Doctrine: There is a difference between doing good and becoming good. We cannot truly become good, or as God is, until our motivation for doing so transcends expected, or even perceived rewards and blessings. Our sole motivation has to be personal peace. When we gain control of ourselves, instead of trying to control everything else, we are closer to “becoming” than we ever dreamed possible. This is spiritual independence.
- How many of your words and actions, each day, are based upon your reaction to the words and actions of others?
- How many of your words and actions, each day, are based upon aspects of life that are outside of your control?
- What was the most recent thing you said, or did, in reaction to life, that you felt justified in doing, but which didn’t make you feel happy or peaceful afterward? It might even have made you feel worse-even though you were justified.
- Finally, how much of what you do is because it’s a commandment with an expected or perceived blessing?
In the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, Christ gave sermons which we often call the beatitudes or the sermon on the mount. We often assume that the word “beatitudes” means BE ATTITUDES. But, the term beatitude is not English. It’s a term adapted from the Latin: beatitudo, a noun meaning “state of blessedness.”
In other words, a beatitude is a “state or condition of being that results in blessedness.”
If you read the sermon on the mount, you’ll note that Christ doesn’t give instructions on how to “do” the beatitudes. He merely states in many different ways, “blessed are they who <blank> for they shall <blank>.” He seems to be implying that some blessings are not simply achieved by going through the motions or checking something off a list. Indeed, He makes it quite clear that some Christlike characteristics cannot be earned and that the blessed results are simply that: a natural result of becoming or embodying that attribute.
It is true that doing does lead to becoming IF our motivation becomes pure. So, let me restate that: the blessedness that accompanies each beatitude is a natural result of the person not simply doing certain actions, but becoming or embodying that Christlike attribute. It comes naturally to them. It IS who they are. They don’t have to sit down and think about BEING in these states. They simply are them and the natural blessedness results. For example, Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
So, what is the difference in doing righteous actions in expectation of receiving a blessing or actually becoming, or embodying a Christlike attribute and blessedness following as an natural result?
BECOMING = ACTIONS ARE INDEPENDENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS, INCITING SITUATIONS, OTHERS’ ACTIONS, AND INFLUENCES.
When we act based upon who we want to be and not based upon what we think such actions will bring us, our actions become independent. They become fully ours in a deep and inexplicable way. Such actions then become able to be assimilated into our very being because the full power of our choice is behind them. We become literally spiritually independent.
Note: I said the full power of our choice is behind them. No one is bribing or persuading us to do such choices. No one is promising to behave a certain way if we act a certain way. We are giving all that we are to a choice that is not motivated by anything other than personal peace and conviction. Our action is fully independent of anyone or anything (even God, in a sense).
DOING = ACTIONS ARE VARIABLE AND BASED ON A PERCEIVED REWARD, BLESSING, OR OUTCOME FOR OURSELVES, OR AN EXPECTED ACTION OR RESULT FROM OTHERS (OR GOD).
To act in the pursuit of a reward is not evil. It is a beginning grace. But, it is not sustainable. We must grow from grace to grace (D&C 93:11-20).
If we are going through the motions, and reacting to our environment based on perceived outcomes and expectations; then we will continue to alter our actions and words in an attempt to arrive at a certain, desired result. We will act to feel justified. We will act expecting others to change or alter their actions toward us. We will act expecting a certain blessing or spiritual result within a certain time frame or during particularly rough parts of our lives.
This type of action does not have sufficient power to help us become godly because the full power of our agency is not behind it. It is still dependent on some other factor. We have not committed to behaviors for the best reason, only for a good reason. And, ultimately, we are willing to alter our actions if a better reward is offered or if the expected or perceived blessing goes unmet (or delayed). Thus, we do not become, and we cannot be trusted to remain the same. We are changeable, and as such are not able to merit the natural results of blessedness that accompany becoming like Christ.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf said in the recent General Women’s session of conference about the Authentic Disciple:
She lived joyfully not because her circumstances were joyful but because she was joyful.
He also said:
We are responsible for our own discipleship, and it has little—if anything—to do with the way others treat us. We obviously hope that they will be understanding and charitable in return, but our love for them is independent of their feelings toward us.
He goes on to say:
There may be many things about life that are beyond your control. But in the end you have the power to choose both your destination and many of your experiences along the way.
A few years back I read a book called The Story of Utopias. And, I found it incredibly interesting. Not because of the many different kinds of utopias that people had envisioned over the years. But because they all had the exact same flaw. They all wanted to create a perfect society and then place people in it, assuming that the perfection of the society would then make the people perfect by default. They expected that people going through the motions of their perfectly planned society would indeed create a perfect society. But, as the author (Lewis Mumford) pointed out, human nature was never a factor in any of their experiments. The one problem none of them could solve was creating the kind of human that could live happily and contentedly in that perfect society on a consistent basis; that wouldn’t eventually rebel, leave, or coup.
It occurred to me when I finished the book that, in a sense, this is the flaw God has conquered with the plan of salvation. He doesn’t give us a kingdom of glory and hope that we’ll conform to it. He asks us to become the type of person who will be happy in His kingdom. We become, and the blessedness of celestial glory is a natural result.
And then, if we do not ultimately find peace and joy in becoming as He is (independent of all other perceived rewards and outcomes), He has provided other kingdoms in which many of us will feel comfortable—because such a kingdom will correspond to the type of person we have actually become. It will be the natural result.
I find it interesting that the scriptures say, “God IS love.” They don’t say, “God does love perfectly.” They say, “God IS the same yesterday, today, and forever.” They don’t say, “God goes through the same motions yesterday, today, and forever.” God doesn’t have to run through a checklist of righteous actions each day to make sure He remains God and remains perfect. He doesn’t have to remind Himself to BE a certain way because He has BECOME a certain way. It is NATURAL TO HIM. He is in a constant state of blessedness because of what He has become.
My Experience With Learning How to Find the Power to Become
So, I’m the mother of a toddler, and, as each of you know, toddlers can try even the most saintly of individuals. A few months back, I increasingly found that I based my actions on the results I wanted from my daughter. I wanted her to do certain things and so I kept altering my methods in order to get her to act how I wanted. After months of struggles, I realized I wasn’t making any progress in becoming more loving, kind, patient, and a host of other Christlike attributes. I felt, in fact, that I was digressing at a rather alarming rate.
As time went on, other expectations in my life and blessings seemed to be either denied or delayed beyond what I felt both emotionally and mentally was possible for me to continue to endure. I was trying to be righteous because that was what I wanted to be, but also, still much of my motivation was fueled by the idea of future blessings and relief–none of which seemed remotely close to being fulfilled. Adding this all together, I passed several rather wretched days and nights. I’m sorry to confess that my actions during this time continued to reflect my desire and expectation to see certain results not only in my daughter, but from my poor husband, and especially from God. I was acting in ways that I thought would force God’s hand and make Him do what I was expecting. Becoming godly was not on the top of my mind. I was merely trying to exert control on my environment and “get what I wanted.”
On the third morning, I recognized, somewhat blearily, that my actions were not going to bring about any of what I desired—especially not peace. I remember pouring my daughter some cereal and making an effort to be patient and kind with her sweet little soul. It was in that moment that the thought occurred to me, “This is not the kind of person I want to be and it’s not working. It’s not forcing God’s hand. It’s not helping my toddler act how I want. It’s not helping my husband. It’s not helping me. And, even if none of them ever do what I want, and even if God never blesses me how I want or expect, I cannot be happy this way. This is not who I want to be. I want to be kind, patient, loving, etc. because that’s who I am, not based on what I think will happen, or what even could happen. I want who I am to be independent of my circumstances.
It wasn’t a literal pillar of light. But, it was a spiritual pillar of light that has changed my life. It has been so freeing! I thought I had to gain control by controlling the uncontrollable things in my life. It turns out, the way to gain control and peace was to gain control of myself. To decide who I wanted to be and to BE that, regardless of every other external factor. I don’t know if God would call my current state of being “blessed,” but I certainly feel empowered to become godly where before it seemed far more impossible.
By deciding who I want to be and mentally removing all other variables (aside from myself). Becoming is all of the sudden quite possible! I have always been spiritually independent. But, now that I know it, I can finally make use of it.
This, I believe, is what Christ meant when He taught the beatitudes. There are natural results that come from BEING godly. We simply have to decide who we want to be and practice being it. We have to own our issues and alter then independent of all other factors. Then will we find the power to actually become blessed and receive the natural result of that blessedness.
WE HAVE THE POWER TO BECOME.