How does that happen? We know that when we learn a new skill, it creates new neural pathways. It’s like we go off into the mountains where there is no trail, but we are making a new one. Each time we walk on that path again, the trail becomes more worn and easier to see and follow. As I learned a new song, the signals to and from my brain would follow the same path. As I practiced more, it made it easier for the signals to travel that path. It actually changes the nature in our body. How amazing is that?!
It reminds me of when I need to change my spiritual nature. We know that the natural man is an enemy to God.
Mosiah 3: 19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive , meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
So how do we change our nature and become a new person and even a saint? As it says, through the atonement of Christ, we are given the power and blessing to change. But we can’t just pray to be different and it is given to us without any effort on our part. We have to actively put off the natural man by our righteous choices over and over, along with a true desire. We have to be willing to completely leave behind that other person and not look back.
Is that easy? Do any of us find a commandment or principle that doesn’t come naturally to us or that we may even not want to follow? Of course! What do we do then? If we are to be meek and willing to submit to all things, we will get up and go and do, even if we don’t have that natural inclination to do it at first. As we practice that principle, like reading our scriptures every day or doing our visiting teaching, it does actually change our neural pathways, making it easier to do those things, but it also, more importantly, changes our spiritual pathways. That path brings us closer to the Spirit and closer to our Father. It is easier for us to do those things automatically, like my hands playing a song without even concentrating. It can become easy and “second nature” until we no longer feel like we are yielding because that has become a part of us. We have changed. And we can find true joy in those things that we thought we might not ever be able to do.
“That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but our power to do so is increased.”
Heber J. Grant (I've seen that Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was born around 50 years before President Grant, said the same thing, almost word for word. Great thought, whoever said it first.)
But it takes practice and time. It takes commitment, without an escape plan. We can’t just give a half-hearted try and expect our nature to be changed. We have to be willing to follow through, no matter how difficult at first, giving our will to the Father. He will pick us up and help so that making those new paths is easier than if we tried ourselves.
Alma 5:26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
Just as I stopped practicing piano and my fingers can no longer play those songs at all, let alone almost without me thinking about them, it is possible for us to change the natural man and then to regress back to it. We may get out of the habit of communicating with our Father through daily prayers or stop going to church or whatever. Because we have stopped doing those things, it is no longer as easy to do them with just an occasional attempt. We have to re-commit and recreate those pathways. Of course, we can do it, but it all depends on our choices and our own personal commitment to changing our nature…again.
“I can’t stress too strongly that decisions determine destiny. You can’t make eternal decisions without eternal consequences.
May I provide a simple formula by which you can measure the choices which confront you. It’s easy to remember, sometimes difficult to apply: You can’t be right by doing wrong; you can’t be wrong by doing right.”
President Thomas S. Monson, "Decisions Determine Destiny", CES Fireside at BYU, November 6, 2005
We can give any excuse we want for keeping part of the natural man and not giving our hearts fully to the Lord. Ultimately, those pathways that we make with our repeated actions will lead us to our eternal home, whether that be in the Celestial Kingdom with our Father and our Savior or to a different kingdom. We must make those daily decisions that change our nature and determine our eternity and we can.