Sunday, January 12, 2014

Establishing patterns of righteousness

I read an interesting book a few years ago that included a discussion about the time and effort needed to develop a talent to world-class level. The author claimed that his research showed a common pattern in many instances. With the exception of the occasional prodigy, and acknowledging that there are often inherited abilities or physical elements involved — there was something common in the development of abilities in very diverse areas, and that transition happened after about 10,000 hours of effort or practice or experience. The greatest basketball players had opportunity to play and develop skills to the point where their muscles "knew" exactly how to make the jumpshot under any condition. The great musicians practiced until the sense of music was deeply ingrained in their being, in the movements of fingers or control of voice. Even great computer innovators had opportunity to experiment and develop and hone skills over thousands of hours. It was a fascinating theory.

I've thought what that might mean to our spiritual talents and gifts. Most of us aren't like Paul or Alma, having a dramatic change in our natures. We gradually develop the depth and strength we need to fully serve the Lord most effectively. We learn and grow, "line upon line." At what point do we change to the depth that it becomes so deeply ingrained in us that our very nature is different? Is it perhaps at 10,000 hours as the author I read suggests? When we're counseled to "seek... earnestly the best gifts" (D&C 46:8), how do we interpret the word "earnestly"? Are we asking casually for a gift and then hoping something appears, or are we willing to sacrifice and give the time and effort to receive and develop a gift?

Ponder with me for a moment how much time you spend in an average week focusing on things of a spiritual nature. If you're "active" in the LDS church, you probably spend three hours attending a block of meetings on Sunday. Depending on your current Church calling, you could spend several (sometimes many) more in preparation or service. Hopefully you spend some time in personal study and family study — how much would that add up to for the week? How about personal and family prayer — count that time. Do you spend time reading inspiring material, pondering, meditating, or maybe writing? Listening to uplifting music? How about time in unselfish service to others? Attending the temple? What other things might contribute to your growth in spiritual areas?

All of us have our "ups and downs" in our spiritual consistency, often a result of the nature of our obligations, commitments, and opportunities. And in some sense, we hope there's a spiritual element to everything we do. But over time, we can get a sense of how much of our week we devote to the more worldly "things of the flesh" in comparison to the "things of the spirit" (Rom 8:5) — those specific activities that truly bring us close to the Lord and the Spirit. So given your average "hours per week" and assuming there is some validity to the "10,000 hour rule" — how long does it take to get there? Here's a summary:
  • 5 hours/week — 2000 weeks, almost 40 years
  • 10 hours/week — 1000 weeks, about 20 years
  • 20 hours/week — 500 weeks, about 10 years
It's clear that under these assumptions, the process of spiritual development or refinement is not a casual endeavor. Perhaps this is the meaning of "pressing forward" and "enduring to the end" that we're counseled to consider. It's part of being "steadfast" and "consistent" and "faithful." It's the principle understood and exemplified by Nephi, that later one in the book of Helaman, who was commended by the Lord for having served and obeyed "with such unwearyingness" over the years (Hel 10:4-5) — what a beautiful tribute!

As an interesting tangent, consider what happens during two years of missionary service for our young men. It's not unusual for them to be immersed in study, service, and ministering to the level of a hundred hours a week. Considering that a mission lasts 104 weeks, that makes for an interesting total:
                 100 x 100 = 10,000 hours
Is it any wonder that so many of our young men come home from their missions deeply changed by the experience?

Having said all this, I should emphasize that I don't think we need to wait for 10,000 hours to see the growth and changes in spiritual things. The blessings are much more immediate than that. I believe in a loving Father who "doth immediately bless" us (Mosi 2:24) as we obey and turn to Him. But there's no question that there is power that accumulates in a faithful life. There's a difference in a soul who has consistently studied the scriptures over many years. There's a difference in a life of someone who has regularly, frequently attended the temple for many years. There's a sweetness in a life that has demonstrated many years of devotion in service to the Lord and His children.

Choose Ye This Day

Goethe said wisely, "The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.” It's critical to consider how we're choosing to use our time. What are the priorities, the "things that matter most" for us, and do the Lord and His work get the attention it should? I once heard Elder Jeffrey R. Holland talk about this passage from C. S. Lewis in a very sacred setting: "Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. [That is because] there is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan." We make the decision who wins that battle over "every split second" in our personal eternity!

The time to start new patterns of commitment is today; it's never too late to start accumulating 10,000 hours.

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