respected and in tune with God that army generals came to him to know exactly where they should go to stop invaders from entering their country, he became the Chief Judge of his people, he and his friends would convert an entire savage nation into a thriving Christian society, he was eventually translated like Moses, that is, he was taken directly up to Heaven at the end of his life without even going through the formality of dying.

Later in his life, Alma penned these words about his wish for the world:

“O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Alma 29:1-2).

If I could do one thing for the world, it would be something like Alma’s wish to be an angel and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to every person. Knowing that if they would accept the gospel and live it, “there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.”

If I could do one good thing for the world, I would tell them about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Happiness that He has for us, and the Restoration of His Church upon the earth, namely The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Yes, that would be my gift to the world.

I realize that there may appear to be a bit of an air of presumptuousness when I say that.  Some might say, “Wait, that’s the Mormon Church! Aren’t they a cult? Don’t they worship Joseph Smith? Don’t they have their own Bible?”  And then they will proceed to tell me all the bad things they have heard from pastors, well-meaning friends, and perhaps even inactive or former members of the Church itself.

Despite what you may have heard about my religion, I can assure you that no other path in life will take you on a straighter course to happiness and salvation, both spiritual and temporal. The Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith has the solution to all the world’s problems.  It is true.

It has the solutions for poverty in the world:

Ezra Taft Benson, a former president of my Church, said, “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.” (Ensign, July 1989)

It has the solutions for the many behavioral problems in the world:

A current living Apostle named Boyd K Packer said this:

“I have long believed that the study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than talking about behavior will improve behavior” (Ensign, May 1997).

So simple you might even say, “well, anyone could have just said that.”  Well, it’s a simple solution the Gospel offers.  And I love it.  And I want the world to know it.

The Gospel blesses families.  It gives each person a meaningful role as a son, daughter, brother, sister, parent, child.  We learn to love one another and value what each person brings to the team.

The Gospel gives us a sense of identity.  We believe that all people are children of a loving Heavenly Father, “and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).  In times of both trouble and happiness we know that we can look to a kind and gracious Heavenly Father for guidance and strength.  Self-doubting and insecurities really pale in comparison to the knowledge of where we come from and with Whom we can return if we but live faithfully.

I have said it before and I will say it again that every good thing that I have I have because of this Church.  I really have thought it sometimes unfair that I have benefited so much from the good decisions chiefly made by others who were just doing what the Lord told them to through the scriptures and promptings they received and from counsel they followed from the inspired Prophets and Apostles and Bishops who run the Church under the direction of Jesus Christ Himself. Yes, we believe that Christ stands at the head of this Church. And I have been the beneficiary of countless blessings because of it.
There is so much I would love to say, and I am more than willing to answer any questions to the best of my ability to any readers who want to know more.  I am not an authority on Church doctrine, but I know where to find it.  

The Gift that I would offer to the whole world is not that inaccessible really.  Earnest seekers of truth may talk to Church representatives all around the globe.

There are resources online such as or  Our entire canon of scripture is available online as well as more of what God has revealed in our modern times.

Let me say again that I love this Gospel.  It is amazing.  I invite you to look into it and even make it a matter of prayer.  The last chapter of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ  promises that if you pray and ask God with a sincere heart, real intent, and faith in Christ, you can know for yourself by the promptings of the Holy Ghost whether or not it is true.  It is a promise I have tested multiple times and I know for myself that it is indeed true and a real source of strength in times of shifting values and relativism. 

God bless you, my friend!

20th Ask Josh – Dating Faux Pies.

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2008 at 11:14 am

Lindsay writes:

because you said you’ve been short on questions:

i’d like a list of the ten worst things a guy can do on a date, accompanied by the a list of the ten worst things a girl could do on a date.

should be entertaining, i can’t wait.


I rather like your timing for this one.  For our 20th Ask Josh we will be discussing the 20 worst things that can be done on a date by boys and girls.

My dad told me to go out with at least 25 girls before I got married.  Not to boast, but I have taken that number to well over 50, and I am still not married.

Let me just say that I have enjoyed every date that I have ever been on.  I don’t know that I have ever returned from a night on the town saying, “Gee, I sure was miserable.”

But here are a few things that could have been left out by either me or the girl I was with:

First, me:
1. Being stupid enough to pick my nose, and dumb enough to get caught, and not only caught, but caught giving myself a bloody nose in so doing.
2. Pushing the girl down a hill in an attempt to liven things up a bit.
3. Eating a live cricket in front of a live audience.
4. Eating chicken hearts at Tucanos long after the date had already stopped eating.
5. Patting the girl on the belly at the end of the night instead of hugging.
6. Memorizing the answers to the newspaper crossword puzzle then pretending to know the answers as we go over it together.
7. Refusing to touch the steering wheel and letting the car drift until she takes the wheel herself.
8. Letting someone set you up on a blind date and then let him plan the date which turns out to be hot tubbing (in my defense, we did not go through with the hot tubbing, but it did put us in an uncomfortable position).
9. Rolling around in wet grass and then hugging the date specifically after she told you not to touch her because I pushed her down the hill in an attempt to liven things up a bit.
10. Toilet papering her house with tons and tons of paper and putting it so high in the trees that it is impossible to get out, and doing all this just before her sister is supposed to have her wedding reception at the house.

Honorable mention: Asking her out over the intercom when she already was planning on going with someone else that night.

Now, the ladies.  You may note that some of these don’t even actually happen on the date itself.  But I will try to be as specific as I can without giving away the identity of the offending parties:
1. Setting a date for 2:00 in the afternoon, yet staying up so late that she actually slept through our afternoon date.
2. Calling and canceling 40 minutes before the date starts.
3. After being asked out, saying, “I’ll think about it and get back to you” thus rendering me unable to ask out anyone else in the meantime, and then the night of the date saying you can’t make it.
4. Leaving in the middle of the date to go with friends.
5. Going in for the kiss on a first date.
6. Interrupting the date to make me go help her herd cattle on her farm (actually that was pretty fun.  But it sure sounded bad on paper).
7. Ordering a lot more food than originally planned then not eating hardly any of it and not even taking the leftovers to go.
8. Kissing the guy who is doubling with us.
9. Texting to cancel just an hour before the date.
10. Complaining about ex-boyfriends.

Honorable mention: Bringing her 14-year old brother with her (this isn’t really as bad as it sounds, because we had planned on doubling, but the other couple fell through, so I brought my brother too. The two younger brothers came in quite handy actually when we had to go herd the cattle. And we had a great time.  And I think those two may or may not have kissed).
Honorable mention: Cuddling with the guy who is on the other side of her as we watch the movie.
Honorable mention: Leaving me at the dance to dance with other guys (don’t ask guys to your prom if you’re not going to dance with them)
Honorable mention: Going to a casino and gambling.

Readers, I know you all have some really good stories yourself.  Please feel free to contribute them.  We wanna hear’em.

19th Ask Josh – Why an Idiot?

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2008 at 9:05 am

Josh? Why do you choose to be an idiot?  Why on earth do you act the way that you act?



Oh dear me,

Controversies that are clear to those involved and mysterious to those uninvolved regarding my conscious choice to be an idiot have arisen in recent days.

Why do I publicly make an idiot of myself for laughs?  

Before I get into that, let me start with a piece of advice written by an ancient king of Heracleopolis whose name has gone unknown by historians.  He wrote this treatise for his son and eventual successor, Merikare.  He said, “Calm the weeper… Instill the love of you into all the world” (Teaching for Merikare. c. 2135-2040 b.c., Parable 8, 24).

I have made it my life’s work to build people up, to make them laugh, to make them feel better, to calm the weeper, and instill love into all the world. I made the conscious decision that I would not put a person down, that I would only seek to raise spirits.  There is so much meanness in the world, no need to add to it.

I must have made the decision around 6th grade, I made most of my major life’s decisions between 6th and 8th grade believe it or not. Two events come to mind:

One boy, much bigger than me (I was a bit of a runt for a very long time, I never was big enough to be an effective athlete at anything until late in my junior year of high school), had the ability to pick on me, and he chose to do so.  I might add that this very large boy also stole my first girlfriend I ever had, thus contributing to my first broken heart.  I don’t say this to be bitter, and I bear no grudge against this person, in fact, we are facebook friends.  But at the young age I remember my dad telling me that I should turn the other cheek, and that I shouldn’t judge him because I didn’t know the life he lived at home.  I later found out about the life he lived at home, he was the neighbor of one of my church buddies.  My bully came from a broken home, or at least it was in the process of breaking.  As I have observed his life since we parted ways upon leaving the 6th grade, I have sympathized with what his life has become.  A very intelligent, athletic, liked by many boy, is now rather a dismal scene for me to behold.

The other experience happened at a father-son campout.  I was playing on a dock on a beach.  There were kids my age and a kid who I had perceived as kind of a nerd.  He was rather mousey I might say and was gangly even though he was very short, one of those kids whose bicep you could wrap between your thumb and middle finger. He could not play sports, was a bit antisocial, I remember seeing his name way high up on the Accelerated Reader scoreboard or something like that, and I remember seeing him reading alone during many a recess.  Anyway, back to the story.  As we were playing he was able to loosen up and come out of his shell and jokingly pushed me off the dock before he had time to think of the implications of so doing.  I fell into the lake that none of us had planned on entering during that cold Oregon Cascades’ weekend. I hadn’t packed any clothes for the trip because we planned on leaving late in the night, it was so cold we didn’t even want to bother camping.  I fell in, all my clothes were soaked.  I didn’t get to see my scrawny friend after that, he was so scared that I would hurt him that he ran into the woods and cried.  Admittedly, I was glad at the time that he was so scared, I felt like a big man knowing that he ran scared from me.  I ended up spending the rest of the evening alone, in a cabin by a wood stove, wearing nothing but a grown man’s warmup pants, while the rest of the fathers and sons enjoyed whatever activity they enjoyed in the mess hall. In my miserable state at the time of the incident I wanted to find that boy and at least scare him good if not beat him to the pulp of which I thought myself easily capable.  But amid my misery my dad told me something to this effect: “Tomorrow morning, you will be dry.  And tomorrow morning he will wake up and he will still be himself.”  As I have watched that young man grow up, I have seen him go through tough times of his own.  We led parallel lives in some ways, but it seemed that he had to struggle much more than I did only to receive a comparable pittance of success.  The last I heard the young man has sort of lost his sense of self and just sort of dresses and chains and pierces himself as necessary to gain and keep what he thinks are his friends.  Whereas I still find myself saying from time to time, “I love being me.”

What of those stories?  Well, I was bullied, and I was in a position to be the bully.  But I found that neither of them would have been helped by my lashing out at them.  Indeed, their lives were much harder than I even now can understand or appreciate.  I sometimes feel like I am out of touch with most people because my life has seemed so easy.  I can’t put my arm around them and say, “I know what you’re going through.” Because I don’t know what they’re going through.  In many ways the ignorance of my youth has been left almost completely intact.

Compared to the great cumbersome duffel bags and chests and trunks of emotional baggage that many carry, I have something of a coin purse that is significantly easier to manage.  As the poet Virgil said, “Each of us bears his own Hell” (Aeneid, VI, l. 743).  But whatever mine is, by no deservedness of my own, it has been quite manageable.

Back to the idiocy.  Why act like an idiot?  I have found that my life’s work will be to build people up, to have the optimistic attitude always, to be happy when nobody else seemed to have a reason to.  It really isn’t difficult.  I don’t even have to fake being happy. Like the Apostle Paul, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). By not really caring what happens to me, I can build people.

Some people have found this kind of behavior to be annoying, not a few, including family members. Some find it embarrassing.  But those who know–those who have eyes to see what I see–get it.  Those who don’t seem to get it may ask the same question that a girl once asked me, “What’s with all the happiness?”

The feelings of those perturbed may be summed up in this poem quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland in his speech “The Will of the Father in All Things” (BYU – 17 January 1989):

If you can smile when things go wrong

And say it doesn’t matter,

If you can laugh off cares and woe

And trouble makes you fatter,

If you can keep a cheerful face

When all around are blue,

Then have your head examined, bud,

There’s something wrong with you.

For one thing I’ve arrived at:

There are no ands and buts,

A guy that’s grinning all the time

Must be completely nuts.

I don’t always have to humiliate myself, I just like to have that childlike enthusiasm. Like how in second grade you used to raise your hand really high and use the other hand to prop that hand up, you really wanted to be a part of what was going on.  Now I go to large lecture halls where the professor will ask for a volunteer and I see silent indifference.  Whatever happened to the hand shooting up, raised high with the child saying, “OH! ME ME ME, pick ME! Please pick me! I know this one! I know it!”?

Well, I don’t know when or how we lost the second grade spirit, but I’m bringing it back.

As Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”  I will not wait for someone else to raise their hand, or pause to lift another, or point out the silver lining on the clouds. I have decided to take matters into my own hands. And the best way I know how is not to give them advice (although I do rather enjoy giving it to those who seek it on this blog), but to self-deprecating humor and jokes at my expense seem to be the best way for them to see that the situation is not so bad, and they get up and get back to work.

This rather masochistic-seeming self-debasement is, of course, nonconformist.  And partially that is why I like it so much.  I choose to not join in the sentiment of a world that seems to continually exalt itself while at the same time making its situation continually worse. As Robert Frost said in his timeless poem: 

“Two roads diverged in a wood. And I, I took the one less travelled by. And that has made all the difference.” 

No great good was ever done by anyone who just went with the flow.   Joseph Smith was “a disturber and an annoyer” (JS-H 1:20). The earliest apostles after preaching truth were accused of being “full of new wine” even though it was but the third hour of the day (Acts 2). Even Jesus had to overthrow a few tables and chairs (Mt. 21:12, Mk. 11:15).

“Results worth having can only be achieved by men who combine worthy ideals with practical good sense.  If I must choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness.”  – Theodore Roosevelt.

In the spirit of President Roosevelt’s comment, I refuse to stand idly by while sadness spreads and prevails.  If I must choose between conformity and happiness, I choose happiness.

I have heard it said, I don’t remember where from, that the man who seeks only the approval of everyone automatically relegates himself to the lowest denomination of human existence. Publilius Syrus said, “It is an unhappy lot which finds no enemies.”  Will there be naysayers? Of course.  The unhappy have always despised the happy.  

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

One person who disagreed with my attitude asked, “I enjoy laughter as much as the next person, but must everything be a joke?”  

That’s a good point.  About 4500 years ago a man named Ptahhotpe said, “One who is serious all day will never have a good time, while one who is frivolous all day will never establish a household” (Maxims of Ptahhotpe, 25).  Life can’t be all jokes, it is true. I don’t make a joke of everything, but I know if I had to, I could.  Read this by Victor Frankl, a Jewish man who survived the Nazi concentration camps in World War II.

“The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.”

That is to say, yes. I can be happy no matter what. If it can be done mortal men in a concentration camp, then I can do it. Learning to brush it off and laugh is just one of the ways we “master the art of living.”

Sometimes laughing at tragedy comes off as calloused or careless or oblivious to reality. When my little brother’s girlfriend broke up with him, he was able to laugh it off and carry on. He carried no bitterness, he did not seek to defame the girl. The girl was a little offended that he didn’t perhaps wallow in enough self-pity before moving on. She wishes he would have been more of a typical jerk ex-boyfriend. It led her to almost lash out and complain to his friends, “does Andy care about anything!?!” I admire Andy’s resilience. I suppose too many of us think that our world being turned upside-down must mean the end of the world. No, the world goes on, just upside-down, one more thing to poke fun at.

That’s not to say that I don’t have occasion to cry and indulge in the practice once in a while. But I have learned to laugh even at the times when I was crying over something. Like Jack Handey said, “It takes a big man to cry, but it takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man.”

I wish to conclude with an invitation made by Jeffrey R. Holland. But before I do, let me say this: I hope someday you’ll join me in my mission to make the world a happier place. Break out of your shell, throw caution to the wind, forget yourself, leave your comfort zone, reach out and touch someone. Don’t count the cost as how it will make you look or if you’ll embarrass yourself if you aren’t that good at making jokes. Strengthen the feeble knees, lift up the hands which hang down (Heb. 12:12). Build others. The world needs healing. Laughter heals. Ergo, the world needs laughter. Help me heal. Start today. It’s not so hard, “Nothing is so difficult but that it may be found out by seeking” (Terence – Publius Terentius Afer “Heauton Tomoroumenos, line 675).

Now, Elder Holland:

I ask you to be a healer, be a helper, be someone who joins in the work of Christ in lifting burdens, in making the load lighter, in making things better. Isn’t that the phrase we used to use as children when we had a bump or a bruise? Didn’t we say to Mom or Dad, ‘Make it better.’ Well, lots of people on your right hand and on your left are carrying bumps and bruises that they hope will be healed and made whole. Someone sitting within reasonable proximity to you tonight is carrying a spiritual or physical or emotional burden of some sort or some other affliction drawn from life’s catalog of a thousand kinds of sorrow. In the spirit of Christ’s first invitation to Philip and Andrew and then to Peter and the whole of his twelve apostles, jump into this work. Help people. Heal old wounds and try to make things better.” – Jeffrey R. Holland (Come unto Me. Jeffrey R. Holland – 2 March 1997).

Pre-Law Newsletter

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2008 at 7:15 am

Hey, I was in the pre-law newsletter this week.  Here’s what it said:

Josh Guest, the newest addition to the Pre Law team is a pre-communications major applying to the Broadcast Journalism program this semester.  He is the third (and favorite) of six children. Josh spent the summer in his hometown of Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he worked full time as a clerk for the law firm of Carter and Potter, P.C., where he proofread legal documents and filed them at the local courthouse just one block from his office.  In the last year  he worked as a Production Assistant for the Daily Universe, a Sandwich Artist at Subway in the CougarEat, a furniture mover and rock salt spreader at King Henry Apartments, and an Event Staff worker for the football and basketball games on campus.  Josh was responsible for over a dozen biographical short films for the Guitars: Unplugged show in the Winter 2008 semester. Josh completed 25 months of service as a missionary for the Chile Santiago North mission.  He has also worked as a newspaper columnist, a newspaper sports correspondent, a construction worker, a demolition worker, a painter, an actor, a gas station attendant, an insurance telemarketer, and he even owned his own film editing business he started with his younger brother.  A lover of the arts, Josh likes watching classic and foreign films, attending plays, concerts, and ballets on campus, listening to 80’s classic rock and classical music, and reading classic literature, especially Shakespeare.  He is a trivia wizard and he runs his own advice blog titled “The Better Idiot” at
Josh Guest plans to attend law and business school within the next two years to obtain a joint JD/MBA degree.  In the meantime he is pleased to be serving pre-law and pre-graduate school students at the Preprofessional Advisement Center.


18th Ask Josh – "Hard" times

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Kelda writes:

when your stuck between a rock and a hard place, how do you propose getting out? or do you just let yourself get squeezed into being thin?
Dear Kelda,
You have to be open to anything that happens to you.
In other words, you take it. 

17th Ask Josh – Self-evaluations

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2008 at 12:35 pm

[Name omitted] inquires

Josh, …
Today is my birthday and, as such, it is a day of deep reflection. I find myself really questioning whether or not I am actually doing my best. Now I lay my head down every night and ask myself if I have really given that day all I have, if I have really done all I could do to make sure that I am working at becoming the best I can be, but on my birthday I almost obsess over these self-evaluations. Am I loving my brothers and sisters? Am I working hard enough? I am serving enough? Am I showing my Heavenly Father that I love him? I have been told that to ask myself these questions every day is not healthy. People have said that it causes me to have unrealistic expectations of myself, but my personal belief is that we cannot achieve excellence if we do not expect ourselves to do so. To conclude, and my apologies for the length of this query, what do you think? Is it unhealthy to question whether or not I have worked hard enough every day? AmI just setting myself up for disappointment?
Use this as you will. Anonymous or not, it doesn’t really matter. I will, however, inform you that I am looking for a reply that is exceptionally profound, but no pressure or anything.
Thanks, Josh!


Dear Friend,

How I wish we could have this conversation face-to-face. I would give you a great big hug. Bless your heart. I remember looking up to you as a kid, especially when I saw you in that play which shall go unnamed for anonymity’s sake. You did a great job, and I have always enjoyed our run-ins in our quaint little hometown where one can so easily be tempted to ask themselves, “Is this it? Is this really my life?”

No human being is ordinary, and I suppose that’s partially why it is so hard to see extraordinariness in ourselves. It’s like that Despair poster: “Remember, you are unique… just like everybody else.” We try our best and our strengths don’t seem so strong to us because we know where the flaws are, even in our own strengths.

It kind of reminds me of my maternal grandmother and her quilts. She made grand, colorful, intricate quilts. To my eye, and perhaps to the normal naked eye, they were flawless, perfect in every way. Yet she was disgusted with every one she ever made. My dad once suggested that she enter one of her quilts into a local contest. She absolutely would not have it. “I know where the mistakes are,” she said. While our focus was drawn to the beauty of the entire piece, she couldn’t move her focus away from the flaws that had gone unseen by the rest of us.

Let me praise you for wanting to be continually better. It is one of my favorite pastimes. Perfection is the goal, and why not? I think the quest for perfection requires a good sense of humor as you inevitably have your stumbles. And sometimes you may feel left all to yourself and unsupported in that quest. You’re going to have to learn to laugh at that, too. I like to think of the attitude as being perfection-oriented as opposed to being a perfectionist.

In C.S. Lewis’s book, “The Screwtape Letters”, the head devil, Screwtape, describes Jesus’s attitude towards humans who struggle yet nevertheless strive to be good:

“He [Jesus] leaves the creature [us, you and me] to stand up on its own legs–to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. … He wants them to learn to walk, and therefore must take away His hand, and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles” (Chapter 8, italics added).

While that isn’t exactly what I would call authoritative scripture, I don’t think that Brother Lewis is too far off the mark.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell had this to say on the subject of your question:

“We [should] distinguish more clearly between divine discontent and the devil’s dissonance, between dissatisfaction with self and disdain for self. We need the first and must shun the second, remembering that when conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon” (Quote Book, 307).

Did you catch that part? We need to have that “divine discontent.” Something inside us must tell us to keep moving towards that estate, and state, where we want to be.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with criticizing myself, because I love myself. I do it in the way I would criticize someone else. Kind of like what it says in Doctrine & Covenants, section 121, verse 43:

“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved.”

You wouldn’t want reprove someone with more harshness than your ability to increase love afterwards. And you wouldn’t want someone to do that to you, either. But when it comes to self-reproving and self-loving, we may only focus on the former and neglect the latter because we may think of it as prideful to feel good about ourselves.

We are allowed to continue reaching for something better as far as the things of eternity are concerned, such as Christlike characteristics, which, conveniently, are portable.

Elder Keith J. Hilbig said in the October 2007 General Conference, “Whatever level of spiritual development each of us may presently have, there always exists a higher level within our reach.”

Aren’t you glad that you are aware that you can and ought to be better? I know I am. Thomas Edison said, “Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure” (qtd. in Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Colossal Collection of Quotable Quotes, p. 17).

I love this counsel from President Brigham Young on perfection. Actually I have two bits of counsel from him:

“We are not required in our sphere to be as perfect as Gods and angels are in their spheres.” (Journal of Discourse 10:223)

“Those who do right, and seek the glory of the Father in heaven, whether their knowledge be little or much, or whether they can do little, or much, if they do the very best they know how, they are perfect. … When we are doing as well as we know how in the sphere and station which we occupy here … we are justified.” (Deseret News. August 31, 1854, p. 1)

I believe you should continue striving for perfection so long as you are able to enjoy it, even with all its difficulties. Run not faster than you have strength. You are not an overnight job. If it was so easy to be perfect you wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.

“[T]oo much anxious opening of the oven door and the cake falls instead of rising. So it is with us. If we are always selfishly taking our temperature to see if we are happy, we will not be.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Patience” BYU Speeches of the Year, 27 November 1979)

I put that last quote there to answer your question about whether or not it is healthy to evaluate yourself every day. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it. Missionaries are expected to give a daily accounting of their labors in prayer. It is a habit I enjoy keeping. I love the quest for excellence. It doesn’t get me down, it just gets me going. If there is a better way, find it. Why not? Not an overhaul every day, and I don’t even suggest you make a list of one thing to improve every day. Just having the idea in your mind constantly that you will take make your good into better and your better into your best.

I have to get to class now. If I have anything else to say on the subject I’ll put it down.

Have a perfect day.

Oh, and happy birthday.