Negative self-image…it seems to be a plague upon man and woman, adult and child, and perhaps it hits most monstrously the teenager and younger woman. It punches at our self-esteem and attacks our fundamental self-worth. Why is self-image such a powerhouse of negativity in our lives?

It begins fundamentally with the world “self.” Note that self-image does not necessary imply a true image. What it means is that it is the way we see ourselves. And often, if we see ourselves incorrectly, it may also mean that we see others incorrectly as well. Because a good deal of negative self-image is spurred by comparison. But the negativity spurs from an even deeper place. The real problem is much further under the surface that most of us ever suppose.

I remember the day I changed my self-image, and it happened in a way that I would never have expected. And the change didn’t take place in my appearance. What I saw in the mirror didn’t change. Other people’s fundamental appearance or actions didn’t change. What changed was my sudden discovery of a truth—a fabulous and amazing truth.

I am not an object.

It seems to me that one of the primary issues with all of the problems that revolve around self-image, self-esteem, and even self-worth revolve around the false idea that we are an object. I’m talking about self-objectification. Now, let me explain.

If I see myself as an object of sex, then I’m going to weigh my self-image against what the world tells me the perfect object of sex looks like, or acts like. If I see my body as an object to be used in sex, then I’m going to hate it unless I can somehow transform it into what the perfect sex object looks like.

But what if I have the perfect Barbie or Ken body? Am I safe from objectification? No. Because I’m still functioning under a lie. I will treat others—who do not look like sex objects—with contempt. And, at some point, the lie will be revealed. I will eventually be rejected even though I look like a perfect sex object. What then happens to me? I may mentally create imperfections to be fixed? I may imagine I overweight when I’m not? I may become more overt in my actions to get attention. I may become subject to an eating disorder or depression.

When we derive our personal value based on the belief that we function only as an object, we will always undervalue ourselves. We will always see ourselves in comparison to other objects. We will develop the idea that our “use” is where our value comes from.

Let’s talk about other types of objectification.

What if I see myself as a sports object? My body is then an object to be used for sports. If I determine my value based on how well my body performs as a sports object, then anytime I fail to perform as well as I’d like, or anytime I perform worse than other object of sports, I will assume there is something wrong with me or that I’m not good enough. My self-image will plummet because it is based on my “use” as a sports object.

What if I see myself as a mom-object? Then, when I fail to do what other mom-objects do, I will find reason to devalue myself as a mother. Or, when my kids at last leave home I will become depressed because my function is no longer needed. Right?

What if I see myself as a business-person? My objectification is in regards to my “use” as an object of business. My talents in business define my value. If I fail in business, then I lose value.

What is an object?

An object is something that has no life. It does not have complex potential. It is developed to be of use to beings that have life and will power. An object serves a specific function. An object can be a goal, an ideal, a building, or a tool.

A person never will be, and never should be, an object. This is because people are not for the “use” of other people. People are not “tools” of other people. People are not “goals” of other people.

Using other people, or ourselves, is objectification. Making a person a goal is obsession—a form of objectification. Neither is healthy. Neither is right. All objectification of a person—with infinite capacities and potential—is wrong and will lead to actions that damage self and society.

Pornography is a form of objectification. Either we objectify someone else so that we can “use” them for our own pleasure. We turn them into objects. Or, we objectify ourselves trying to “use” others to create value in ourselves as a sex-object. We dress and act in ways so that people will see us as objects of sex to be “used” by them. All-in-all, no matter what the world says, a disgusting and incorrect thing to do.

Self-mutilation is a form of self-objectification. We turn our body into an object that we can damage in an attempt to make ourselves feel better, or to punish ourselves for being worthless, or to make a point to another person that we are willing to damage ourselves to get their attention. We are using our body as an object to make a point—the same object that is trying to keep us alive every moment of every day.

The ability to hurt ourselves comes when we turn ourselves into an object. Suicide may also result from the idea of self-objectification. The powerful sense of failure to “be” what people expect, or even what we expect, may find its root in self-objectification.

Objectification is not satisfying

In John 3:16 we learn that God (our Heavenly Father) sent the Savior, Jesus Christ—and Jesus was Himself willing to do it—to suffer and die and expiate and heal all sin and human infirmity. No object can be atoned for because it has no action. An object cannot sin. An object can not do good. Thus, the atonement of Jesus Christ was for you and I—children of God, humans with godly potential. We were created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). We were created “to act (or to use objects), not to be acted upon” (or to be used) (2 Nephi 2:14).

We were not created to “use” each other, though because of imperfection and sin we often try. And because of imperfection and sin we often let others use us. But, at some point we must come to understand that this “use” is ineffectual. When we allow others to use us it does not bring lasting peace or joy. And, when we use others, it does not bring us lasting peace, joy, or fulfillment.

One of the snares of turning ourselves into an object of desire is that it creates, rather than solves, our negative self-image. It creates misery instead of self-worth. Even if for a while we consider ourselves as having succeeded as looking or acting like an object of desire, at some point it leads to pride and contempt for others to whom we compare ourselves.

One of the snares of pornography is that it becomes addictive because it is not ultimately satisfying. It creates, instead, an immediate hideous self-loathing and misery that is never outweighed by the fleeting sexual pleasure. People return to it again and again—eventually seeking new and more exciting objects of pleasure—because the other objects became too familiar and boring. The addiction begins with the justification of objectifying others for self-pleasure. However, most people do not realize that this is what they are doing. Some do, and do it anyway.

The same snares can be found in any objectification—as a mother, sports-figure, etc. At some point all objectification leads to pride and conceit or self-loathing, hatred, and despair. Thus, part of the cure for any of these personal struggles lies in reversing this tendency to objectify.

My story

I have always been a healthy person. I grew up learning many talents. I could sing, play sports well, and move about as well as anyone could. But as I got into my early teen years—the years when most of us really begin to take notice of our self-image—I began to notice that I was much taller than other girls. Not only was I taller, I was just a bigger person. I was not overweight, but I felt overweight simply because I was bigger. I was taller than all the boys—that didn’t help. So, I began to objectify myself as an object of desire.

If I wasn’t desirable to boys then it was because there was a fundamental flaw in me. I wasn’t functioning well as an object. I compared myself to all the girls who did seem to be “functioning” well as objects of desire. And, I always fell short.

Now, I did not realize that what I was doing back then was self-objectification. I went to church. I had an amazing family. I had been taught since I took breath in this world that I was a child of God. But, I didn’t know how to reconcile that with my inability to “function” as I thought I should. I wasn’t of “use.”

Now, if you’d asked me, “Do you want to be ‘used’ by others?” I would have answered emphatically, “No!” But that’s because I didn’t understand what I was doing. And, I didn’t understand until I was in my early 30s.

I remember the day so clearly. I was at the gym, walking on the treadmill, horrifically comparing myself as an object to all the other objects in the room (because that was how I saw them…though I didn’t know that’s what I was doing). And, as always, my body—as an object—fell short in comparison to others bodies—as objects.

Then, so tired an exhausted of feeling negative about myself…since I recently gone through a divorce. I got fed up! I was just too tired to do this anymore. It was then that I looked around the room and saw everything differently. What I saw were people. They were all people, with bodies like mine. Bodies that did amazing things. Bodies that were healthy and strong and powerful. Bodies that could walk and move and run and lift weights. Bodies that could serve and bless. Bodies that were moms and dads and friends and sisters. Bodies that held the minds of people with infinite potential.

Then, it hit me, “Bam!” I am not an object. You are not an object. No human being is an object. We are children of God with talents, wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and a capacity that makes inanimate, lifeless objects worthless. People are of infinite worth. We are not, nor ever will be, objects.

The flipside

So, how do we stop objectifying ourselves and others? How do we find our self-worth, our true self-image, and increase our self-esteem? How do we strengthen our capacity to stop comparing ourselves? How do we begin the process of overcoming some addictions?

Pick up any object in your house—any object. Now, ask yourself, “What do I use this for?” Do this with as many objects as you can see. It is critical to learn to see the difference between an object and yourself—between an object and another person.

Notice especially that you are the operator of every object you pick up. Not only are you not an object, you are one of the only beings in all of existence that can make use of and operate, even create, every object within your sight. Objects are inanimate. They can’t operate one another. You are alone in your ability to see an object, recognize its function, and make use of it to do good in your own life and in the world.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, or when you see other people in the world, you must see them as children of God (Romans 8:16-17), with the potential—if they seek it—to become very much like Him! You, and any person in the world, have the capacity to shape lives, change lives, and to change the world. No object can do that. An object in the use of a person can. You are that person. You are not the object.

Your value is not in how others can make use of you. Your value is not in how you can make use of yourself. Your value is not in how you can make use of others. Your value lies in your potential to use real objects (not people) to create a life of happiness and peace.

Another critical aspect of learning to value yourself and recognize your potential is to realize the power that is in your body—in you. Study about what your brain does every second of every day. Read about how you develop cognitively, how you are capable of learning and growing and being creative unlike any other being. Read about what your physical body does every second of every day. It’s miraculous! Learn to see the wonder in the power your body has to keep you alive and to do amazing things. Bask in the power a human being has to change. We don’t respond merely to instinct. We can choose how to respond, or how to bridle, instinct. It’s amazing! Your body is you. And you are a being of power.

You have power

As you learn to not objectify yourself and others, you will begin to notice, very clearly, when others try to objectify you. Do not allow them to do it. If you see others objectifying themselves, help them to see that they are not objects. Help them to see their value and potential.

As you begin to see yourself as what you are, a powerful being, you will find empowerment to define yourself by that potential and power. You will wake up anxious to use your power to make a difference in the world and to help others. You will wake up happy to make use of real objects in their correct functions and in ways that bring true happiness and peace to yourself and others. You will be less tempted to compare yourself or to value yourself, or others, by how they function as an object. You will be better at seeing similarities, that they are very like you—subject to their own genetics and life circumstances, and simply doing the best they can with what they have to be happy in their lives.

The only satisfaction, peace, and joy that can be found is in learning to see ourselves and others as we really are—human beings, children of God, with the capacity to act, with the power to make our lives what we wish (without objectifying others), and learning to use real objects in ways that bring peace and joy to the world. Now go and find that satisfaction and peace—you can have both of those things precisely because you are not an object. You have power that no object ever will.

BT

There is a reason that no matter how good life seems to be going it still always seems to break down. Whether sooner or later those breakdowns come. How can you avoid those break downs? How can you make life a journey of peace and prosperity?

Well, take the time to listen to one of my most recent podcasts. Find out why breakdowns happen. How breakdowns can get fixed. And learn how to avoid breakdowns and turn life into a journey of peace. Click on the podcast link below.

https://the-stuff-life-is-made-of.simplecast.com/episodes/the-stuff-you-should-know-about-doctrine

Talent is a word that we often associate only with the types of skills and abilities that bring fame and fortune. I rarely, if ever, or never, hear people say things like, “Wow, what a talent she has for forgiveness!” or “Have you ever seen someone with such a talent for admitting fault?” And yet, the talents that most astonish me are those that have zero potential to bring a person fame or fortune.

I have the privilege of being acquainted with many people who have extraordinary talents for compassion, charity, humility, faith, friendship, and the like. Characteristics and talents for which there are no rewards save personal peace, joy in life, and the approbation of the Almighty. These individuals often mourn, saying, “I wish I could sing,” or “play the piano,” or “play sports like others do.” Little do they realize that such talents are as much a trial and a burden as they have the potential to be a blessing.

Talents that have the capacity to bring us fame, recognition, or fortune are as difficult as they are wonderful. Because they have the potential to create financial security they also have a strong potential to be manipulated by the adversary. Someone who has a gift for speaking can be a powerful tool to serve the Lord and uplift their fellow men. But, this person can also be a powerful tool to mislead and corrupt. If they can be “bought” by recognition or a dollar amount, then their talent can be spoiled. Those with gifts for music or athletics are also similarly at risk. And yet, they have such an incredible opportunity to do good with their talents on a vast scale.

The Parable of the Talents

In the New Testament is a beautiful parable: the parable of the talents. Now, this parable is about money. A talent is a measure of money in this parable. But, as God knew that many would read it and assume He was talking about skills, gifts of character, and so forth, it is as much about that type of “wealth” as it is physical money. And, indeed, such skills are a form of currency in our lives. So, let’s take a look at it. Matthew 25:14-29:

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man (God) traveling into a far country, who called his own servants (children), and delivered unto them his goods (gifts of skill and character).

And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one: to every man according to his several ability (or capacity and willingness to receive); and straightway took his journey.

Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

After a long time the lord of those servants (God) cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

He also that had two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou has not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put thy money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury (or interest). Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath…

Parables are unique in that they have unlimited interpretations as the Holy Spirit wishes to use. So, the suggestions that I’m about to offer should not be construed as the best, or the only correct way to interpret this parable. It is, in my opinion, merely one way the Spirit has given me to see this parable.

Returning Talents to God with Usury

If God gives gifts of skill and character to His children, what then is their purpose? How do we create more talent-wealth from the initial gifts that we are given? How do we trade them or put them to exchangers?

If the purpose of our talent is to make money then that puts a limitation on how we apply our talent. We might as well use our talent in any way that allows us to earn money with no thought of ethics or morality. Such a focus does not increase our talent, but rather narrows its application in a way that can neither produce lasting joy nor spiritual progression. As well, its powerful impact on our fellow man will likely neither exalt or save them spiritually. It might end up doing the exact opposite.

But, if the purpose of our talent is to become godly, and godliness (or the work of God) is centered around exalting and saving others (Moses 1:39), then it follows that the purpose of our talents is to exalt and save others. Such a focus creates an unlimited scope for the application of our talent. We may use our talent to teach, uplift, serve, love, share, etc; and in so doing our original talent and its capacity increases exponentially by strengthening not only the original talent, but our ability to teach, uplift, serve, love, share, etc. For example, I can be a singer, a writer, an artist, an athlete, a musician, a great orator, a poet, etc., and if I use my talent to teach, uplift, serve, love, and share truth then suddenly my capacity to do all of those other skills has increased (created spiritual usury); and the use of my talent has amplified the power of my ability to help exalt and save others.

If we plug this into the above parable, those that trade or invest their talents then are those that use them to exalt and save others. And those that hide them in the ground are those that use their talents only for singular, or selfish, reasons; whether to earn money or gain some type of praise, status, or recognition. Now, it is certainly possible to earn money by one’s talent and also use it in godly ways if money (or praise, status, or recognition) doesn’t rule your use and application of your talents. I’ve seen it done, we all have. But, I’ve also seen it corrupt what began as a well-intentioned individual.

For example, if a record label won’t sign you as a singer unless you produce the type of music they want instead of the types of music you want to sing (to exalt and save others), then signing with them simply to get your voice (and name) out there (and to earn some money with which to do things your way in the future) creates an environment of compromise that allows Satan to make use of your talent (or minimally to prevent it from becoming what it should) rather than you. And in such an environment you can neither accomplish your righteous goals nor progress spiritually; also risking a negative impact before you can free yourself from the contract.

This is simply one example, but there are numerous examples.

Another way to hide your talent is to assume that only the types of talents that have the capacity to produce fame or fortune are worth developing. So many of us are given the weightier gifts of character, or the seeds for them, that help us to progress toward godliness and to help others progress as well. But we ignore them, undervalue them, and fail to discover them in our pursuit of more visible talents. We want to do some good in the world…but only in a visible way.

As well, there are many of us who are given talents that are visible. We can draw, sing, speak, or write. We have unique and graceful athletic capacities that seem to make us perfect for a professional sports track in our lives. And yet, despite all of our valiant efforts to “get them out there” we don’t seem to be granted the opportunity to use them on a wide scale, the scale that would make us feel that they were of worth. So, again, we undervalue them and wonder if it’s even worth developing them simply because we want to exalt and save millions and we only seem to be able to reach ourselves, or maybe our immediate family.

In my recent podcast The Stuff You Should Know About Talents, the guest podcaster, (singer, songwriter, and musician) Morgan Cottam talked about how the talents within her family connected them across generations. Her great-grandfather used to sing several songs and they became family tradition. Now, years after he’s gone, Morgan was asked to sing one of those songs for her grandmother (who grew up with that song being sung by her father).  It’s a very Coco thing. But, Morgan explains that learning the song and singing it for her grandmother made her feel connected to her great-grandfather and her Nana more. In this case, in a very valuable and important way, Morgan’s talent connected her with her family, especially her ancestors, and created unity. That’s powerful! And yet it brought her no worldly fame or fortune.

Listen to this recent podcast by clicking here!

Talent Confession

Even though I feel that I have always known the purpose of the talents God gives us, I admit to falling prey to many of these above ways of hiding one’s talent. It has taken me years (and I sometimes revert) to feeling like my talents are worthless simply because my scope of influence always seems to be so limited. I often lose focus of what’s most important and devalue my talents simply because I haven’t received the validation that comes from public recognition. I often want to cast off my talents, or bury them, or stop working on them because I have wrongly devalued them. And, I admit, it is incredibly difficult to keep creating and sharing and trying to use my talents to exalt and save others when I don’t feel like I’m exalting or saving anyone. And yet, I have seen fruits. I have created connections within my family. I have saved myself (many, many, many times) by the use of my own talents. I have been given peace, comfort, joy, and blessings beyond words by simply trying to develop what God has given me.

Verbal Survey

So, what talents do you have? What gifts of character have others noticed in you that you have undervalued? Use them and watch them increase your other gifts and reveal talents you hadn’t yet discovered.

What gifts of character do you value in others but they undervalue? Help them to see them and value them!

What talents do you have that you have been tempted to compromise, or have compromised, in order to get noticed? How did it make you feel? What have you done to correct that? If you haven’t made corrections, do it!

Have you devalued your talents simply because your reach is minimal? Who have you reached? Who are they? What do they mean to you? Stop sacrificing your talent to scope. Start using it to exalt and save yourself and those within your limited reach right now.

What talents have you sought? It’s okay to seek for more than what you already have. Have you sought for spiritual gifts and talents in order to exalt and save? If not, consider praying about and feeling which talent you might desire to acquire and multiply in God’s service.

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter if you have the same talents as someone else. You are unique and your application and combination of gifts and personality will always ensure that your talents are different, even from those who seem to be similar. And that means that your talents are purposeful in the world and much needed. That’s why God gave them to you. Don’t hide them. Get out there and trade and multiply them!

BT

Location, location, location; this is the slogan for real estate. But, it is also a doctrine for life. Location can be something emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical. Where are you?

  • If you had to evaluate your current emotional state, or location, how would you say you feel? What emotion would you prefer to be feeling? How can you facilitate that emotion?
  • If you had to evaluate your psychological progression and your own personality, where are you on the spectrum of cognitive development, self-evaluation, self-honesty, and maturity?
  • If you had to give an account to God, today, of your life and your relationship with Him, what would you say? What part of your spirituality do you know you need to progress in?
  • Look around you at your room, your home, your neighborhood, your job, your community; is there anywhere else you would rather be? Do you have goals that can’t be reached where you are? Have you asked yourself lately, where do I want to be? Is where I am leading me to my goals? Where does God want me to be?

What is Your Location?

Travel, moving, relocation, scattering, and gathering are all types of travel that God uses to teach us, refine us, save us, and to help us progress in our relationship with Him. Sometimes He leads us to make a change in our friends. Sometimes He allows things to take place which lead to us needing a new profession, or, minimally, a new job. Sometimes that job takes us to a different physical location for our home. Sometimes God allows things to happen in our lives that make it possible for us to progress spiritually, emotionally, and even psychologically. Otherwise, we might not move. And movement is key to progression.

In Abraham 1:1 we see Abraham say, “I saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence.” After years of living the gospel in a community (and family) that was idolatrous and prone to violence and persecution, Abraham was nearly sacrificed by his own father and Egyptian priests. Jehovah saves him and then tells him to get out of the land. It would be preferable that our own physical lives were not in danger before we took the hint to move, but often our psychological, spiritual, or emotional life is in danger, and if we go to the Lord with an open heart and mind He will tell us to “obtain another place of residence.”

In the Book of Mormon, in the book of Mosiah we see many people inspired to search out the lands of their ancestors. A few feel inspired to move there. After being there for a while, the children of these travelers find themselves in bondage and slavery. In two instances, those who turned to God were “led away secretly” to safety and peace. Some choose to leave home and serve missions and are gone from their regular home for long periods of time—and their travel changes them and blesses others.

Sometimes we are inspired to search out new places; and, after visiting we feel a desire to be there and to make it our home. Sometimes a negative environment leads us to open up our mind to the idea of relocating, or of returning to a place that we lived before. Sometimes, in order to escape a type of bondage, God helps us to leave a place safely.

I think it is a profound thing to realize that our locations in all aspects of our lives matter to God and that He uses movement to help us progress, to heal, to find room to grow, and to grow closer to Him. Often, God has us “move” so that we can find safety and security and peace.

As we evaluate our many locations (emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical) we can ask God if we need to “travel” or “move,” and if so, where. Are you ready to move? To progress?

Scattering and Gathering is a Spiritual Pattern

God’s use of physical movement to achieve spiritual growth is documented throughout scripture. Moses left Egypt to learn and grow spiritually that he might be prepared to move an entire people out of Egypt. The Israelites came to a point where they needed deliverance from bondage in order to have the opportunity to worship God and follow Him. In bondage they were unable to fulfill their covenants. They had to move to progress.

When Israel gets wicked, God scatters them about—creating separation—that they might learn and have a desire to repent and “return” or “gather together” toward Him again.

It is natural to find scattering of children from the home to adulthood as a bittersweet thing. But our natural propensity to set off on our own and create distance between ourselves and our parents is a natural part of individual growth. Changing location, being on our own, being separate is part of learning how to return and be unified with our family in healthy and appropriate ways.

God, Himself, created this earth, this location away from His presence, for us to be scattered to that we might learn and grow, with the intent to eventually become like Him and “return to Him.” We have been scattered from heaven that we might learn how to be one with God and to be “gathered” back home again.

Conclusion

We can use travel and movement in our lives to grow in amazing ways if we use it with deliberate intent. It’s a power that God uses and that under His guidance and influence we can use to create life-changing experiences and to bring about personal and family miracles. Where are you located? Where might you need to travel?

For more commentary and a fabulous discussion about The Stuff You Should Know About Travel, listen to the latest podcast by clicking here.

I’d like to start this blog with some quotes from one of my favorite books, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. By themselves they contain true doctrines with many possible applications.

“Expectations is the place you go to before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not.”

“Help you! You must help yourself,” the Watch Dog replied, carefully winding himself with his left leg. “I suppose you know why you got stuck.”

“I guess I wasn’t thinking,” said Milo.

“PRECISELY,” shouted the dog as his alarm went off again. “Now you know what you must do.”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” admitted Milo, feeling quite stupid.

“Well,” continued the watchdog impatiently, “since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect, that in order to get out, you must start thinking,” And with that he hopped into the car.

“Now will you tell me where we are?” asked Tock [the Watch Dog] as he looked around the desolate island.

“To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.”

“But how did we get here?” asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all.

“You jumped, of course,” explained Canby. “That’s the way most everyone gets here. It’s really quite simple: every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It’s such an easy trip to make that I’ve been here hundreds of times.”

“But this is such an unpleasant-looking place,” Milo remarked.

“Yes, that’s true,” admitted Canby; “it does look much better from a distance.”

“Well, I’m going to jump right back,” announced the Humbug, who took two or three practice bends, leaped as far as he could, and landed in a heap two feet away.

“That won’t do at all,” scolded Canby, helping him to his feet. “You can never jump away from Conclusions. Getting back is not so easy. That’s why we’re so terribly crowded here…. The only way back is to swim, and that’s a very long and a very hard way.”

I suppose the first question is what is IL-PONDERING. Well, turns out the word ponder doesn’t have any very good antonyms. They all are basically “not thinking,” but I think il-pondering is far more about thinking you are pondering, when really you are not.

The prefix IL means: not, opposite of, without

So the peril of il-pondering is that you are actually not pondering (though you may think you are), or that you are doing the opposite of pondering which is letting others think for you; or perhaps you ponder but invalidate the process for many various reasons.

So, before we can discuss how il-pondering happens, let’s talk about the proper way to ponder.

The following steps have been compiled from a combination of three scripture references: Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3, 9:7-9; Joseph Smith-History 1:8-13.

HOW TO PONDER

  1. Set aside your self-imposed, limited expectations for what God’s answer and guidance will be and open yourself up to consider not what you expect to learn, but what God has for you to learn and understand.
  2. Establish a firm, doctrinally-based question upon which you intend to act (For help with this concept see blog post Getting Answers to Prayers: EXPEDIENCY). God can tell you anything, but He’s much more likely to reveal those things to you which pertain to “you” and which will help “you” become more like Him.
  3. Pray for guidance and then while you are waiting for it, study, research, and reason. Then, pray again for understanding and to sort through the knowledge you’ve gleaned.
  4. Do not allow yourself to be overly awed or swayed by educational credentials, claimed associations, quotes and blurbs taken out of context, etc.
  5. Live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and invite Him to testify and guide you by being an active learner. You can do this by accessing those resources God has commanded us to use to get His answers: prophetic guidance, scripture study, prayer, and other appropriate and positive influences within our lives.
  6. When you receive advice from others, get the counsel confirmed by the Holy Ghost who will tell you in BOTH your mind and your hearts, if the advice is God’s will for you.

So, how do we il-ponder? Il-pondering is skipping, reversing, ignoring, skewing, or slothfully completing any of the above steps. But, here are some statements that may help.

Il-pondering will happen IF we limit our perspective for learning and receiving answers from God to our own limited and finite expectations. We think we can imagine what God will say, but we can’t (Isaiah 55:8-9). So, if we try to put God in our box (which can’t be done), then we will sit inside that tiny box, all alone—or with others who have climbed in—and never get the knowledge we need.

Many times we il-ponder when we focus on superficial questions to which God has an answer, but because of the lack of eternal importance of the answer, or our inability to comprehend the infinite expanse of the answer, we cannot receive it. For example: it’s not that understanding how the dinosaurs and Cro-Magnon man play into the creation of Adam and Eve aren’t interesting, but the reality is that the answer won’t affect our ability to keep God’s commandments and become like Him. We can do that without knowing those things. Plus, the answer would probably be beyond our ability to grasp.

We also il-ponder when our excessive emotions of disappointment, anger, resentment, vengeance, passion, and even dumfounded-confusion drive our search. This is because what we are looking for is an immediate fix for our emotional discomfort and not the ultimate truth—which is often not immediately comfortable.

Il-pondering can happen, and frequently does, when we allow others to do our thinking for us. This happens when we set out to research an issue, problem, question, or even a doubt. In our impatience and haste, we find that other people (often on the Internet) have already done some. Then, we sit down comfortably and listen to their pondering, eat their narrative meal, accept their biased viewpoint (which certainly sounds as if they are trying to be unbiased and fair), and completely ingest their answers. This meal is especially appetizing if it agrees with our emotional feelings or uneducated conclusions. We jump to their conclusions, never having fully pondered our own. When this happens, I know of few who actually take the time to take the easily ingested pondering (done by others) and vet it through an inquiry to the Lord. They simply think they’ve found the answer and then stop. They never seek a witness from the Holy Ghost. They put up an umbrella over their heads, blocking the further light and knowledge raining down that they would have found.

We il-ponder when we jump to conclusions before having all the information (and since when did anyone have all the information, except God?). We are so prideful and selfishly convinced of our own intelligent conclusion based on minimal evidence that we harden our hearts and become incapable of receiving any other information. Messages from the Holy Ghost bounce off of our armor because we’ve decided to only soften for certain kinds of information.

We il-ponder when we study minimally, research at a glance, reason only our limited viewpoint, and fail to pray before and after for inspiration, help, and guidance.

We il-ponder when we ask God for an answer and then turn to sources He has not instituted for His answer. We turn to men for guidance instead of God’s words and ordained mouthpieces (Doctrine and Covenants 1:37-38).

We il-ponder when we accept the counsel and guidance of others in our lives without vetting their guidance with our Father in Heaven. No matter how wise and wonderful advice may seem; no matter how educated or experienced another is; none is more wise and educated and experienced than God. If we get good advice and He wants us to follow it, He will tell us IF we seek His opinion.

In the scriptures we see many people deceived by il-pondering.

  • Laman and Lemuel often sought explanations from Nephi. Nephi always preached true doctrine to them. So, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Laman and Lemuel never went to the Lord to get it verified. They never got their own witness.
  • The Zoramites were notorious for not pondering for themselves. They turned to Alma and his sons for information. Alma 32 is an entire chapter in The Book of Mormon of Alma counseling the Zoramites to ponder! Try it out, plant the seed and see what happens! Alma taught.
  • Alma’s son, Corianton, succumbed to temptation because he struggled with a few critical gospel doctrines. His emotions got in his way of taking the time to ponder and get the truth. His father finally set him straight, but Corianton still had to gain his own witness.
  • Alma the Younger was an il-ponderer until his soul was at stake. Then, as he was “racked with torment” and “harrowed up by the memory of his sins” he remembered his father taught about “one, Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17). In his internal pondering he sifted through all that he had ever heard and found hope and a testimony in Jesus Christ.
  • Zeezrom tormented Alma and Amulek with his cursory knowledge of the gospel. He tried to cross them in their words. When they were inspired by the Holy Ghost to put Zeezrom in his place, he too was tormented until he pondered what they had actually taught about Jesus Christ (Alma 11 & 15).
  • The Pharisees were the blind guides upon whom so many were so often deceived. The Pharisees were accused by Jesus Christ of being blind guides and making converts to “their version” of His religion twofold more the children of hell than they, themselves, were (Matthew 23:15).

If we continually submit to others’ versions of truth, to others’ pondering, and not doing our own, we are allowing ourselves to be led by “blind guides” and we have no personal promptings or spiritual witnesses to fall back on. And, if we are not careful, we will become their converts and not Christ’s, we will preach their gospel and not Christ’s, and we will become twofold more the children of hell, than those whom we originally followed.

We cannot receive personal revelation and guidance from God if we let others do the asking, studying, and pondering for us. If we think God is not answering us, that His promises are not being fulfilled, it may be because we are not anxiously engaged in getting our own answers from Him (Doctrine & Covenants -58:26-33).

2 Nephi 32:1-7 says:

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?

Do ye not remember that I said unto that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ

And now, I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.

I am one of those people that is inherently untrusting of others’ opinions, and even more so of their facts. If someone cites a reference in their research paper, blog, or other post, I look it up. And, I’m never shocked to find out that they’ve skewed the ideal, misunderstood the point, misquoted the facts, failed to read the whole reference themselves, and “jumped to conclusions” about its interpretation. Often they steal ideas because they don’t have their own!

I’m not shocked because those who preach the most vehemently are often il-ponderers themselves.

When I cite references in this blog, I fully expect (and hope) that you (my readers) will look them up. Why? Because if you read them, for yourself, the Spirit will be able to teach you far more than my little blog could ever do. If you read the references yourselves and ponder the right questions, the Holy Ghost will do wonderful things with your minds, hearts, and your lives.

So, hopefully, if you’re reading this and you’ve been an il-ponderer, you will get moving again by thinking on your own and seeking your own witness. Or, perhaps you will swim back from the Island of Conclusions—even though it’s a long swim. Or, hopefully, you will finally get past Expectations and to the destination that God intends for you.

BT

Doctrines in this blog:

  • There is no vicarious road to replace the individual effort required to ponder, study, reason, and receive individual answers and witnesses from God through the Holy Ghost.
  • If we let others ponder for us we are likely to end up converted to, and preaching, their version of the gospel, instead of God’s version… And their version cannot spiritually sustain us.

Listen to more thoughts about IL-Pondering and Problem-Solving on this week’s podcast! Click here!

I’m going to share something that is very hard for me to share. But, it illustrates my experience with this truth better than any other.

I started writing in the year 2000. I felt inspired to start writing. It hit me like a ton of bricks. And so, I began. Primarily with fiction. I started in 2000 what would eventually turn into a 4-book fantasy series. Before finishing that and while writing many other fiction stories, I attended writers conferences. I attended writing groups. I prayed for the gift to write powerfully. I submitted my manuscripts to contests. I pitched before agents. I fasted, I prayed, I researched, I looked for writing niches. I bought every version of The Writers Market that came out for several years. I followed all the advice. I honed and polished countless query letters—trying each time for something new, unique, more honest, more catchy, more blunt, more of whatever would get someone’s attention in the writing world. All, to no avail.

I loved writing. I still love it. But, one day, I came to the conclusion that either it wasn’t God’s will for me to write, or that His plan for me would take a different road than the one I was pursuing. I found this so confusing. Because I felt so strongly the calling to write. And prior to feeling that call to write, it’s important to note that it had never before crossed my mind to try to be an author.

As a kid, I had loved the Scholastic Book Fairs. I loved books that were fun to read. But high school reading and literature nearly killed every ounce of that. I’ve since discovered class literature that isn’t painful, but evidently my high school teachers didn’t know which ones those were. What remained of my love of books and reading was reignited after graduation after taking a job at Scholastic Books. I learned to love reading again, while working there. But that was where it ended…except that from time to time my love of escaping into those fiction worlds tugged at a little part of me. I wanted to have the same impact, somehow. To impact the lives of others the way those books impacted me. But to be an author myself?

So, I knew I had been called to write. But, after nearly 15 years when doors to publication were still being closed in my face no matter what back flips I did or how much I fasted and prayed, I began to wonder where mine and God’s signals had gotten crossed.

I loved writing. I had made it an integral part of my life for over a decade and half. I had even branched into writing religious commentary. But…nothing panned out.

I loved writing. But, one night on my knees, heartbroken (for at least the 1000th time), I told the Lord that I loved Him more. That I would quit writing for Him. That I would do anything else He asked. That I would forget writing forever. Or that I would do it some other way. But that I loved Him more than my writing and I loved His way more than my own.

I can’t explain how hard that was for me. But, in that moment I knew my love for God was more than my love for writing would ever be. My love for God changed my desires, and the application of my desires. My desire to please Him and do His will was far stronger than my desire to write and to be published, because even though I loved writing, I loved Him more.

I’m still not published, officially. I have at least 16 books sitting on my hard drive and some of those sit on my shelf, my own copies, you know. Sometimes I look at them with a little twinge in my heart and some bittersweet feelings. But, most certainly not regret. I don’t regret that I’m trying to do things His way, instead of mine. Because I love Him more and my love of Him has changed my desires. I’d rather do things His way, than mine…even if that means none of those words ever see the light of day.

In the spring of 2016 one of my sisters suggested that I start a blog. My answer? No. To me blogs were journals or recipe-sharing. Some of the blogs I had seen were controversial. I didn’t want any part of that, and I didn’t see how what I could write about would have any place in that world. Then in October of 2016, sitting in General Women’s Conference, I felt prompted to start a blog. My answer to God? What?!

But, here I am…because I love Him and His way more than myself, more than my writing, and more than my way.

What We Love Should Change Us and the Way We Live Our Lives

There is another person’s story that I wish to share to communicate the power of change that love should bring into our lives. And that man’s name is Abraham. Abraham descended from “the Fathers” meaning the patriarchal line of Adam (through Shem). But his own immediate father and grandfather had turned to idolatry. So, their gospel instruction was likely poor and their priesthood authority totally inactive.

Somehow the records which had been handed down from Adam came into Abraham’s hands, and he found out that “there was greater happiness and peace and rest” available to him through God’s highest ordinances and blessings (Abraham 1:1). Note: He was already awesome. But, he found out that God had more for him. That God loved him and, let me say it again, had more in store for him! It is clear that Abraham, through his study of these records developed a love for God that changed his desires. He says:

And finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations (i.e. to enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant, Doctrine & Covenants 131), a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.

Abraham 1:1

Note how Abraham was already righteous and knowledgeable. But, his love for God made him desire to be more righteous and more knowledgeable, to be even like unto Melchizedek and others of “the fathers” before him. His love for God changed him because that love changed his desires. And because of his love for God and an increase, or a change, in his desires, he became more. He entered into those covenants and made himself worthy and became ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and became a High Priest.

There are so many things in our lives that we love. But, which of those loves are powerful enough to change our desires? Which of those loves are powerful enough to motivate us to sacrifice so that we can maintain and even strengthen that love, or pass it on to others?

People who are converted to Christ usually feel so much love for God and for their new faith that they feel the desire, and find the power, to give up education, career paths, fiancés, and more to serve missions or fulfill other calls from God. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables is so affected by the love shown to him by the priest that he desires to be more than he is. Thus, he dedicates his life to showing the same love to others and to become more than he was.

If the love we have felt or the love we have for something isn’t powerful enough to change us, then that means we still love something else more. Real love (shown to us, or that we feel toward someone or something) should change us for the better. If it doesn’t, then we have to ask ourselves, “What do I love more?”

It is Possible to Love Something A Lot, but Not Enough to Change Us

Love is often developed in stages. So, even if we love something, we may not yet love it enough that it has the power to change us. And that’s okay. As long as we know what it is that we love more. If we are struggling to accomplish something in our lives or to progress or to conquer something, and we are continuing to fail at it; it may simply be that we need to keep practicing and trying. But, it may also be that our motivation, our desires, aren’t fulling supporting us. It may be that we love something else more; so much so that loving that (whatever it is) prevents us from forward and upward progression.

Maybe we love French fries more than we love the idea of losing weight. Maybe we love maintaining the idea that we are always right more than we love doing what is right, or best. Maybe we want to stop cussing but we love the idea of looking cool around certain people more than we love being right before God. I could make a very long list, but the principle is the same no matter how it is applied.

Let me give you an example. I have often heard people say to me, “I really wish I could quote scripture like you do.” And, I think that in their minds the idea of being able to do that really appeals to them. But, they haven’t yet begun assimilating scripture into their lives because there are things they love more. I don’t know what those things are, and it’s not my place to judge. But, if they really wanted to be able to quote scripture, then they must first come to love the scriptures more than they love other things. Then the desire to read and study their scriptures (because of their love for them) would naturally result in the scriptures and the words of God becoming part of their daily thought, conversation, and vocabulary.

I certainly don’t claim to be able to quote scripture at every turn. But, I do love the scriptures, the word of God. It is the greatest treasure in my life. I LOVE to read and study the scriptures. I love to go to them to find answers. I love the Spirit I feel teach me when I’m immersed in them. If that results in me often using scriptures in my daily speech and conversation, then that doesn’t make me special. It makes me a lover of God’s word.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son through his first wife, Sariah. Isaac, you remember was a miracle baby, born to Sariah long after she should have been able to bear children. To complicate the request further, Abraham’s own father attempted to sacrifice Abraham to idols (Abraham 1). Certainly, Abraham had some emotional and psychological baggage tied to this request from God. First, he was doing very nearly what his own idolatrous father had done to him. Second, Isaac was his birthright son; the one God had promised him, and which who had come through miraculous means. And here God was asking him to basically start all over. Then, to even make the matter more complex, Isaac himself agreed to be the sacrifice (once Abraham filled him in on what God had asked).

The only explanation for any of this was for Abraham to learn, to really learn, just how much he loved God (“Abraham needed to learn about Abraham.” Hugh B. Brown). In the end, both he and Isaac proved that they loved God more by their willingness to sacrifice and to be sacrificed. Foreshadowing, of course, the eventual atonement of Jesus Christ, of whom Isaac was a type, and God, the Father, allowing it, of whom Abraham was a type.

God and Jesus Christ loved all of us more than each other or themselves. Thus, “God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son…” (John 3:16). And Christ (John 10:18) gave His life freely. He was not forced. He loved us more than Himself. He loved God more than His own life. Their love for us was witnessed in their actions.

Had either God, Jesus, Abraham, or Isaac chosen otherwise than they did, it would have been because they loved something else more. If God had loved only one of His children more than all the rest, He wouldn’t have allowed Jesus to perform the atonement. If Jesus had loved Himself more, then He would have saved Himself rather than to accept the bitter cup. What implications His love had!

Thus, we can see that love, true love, should (and can) change us. It can give us power to be something or to do something we might otherwise not do. It has the power, through the grace of God, to change our inherent desires and to aid us in becoming more. And, if we can’t find the power to do something, it may be because we love something else more.

Conclusion

What can love do? What does love do? It changes us—for better or for worse. Better, if that which we love leads us to change our desires and our actions. Worse, if that which we love leads us to hold onto destructive desires and actions, or if it doesn’t lead us to make any progress at all.

What do you love? Who loves you? What change is it creating in you? If you want to create the power to change your desires and your ability to progress, you simply have to change what it is you love.

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BT

I’m not a fan of negative titles, but in this case it is the only way to give you an idea of the point of this blog post. I call myself the Doctrine Lady because I’m all about doctrine. And doctrine is fundamental unchanging truth. So, I could call myself “the Fundamental, Unchanging Truth Lady”, but Doctrine Lady seems to be a tad bit more concise, and if I do say so: catchy.

This week my co-host Tawnee Saunders and I did a podcast titled: The Stuff We Need To Do But Struggle To Do. And in the limited experience my life can claim, I have found that the primary inhibitor of personal progression is a false belief. A false belief may also be called a limiting belief or a false doctrine. But, the everyday term is simply: a lie.

If there is something, anything, in our life that we know we need to do, but struggle to do, it is nearly always going to be because we are inhibited by a false belief, or a lie. And false beliefs and lies create fear, justification, procrastination, and other symptoms that significantly and consistently inhibit our ability to do the stuff we know we need to do.

We Know What We Need To Do

It’s very important that you take note of an important part of this topic. We are talking about things “you know you need to do.” These are things you are already aware of. Now, there may be very many things you are unaware of that you also need to do, but since you are not yet aware of those things it would be counterproductive to fret over them until you have first succeeded in accomplishing those that you already know about.

What do you know you need to do? Well, that’s entirely personal. You may know you need to repent (make a significant course change in some aspect, or many aspects of your life or behavior). You may know you need to eat better. You may know that you need to learn to control your reactions to the actions of others. You may know that you need to learn to “hold your tongue” or learn to be less sarcastic or to learn to stop insulting others—out of habit. You may know that you need to change jobs, work on your marriage, read your scriptures, pray more, do a better job at focusing on and keeping your religious covenants (or making them to begin with). You may know you need to exercise more, spend more time with your family, gossip less. You may know you need to make heart-wrenching, severe, or bittersweet but eventually positive choices in your life. But that’s the key, isn’t it? YOU KNOW what you need to do.

But We Struggle To Do It

The real puzzle in any type of lasting and positive self-progression is in figuring out the lie(s) that is keeping you from doing what you need to do.

Since I’m a religious blogger I am going to use religious examples. But make no mistake, all of life is about God and His plan for you, and so even the things you need to do that you consider temporal, regular, or outside of religion really aren’t outside of religion at all. God doesn’t offer any blessings that aren’t ultimately about propelling us closer to Him and making us more like He is. Thus, my examples may be universally applied to whatever it is you are struggling to do.

Repentance—Or the lies people believe that keep them from repenting

The world repentance has a negative connotation, and who is surprised about that? Nobody likes to be told what to do, and for certain, nobody likes to find out that the person who has been trying to tell them what to do is ultimately right. And, oftentimes we become even more reticent about making changes in the course of our lives, even turning around completely, if it means succumbing to the fact that someone else figured out it was the best way before we did. We humans have a very bad habit about thinking that we can only change if it’s our idea first. We want ownership in the eternal patent of “choosing the right.” To give in to someone else’s idea, no matter how right it may be, always seems to be sort of a concession on our part. And, it is. What we have to learn to do is to simply be happy about the concession. We have to overcome the lie that giving way to the wisdom of others, or of God, (or being wrong, or having been wrong) is worse than repenting.

There is an extreme amount of power in owning up to the fact and even learning to love the fact that there are all sorts of people who know more than you and have figured it out before you. Power? Yes. Because the great thing about humility and meekness (a willingness to give up the idea of power residing solely in us) is that it exponentially increases our power to do—everything. How? When we finally give up on the idea that the only power we can rely on is ours (which is of course a limited amount of power), we suddenly open ourselves up to other sources of power. And, if the power source you choose to open yourself up to is that of God, then you get the beautiful grace equation: you + God = nearly unlimited power.

The other equation: you + you = you, rather falls short to all other equations for power. However, you must take note of the fact that even though God knows everything and has figured it all out before you, your concession does in fact make you part of the patent equation. You do get the credit you wanted, but you don’t get it in the way that you wanted originally (which was to get the credit by yourself). Your agency (or free will) gives you credit for choosing to repent, or to do what’s right, to make major course corrections in your life by putting you in an equation of power with someone who actually has the power to make your concession powerful enough to change you fundamentally…meaning long-term. You can’t ever get the credit solely by yourself. You can’t even breathe without the light of Christ (Mosiah 2:21, John 1:9). Any progression you make is by the grace of God. But, you can get credit by adding God in.

The thing about repentance is that we can’t do it without God. And, this is the first lie that most of us are inhibited by from a very young age, that repentance is separate from God and that we can’t come unto Him until we’ve repented first. We say things to ourselves like: “Well, I’ll repent, but not until I’ve completely figured out how to change my life on my own,” or “Once I’ve changed on my own, then I’ll go to God and get myself right with Him and others…” Little do we realize that true repentance isn’t possible without God’s help. Oh sure, we can make some few little changes on our own power (which isn’t very much, you remember). But, those changes often are not sufficiently significant to alter our life’s course. They often fail after a time because the power we’ve used to make them (our power) has proven insufficient, or it has run out—we have gotten tired of carrying the weight of the change all on our own. Thus, we continue to fail. It makes it very hard for us to want to start again.

C.S. Lewis says beautifully in Mere Christianity that, more or less, only a good man can repent. And since all of us fall short of goodness (since no one is good but God, Matthew 19:17), we can’t repent unless God helps us. His goodness enables us to repent. So the longer we think that we can’t change until we’ve already changed on our own we will continue to struggle to change in the ways we know we need to.

Another lie, or limiting belief, that keeps us from repenting is the idea that it’s harder to do things God’s way than it is to do them our way. Nothing could be further from the truth, unless you were to say that God’s way is harder initially than our own way. This statement is true. God’s way is often harder initially because it requires integrity, humility, self-restraint, self-discipline, charity, gratitude, meekness, and a multitude of other godly attributes to be assimilated into our character as fast as we are able. Such virtues demand personal sacrifice and a large portion of hope and trust in God’s promises. And yet, God’s way is easier in the long run, and, more importantly, it is sustainable. This is something many people can’t comprehend because they’ve always subsisted primarily on their own power, and it has often failed them. They have trouble imagining how God’s power, added to theirs, can actually make change real and eventually permanent.

Our way, which is often much easier in the initial moments and days, even weeks, of our lives is easier because it allows us to put off assimilating all those godly traits. However, in the long run our own way leads to a halt in personal progression and leads us to develop traits that do not—and will not ever—lead to sustainable happiness. These traits include: dishonesty (with self and others), pride, gluttony, excess and immodesty, hatred, entitlement, impertinence, etc.

These words are harsh to the modern mind who believes that there is still a right way to do something wrong; which of course, there is not. This is yet another false belief that inhibits successful repentance. There is simply no way to get around God’s way which is the right way. Anyone who believes they can hoodwink God’s system somehow will waste their energy in futility.

Another lie the unrepentant often believe is that God’s way robs us of happiness and so they struggle to repent because they can’t seem to give up the idea that adhering to God’s commandments and entering into His covenants and ordinances will somehow cause them to miss out on something wonderful. So, they procrastinate repenting to be sure they’ve checked out all other viable options for happiness. Or, until they learn that they’ve been believing something false. It’s the opposite that’s true. That procrastinating repentance is actually what is causing them to miss out on peace, joy, and true, sustainable, and lasting happiness.

Forgiving—or the lies that people believe that keep them from forgiving

Forgiveness. It’s something we need to do but struggle to do. But, you have to ask, “Why do I believe that it’s better to hold a grudge, or to enact revenge, than to forgive?” Because ultimately that is the primary lie that keeps people from forgiving. They really do believe that holding a grudge is going to make them happier, or that getting revenge is going to satiate their anger and hurt. Often, this belief takes years to be undone. And in those years, people try over and over again to be hateful, to hurt the person that hurt them, to hold onto that grudge and to get revenge. And only after continuous and repeated attempts that result in very temporary, or most likely failed satisfaction, do they begin to learn that forgiveness is the only option for happiness. Only then do they begin the journey to forgive.

Another lie people believe that prevents them from forgiving is this; they don’t trust the atonement of Jesus Christ and the justice of God to be applied accurately. So, they refuse to forgive in an attempt to help an all-knowing God do His job of justice and punishment correctly. It’s no mistake that the New Testament makes it very clear that Christ is the only one with the authority to forgive sin. To try to usurp that authority by holding a grudge or enacting revenge damages only us. No matter how justified our feelings we will never have the authority to forgive sin, and especially not to withhold forgiveness from anyone.

Sometimes we see it in the reverse, but it is actually the same lie. We feel we can’t forgive because to forgive seems to feel like we are condoning the hurt and offense that has been given. After all, if they can’t feel and see our hurt then they’ll never change, and we most certainly don’t want to be responsible for allowing them to stay as they are.

These perspectives on forgiveness are, of course, false. Forgiveness has never been condoning sin. When Christ spoke to the woman taken in adultery, He didn’t say, “What you did was ok.” He said, “Go and sin no more.” Holding a grudge also doesn’t help others see that they need to change. Using pity as a weapon is in some ways incredibly vicious. It is no more justifiable than the hurt which was originally given, and is a type of revenge.

Thus, the truth is that in order to forgive we must learn to believe the opposite of all these lies. We must come to believe the truth. Holding grudges and seeking revenge only make us like Satan—empty, unhappy, and spiritually sick. We must learn to trust that the Almighty has not only taken care of justice, but also forgiveness and repentance in a past tense. The atonement of Jesus Christ is past and done. And, it’s effects and grace spread backward and forward throughout history. God has got it in hand. Finally, we have to understand and come to believe that we are not responsible to force, coerce, shame, or guilt others into change. And to try to do so is simply a form of manipulation and unrighteous dominion.

We Don’t Have To Struggle Anymore

If you have tried a million times to do anything YOU KNOW you need to do but just can’t seem to do, then you have to sit down and think. It’s going to take time, thought, and reflection. Ask yourself questions like:

  1. Why don’t I start? Why do I keep putting this off?
  2. Why have I quit repeatedly—after beginning—in the past?
  3. What do I keep telling myself that makes me justify putting this off?
  4. What do I tell myself each time, just before I quit?
  5. What do I think about others who seem to have been able to do this?
  6. Have I made excuses for myself, or excuses for why others succeed, that are preventing me from accomplishing this, or even beginning?
  7. Have I asked for help and willingly accepted it? (from others, God)
  8. Have I been meek enough to accept the power offered to me by others and God? If not, why?

These questions, and others like it, will (if you’re sincere) help you to identify the false doctrines—or lies—that are holding you back from doing the things you need to do but struggle to do. It’s amazing how much more possible something becomes, and how much more positive life becomes, when you remove the barriers of false doctrines and limiting beliefs from in front of you. Truth is power. Truth gives power to act—and to succeed.

BT

I never thought I would ever want to give up chocolate (regular chocolate that is). Now, some people may not like it, but I believe, on the whole, most people like some form of chocolate. Myself, I prefer dark chocolate.

When I met my husband, the first thing he warned me was that if I hooked up with him I would lose all desire for regular, store-bought chocolate. Why? Because he makes his own chocolate. He sources the beans, he roasts them, cracks them, turns them into chocolate liquor, adds a few (very few) ingredients, and then grinds the whole thing into the absolute best chocolate I have ever eaten.

It’s hard to describe my husband’s chocolate to most other people. And this is simply because they’ve never had anything like it. So, when I say, “It’s really good. It’s way better than other chocolate.” They simply smile and nod—humoring me, of course. I know what they’re thinking because it’s the same thing I thought when my husband told me the desire for all other chocolate would die after having his chocolate.

Arrogant? No. Boastful? Maybe. True? Yes.

And, so it must be for other people. If they wish to have the “best chocolate” they must be willing to let the desire for the “regular stuff” die. And the same goes for love. There’s regular, over-processed, homogenized (made to taste all the same every time you eat it) chocolate, which is great comparison for “being in love.” Then, there’s the bean-to-bar chocolate, which is a great comparison for “true love.” The former always leaves you wanting more and never is enough because it’s pleasures just can’t seem to last. The latter, however, is so “real” that it provides something lasting.

Being “in love” is not all it’s cracked up to be because it is not “true”

For all relationships, there’s a sort of “in love” period. I fall in love with my four-year-old every day. She’ll do something absolutely adorable or amazing or intelligent beyond her years and I simply swoon. Best friends (plutonic) have beginning moments where they find they have so much in common and trust in each other gets reinforced, and it’s very like a type of “in love” feeling. BFF necklaces are exchanged and they can’t spend enough time together. Then, especially romantic relationships start with infatuation and transition (often quickly) to being “in love.”

But, in every relationship, this “in love” feeling always eventually gets challenged by what I like to call “reality.” My four-year-old succumbs to an irrational fit. A best friend finds an interest apart from us, or fails to be there when we need them. And, especially, in a romantic relationship, the infatuation begins to wear off when the person holding our romantic interest does something that goes against our expectations or some of their negative traits begin to show up more frequently. Basically, we get hurt. All relationships hurt us, then the walls of “in love” come crashing down.

And this is when being in love suddenly becomes a problem. Because it is a drug of sorts; a euphoric haze that has us living in an idealistic cloud world. It’s awesome. There’s no denying it. But, the higher we jump the harder we fall. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t jump high. But I am merely indicating that the capacity for hurt increases in proportion to the bliss.

The bliss, we signed up for. The hurt, not so much. And this is where a very critical relationship death must take place in order for us to move beyond being “in love” to a very special thing called “true love.”

In other words, being “in love” cannot be our main goal. If it is, we will consistently settle for mediocre chocolate instead of graduating to the “real stuff.” And, let me tell you, mediocre chocolate never satisfies. We always go back for more and more, often binging on what is a very good treat. But in binging we end up sick, and very likely overweight. In a literal way, when we binge on the idea of being “in love” we end up with continual disappointment and the heavy weight of emotional issues. We focus all our efforts on producing the ideals (in ourselves or another) that created our in-love feelings to begin with. Losing weight, new clothes, more time together, more expensive dates, more expensive jewelry, and yet…it just doesn’t seem to last.

Perhaps the worst thing about “being in love” is that it can never be “true love.” It can only lead to true love. It is, as nearly as I can figure, a necessary beginning to true love—because it leads us to make promises and commitments—but it can never be, in and of itself, true love. Being in love puts us in a haze so that we will make covenants, commitments, and bind ourselves to other people. Then, when the haze of “in love” wears thin, or off completely, we are bound by the promises we’ve made when “in love” even though we no longer feel in love. It is from this point, this death of “being in love” that we have at last placed ourselves within the range to progress toward true love.

True love requires the death of being in love

Now that I have had amazing chocolate, I can tell you from experience that the depth of taste, flavor, and nutrition of high quality chocolate (true chocolate) is such that I am satisfied after a 1 ounce bar. And I can bask in the glow of the experience easily rather than running back to the bowl for another fix. How? Because I am not attempting to recreate a feeling that has long past. The effects of it are still with me.

True love is the same. Because true love proceeds from a depth of understanding, a deliberate use free will, and personal character development it provides an ongoing security and satisfaction that being “in love” can simply never match. It stays with us. It doesn’t fade as long as we deliberately choose it.

True love is a result that comes from depth of understanding about people. People who find true love understand that no person, no matter how wonderful, can be perfect. No person can satisfy all of another person’s needs and should not be expected to. No person can be exactly what he or she has always dreamed of and expected him/her to be.

True love is also a result that comes from a depth of understand about self. People who find true love understand that they, themselves, can’t be perfect either. They understand that they can’t be another person’s all any more than the reverse; and that no amount of perfection on their part makes them more or less worth being loved by another.

Now, this understanding doesn’t mean that individuals don’t need to try to be their best selves. But, that it something that is individual, and not controllable (ultimately) by the other individual. And, no successful relationship can exist when one or the other individual presupposes that any amount of perfection on his/her part (or manipulation or coercion) will produce the ideal in the other. This is why it is so key to be careful who we fall in love with. A commitment is not lessened because we allowed ourselves to fall in love with someone who is not the kind of person we can live with. It only makes the commitment more difficult. We can control who we fall in love, or at least minimally who we make commitments with.

[For more commentary on being careful who we establish relationships with, please listen to my podcast The Stuff You Should Know About Relationships]

True love results from you, or I—once understanding our own and other’s imperfections—deliberating choosing to love anyway. We see an imperfect individual—once beyond the haze of being “in love”—and we choose to love them anyway. We choose to love someone even though they don’t meet all of our needs. We choose to love someone anyway even though they have the potential to hurt us as times—and often do.

Why would we choose to love when faced with reality instead of going back to finding another “in love” experience? Because learning to love as an act of our own deliberate will rather than because a mere feeling compels us to do so results in something that has the power to last. We can’t make any “in love” experience last. But, we can make our own love last forever. And, such a deliberate choice to love allows us to experience a fundamental and godly change in our very natures and internal character.

When we learn to love because we want to be a loving person, and because we genuinely want to influence others to be their best no matter what we receive in return, we experience a depth of peace and strength in our personal character that can’t be undone. True love becomes about us in an unselfish way because it is no longer dependent upon the actions of others. True love is freeing! We also begin to become godly and our power to influence others for good increases exponentially because our love can’t be wiped away simply by a change of feeling.

Haven’t you ever wondered how God can be so loving and so powerful at the same time?

Let me quote some C.S. Lewis here to make my point (reference in footnote):

But what, it may be asked, is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love? There are several sound social reasons… But there is also another reason of which I am very sure, though I find it a little hard to explain.

It is hard to explain because so many people cannot be brought to realize that when B is better than C, A may be even better than B. They like thinking in terms of good and bad, not of good, better, and best, or bad, worse, and worst…

What we call ‘being in love’ is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his senses would deny that being is love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centeredness. But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.’ Being in love is a good thing. But it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married’, then it says what probably never was no ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, and your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.

Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’—is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

People get the idea from [media] that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change—not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last… The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this really mean it would be better not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. …if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more, it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. …the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.

This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying a good thing will not really live until it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned [person] for the rest of your life.

Death is not the end, it is the beginning

In gospel of Jesus Christ, the ultimate belief is that Christ’s death brought about the reality of eternal life. Death brought about life. The atonement of Jesus Christ (which encompasses His suffering for and paying Justice for our sins as well as His resurrection which vicariously allows us to be resurrected someday) is about sacrificing something to gain our greatest desire—life. And since God’s love is that which, by His will, brought about the death and resurrection of Christ (John 3:16); and God is love, then it would naturally follow that true love of any kind (paternal, friendship, or romantic/marriage) must follow the same pattern: the death and sacrifice of being ‘in love’ puts us in a position to progress toward real love, or love that is true.

Whether it is a child, sibling, friend, relative, or a current/future spouse, no love can be true until we are willing to stop pursuing the ‘in love’ feeling. If we do all that we do, in relationships, to seek that ‘in love’ feeling, we will consistently find ourselves disappointed. We will find that we are manipulative, selfishly motivated, easily offended and hurt, and possibly abusive (in many ways).

If we wish to save any relationship we must begin by first divorcing ourselves from our ‘in love’ ideals; that other people will meet our expectations or eventually act the way we wish. Or that somehow continually to re-invent and re-imagine ourselves (superficially) will return to us, or recreate, all of the sentimental in-love experiences we remember from the past. We must learn to love truly. We must learn to love because we wish to be loving, not because we are trying to manufacture a certain type of relationship or a certain feeling within that relationship.

True love is, and always will be, independent of our feelings. And only when we let the ‘in love’ feeling die will we at last open ourselves up to the ability to experience love in more powerful, and ultimately more exciting and lasting ways.

So, it’s about time to let go of your “store-bought” chocolate (i.e. love) and open yourself up to the idea that while some things are worse than regular chocolate (going without, I suppose), that does not make it great and most certainly not the best that there is available. Let your desire for only being ‘in love’ die and begin the process of seeking for the kind of love that builds, sustains, secures, heals, and nourishes forever.

BT


[1] The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics ©2002 by C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. | Mere Christianity ©1952, C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed ©1980 C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., Christian Behaviour, Christian Marriage, pp. 92-94.

Priestcraft…this is not a word most people are familiar with. It’s a religious word. And it means a person (any person) doing things to get attention for their own gain and purposes (rather than the purposes of God). It means that a person does things to solely benefit themselves by misleading, distracting, or even exploiting their fellow men (instead of doing things to lead people to God). Priestcraft can be lying or deceit in order to get what one wants. It can simply be distracting from truth in order to avoid the truth or to meet one’s own needs before serving God or others.

Priestcraft is selfish, but it can be easily justified by very well-meaning individuals. And many people are engaging in priestcraft without even realizing it. Priestcraft is diverting, and it is an art many of us cultivate to meet very real psychological, emotional, and physical needs. Priestcraft is setting ourselves up for a light to the world (or drawing purposeful attention to ourselves) so that we can “get the gain and praise of the world” (2 Nephi 26:29) or other people.

It’s Not Just About Money

The word “gain” can be misleading as a scriptural term, because it leads us to think of things like: money, prestige, fame, etc. Certainly popularity, in general, is a common reason everyday people engage in priestcraft. A teenager may continually distract and draw attention to themselves during a class (regular school, Sunday school, etc.) to meet the very real need to feel that others like them, find them funny, or entertaining, or to “act cool.” Or, a person of any age may distract others from a message being delivered because they are internally so self-conscious that they draw attention to themselves to satiate the need to not be emotionally transparent. They are trying to distract from their hidden insecurities.

In fact, many people engage in priestcraft (not because they want to exploit others or even distract from God, but) because they have a need to distract all of us, even themselves, from things about themselves they don’t want to face or don’t want others to focus on. A person may dye their hair electric pink or green to deflect from the reality that they are not secure in who they are. They want attention, but only a certain kind of attention. It’s that easy to engage in priestcraft and deny truth about ourselves, or our lives.

Personal gain can also be as simple as dressing in a certain way in order to get boys (or girls) to look at you in a sexual manner. Your need to be desired trumps your respect for the morality and chastity of other individuals (even though you don’t necessarily have any intention of committing immoral acts). You place your need to feel sexy, or desired, above your regard for the laws of God, and others.

The sad thing about priestcraft is that most of us do it because we have very real deep and unmet needs. We want to be loved and we will do just about anything to get love, even if it isn’t the best kind of love. We want to be validated and appreciated and so we will do things to get that validation, even if it means stepping on others’ toes or throwing others “under the bus.” Many people rise to what they feel are very well-deserved career heights, or popularity, by sabotaging others along the way. Ultimately, there is something they want that they put before doing what’s right.

Here’s something a little frightening. In 2 Nephi 10:5 we learn that it was priestcraft that kept the majority of the Jews from recognizing Christ when He came. Most of the Jews (especially the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes) were so busy promoting themselves and their version of the gospel that when the Son of God began His ministry they were so caught up in their own image and gain that they were not open to the truths Christ exhibited and taught. Even His miracles offended them and threatened their “craft” so they sought how they might kill Him.

The scariest thing about priestcraft in ourselves is that it does, and will, prevent us from coming closer to God. We can’t progress toward Him when we place our own needs and desires above His love and will for us. Priestcraft in ourselves will prevent us from “being a light.”

[For more commentary on “the stuff that distracts from you,” click here to listen to my podcast!]

A City that is Set on a Hill

Christ commands us in Matthew 5:14-16 to “be a light” to the world. But, in 3 Nephi 18:24 He clarifies what He means just a little bit. He says:

Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do.

When Christ commands us to be a light, He is not asking us to draw attention to ourselves. He is asking us to draw attention to Him with all that we do. The opposite of priestcraft is to do all that we do to bring glory and gain to God. The opposite of priestcraft is to “be a light” to the world by doing what Christ did.

Modesty—a term which used to refer to speech, behavior, and overall conduct and decorum, not simply how a person wore their clothing—is far more about “being a light” versus “priestcraft” than it is about how many centimeters our hem is above our knees, or how deep the V in our shirt is, or how low our pants sag down, etc. People who are immodest (in speech, behavior, decorum, or dress) tend to draw attention to themselves to meet deep and unmet needs. People who are modest attempt to draw attention to God, or a godly message, rather than themselves.

Priestcraft is Something We Can Identify and Fix

The things we do to distract from the truth about ourselves or from God are things we can identify and fix. We don’t have to remain in stagnant ignorance, unable to find peace or spiritual progression. And we certainly are stunted in our ability to personally progress in a sustainable way if we try to distract from truth (whether about ourselves or God).

Whether we are giving a talk or a lesson at church, or whether we are ambitiously seeking goals in our work or school environment, we simply have to turn to the Lord and ask Him to show us all the things we are doing to distract from our best selves and from Him. We simply have to ask Him to show us if, and where, we are committing priestcraft, and distracting from Him and from our true selves. He has said (Ether 12:27):

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness (or priestcraft)…

Really, you can substitute the word “weakness” with anything. If we come unto God sincerely, genuinely desiring to understand anything about ourselves so that we may improve, He will teach us.

If we find we have set ourselves up to get gain and the praise of others, and that we have distracted others away from God, we shouldn’t be discouraged. Even knowing how easy it is to do, I still often make the mistake. Thus, it’s comforting to know that God judges us not only by our actions, but by the intent behind them (Doctrine & Covenants 137:9).

When we do identify our weakness (or priestcraft), we can be grateful that God has shown it to us, because that means He is giving us the chance to improve (Ether 12:27) and become far better at “being a light.”

BT

Recently the question was posed to me, “If you could say anything to your past self, what would it be?” So, I thought about it. And, I struggled to come up with anything. Because in all honesty, I don’t see the point in doing it. If given the chance, I don’t think I would go back and try to mess with my past self. I’m not sure it would make a difference.

But, after some more thought, what I realized was, that more than it really mattering IF I actually would go back and say anything to my past self; considering what I might say to my past self actually had a great deal of value for my present self. Why? Because trying to look back and think what I might say is an exercise in remembrance, in reflecting on my life.

Click here to listen to the podcast: The Stuff I Would Say to My Past Self!

Immediately questions arise like:

  • Would I change anything about my past?
  • What advice and help did I receive in the past that brought me to this point I’m at now? Will it help me going forward?
  • What growing experiences did I have because I had to live by faith without frequent peeks at my future or a phone call from the future?
  • Do I see the hand of God in the path my life has taken?
  • If everything had gone the way I had planned or expected, would I be the same person?
  • What truths did I cling to then? Are they the same ones I cling to now? Are they the same ones I should cling to in the future?

It turns out, there is an incredible benefit to remembering our past and reflecting on the course our life has taken, if we do it properly.

Remember, Remember…

In the scriptures, prophets repeatedly encourage people to reflect back on their lives and remember (and acknowledge) the ways in which God has blessed and preserved them, as well as their forbears. This remembrance of our lives is an exercise in gratitude.

In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds the members of Ephesus to remember what they were like before the grace of God touched their lives. He encourages them to remember when they were without Christ and how their life and hope has changed since becoming converted to Christianity. This remembrance is not only an exercise in gratitude, but it’s a chance for the Holy Spirit to reaffirm our testimony.

Joseph Smith recorded that after reading James 1:5 that the message of the verse hit him so hard that he reflected on it again and again (JS-H 1:12). Many of us, like Joseph, have heard quotes, read scriptures, heard sermons, or recited prayers that have entered our hearts with such force that we find ourselves coming back to those messages again and again and again…often being taught even deeper truths each time we reflect on them. This type of remembrance is not only the reaffirmation of our testimony of a truth we’ve been taught, it’s a reflection that invites the Holy Spirit to teach us more about a truth we are willing to learn more about. It’s in invitation to be taught.

Pillar of Salt

Conversely, in the scriptures we also have accounts of people reflecting back on the past in a manner that breeds personal destruction. Lot’s wife, when she looked back at the destruction of Sodom (where her home was) turned into a pillar of salt. Or, in more blunt words, she was burned up by the destruction. She didn’t simply look back, she ran back toward the city and to her own death. Lot tried to lead her out of it to a life of righteousness, and she didn’t truly want that, so even though the city was going to be destroyed, she had rather run back and get burned up with it. Her reflection led her to run head first into self-destruction.

Often, when many of us reflect back on the past we do so with longing for things that aren’t beneficial to our present. We create sentimental trophies out of old romances, past friendships, once promising athletic careers, and other such childhood and teenage fodder. We glorify these images so much in our minds that it builds regret for our present location in life. We begin to resent and discredit all that we have built in our current lives by running full-force back to the imaginary happiness we truly believe we missed out on. We, like Lot’s wife, run head first into self-destruction.

Others, when they reflect back or dwell on their past mistakes they lean so hard into shaming and mentally destroying themselves, that they can’t press forward successfully in the present. As they look back at their lives and think what they might say to their past selves they use the opportunity instead to punish themselves more. To beat themselves up more. But, they aren’t beating up their past self. They are beating up their present self, creating self-destruction in the present.

God Wants Us to Reflect to Propel Us Forward

So, now I put the question to you. What would you go back and tell your past self, if you could? That past self could be the self of yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, five years ago, or even twenty years ago. Would you tell all these selves the same thing? Why, or why not?

Now, here’s another question. Now that several things have crossed your mind about what you would tell your past self. How do these words of wisdom help you in the present? What would you tell your future self?

It turns out God has a primary purpose for self-reflection and remembrance. But, they are illustrated most powerfully in the man called Alma-the-younger.

Interestingly, Alma-the-younger (Jr.)’s father had been a Christian rebel when he was a young man. But, then he got himself straightened out. So, what happens? Well, his son, Alma Jr., decides to rebel also and run around trying to destroy Christianity (the church). Alma Jr. and his friends (the sons of the king, named Mosiah) describe themselves as the vilest of sinners (Mosiah 28:4). During their wicked streak an angel appears to them and tells them to repent or be destroyed.

These words hold particular hold upon Alma Jr.’s heart. He falls to the ground and is tormented with what he describes as “the pains of hell” for up to a day or two. The things causing his hellish pain? Well, they are his reflections on his wicked past.

And then, amidst Alma Jr.’s reflections he remembers hearing his father (Alma Sr.) preaching about Jesus Christ who atones for the sins for the world. That there is forgiveness. This reflection leads him to repent. He calls out in his anguish to Christ and asks to be saved. He is then suddenly filled with peace even greater than the hellish pain that he was being tormented with. He says, “And now, behold…I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:13,19).

Notice, he doesn’t say that he can’t remember his sins. He can. But what he can no longer remember is the hellish-pain, guilt, misery, and suffering that he was under because of his recognition of his sins.

Alma Jr.’s reflection back on his past had the potential to propel him forward. First he reflected on his sins and was nearly overwhelmed by his vivid understanding of just how rotten he’d been. But, then, so very important, is that second, he reflected on what he’d been taught about Christ and in faith he sought Christ. What happened then? He found peace in the grace of Christ and was able to be free from the pain of his sins. Certainly he could still remember them, but they didn’t torment him anymore. Now, he was free to use those memories to press forward…to become better.

A Challenge

Out of this topic, I have come to the conclusion that the best way for us to reflect upon the past is to do so with God’s help. If we are to look back and reflect in a way that has the greatest potential to propel us forward, then we should look back with the help of a being that can see our past as clearly as He can see our present and our future.

Consider questions like:

  • God, is there anything in my past that I still need to deal with and resolve?
  • God, is there a time in my past where you were with me but I didn’t realize it back then? Show me so I can find peace now.
  • God, can you help me to remember the times your grace carried me through, or your Holy Spirit taught me truth so that my current testimony can be re-affirmed?
  • God, is there anything more you would teach me about this truth that I already love so much?
  • God, are there any truths I’m overlooking in my past that I need to understand so I can receive the future you have in store for me?

I’m Finally Going to Answer the Question

I have to be honest. I don’t think I would go back and tell my past self much of anything. But, if I did, it would sound something like this:

Don’t waste any mental or emotional effort on the fact that it simply isn’t your nature to care about being popular or fitting in. You never do seek out those things, but you will try to waste a lot of effort on whether or not it’s important. So, don’t.

Next, God has given all of us bodies. Mortal genetics play their part. Be grateful for the body you have been given. Don’t waste another second beating yourself up because you weren’t born four-to-six inches shorter, four-to-six inches narrower, or 40-60 lbs lighter. Your body is the power God has given you to do His work. Take glory in the fact that you can accomplish it with the body you’ve got.

You were right. You’ll keep being right. You’ll keep trusting in God. You’re going to make it.

BT