Things To Act
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Organic Processes vs. Static Endpoints
This is a line of thought I've been developing for a while, which is hopefully coherent enough to go somewhere by now. As good a starting point as any is last summer, when I was assigned to clean out the office I was working in, which had accumulated the standard debris that accumulates in an office in which student employees come and go. Organizing everything and throwing out the junk was a very satisfying experience. Somewhere in so doing I realized that I sometimes approach spirituality with a similar mindset or wish--if I can just throw out the bad things and organize the good, then everything will be in a nice order. Identify sins, get rid of them, and everything will fall into place.

I suspect it's not that simple, though. A better metaphor was inspired, in part, by this post. Many things relating to spirituality seem more like organic growth--we put in inputs, but we can't quite predict how they'll react, and powers we don't understand and can't control do a lot of the real work. We hope to get good fruits for our efforts, but recognize our contribution is much messier than in the previous metaphor, in which diligent work steadily approaches perfection.

This line of thought dovetailed with another one which I was playing with at the same time, in which I started thinking of goals in terms of "process goals" and "endpoint goals." A process goal involves doing a process with no defined outcome in mind, while an endpoint goal has a defined outcome in mind. Endpoint goals are things like visiting all of your home teachees once each month and delivering the 1P message, or reading scriptures for a set number of chapters or for a set amount of time. Process goals are harder to define, perhaps because of their nature.

The reason I invented this nomenclature was because I was trying to understand why I tend to struggle sometimes with routine spiritual tasks. I suspect it comes, in part, from focusing on the endpoint over the process. If I'm praying only to check it off my list, or going to church because Righteous People Are In The Church Building For Three Hours Every Sabbath, it naturally tends to become less than productive. However, my alternate strategy of ceasing to do these sorts of things is not necessarily much better.

I've found, to a degree, that thinking of these things in terms of processes rather than endpoints helps. We don't necessarily know and can't predict exactly what we may be getting from them, and probably don't even understand the real significance most of the time. However, we're not doing it to check it off a list. We're doing it because we're preparing the soil for the Gardner to do His part of the work.

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