Spirituality—More Than a Feeling


I can remember a Sunday School teacher telling me once that I wasn’t very spiritual. Looking back, I think she was probably concerned because I had trouble sitting quietly through a whole lesson. At the time, I didn’t know what she meant. But it didn’t sound like a compliment, so I went home and thought about it. I figured that maybe spirituality meant being quiet, especially on Sundays. Maybe it also meant not breaking other kids’ toys and not hiding my iodine pills at school so I could get extra ones because they tasted so good. I wanted to be spiritual, but I needed to know what it meant.

Since that time, I have continued my search to understand spirituality and make it more a part of my character. One day I ran across Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s statement “Above all talents—greater than any other capacities, chief among all endowments—stands the talent for spirituality.” (The Millennial Messiah, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982, p. 234.) This idea, that spirituality is a talent, put my search in perspective. There’s probably nothing magical about achieving spirituality. More likely, we develop it much as we develop other talents—through hard work, difficult decisions, critical choices, hanging on, trying again, not giving up.

Foremost in my mind, spirituality implies doing. That makes it difficult for me because I’d much rather sit in a comfortable place and think about it, or discuss it, or read a book about it. But spirituality is God’s asking—his inviting—and our responding—our doing. It’s getting on with it without waiting around for more details.

Spirituality Is Keeping Promises

How is action an integral part of spirituality? We do things because we want to demonstrate to our Heavenly Father that we really mean what we say. That we mean it when we make baptismal covenants with him. (See Mosiah 18:8–11.) That we mean it when we have the privilege of entering a holy temple and making other covenants. That we mean it when, in our quietest, most private moments with him, we ask for his help and make additional promises.

One evening when my parents weren’t home, I answered the phone. It was one of my younger sisters, crying hard. “Come and get me,” she pleaded. She was calling from a slumber party at a friend’s house where her friends had started swearing. Unknown to any of her family, she had promised Heavenly Father that she would never swear. Spirituality means honoring our promises to Heavenly Father.

Spirituality Is Sharing with the Needy

Another concept that rings true for me was taught by Bishop J. Richard Clarke: “It has always been the disposition of the true disciples of Christ, as they reached higher degrees of spirituality, to look after the needy.” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 82.)

Who are the needy? If we speak of temporal needs, we can identify the poor quite easily. I have seen many in Africa, Asia, and other places who might be identified as “poor.” There are many who are hungry and have no food. They are thirsty and have no water. They are sick and have no medicine.

One day as I watched some women squatting by the river to wash their clothes, I pictured myself stuffing my clothes into a machine. And I wondered what I did with all the extra time I have. In a refugee camp in Thailand, I once visited with a couple as their children played nearby. One little girl knocked over a small plastic bag of rice. With great care, the parents picked up every single grain of rice and put them all back in the bag. I thought about how much food I have wasted in my life. I will never forget the moment in Indonesia when I realized that I was spending more money in a month than some people made in an entire year.

Spirituality is opposed to worldliness, and it is opposed to selfishness. To be worldly is to be concerned with the affairs, pressures, and “things” of this world to the exclusion of more important matters.

When we are worldly, we may actually be contributing to inequality in the world. The word iniquity comes from a Latin root meaning “inequality.” This meaning has made the scriptures relating to the iniquity of the world even more powerful to me. Spirituality is a conscious moving away from self-indulgence. It is a consciousness that God created the earth with “enough and to spare” (see D&C 104:13–18) and that I have enough and much to spare—to share.

When we as a people endeavor to find more to share, we reach toward a lofty goal, a society where there are no poor. “And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18.)

But there are so many ways to be needy. There are many who mourn and find no comfort. Many are lonely and find no love. Some feel unneeded and find no opportunities to share with others. Anyone who has an unmet need is needy. We are all needy! And those who have something they can share are rich. We are all rich! All of us can share something that may lift a burden or help in some silent struggle.

Spirituality Is Increased Sensitivity

A friend of mine was very sick at one time. She was home alone when someone knocked at her door. She didn’t feel like getting up, but the knocking continued. Then she realized that it might be her visiting teachers. She knew they had set a goal for 100 percent, and it was near the end of the month.

When she saw that it was indeed her visiting teachers, she began to feel hopeful. She had a lot of undone work around her apartment. Perhaps, she thought, they might see how sick she was and offer to help. When they saw her and asked if she was all right, her hopes increased. “I’ve been so sick,” she said. “Well,” they replied, “we’ll just give you a quick lesson so you can get back to bed.”

They gave her the lesson, left, and got “credit” for their visit. My friend went back to bed and wept. She thought of times when she, too, had missed opportunities to serve because she was not as sensitive as she could have been.

How often we continue doing good out of a sense of duty, rather than reaching for a level where we do out of love. I have often wondered what would happen if we approached our visiting and home teaching with the primary goal of helping people meet their needs. I suspect that 100 percent might just happen anyway, without giving it much thought.

Spirituality Is Changing—Now

Spirituality is responding to our God-given ability to know right from wrong—and choosing right without delay. This means we cannot go day after day with the same excuses, the same putting off. I have always thought it’s a wonderful thing that we lose our peace of mind when we do wrong. Let us pray that we will never cause the Holy Ghost to cease striving with us. Imagine that inside each of us is a little device with many sharp points. When we do wrong, it starts to spin, and its sharp edges cause pain. When we stop doing or thinking wrong things, it stops spinning and we feel better. But if we continue doing what we know we should not, the edges wear down and the pain decreases. To delay change, once we know it is needed, is to lose a measure of spirituality.

Spirituality Is Integrity

The story goes that someone once asked Michaelangelo how he could transform ordinary rock into his marvelous statues. Reportedly, the artist replied that he just chiseled until everything that wasn’t the statue wasn’t there. To be spiritual means to have a sense of who we truly are and then to be that person.

Eventually, spirituality becomes such an integral part of our being that we can follow our heart’s true desires without doing anything wrong. Nephi, the son of Helaman, reached that point where there was no conflict between what he wanted and what was right. The Lord promised him, “I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. (Hel. 10:5; italics added.)

This kind of spirituality requires that we consciously move away from all that is unkind, unholy, impure, or unchristian. It requires that we let go of anger and revenge. And it yields a peace of heart and soul. It makes us able to find good things to do without constantly being asked, pushed, or reminded.

Spirituality Is Living Joyfully

As I observe people who seem to have developed a deep spirituality, I notice several qualities they have in common. One is the ability to communicate in a meaningful, personal way with God, to enjoy meditating and pondering. Another is a cheerfulness, an optimism, a buoyancy of spirit. Those who are spiritual also seem to be grateful—not just for obvious blessings, but for the often unnoticed joys of life. They seem genuinely happy when others succeed or receive praise. They obey with a feeling of enlightenment and sense of progression, rather than out of duty or fear or in hopes of some honor. And they seem as much concerned with being—with the state of their souls—as they are with doing.

Perhaps the trait I enjoy most in those who seem to have reached higher levels of spirituality is that they show kind, tender, active concern for others. They don’t seem to need much credit for genuine Christian service. And they seem to be able to help others without creating dependency or a feeling of indebtedness. They have a way of exalting those they help. (See D&C 104:15–16.)

They say, “Here we are, Lord. Send us!” Send us to Africa or South America. Send us next door with some warm bread. Send us to listen to a weary, struggling neighbor. Send us to visit a lonely friend. Send us into the next room to lift a heavy heart. Help us be in tune so that we can respond to all the big and little promptings that come. Help us go beyond “Just call if you need me” to anticipating and helping before there is desperation and helplessness.

The price God asks of each of us is the same: everything. The reward is also the same: a growing feeling of confidence and peace. I will always remember a tall Nigerian who stood in a testimony meeting and said with emotion, “I am convinced that I am a son of God!” I also like to think how Enos must have felt when he knew he was forgiven of his sins and his faith in Christ was rewarded: “Wherefore my soul did rest.” (Enos 1:17.)

May we lift and love and nourish and smile. May we visit and share and sing and serve until joy fills our souls to overflowing. Then we, with Enos, may look forward to meeting God, for we will “see his face with pleasure.” (Enos 1:27.)

[illustration] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

Mary Ellen Edmunds, a member of the Mapleton (Utah) Fifth Ward, is Associate Director of Special Training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.