The 182nd Semi-Annual General Conference of October 6 – 7, 2012 carried a particular theme to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This theme centers around being courageous and rising up to proclaim the simplistic message of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, as it is restored in these last days. Upon further reflection and meditation, and listening to the first talk by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the immediate understanding of spiritual apathy, atrophy and spiritual drought came to mind.
Apathy is defined as one having a lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Atrophy refers to the idea of something becoming degenerate, wasting away and typically refers to muscular atrophy. The latter referencing how one’s muscles become weakened due to the lack of use, or deteriorate. This typically occurs when one is paralyzed and no longer has the ability to utilize specific parts of their body. Hence, spiritual apathy is defined as one having a lack of interest or enthusiasm or concern for spiritual development. Spiritual atrophy is defined as one whose spiritual life deteriorates and becomes weakened because of the lack of use – or more aptly put, a person becomes a spiritually paralyzed. Together, both equal a subsequent spiritual drought that occurs in the person’s life.
Signs of Spiritual Apathy
Reminders have come down through General Conference that members of the Church (young and old) are to consistently develop:
- Personal and Family prayer time
- Personal and family scripture study
- Consistent Family Home Evening
- Consistent wholesome family activities, to include eating meals at the table
- Temple attendance and Temple work – to include family history research
- Service to family, friends, neighbors and even people we do not know
- Learn to recognize the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit in our lives
Spiritual apathy settles in when we become complacent and fail to engage in these activities. The longer we refrain from these activities, the greater our lack of interest and concern develops. The greatest danger is when parents allow spiritual apathy to enter into their family and homes. Council after council is given that Parents have an eternal obligation and divine responsibility to teach children the principles of the Gospel:
THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed (The Family Proclamation).
Again, each individual member of the Church has clear direction that the simple principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ help prevent us from entering into a state of spiritual apathy. As parents, we must be ever vigilante in recognizing and preventing spiritual apathy to take root in our own homes. If we possess a lack of concern for our own spiritual well-being and experience, how can we expect our children to possess a concern for their spiritual well-being? We must establish the example by applying these principles in our lives so that it models appropriate behavior and our children can learn that no matter the types of circumstances we face – there is strength in standing on the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the signs of spiritual apathy are:
- Lack of interest in praying, whether it is family or individual prayer
- Lack of interest in fulfilling our callings
- Lack of interest in reading our scriptures, studying and pondering them
- Lack of interest in attending our meetings
- Lack of interest in wholesome family activities
- Lack of interest in attending the Temple and to perform Temple work, Family History and seeking spiritual blessings to lift us up.
In addition to these signs, spiritual apathy includes activities that grieve the Holy Spirit. This is accomplished in the types of entertainment we allow in our homes, the types of music we allow ourselves to listen too, and even technological addiction that may have taken root in our lives. Furthermore, spiritual apathy occurs when we lose interest in cultivating a healthy marriage and family unit. We lose interest in spending time with our children and spouse. Lose interest in having open and honest communication and rather isolate ourselves into our own individual existence.
Spiritual Atrophy develops
Once spiritual apathy becomes part of our lives, spiritual atrophy develops. Much like someone who spent their time exercising, having an appropriate diet, and living a healthy well-balanced life, and then losing interest and stop living such a life; we go from spiritual strength and health to a weakening and deteriorating individual. We stop exercising our eternal obligations and develop unhealthy habits that take away blessings and even purpose.
Through spiritual atrophy, we become weak, unable to recognize the divine guidance and companionship of the Holy Spirit, and attempt to fill our lives with empty sustenance that may bring instant gratification but does not possess the necessary nourishment our spirit’s need. In a sense, we spiritual starve ourselves and become spiritually paralyzed. Our lack of interest in living the gospel of Jesus Christ affects us emotionally, physically, and even spiritual death.
Here, sin and complacency develops. We make excuses for our behavior, justifying those behaviors at times so that we do not have to face the reality that we have walked off the path of righteousness. The following become foreign to us and we become past feeling:
- Praying no longer has power in our lives and becomes an awkward burden
- Scriptures are dusty and dry, have no meaning or power in our lives
- Family infrastructure is weakened and may even be on the brink of dissolution – this includes strife, contention, selfishness, pride, and individualism
- Unhealthy addiction replaces healthy addictions
- Serving others becomes a burden because we no longer possess the ability to love and reach out to help those who are in need – instead we criticize, condemn, and judge them.
- We stop attending our services and meetings, find our callings to be an annoyance, and view attending Church as another obstacle to enjoying a relaxing weekend before the work week.
- Our countenance falls, and we become angry, frustrated, stressed, and at times develop a critical perspective of the world around us.
Many other evidences of spiritual atrophy could be mentioned, however, these are some key thoughts that come to mind. The overall idea here is that we lose interest and develop a weakened faith – to the point that we stop believing in the reality and validity there is no longer a God at all who is mindful of us and our needs.
Spiritual Drought is the end result
As we lose interest in spiritual activities, become weak and deteriorate in our faith, the end result is a spiritual drought. There are no longer blessings in our lives. There is no longer guidance by the Holy Spirit in which we can receive strength, courage, and divine revelation in how we are to live our lives. Where we once find fulfillment and purpose, it is replaced with sandy dunes and desolate, unbearable heat. We become hungry and thirsty, see illusions and mirages. We become a wreck.
Our life, in one sense or another becomes unstable, unfulfilled, and there is no meaning and purpose for our existence. We perceive that there is no hope for us and either go through the motions, or become desolate to any sense of social normative behaviors. Some attack and demean others because they fail to understand the reality and faith that it takes to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Others simply live their lives believing that there is no purpose and that what we see and experience is all there is.
Interestingly enough, there are many stories within Ancient and Modern Scriptures that tell us about how particular individuals have gone through a time of spiritual apathy, atrophy and traversed their own desolate spiritual drought. Prophets and Apostles even warn us, and provide us the means by which we can regain our spiritual strength and interest.
Overcoming Spiritual Apathy and Atrophy
If one finds themselves in a spiritual drought and spiritual apathy, there is hope and there is an answer. We must be committed to enduring and developing those habits that will bring about a fresh rainstorm into our drought ridden spiritual life. The road is not easy, and is fraught with many obstacles. The habits and addictions that we have developed must be shed, by shaking them off, and breaking the chains of bondage. The end goal is to develop a strong and vital faith through a spiritual revival – an awakening of our soul. It requires repentance, forgiveness, and enduring to the end. These key elements are:
- Begin to pray and develop consistent prayers
- Begin to read the scriptures, pondering and meditating upon them
- Attend meetings and engage in conversation
- Develop consistent patterns of Family Home Evenings
- Start eating as a family at the dinner table
- Find wholesome activities that all members of the family can participate in
- Begin to research family genealogy and understand one’s heritage
- Find small ways to serve family members, neighbors, friends, and even strangers
The most powerful impact we can make in revitalizing our faith and our spiritual lives is to come to a place where we repent of our selfish pride. If we are parents who recognize that our son or daughter has fallen into a spiritual drought, we must develop a love and compassion that our Savior has for all people. This includes having compassion and empathy for our children who have lost interest in the Gospel of Christ. For us personally, by developing and strengthening our own spiritual well-being, our children will hopefully follow suit.
Let us be mindful of the dangers of spiritual apathy and how it leads to spiritual atrophy where the end result brings us into a spiritual drought. We must awake, and arise, and have a change of heart. Taking courage to preach the Gospel in all ways, in all manners, and in all the world.