Some of you may not be aware that on my FB page and Instagram Channel I’m running a series called #DailyDoctrines. I post short, quote-length doctrines daily. Whereas this blog is weekly.

I started #DailyDoctrines because it has become apparent to me that it is difficult for many people to identify and locate doctrine in the scriptures. Why does it matter? Why not just be satisfied to understand the basic story lines?

To just grasp the basic story lines of scripture stories (especially the Old Testament) defeats the purpose of scripture study. The whole point of scripture study is to come to know God, and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. Why is actually getting to know God important? “For this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent” (St. John 17:3).

Eternal life is nothing less than life like God. And, we can’t spend an eternity with someone whom we don’t know. And we certainly can’t live like Him if we don’t know Him.

In the parable of the ten virgins, it has always impressed me that when the five foolish virgins show up at the feast that the Savior denies them entrance based on the following: “I know you not” (Matthew 25:12). I think what He is also implying is that “you don’t know me.”

Why would any of us let someone into our home whom we don’t know? We wouldn’t. We wouldn’t trust them. We would be surprised that they showed up and even wanted to come in. And we might even be slightly offended if they showed up for a party we were throwing, where they could mooch off our generosity, and we hadn’t even known they were coming. When they knocked on our door, we would say, “Um…sorry, I don’t know you.” Meaning reflexively, “Um…why are you here, you don’t know me.”

We might say that “oil in our lamps” is our relationship with and knowledge of God.

Identifying Doctrine Helps us Come to Know God

The whole purpose of identifying doctrine in the scriptures is because doctrine teaches us as much about God as we can ever come to know in this life. It teaches us two very critical things: 1) What God is like, and 2) How He works with us, His children. And, I might add that in some cases we learn 3) why He works with us in certain ways.

I seem to have a knack for finding doctrines. And, the more I practice, the more and more fundamental it becomes to who and what I am and how I live. Doctrine answers the “why” behind everything in God’s plan for us. It answers the hard questions that we struggle with each day. I haven’t come upon a question yet, in my life, that I haven’t found the answer to through clear doctrines from the scriptures. Granted, I don’t always love the answer. It may not be as specific as I like. Sometimes, it’s too specific. Sometimes the answers test my fortitude. But, more than anything else, the answers—the doctrines—give me power to keep going, to endure. The doctrines give me confidence before God. The doctrines teach me what to expect from God and how not to freak out and worry when I see Him at work.

An Invitation

I’ve only been at this for just under two years. I’m not sure who follows me and why. But, I’m issuing you a direct invitation. If you feel any of the following things (see below) would help you in your life and in your desire to follow God, please like and follow my Facebook Page: TheDoctrineLadyBlog. And please visit and follow me on Instagram: @TheDoctrineLady. As well, once you join, start with me right where I am (currently Leviticus in the Old Testament). If you use the NIV Bible or the King James, you should be great. You don’t have much to do. Just read a chapter a day and look for 1) things you learn about God, and 2) things you learn about how God deals with us, His children. Then, check out my FB Page or my IG account each day and see what I’ve come up with. See if it sits well with you. See if you found a doctrine I missed. See (and record in a journal) what it allows the Holy Spirit to teach you about your life and your relationship with God.

Do you want any of the following:

1.       Closer relationship with God

2.       Increase your belief in the existence of God

3.       Understand some of what God does better

4.       Reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament

5.       Understand better temple worship and ordinances

6.       Recognize how God is working with you in your own life

7.       Understand and recognize steps God wants you to take in your life right now

8.       Strengthen your witness and testimony of Christ

9.       Increase your capacity to live a godly life

10.   Increase your capacity to understand and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ

If you decide to join me in this journey, and feel that someone else you know would benefit, invite them! Don’t be afraid. Our role as Christians is to invite others to come to Christ. Our role is to “feed His sheep.” You aren’t responsible if people choose to come to Christ. But, you are responsible for extending the invitation. I’m extending my invitation to you. I hope you will extend the same to others.

I’m going to keep doing my #DailyDoctrines whether I have 10 followers or 10,000. When the Old Testament is through I’ll push right on to the New Testament and so forth. This is a lengthy journey. But, isn’t the effort worth it if it will help each of us to secure our eternal life with the God, and Father, of us all? Did not God, Himself, teach us that a relationship with Him, a deep knowledge and love of Him, is what will make life with Him in eternity possible? I’m doing #DailyDoctrines to help myself, and anyone who wants to join me, to increase their capacity to come to know God.

Challenge and invitation issued. I hope you will join me.

BT

There is a massive political, social, and psychological trend going on these days with regard to accountability. It sounds like this, “I’m not responsible for the choices others make, or what happens to them, because of what I do.” It also sounds a bit like this, “I do this for myself. If others suffer, or if others can’t control their reactions, that’s not my fault.” The variations of this statement are endless. I can’t list them all. But, the general underlying doctrine is, “I’m not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and decisions others make.”

Is this true? Yes, in a manner of speaking. But it also contains an unwritten, implied lie. It omits saying who we are responsible for…and that’s us.

The Hidden Lie

God has been very clear about accountability. If we are basically rational and sane, we are responsible for our own thoughts, words, and deeds (Moroni 8:10; Helaman 14:30). We are responsible for our own desires, and the actions we take that our desires inspire (Doctrine and Covenants 137:9).

So, “I’m not responsible for what other people do,” is a nicely crafted phrase that carefully hides a sneaky lie. It is, as near as I can tell, a half-truth. Sure, we cannot control others. We can threaten and try to bribe or torture people to do what we want them to do. But, ultimately, the choice is theirs. They can choose to comply with our desires or hold to their own with dignity and self-sacrifice. It is their choice. If they didn’t have a choice, we wouldn’t try to manipulate them.

However, the lie in this statement is that it gives the impression that we are not responsible for anything. Or that our choices only matter inasmuch as we can control others. That if someone can prove that our actions made someone else sin, then that is the measure of whether or not it matters at all. This (which you can see by simply reading it) is irrefutably not the case.

So, what are we responsible for? Ourselves.

I would like to reword the full measure of what the initial phrase actually should say in order to be completely true and accurate. Because it is in what is omitted that the false doctrine breeds from. It should say, “I’m not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and decisions others make, but I am responsible for the purposeful, deliberate action I take to ignore their thoughts, feelings, and potential decisions.”

Sure, we can’t control the thoughts of others. We can’t make a person have sinful thoughts. But, we can purposefully and knowingly influence them. We can talk about certain things, dress in certain ways, and act in certain ways as a selfish, prideful challenge, “I dare you not to have sinful thoughts or desires based upon what I’m doing.” “I dare you to blame me for your bad thoughts and actions.” “I want you to think a certain way about me, let’s see how long you can withstand me.” “I dare you to blame me for your poor financial circumstances…” and on and on.

What kind of person does that make us if it is our goal to say what we want to say, do what we want to do, and wear what we want to wear determined not to care in the slightest bit how it impacts others? What kind of Christian does that make us?

Sure, we can’t make people overeat. But, what kind of person would we be if we stood outside a diet, or weight loss clinic, with a trolley tray full of donuts, sweets, and fried foods and we held it up tantalizingly as people, trying very hard to lose weight, walked by? What kind of person are we if our mindset is, “I dare the management to come out and shoo me away. This is my livelihood and if I choose to take advantage of these people’s struggle with food to support my family…how can they blame me for wanting to take care of my family?”

What kind of business are we if we purvey products and services meant to make money off the potential, or actual, addict? We may not be responsible if they choose to buy, or consume our services. But we are responsible for being weak individuals with insufficient integrity that we use their weaknesses to raise ourselves up. What we are saying is, “I know this is bad for you but I need to make money to live and support my family and I can only doing it by working for a business (or owning a business) that extorts your weaknesses.”

Yet another lie? Yes, it’s the word “only.” There is never only one way for us to do something. Satan has done a very good job of making many people believe that integrity is idealistic and non-rewarding; and that extorting others for our own benefits is noble, or minimally necessary at times and thus acceptable. Which, as hard as it is to swallow, is untrue.

God has promised peace and blessings based upon keeping His commandments with integrity. To bypass the Christlike traits of selflessness, of faith, of self-sacrifice, and of integrity with the excuse that, “The only way I can survive—or get what I need emotionally, psychologically, physically, or materially—is to abandon these traits and extort others,” is a sad, wicked, thing.

If we will embrace these Christlike traits above our own selfish needs and designs God will bless us. He is bound to do so (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). And, I challenge anyone who believes otherwise to commit to living these Christlike traits—sincerely and genuinely—and thereafter testify that God didn’t bless them for so doing. God will bless them. They will know it. And they will know that God knows it, and that to say otherwise would be extremely unwise (Joseph Smith History 1:25).

What kind of Christian are we if we put our own image before Christ’s image in our lives? What kind of Christian are we if we say or do things to satisfy our own weaknesses and issues at the expense of others? Have we taken the name of Christ upon us, or haven’t we? Have we covenanted to bring others to Christ, to “feed His sheep,” or haven’t we?

We are Responsible for Us

We cannot control others. But we can put stumbling blocks in their path—on purpose. And, that, my dear friends, is what we are responsible for. We are responsible for us.

Balaam was a very famous prophet, of sorts, in the Old Testament. He was hired by the King of Moab to curse the Israelites (who were going through the promised land—on God’s orders—conquering and destroying everyone). Balaam was offered so much money and honor from the King of Moab, that though in the end he refused to curse them publically. He covertly, on the side, told the King of Moab that if he would get the Israelites to sin, they would eventually be undone. Balaam, despite all his goodness, was eventually “bought.” And, the Israelites did indeed have a few struggles because of Balaam’s expertly placed stumbling block. But, they did repent and conquered Moab, and Balaam died in the struggle. So, in the end, Balaam didn’t succeed in doing anything to Israel, nor was he accountable that they chose to sin. He certainly slowed them down a bit. However, he did succeed in losing his own integrity and his own salvation (Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14). And, his good works (a lifetime of them) were all overshadowed by his final choice to purposefully place a stumbling block in front of Israel in exchange for worldly honor and compensation. That final, selfish decision undid all his others and defined his long-lived negative reputation. He attempted to get what he wanted by hurting others and ended up only hurting (long-term and eternally) himself.

Throwing Others Under the Bus

We all run around these days yelling in so many ways and in so many different versions, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) And you know who said that common phrase? Cain. A person (sadly the first of many) who was able to slay his own brother for personal gain. He killed his brother to get his possessions and to prove that he didn’t have to do things God’s way. And, what, we want to be like Cain? We want to offer up our version of what God asks because Satan asks us to do it that way?

This sounds quite harsh. But there is no gray area here. Either we serve God or we serve Satan. When we become selfish and entitled and believe we are serving ourselves, we are actually serving Satan. Satan was the master of selfish action. Satan threw us all “under the bus” by pitching the idea that we didn’t need free will (Moses 4:1-4). Taking way our free will would take away our ability to choose to become godly. Taking away our free will would ensure that he, Satan, could rule and have all the power. If none of us could choose to become like God, then no one but Satan could have that power. Or, at least that was his plan and idea. A plan which God, who desires to share His power with all of us, would never condone.

For his selfishness, Satan lost any chance he ever had to have the power he wanted. And, likewise, as we extort others for selfish reasons, as we place stumbling blocks in exchange for perceived attention, glory, power, money, self-satisfaction, image, independence, etc., we too will find that we end up with far less of what we want. We will find that others, who act in consideration of their fellow men, always end up with the confidence, power, peace, and joy that seems to forever escape us no matter what worldly heights we reach. Wickedness never was [permanent or lasting] happiness (Alma 41:10).

The Cain Effect

It’s all over social media, the news, TV shows, etc. People emotionally, psychologically, and materially “slaying” their fellow man for their own gain (of whatever sort it may be). They bribe, extort, manipulate, abuse, threaten, and secretly act in ways that they feel establish their identity, make them feel good about who they are, get them the attention or popularity they want, etc. all at the expense of others. Little do they know the philosophy they have adopted is the “gospel of Cain,” or the “gospel of Balaam.” Neither of which are examples that, if they read the story and understood it, they’d want to follow.

I like to call it the “Cain Effect.” Cain thought he was a great mastermind. He thought it some great secret to extort (even to murder) another in order to “get gain.” But, it never was and it never has been a great secret. Gangs, secret combinations (i.e. groups that bribe, extort, threaten, and manipulate to gain or maintain power of many sorts), political factions, false religions, and conspiring men use the same secret. It is all based on the idea of turning others into a means to end—to “get gain.” And it is done so slyly that it often is made to look noble and acceptable, or indeed even an “only way” to get what we want.

I Would Be My Brother’s Keeper

There is an LDS hymn that talks a little bit about the true doctrine of accountability for our fellow men. It’s not about being responsible for others choices. It’s about being responsible for us. It’s about following Christ. It’s about loving God and in consequence of that love, loving our fellow men. It’s about selflessly considering others the way Christ selflessly gave His life for us. It’s about denying ourselves some of the things we think we want and need that we might love God, and follow His example in loving our fellow men.

Lord, I Would Follow Thee

Savior, may I learn to love Thee, walk the path that Thou hast shown

Pause to help and lift another, finding strength beyond my own

Savior, may I learn to love Thee. Lord, I would follow Thee.

 

Who am I to judge another, when I walk imperfectly?

In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see.

Who am I to judge another? Lord, I would follow Thee.

 

I would be my brother’s keeper; I would learn the healer’s art

To the wounded and the weary I would show a gentle heart.

I would be my brother’s keeper. Lord, I would follow Thee.

Savior, may I love my brother, as I know Thou lovest me

Find in Thee my strength, my beacon, for Thy servant I would be

Savior, may I love my brother. Lord, I would follow Thee.

Conclusion

My challenge to anyone who reads this blog post is to examine your lives. Is the Cain Effect present anywhere in your life? Has the false doctrine of Balaam seeped in somewhere? Is there anywhere in your actions where you selfishly “throw others under the bus” so that you can get what you want with some perceived noble intention? Do you engender selfishness and entitlement in areas that cause you to extort, manipulate, or objectify your fellow man? Are you feeding God’s lambs as He has asked, or are you maiming them so that there’s no competition for your personal ambitions?

We are our brother’s keeper. We do not ever hold accountability, ultimately, for what others choose. But we are responsible for us. For what we do and why we do it. And God has commanded us to “keep” and “care for” our fellow men, and to “love one another as He has loved us.” Our heart, our intent, our actions…we are responsible for those things, and for who we become as a result of them.

BT

A few weeks back I wrote I blog called: The Stages of Prayer. This blog is about The Next Step.

Meaningful prayer, I have found, seems to be far more difficult for orthodox religions. This is because prayers of worship and the words of ordinances must be exact to be correct, and thus the idea of wrote prayer and checking off lists and removing personality and feeling often comes as an unintended result of tradition. And generations of such tradition often blur meaning and we forget to explain and teach critical doctrine. We turn God into a God of meaningless perfection and checklists instead of a personal God, who is our Heavenly Father (not a casual God, however…personal and casual are not the same thing).

The dilemma today is to return God to His personal (not casual) nature in our minds so that we might actually communicate and receive comfort, peace, guidance, and direction from Him. In a way, we’ve sort of turned our prayers into graven images (our versions of God’s command to pray) that are creating a barrier to us actually communing with Him in a meaningful way.

Why We Pray

Conveying information. That’s one of the reasons we talk. But, in reality, there is very little we can tell those who know us well and who love us that they can’t already see written on our faces or in our actions. They know when we’re angry, sad, mad, upset, stressed, happy, elated, excited, and peaceful. So, conversation with them serves what purpose? For what reason do we talk with close friends and family members if not to convey information?

We talk to those we trust to strengthen our bond with them. To gain validation for our feelings. To feel understood. We talk to them to puzzle out and define our feelings. We talk through problems with them out of a need to “let it out.” Sometimes, it’s talking things out that makes meaning and reason more clear to us. Sometimes, it’s while talking and reasoning with a close friend or family member that we have “ah-ha” moments and we, by talking and thinking, figure out our feelings and solutions to our problems.

God wants us to pray to Him. Not because He needs information. But because there is no one we can trust more. Because there is no one who can help us reason through our struggles better. Because there is no one who can validate us better. Because there is no one who can give us as much peace and understanding. God loves us. Thus, He wants us to pray to Him—to talk with Him. He knows everything we are thinking and feeling and want and hate. But, He wants us to work through those feelings with Him. He is the perfect confidant and the best source of guidance and advice.

Prayer is About What We Feel

When do you send a thank you card? When do you call up your friend, parent, sibling, or trusted associate to convey gratitude? When you feel it.

When do you express sorrow and regret for someone’s loss? When do you say sorry for things you’ve done in error? When do you get on your knees and beg for forgiveness? When you feel it.

When do you ask for help from others? When do you humble yourself and seek advice external to your own brain and personal resources? When do you plead for help with work, school, relationships, and trials? When you feel it.

How would it be if every time we talked to our best friend we had a compulsory list we said, by wrote, before we could talk to them about what we really wanted to talk to them about.

Hi Jane! Thanks for being my friend. Thanks for helping me last week. Thanks for getting me through that tough time two months ago. Wait, we can talk in a minute, just let me finish

Do we do that with God? I know I have for many years and He’s been patient with me. But the more I ponder prayer, the more I realize that such a thing is talking at God and not with Him. It’s not bad, it’s good. It’s some days even a very good list of things I have been grateful for in the past (sincerely)…however, they aren’t actually the things I feel as deeply grateful for that day. So, do I have to include them? If I don’t, will God somehow curse me in those areas? I think not.

Christ gave us a formula for prayer. But, I don’t believe He ever meant us to follow that formula as rigidly as we do, and with as little feeling as we do. I believe Christ wanted us to address God reverently and then express gratitude for what we feel most grateful for. Not to rattle off the same list every day. Not to say thank you for something just so that we can be assured He won’t allow something bad to happen in that category. God wants sincere gratitude. Not a compulsive list.

I believe Christ wanted us to ask forgiveness for those things that we genuinely we feel badly for. But, I don’t believe He wants us to go on and on and on, berating ourselves, self-deprecating, and groveling. I believe He wants us to repent when we feel we have something to repent of, not to rehash sins we are already deeply working on that we were successful on that day. Feelings…

I believe God would rather hear about what is really on our mind than a very good, even better, or best list we have of things in cue for Him to take care of. Things we’ve prayed for sincerely in the past weeks and months that we throw in “for good measure.” God wants to know what is closest to our heart today, this morning, right now. We aren’t conveying information, we are counseling with our Dearest Father, Truest Friend, Most Trustworthy Confidant. We are counseling with Him to come to better understand ourselves.

Using Meaningful Wording

There are some words, phrases, emoticons, and even abbreviations that we use every day that lose meaning in the overuse of them. We use the word “love” for everything from a color, an outfit, to food, and then turn around and use it in our deepest, most heartfelt expressions of devotion to our loved ones and God. Do we use it so much that when we use it, it no longer means what it should?

Bless the missionaries. Help us take this lesson into our hearts. Help us get home safely. Bless the food. Help me to have the Spirit…

When we talk with others, do we have phrases that we know what it means with those people, but outside of that context it loses meaning?

Meaningful: significant, valid, worthwhile, sincere, serious, and telling (i.e. revealing).

Do we throw phrases into our prayers without thinking because they are common, used by others, and have a general meaning? Look at those words: common, used by others, general meaning. Is that how we address God, our Father in Heaven?

God does not want flowery, pretentious wording in our prayers. But He does want the words we use to have significance, validity, sincerity, and to reveal to us our true feelings about the things we are counseling with Him about.

Whether we’re at home, praying over meals, engaging in family prayer, or praying in Sunday School or other class on a Sunday, it’s important to consider our true objective in praying and use meaningful words and phrases to express our desire to receive and to act.

Our Prayers Directly Reflect our Relationship with God

If our prayers are meaningful, then I find that our relationship with God is real, raw, genuine, and sincere. It has been my personal experience, and my observation, that the more real, genuine, telling, and meaningful our prayers, the more real, genuine, telling and sincere our relationship with God is. If we have tried and tested God through the years, our prayers reveal (tell of) our faith in Him. If we have received comfort, testimony, peace, and validation from God through the years, our prayers reveal (tell of) our confidence in receiving more of such peace. If we have received miracles, our prayers reveal our confidence in God’s ability to grant yet another one. If we have received critical answers and witnesses, our prayers reveal our belief that more will come and can be had at God’s hand.

A casual prayer reveals a casual relationship with the Almighty. And that relationship can change from prayer to prayer, day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. Relationships (as the wise know) require constant care. We may be casual one day and on our knees, pleading the next. But, it would be much more ideal if day-to-day we strove to have meaningful prayer and to maintain a meaningful relationship with God.

The status and understanding of our relationship to God is often the biggest disconnect we have in prayer. If we see Him incorrectly, or if we do not know Him as we ought, our prayers will reflect that.

Simply Saying Prayers is Different from Engaging in Meaningful Prayer

If we look to scripture for examples of meaningful prayer, we find a pattern for exactly what meaningful prayer entails.

I suggest each of you review the following: Joseph Smith-History 1:8-10; Enos 1:2-5, 19; Alma 22:3, 5-6; 3 Nephi chapters 17-19; Luke 22:41-42

In these passages there is a clear and consistent pattern of what meaningful prayer looks like:

  1. Serious reflection prior to the prayer
  2. An object in praying or a specific desire/feeling generated the prayer
  3. Prayer was offered meaningfully directly focusing on the desire/object
  4. Object/desire was sought with intent to act on knowledge/blessing received
  5. Individual acts on knowledge received and testifies of the testimony gained

In in April 2008 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (bi-annual world conference of church), Elder David. A Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave an address titled “Ask in Faith.” In this address he defined meaningful prayer in several ways:

Ask in Faith = express + do

Ask in Faith = plead + perform

Ask in Faith = communicate + act

Ask in Faith = inquire + do

Meaningful Prayer = holy communication + consecrated work

He counseled: “Pray with the expectation to act and not just to express.” For example, we often ask God to bless the missionaries or to help the sick or to comfort the weary. We express our desire for Him to care for these individuals. Yet, we do not ask for the guidance to be a part of the action. Elder Bednar then counseled:

If we would truly pray and ask in faith…our prayer of faith might include some of the following elements

Asking for courage and boldness to open our mouths and share the gospel with our family and friends.

  • Entreating Heavenly Father to help us identify individuals and families who will be receptive to our invitations to be taught by the missionaries in our homes.
  • Pledging to do our part this day and this week for help to overcome anxiety, fear, and hesitation.
  • Seeking for the gift of discernment—for eyes to see and ears to hear missionary opportunities as they occur.
  • Praying fervently for the strength to act as we know we should.

The Purpose of Prayer is to Become Like God

Aside from all that’s been discussed, I return again to the purpose of life. Our entire reason for being on the planet earth is so that God (through the use of our agency) can help us become like Him. Thus, when we go to Him in prayer, that which He desires to lead us to is His plan. Yes, He cares about our worries, our problems, our jobs, our education, and our relationships. But, if we remember that when we go to Him, to counsel with Him, that His end goal is to help us become like Him, that will broaden our scope of understanding and increase our ability to understand His will and guidance in our lives.

We are not on our knees to convey information. We are not on our knees to get that sports car we want. We are not even on our knees to get that job we want. We are on our knees to find out how God can take us from where we are, presently, to becoming like Him. That, in and of itself, means that the job we want may not be the one God wants us to have. It may mean going back to school. It may mean undoing a lot of the things we’ve been working for. It may mean doing more than we thought we had to, to go in a direction we had not previously imagined.

To make prayer meaningful, we have to be there to counsel with Him, and to ultimately seek His will of how we might act to progress in His designs to help us become like Him.

In the Bible Dictionary (scriptures.lds.org) we read:

Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with one another. Humble, earnest, and persistent prayer enables us to recognize and align ourselves with the will of the Father.

Additionally we learn:

The object of our prayers should not be to present a series of requests, but to secure for ourselves and for others the blessings that God is eager to bestow, according to His will and timing.

Conclusion:

Honest prayer. Once we arrive at true honesty in our prayers, meaningful prayer (prayer with the intent to act) is the next step. Prayer just might be the most important commandment of all. For with no connection to God, what good is all the rest? I challenge each of you to ponder meaningful prayer and to make the attempt to integrate it into your life.

BT

This past week I was pondering the difference between an idol and a graven image. They are far too often treated as one and the same. I felt strongly that they were different. But, above and beyond understanding the difference, I wanted a modern application. I wanted to know how we might make a graven image in our lives–unwittingly. As I continued to study Exodus (and not for the first time, mind you), ideas came to mind. But, it wasn’t until I sat down and had a discussion with my eldest son (as he was pondering a very similar question), that we both began to understand the fundamental differences better. This is obvious only one possible interpretation. But, I found it exceedingly reasonable, and relevant.

I often like to write several pages showing my thought process. But, today, I hope that sharing the brief vlog I posted on my YouTube channel the other day will be a nice change for you all. Enjoy!

When I was younger, I remember getting the idea (whether or not it was actually verbally taught to me that way) that if I kept God’s commandments, life would go fairly smoothly, according to plan, and that I’d have little trouble. I’m quite certain that in some way, some church leader or other said to me, “If you get married in the temple, everything will work out great,” and other such generalizations, when what they likely meant was, “If you keep the commandments, you’ll have the comfort and peace you need to get through all of life’s struggles.” But that’s not how I interpreted whatever it was they did say. I do not fault them. But twenty+ years ago, gospel generalizations were exceedingly common, and they are still more common than they should be today.

Now, realistically, if I’d taken the time to listen to my parents (who I’m fairly certain never taught me any such generalizations), paid closer attention to the examples all around me, measured what I’d heard to my experiences in reading the stories in the scriptures, I would never have allowed such a ridiculous notion to take root in my brain. Does not the story of Job clearly illustrate that the most righteous often suffer the most trial and struggles? To say nothing of Christ. Yet, somehow I failed to grasp the incongruous nature of something I was beginning to believe (and expect) versus what I was actually being exposed to. I was creating a belief framework that wasn’t accurate.

Despite the evidence all around me, I think my youth and youthful blindness allowed me to create an expectation for life and religion based on very cursory, and certainly not realistic, sentiments.

Common Faulty Religious Beliefs and Expectations

Many other such false expectations/beliefs plague many a religious soul. Though we are taught the scriptures and read them, in part, we somehow also fail to miss the fact that everyone the Lord calls to help Him is flawed, often has to repent, and often makes mistakes. We get the idea that God’s people, or at least minimally the leadership, are flawless and know and understand everything. We may also get the idea that since God has all the answers He will give them to us (and to church leadership) without any effort or seeking on our part (or their part). We believe, incorrectly, that we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge simply because He has it.

We may get the idea that the people that go to church and sit so neatly dressed in the pews never have problems. We may assume that those who seem to be most spiritually and doctrinally in tune have never made grave mistakes. We may form the incorrect notion that at a certain age doctrinal wisdom and ease of keeping the commandments will simply happen to us. We may form the silly idea that after a certain amount of time or trials that we will arrive spiritually and not have to work at it anymore. We may assume that studying the scriptures is something we have done (past tense) and that moving forward we will retain all the power and doctrine it once imparted to us. We may think that serving a mission will ensure we never fall away from the truth. We may assume that getting married in the temple will ensure we never divorce. We may think…and expect…many incorrect and false things that never have been true and never will be. But, for a time, we feel they are.

Coping Frameworks

When we have an expectation we then often naturally form a psychological coping framework. This framework is a system of relating to our environment that we lean upon. We use it to make sense of our world. It defines how we relate to our family, friends, acquaintances, members, non-members, kids, co-workers, etc. It defines how we approach, plan, and execute our lives. We expect things to happen a certain way or to exist in a specific way. And thus we define our lives around these expectations (whether false or true).

The foundation of our coping framework is the expectation or belief. This foundation may or may not be solid (or true). If our expectation or belief is untrue, and ultimately weak or unstable, then it will eventually crumble. It cannot stand because it is not true.

For example, when we get married we make the assumption that our spouse has committed to us and therefore will remain faithful to us. We may expect some troubles, but that covenant and commitment creates a safety net around our fears. We stop worrying that we may lose someone. We begin to form even more specified frameworks around the larger one. We begin to develop natural ways of communicating with our committed spouse. We learn how to compromise and live with this other individual. We develop a framework for juggling work, hobbies, and other pursuits in relation to this larger marriage framework. And, we base our framework on a fixed picture of our life. It does not usually have a lot of room for change. When changes happen, we have to break down pieces of our coping frameworks and replace them with new ones.

Imagine now that your spouse cheats on you and/or asks for an unexpected divorce when you thought everything was reasonably okay, or at least workable. This causes a complete demolition of your main coping framework. Your belief that marriage would ensure a commitment, that you wouldn’t lose this person from your life, has been completely demolished (from the foundation). Nothing in your life is left standing (or at least that’s how it feels), because you developed all of your other coping frameworks on top of and around this main one. It changes how you relate to your friends and family. It changes how you relate to romantic relationships. It changes (or has the potential to change) every other framework, because it is such a fundamental one.

When a framework is demolished, we lose the ability to trust ourselves, our environment, and others. Everything we thought we once knew (about ourselves, love, relationships, marriage, and this other person) is thrown into question. “Did he/she ever love me?” “Am I lovable?” “What did I do to make them stop loving me?” “Where did I go wrong?” “Is love a real thing?” “Is what I thought was love actually something else?”

The list of questions is endless. The reality is that very little has actually changed, but because our foundational expectations have been thrown out the window…expectations built upon false ideas…we begin to think everything is false. We begin to doubt everything because something we thought was true, or expected to be true, has ended up to not be true. This, is how a crisis of faith begins. Our false expectations and beliefs are NOT sufficient to withstand the drastic change because they were never correct to begin with.

When our foundational expectations and beliefs are true, drastic changes will certainly impact us deeply, and we’ll have struggles; but rarely does it result in a crisis of faith because our entire framework has not crumbled. Only some pieces of it waver, but not the solid, strong, bottom foundation.

Asian man and woman playing wood jenga game.

Crisis of Faith

A crisis of faith happens when something we thought was true appears to not be true for a time, or fails to be true, thus throwing into question our coping frameworks. And religious frameworks are incredibly foundational to personal identity, morality, goals, etc. When they seem to falter, we lose trust in past true experiences. We lose trust in our ability to tell what is true and what is false. We lose trust in others who may have influenced our beliefs, and so forth. We may often get angry at, denounce, or lose trust in God.

Religion, which is such a powerful, fundamental feeling and belief system, is particularly prone to what we call crises of faith. But, it usually has little to do with the actual religion itself and its doctrines, and far more with our incorrect perceptions, beliefs, and expectations formed in previous years or passed onto us incorrectly by other church-goers whom we have trusted. The doctrine itself is usually not the actual culprit. Sadly, it’s us. We have formed an incorrect expectation or belief in our minds and when it proves incorrect, and our coping framework crumbles, we no longer know what to do. We no longer know how to cope or relate to our world.

Crises of faith can also be caused by our own actions, or by mortality and mortal weakness itself. We stray morally and end up in a situation we never saw ourselves in. Our framework hadn’t planned for it. A natural disaster wipes out our home or brings death into our family. Another person(s) who we have had absolute trust and vulnerability with betrays us. We may begin to struggle with desires and inclinations that we never planned on having that have crumbled our spiritual/life “plans.” Suddenly, life is turned on its head and we, in spiritual vertigo, can’t seem to find right-side-up.

How to Get Through a Crisis of Faith

I wouldn’t have said this twenty years ago. But, now, I can. A crisis of faith is a good thing. Yes, a good thing. Why? Because it gives us a chance to correct our fundamental beliefs and expectations. It helps us to fix what is actually preventing us from spiritual progression. If we never come to a crisis, then we will never have the impetus to learn what we need to get straightened out so that we can become more like God and to understand His plan better. If we never came to a crisis, then we could never create a solid foundation upon which to endure all that life throws at us. We would simply continue to struggle, suffer, and drop into despair. We need such a crisis to fix our foundation.

We need not feel sheepish, ashamed, or even guilty at having a crisis of faith. We should own our crisis. “Hey, I’m in a crisis of faith right now!” We need to tell God about it. Not because He doesn’t already know, but because when we approach Him with it, He can comfort us, give us peace, and help us to feel loved even as we are still trying to put ourselves back together.

Once we own our crisis, we need to figure out what fundamental expectations/beliefs we have that have been turned on their head. What did we believe about God that has proven temporarily, or most certainly, to be untrue—or minimally that we have failed to understand correctly? What did we believe about members of the church that has proven temporarily, or certainly, to be untrue—or that we have failed to understand correctly? Church leadership? A certain prophet? The scriptures? Our family? A particular person in our lives? Temple covenants? Our weakness? Etc. ( I certainly cannot list them all.)

Remember, the crisis of faith serves a purpose. Its purpose is for you to correct, ultimately change, and strengthen your coping framework. Its purpose is to help you find the truth that you’re missing that’s ultimately preventing you from becoming like God, from spiritually progressing. It is a necessary piece of your spiritual journey. It is a spiritual mountain you have to climb before you can press onward.

After you identify the expectation/beliefs that have contributed to this crumbling of your critical coping framework, you can at last begin the healing process—the process of putting yourself back together—and creating a solid, firm, foundation. Seeking God, and using His process of finding truth, you can begin to re-evaluate your expectations and beliefs. You can heal what has previously alluded you and weakened your coping frameworks. You can assess the truth you’ve always known that’s still true and replace what you falsely believed with the correct knowledge. Truth is light and light chases away darkness (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23-25). I know it’s cliché, but the truth will set you free.

Don’t Abandon Anything Until You Know What to Abandon

Now, when we’re afraid and our life appears to be in complete disarray, there is a tendency to want to abandon everything and rebuild from scratch. With few exceptions, this is an incredibly unwise thing to do. If it’s only the plumbing infrastructure on your house that needs revamping, it makes little sense to take a wrecking ball to the entire edifice. The mental, emotional, spiritual, and mental cost does not heal the crisis damage, and will likely only make it worse. If it’s only one relationship that needs salvation or pruning, it makes little sense to burn the bridges all around you to everyone else. If it’s only one truth that you twisted, it makes little sense to discard all truth, simply because you’re afraid an in panic. Rash actions nearly always create more pain than peace.

Spiritual suicide is hardly more practical than physical suicide. To metaphorically slit your wrists and spiritually die in a dramatic display will no more help you than actual death. And trust me, I know how it feels to wish you could die—literally. But, the reality is, that feeling passes. You feel like you want to die only because you’ve put your trust and faith in false doctrines and you feel stupid, foolish. None of us like to feel the fool. But remember, your life is in shambles not because you’ve failed, but because at last you’ve come to a crossroads and a loving God wants you to build with a solid foundation.

You don’t need to divorce everything in your life in order to rebuild anew. You need to visit each piece of your life and belief systems, one at a time, and carefully educate yourself on where the incorrect expectations and beliefs are. Many of our false religious beliefs/expectations are interconnected with other very true ones. We must carefully extract the “spiritual tumors” from the very good spiritual tissue.

The reality is that most of what we feel to be true and have focused our life on is true. We need to realize that. If a few misunderstandings and false beliefs led us to places and problems we now feel ridiculous about or concerned about, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up. We should be grateful that this crossroads has finally come. We finally get to set ourselves straight and have a greater capacity to have joy, happiness, and peace in the future ahead of us.

So, here are the steps to getting through your crisis of faith:

  1. Own your crisis of faith
  2. Take your crisis of faith to God
  3. Remember the purpose of a crisis of faith is to replace false beliefs/expectations with true ones
  4. Identify the false beliefs/expectations that led to your crisis of faith
  5. Don’t abandon anything until you have carefully found the “spiritual tumors” and know what to let go
  6. Use God’s process for truth seeking to replace your false beliefs/expectations with true ones

Conclusion

God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Mormon 9:9). His truths never change. His doctrines never change. The only change is in us, or in the way we hear, learn, or interpret His truths. Others may unwittingly lead us astray. We may fail to give heed and to truly listen or observe truth. In the end, it matters very little where the inconsistencies, misbeliefs, and incorrect expectations originated. What truly matters, in the end, is if we use our crisis of faith to build a coping framework whose foundations are unshakeable. We do that by building upon true doctrine, true beliefs, and accurate expectations.

A crisis of faith is a good thing. It’s the beginning of a new day, a stronger foundation, and a life full of peace and joy.

 

Spirituality. It is a powerful thing. It’s the unspoken creator of faith and hope within us. It’s as much a power as any emotion and just as difficult to interpret and make sense of at times. It battles against our natural, human form, and yet thrives by our humanity as well. It seems on any given day we’d be happy to live without our spiritual selves, and yet try as we might, we also can’t abide to part with it. It’s a relationship between two pieces of ourselves that are either at war, in flux, or symbiotic. It’s a relationship with God.

I’ll say it again. Spirituality is a relationship between two pieces of ourselves. And, it’s a relationship with God. That’s two deeply internal and inescapable relationships.

And guess what…relationships are scary.

Spirituality and Fear

It makes perfect sense that at some point in our lives we all are afraid of being spiritual to some extent. Whether we’re a youth worried that by becoming spiritual we’ll miss out on all the fun or an adult worried that by becoming spiritual we’ll have to make uncomfortable changes and add new commitments to our lives. Whether we’re a teenager who fears being too spiritual and left out of the popular crowd or an adult who doubts the reality of God’s promises and the risk of trusting in them. We’re all afraid of embracing something within ourselves that seems to be unknown, and therefore might be untrustworthy. We’re afraid of what we can’t see. We want, and need, reassurance and security.

There are, in fact, many reasons to fear these two deep relationships within us that are incredibly personal and which, try as we might, we can’t ignore nor forget. But, before we can get down to the reasons we fear spirituality and how to overcome that fear, we must first define spirituality and fear.

Spirituality

What does it mean to be spiritual? It means to be focused on things that relate to, consist of, or that affect the spirit…or something that we consider to be intangible, though very real, within us and also outside of us. It means to be interested in things related to our spirit, to be concerned with religious and sacred matters, and to wonder how all aspects of our lives are related or joined to our spirit (see definition of SPIRITUAL at Merriam-Webster Online) and God.

Or, in other words, to be spiritual means to embrace one’s spirituality—to be concerned with the life of one’s spirit as much as with one’s physical body, recognizing that they impact and affect each other. To be spiritual means to be concerned with one’s soul (spirit + body) and one’s relationship to God.

True spirituality, then, might be construed as the actual level, or dedication, of our concern, interest, and occupation with your spirit, or spiritual things. Because we are all part spirit, it is hard to deny for any extended period of time that an intangible part of ourselves exists. We may call it different things based on our beliefs or philosophies, but it all points back to the same idea. We are more than just a physical being.

Scripturally, we understand that we are eternal beings, intelligence that has been literally borne spiritually (spiritually organized) by a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother (Abraham 3:21-22) through a deliberate creative process. When borne on earth to mortal parents, our eternal spirit becomes housed in a mortal shell. Thus, the level of devotion we pay to this spiritual interest is what I would term our spirituality.

Fear

Fear, defined, is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, and likely to cause us pain, or to be a threat to our person. Fear, in this context, is not reverence or respect (as when we refer to fear of God), it’s dread, anxiety, unease, apprehension, alarm, panic, agitation, worry, terror, confusion, and fright.

Fear is something that we learn from our earliest years. It’s a protection mechanism built into our physical, involuntary biological response systems. It’s naturally there (and chemically there) to protect us from harm; to tell us when to run, when to get out, what to avoid, and so forth. Fear is increased by negative experience and deepened by traumatic events and experiences in our lives.

How we respond to fear usually ends up being to fight, to run, or to avoid something. And unless a relationship is abusive (physically, sexually, emotionally, or verbally), running from it, fighting against it, and avoiding it can be far more detrimental to our ultimate well-being in the long-run than any mild struggles we may endure through in the short-term.

As fundamental as it is to fear, it is equally fundamental to seek relationships: romances, friendships, families, and even a connection with God. We have to learn to see that simply because a relationship is hard, or requires effort, or causes us discouragement or hurt on occasion, that this is not necessarily an indication that we would be better off without the relationship—even though our fear may try to lead us to believe so, in the moment of struggle.

Fear is Detrimental to Spirituality Because it Veils Truth

If spirituality is centered in us, and in God, (remember the two relationships) then fear of spirituality will lead us to do one of three things. We will fight against ourselves and God, we will run from ourselves and from God, or we will avoid ourselves and God. In this state of dissociation from ourselves, (and from God) we are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness (Mosiah 3:19, Alma 40:10). We are unhappy because we can never be totally honest with ourselves and thus we can never work on the relationship between our physical body and our spirit. We are also not peaceful because we cannot totally embrace God and thus we fail to commit totally to Him, meaning we cannot come to know Him or come to trust Him—leading to a continuing state of fear of our relationship with Him.

Fear is ultimately a veil to truth which is a defining purpose of spirituality. According to an article I read titled How Fear Blocks Spiritual Development, “fear blocks not just spiritual perceptions…but also, as modern neuroscientists demonstrate, everyday clear thought.” When we’re afraid, we can’t think straight (“we can’t remember a phone number or even how to tie our shoe”). That’s the gist. We can’t think straight at work, we can’t think straight in a conversation, and we certainly struggle to think straight regarding spiritual matters. The article goes on to say, “Fear is a veil to spiritual perception and basic psychological balance because it literally distorts perception… But also because fear is one of the main agents of psychological indoctrination (brainwashing), as he, she, who, or it that makes you fearful, controls your mind.”

When we are afraid, beliefs can be easily implanted; some of which may be massively destructive (and completely untrue)” (ibid.). Fear is the great brainwashing tool of evil and we often use it on ourselves, unwittingly, to protect ourselves against, or to avoid, perceived pain, possible danger, and possible threats. In other words, fear allows us to lie to ourselves and to ignore truth, hide it, or dissociate from it altogether (meaning we don’t see a need to apply it to ourselves because we are outside of it).

Our fear, however, is difficult to control. It’s hard to tackle that relationship between the two parts of ourselves and especially the eons-old relationship our spirit has with God, when life experience has implanted falsehoods in our minds. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), as well as other common trust issues, condition all of us—through fear—to mistrust even the most basic agreements, promises, relationships, and covenants.

Fears Relating to and Regarding Spirituality and a Relationship with God

So, what are the common fears that keep us all from increasing our level of spirituality? What holds us back from repairing the relationship with ourselves and with God? It took me a while to generate this list, with help from discussing it with my brilliant husband. However, it in no way encapsulates all possible fears. And, it may provide the right title for your fear, but not necessarily the most accurate description. Or, vice versa. Either way, see past the suggestions and use them to identify what your spiritual fears actually are. Write them down! And then ponder the matter that follows in your efforts to overcome those fears.

  1. Fear of FailureNobody likes to engage in something they believe, or fear, they will fail at. If we have a deep-seeded fear that we will fail at a relationship with God, that it’s almost certain that there’s no chance of us succeeding, then the barrier to beginning such a relationship is huge. This fear is likely based off long-ago experiences where we made a commitment to follow Him and failed miserably (in our own mind). It may be based off failed romantic relationships that have hurt us terribly and conditioned us to believe we are incapable of any type of long-term relationship—that we can’t trust anyone. We may have struggles with relationships in our families or with close friends. Our record may convince us that we are incapable of succeeding, thus, we fear to try yet again. (See blog post Perfection vs. Sanctification)
  2. Fear of “Not Being Cut Out to be Spiritual” – Sometimes we look at others and it seems that spirituality comes easy for them. It seems to be a talent. They seem to be able to be super-righteous with little effort. “Seem” is the key word. Thus, based on our fear, what seems to be accurate is likely not true at all. Thus, based on what we perceive, we assume that, in general, some people are cut out to be spiritual and we fear we may not be. We certainly desire it (to some extent), but our fear that we may not ever able to be what we visually see from others leaves us doubtful that we can do it. We are afraid to try only to find out we are that odd percentage (%) somewhere that can’t accomplish it. (see blog posts Three Steps to Helping the Gospel FEEL Possible, The Gospel Only Seems Impossible IF, What Does it Mean to be Active in the Church?)
  3. Fear of Judgment – Nobody likes to be judged. And, when we are afraid we tend to feel a sense of ego-centrism and paranoia (not unlike an awkward teenager). Will people notice we’re “coming back to church?” If so, what will they say? Will they welcome us? Will they judge us? Will they lecture us? Will they gossip about us? Will they ignore us? Will we be all alone? Will anyone help us kindly and accept us as we are… “a work in progress?” The fear of what others thinks keeps many people from God, when what people think has little to do with their relationship with Him.
  4. Fear of God Being More Condemning than Loving – Most of us don’t like being a disappointment. Most of us don’t like having to depend upon anyone else for help. Most of us try to avoid receiving charity. I’m fairly certain the vast majority don’t like to be yelled at, chastised, or reminded of their sins or faults. We simply know (for the most part) where we’ve screwed up, what we’re weak at, and we worry that re-kindling a relationship with God will include Him drumming up the past and making us shrink before Him. We doubt God will show us mercy and thus we avoid a reunion with Him.
  5. Fear of Losing Control – Some of us like being in control. Probably too much. The idea of vulnerability to anyone, let alone God, grips us with crippling fear. Either vulnerability has burned us in the past (with family, friends, or other relationships), or we simply have the type of personality that craves control. And, as a relationship with God requires spiritual, emotional, and mental vulnerability, many of us avoid it by keeping a discreet distance. We love God at a distance and try to keep control of our lives. We want to approach His commands and His covenants our way and not His. Thus, we never approach them close enough to actually enter into them and embrace them. We are afraid that if God gets the reigns we will lose power to create happiness in our lives, because we somehow feel that losing control will mean almost certain unhappiness, like a cage. We don’t want to be trapped in His will, only in our own.
  6. Fear of Self-Discovery and Dependence – Most of us have an idea of who we are and what we want to become. We have an idea of how we should get there. We have a picture of ourselves, our life, our talents, our wants, our needs, etc. We have a deep need to arrive at this future location “on our own,” independent of anyone—including God. We also have a deep-seeded need to prove to ourselves that we can achieve this vision we have of ourselves “on our own.” We want to prove it to others too. We want to prove it to God. This is a form of pride and self-sufficiency, but it is based in the fear of discovering we can’t do it alone. Others may have failed us in the past, or it may simply be a personality trait. But, we don’t want to discover that we can’t succeed without help. We want the glory of our success to be ours and ours alone—even though we may not think that or say it verbally, it drives all that we do. We want credit. We want acknowledgment. Thus, we stay away from spirituality and coming to know ourselves and God better, because anytime we have tried to do so we have been shown or taught that we have to depend upon Him. We start to see more clearly our weaknesses, and we shrink, wanting to prove we can make those weaknesses strengths before coming back to spirituality and its uncomfortably revealing nature. We don’t want to be dependent. We don’t want to know the extent of our dependence on God, either. We fear it..
  7. Fear of Change – Change of any kind is difficult. It’s not as simple as some people make it sound. Change requires a change in our day-to-day coping framework. Because each of us finds ways to cope with life and thus we create a framework for how to live, work, study, interact, etc. in ways that keep us safe from danger, threat, and pain. Change throws this framework into imbalance. It often collapses the entire thing. That, in and of itself, creates panic and fear. We may know that screaming and yelling every time we’re upset isn’t the best thing, but we have done it for so long that figuring out how to replace it—successfully—is frightening. We are afraid to take a wrecking ball to our framework because we don’t know how to rebuild it, and we are afraid to let God rebuild it with the unknown.

Overcoming the Fear of Spirituality

Cultivate More Love for Yourself and for God

I’m not sure there is a perfect prescription for overcoming the fear of spirituality. We all come by our fears differently (as explained above). Traumas and life experiences create incredibly powerful psychological and emotional barriers to opening ourselves up to ourselves and to God. But, since the atonement has (“past tense”) overcome even those barriers which we bump against day-to-day, it can be done. The atonement is all about love. The atonement of Jesus Christ came about by the love of God, Our Father, and the love of Christ (St. John 3:16). The love of God casts out all fear through overcoming spiritual death (separation from God) and physical death (all physical, mental, emotional, and psychological infirmity, deformity, and death).

Thus, the best answer for overcoming any fear is an increase in love: love of God, love of family, love of ourselves. Ultimately, we must come to love more than we fear. Our desire to love and our efforts to love must override any other struggles or fears. And ultimately, we must come to understand that if we love God, and try to love Him in return, there is nothing man can do (2 Nephi 12:22, Doctrine and Covenants 3:7-8), nor this world either, that hasn’t already been paid for and fixed eternally. Nothing that can happen to us will ever be permanent, except the state of our spirituality which is directly related to our free will and how we choose to exercise it.

The scriptures teach that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18, Moroni 8:16).

How do you increase your capacity to love? The answer to that is in the scriptures and prophetic counsel. Visit scriptures.lds.org and search “love” and study what you find. God will teach you how to increase your love.

Prove God and Yourself through Experimenting

If trust is your issue, then I can say that there is no way to gain evidence for God’s trustability (or your own, if that’s your fear) without putting yourself and Him to the test. “Prove Him” to see whether or not He will keep His word (Malachi 3:10) despite your fears. Prove Him to see whether or not you can trust Him. “Prove yourself” to see whether or not you can keep your covenant. Then, if you can, act in faith on that slow and tentative trust. “Nourish the seed” that has so far been good (Alma 32:26-43). Do not let your fear send you running. Don’t abandon the tiny plant you’ve cultivated so delicately. Do not abandon ship simply because a storm arises and you’re afraid it will sink. It’s far more dangerous in the tumultuous waters than in a boat that you’ve been promised will withstand the storm. Don’t let fear distort your perception of spiritual reality. Stay in the boat. Continue in faith and pray for God to “help your unbelief” and struggling faith (Mark 9:24).

It would be nice if I could promise each and every one of you that you’ll have an overnight rebirth. That after a few tries trusting God and seeing Him keep His word that you’ll be cured of your fear. But, I’m afraid it simply isn’t that easy. For your trust in yourself and in God to continue to grow, it will have to be tested. And, at some point you’ll have to give your heart and commit even though you don’t know how the future will turn out. That’s how relationships work. You’ll have to decide to be faithful to your relationship with Him despite your fears, trusting (or at least hoping) that He’ll give you the power to get through these faith/trust-testing experiences. You will never get to see the end from your current spot on the road to God. You’ll only get the assurance of His support as you walk with Him, learn of Him, and practice trusting Him (and yourself). The path will only build up more trust and love as you continue to walk it. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is no simple gift. It is the gift that God gives you to constantly communicate His love and His reassurance as you wait, patiently, for all His promises to be fulfilled.

Seek Godly Power through Ordinances and Covenants

If your intent is sincere, then I have good news for those whose greatest fears are regarding their own deficiencies and inabilities to rise to the level of spirituality they dream about. Something very few Christians understand is that God’s power is freely given through His ordinances and covenants. All of God’s power isn’t given at baptism. Even the Gift of the Holy Ghost gets “major updates” and increased strength to work with us as we continue to receive more ordinances and to make and try to keep more covenants. In fact, the types of things the Holy Spirit teaches us and prompts us to do increases in frequency and scope with every covenant and ordinance we accept. The power, confidence, love, and certainty we feel increases exponentially with every ordinance embraced and every covenant committed to with a sincere heart. You can’t imagine what the power feels like until you accept the ordinance and make the covenant. Power, guidance, spiritual gifts, and more await us with each level of spirituality we embrace with a sincere heart.

If you need more power and confidence, then making and keeping covenants is how you get it. In fact, it will never work the other way around. We don’t get the power we desire before making and keeping a covenant. We don’t get the proof and the reassurance before committing ourselves. We get it after making and trying sincerely for a while to keep the covenant (Ether 12:6-7). We take the leap of faith and God increases our trust in Him and strengthens our faith to become godly after we make commitments to Him. This is how He proves Himself and helps us prove ourselves to ourselves.

Avoid Spiritual Infidelity

When we are afraid or disappointed in a relationship, we tend to go running to others to gossip about our frustrations and to get our egos built up. We look for validation for our fears and justification to sever the relationship. We want to get out before we get hurt. Because when we feel hurt, our instincts tell us to run. Yet, with few exceptions, this is damaging to any relationship.

Thus, if we have a problem with ourselves or with God, we’ve got to have those difficult conversations with Him. If we have doubts. We need to address them to Him. If we don’t know how to fulfill our end of the covenant, we need to go to God. We need to ponder, reason, and talk with our own mind. We need to keep our covenants and look for ways to overcome our fears and save the relationship rather than to jump to conclusions and let fear send us running yet again. A long path of abandoned people, relationships, and covenants will not make us happier than gaining accord and security within an imperfect, ultimately good, but struggling one (with a few exceptions, of course to be noted later on).

Years back, when I went through a heart-wrenching divorce, I had a lot of questions about God, women, and covenants. I had thought I understood love. I had thought I understood the atonement. I had thought I understood how God saw and loved women. But, all those beliefs were tested heavily against the fears that broke upon me. I was eventually called to teach early morning seminary during these difficult years in the aftermath of my divorce, and I was forced to visit all of these topics, and other difficult, faith-testing topics one-by-one. I had to search them out, talk with God, and strengthen my relationship with Him.

In the darkest, most fearful years of my life, I took my concerns about God to Him. I searched and sought and talked to Him about all my anger, my fears, and my complaints. With hope mixed with fear I followed His prescriptions for finding reliable answers. I asked why and He answered—every time. And, He led me every step of the way to understand my fears and to silence them. Yes, it took time. But real healing does. He taught me about Him. And, as I learned about Him and gained increased faith in my relationship to Him, all of my fears were quenched. I gained a confidence I had never had, a certainty. I gained strength beyond what I’d ever experienced before. I had never felt so confident in God’s plan, His love, and my place within it. I had never felt so willing to leap into the unknown because I KNEW, no matter what, God had it covered. My unshakeable faith in Him, my love for Him, silenced all my fears. He allowed me to let go of so much while simultaneously gaining love, power, and trust in inordinate amounts.

Get Counseling

Some fears are severe and caused (as noted above) by horrible, traumatic experiences. While God can overcome all, He has often provided many tools for us to use in order to help us along until that future day when they will be healed in perpetuity. He won’t usually fix something with only a simple prayer that we can work to fix—to an extent—by seeking professional help. God won’t completely restore an amputated leg (in this life) any more than he will completely restore a severely injured psyche. But, He can provide spiritual, emotional, and mental prosthetics that will get us through and help us to function, even to thrive, almost normally, until a complete future healing takes place (the resurrection).

In other words, don’t expect only your desire to be healed to be sufficient. Prayers are critical. But they cannot be our only outlet for healing. God has blessed our modern society with nearly all the tools sufficient to strengthen our weaknesses until He can fix them eternally. He has revealed these tools in anticipation of our needs. They are as much from Him as the comfort and power we receive through prayer. He expects us to make use of them.

Within our means and reasonable research, we should (without any doubt) seek out well-qualified and trusted professionals who specialize in our specific mental and emotional struggles. Then, combined with prayer and pondering, we should use these professionals to help us conquer our trauma that the rest of our efforts can be successful and effective—as God would have them be.

Conclusion

I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. But, God does. If we can push through our fears (whatever they may be and however they came into being) and find ways to increase our ability to love ourselves and God, we will see progress—more than we’d expect or believe. If we will take yet another leap of faith, accept ordinances and make and try to keep covenants, God will prove us and Himself. Our trust in Him (and ourselves) will grow. He will grant us more power after we take these leaps and we will recognize it and feel it. We will gain confidence because we will know He is with us.

If we will avoid running at the first sign of possible, or perceived, trouble. If we will give our heart and our commitment to Him and ride out the storms, we will gain the evidence and proof we need to continue forward to discover the perfection and reliability of God and our relationship with Him. If we will avoid seeking out others to fix our spiritual relationship troubles, and instead go to the source—God—He will help us get to know Him and to strengthen our relationship with Him in ways we can’t now imagine. If we will do what it takes to learn about Him we will not be disappointed in what we find.

As a final note, it’s important not to compare our relationship with God to the relationship God has to others. We are each so very unique and different. God knows us better than we could ever know ourselves. Some people will get things from God differently than we will get them. God will talk to others differently than He talks to us. The certainty is that He loves us all and will talk to, teach, guide, forgive, and bless all of us. The sooner we stop comparing and come to understand the ways in which God works with us, the happier, more peaceful, and less afraid we will be.

BT

Ministering—it’s a word that, thankfully, most of us don’t use very often and so we can’t attach a sudden meaning to it other than a sense of service or religious work. It’s a word we have to think about, ponder, and look up. And, through the revelation of a prophet, this is what members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now do instead of home teaching and visiting teaching.

From what Elder Holland and Sister Bingham taught in their messages, we know the Lord is asking us to drop our Law of Moses approach to what should have always been an act of ministering, but had traditionally become an item to check off a list and document in percentages. For so long, always wanting a measurable way to know if we’ve done our part, as a church, we’ve sometimes turned visiting teaching and home teaching into a numbers game. We’ve frequently made it about us, about checking it off a list, about a way to measure our activity in the Gospel. Well, it’s to be that way no more. God is raising the bar, slowly, for all of us.

The phrase that stuck out to me as this historical organizational change was preached is, “It will not be about you, but about them.”

Ministering is About Following the Spirit

Ministering is not about a checklist or a line to avoid stepping across. It’s first and foremost about learning to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Think of late President Monson. No man ministered more than he and the key to his ministering was following the promptings of the Spirit. Following the Spirit was more important to him than anything else, and it was this spiritual strength that he had that we applauded so much. He was a Christlike example of ministering.

If you google the word “ministering” (verb) you get the following definitions:

  • Attend to the needs of someone
  • Provide something necessary or helpful
  • Act as a minister of religion, meaning to: tend to, care for, take care of, look after, nurse, treat, attend to, see to, help, and assist

Ministering means, more or less, to be a servant.  And, in our case, we need to be inspired servants.

We can’t attend to needs we are unaware of. We can’t be on call for someone who doesn’t trust us or think of us when they have troubles. We can’t provide necessities and helpful acts of service if we don’t have a foundation of friendship upon which to offer them. We can’t care for look after, attend to, or assist people we know nothing about or whom we know only as distant acquaintances and ward members.

Ministering is a whole new level of service that must come from the heart. No heart. No ministering. It means we can’t coast with a disconnected effort and expect miraculous results. It means we are going to have to “tune in” to the lives of others in a deeper, more honest way, so that the Holy Spirit can guide us on the love they most need and the service that will best touch their lives. We’re going to have to become a great deal less self-concerned and a whole lot more self-less.

Home teaching (HT) and visiting teaching (VT) should have always come from the heart. And, I’m certain that for many people, it did. HT and VT should have been a catalyst for ministering. And, for some it was. My testimony of HT and VT came because of a few examples where I was actually ministered to, not simply visited and taught. I’ve had sisters do things that I needed because they were thinking about me, and worried about me, not checking their visit off a list. Their actions then became lifelines to my desperate soul during desperate times. They saved me. I’ve also had home teachers provide for my family in dire need because they paid attention to our needs, and because they had the means to bless us personally. They didn’t think twice about our want, they simply filled it—anonymously, though we puzzled it out. They didn’t just visit and deliver a message. They paid attention. They ministered.

So my testimony of these callings has always been based on ministering experiences that came because of them, not on the calling itself. I have a strong testimony of ministering.

So again, I repeat the phrase that touched my heart, “It will not be about you, but about them.”

Here is the doctrine of ministering. When we make our service about us, then the Spirit cannot help us. When we make our service about others, then the Spirit can get involved. If our only goal is to check something off a list and say we got it done and comfort ourselves regarding our own righteousness, then the Spirit is handicapped in His ability to inspire us how to minister to others. But, if our goal is to do anything, whatever another may need in any way, and we focus our time and energies on discovering those things, the focus drops from us and moves to those for whom we are to minister. Suddenly, the Spirit can work with us and get involved.

(Interesting that we were reminded a great deal about how to learn from and access the gift of the Holy Ghost during this conference. Not a coincidence, I think.)

ministering1

Ministering is About Flexibility and Consecration

In a very literal Sermon-on-the-Mount-type addresses, God told us all through a prophet that checking a visit off a list is a lesser law. “Do not even the Publicans so” (Matthew 5:47)? He is asking us, very pointedly, “Lovest thou me?” And, if we answer, “Yes,” then He is saying very pointedly, then, “feed my sheep.” (St. John 21:16-17)

That’s the command. “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And, God isn’t going to give us a one-size-fits-all meal or message.

He isn’t going to tell us how many days to minister. He isn’t going to give us a minimum or maximum on how much love to show or how often to try to touch base. There are no limits to love, are there? God is asking us to love truly from here on out. God is asking us to pray, to ponder, to seek, and to be guided by His Spirit on how to bless the lives of those to whom He gives us stewardship.

Our time, our talents, our resources…everything with which the Lord has blessed us and with which He may bless us…is going to come into play here. I feel that very strongly. Ministering requires meekness (a topic we also learned a great deal about in Conference). Ministering requires a willing heart, and a consecrated heart.

So, what’s the doctrine here? It’s that if we adhere to a rigid idea of what ministering is then we are closed to inspiration and guidance from the Holy Ghost. If we are looking for a checklist, then we are not going to be flexible. We can’t be taught or inspired if we come up with a fixed formula for service and love. We can’t copy others. We must tailor our efforts to the needs of those to whom we are given stewardship. That will always require access to the Holy Spirit and an unlimited ability to be prompted to help in whatever way we are impressed. We can’t close our minds to what might be needed or asked of us.

ministering2

Ministering is About Ultimate Family and Church Unity

And the Lord Called His People Zion because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7:18)

I suspect that this higher law of Ministering is going to require a whole lot more of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that we yet realize. Our goal is not simply to be a little bit better at serving (though that’s a good start and we have to start somewhere). Our goal is to be of one heart and of one mind. Unity in the church is not simply a nice idea. It’s essential as we prepare the earth for the second coming of the Savior. It’s essential as we fulfill the role of our dispensation to take the Gospel to every corner of the earth. It’s critical in our mission to gather Israel.

The church has gone through many changes in the last twenty years. But, note that none of those changes are in fundamental doctrines. The doctrines have never changed. The vast changes are taking place in our application of the fundamental doctrines we espouse. The changes are taking place in how we teach, serve, and build the kingdom. The changes are taking place in small ways as the Lord slowly helps reach a pinnacle of unity that the world has never before seen. We must become more unified to accomplish its mission. And that unification will come as we are all more individually one with Christ.

As a worldwide church, we are better learning how to love the sinner without condoning the sin. We are better learning how to accept people where they are. We are better learning how to hold true to our doctrines without looking down our noses at other religions. We are better learning how to seek out common ground in beliefs with others and finding unity in those common beliefs. We are better learning to understand covenants and promises and how to keep them. We are better learning how to deal with addictions and mental disorders. We are learning to have more charity and to love as Christ commanded us to love… “even as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

The list just keeps going. We ARE getting better…but WE AREN’T THERE YET.

In Doctrine and Covenants it 38:27 says, “I say unto you, be one: and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”

How to Tell if We are Ministering and Not Simply Teaching or List Checking

The Spirit is unrestrained when there is unity. If we would have something to measure ourselves by in this new Ministering challenge, we can measure our success by the amount of unity we achieve in our families, quorums, auxiliaries, groups, branches, wards, stakes, regions, countries, and in the church. The church must stand together, whole and well, if it is to rise to its prophesied stature for these Last Days.

How to Learn How to Minister

Doctrine and Covenants 97:18-21 says, after encouraging the saints to build a temple that the members might be perfected in the understanding of their ministering:

And, now, behold, if Zion (meaning the membership of the church) do these things she shall prosper, and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible. And the nations of the earth shall honor her, and shall say: Surely Zion is the city of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there…

If we want to better understand ministering, we should make ourselves worthy of, and attend the temple frequently. One of its purposes is to help us be perfected in the understanding of our ministering. Just thinking about what we must do to enter the temple and minister for ourselves or for those who are dead tells us a lot. We:

  • Remove the world from our bodies and lives
  • Unify ourselves in dress and appearance that we are not distracted by class, rank, titles, wealth, etc.
  • Meet together in reverence
  • Focus on the eternal salvation and exaltation of ourselves and others
  • Seek personal revelation, guidance, comfort, reassurance, knowledge and confidence in God’s will for us
  • Do for others that which they cannot do for themselves
  • Communicate with love, humility, and reverence
  • Focus on being saviors of others, to do what they cannot do for themselves
  • Focus on eternal family, both ancestors, present family, and our posterity

All of the above are also critical for being worthy and able to receive spiritual guidance as we seek to minister to our brothers and sisters outside of the temple. Simple visits with usually well-meaning and well-thought out messages? A bygone thing. A lesser law, even despite its goodness. Constant personal revelation for ourselves and on behalf of those to whom we are given the stewardship to minister? A higher law, a true Christian law, a celestial law.

The celestial kingdom is governed by the law of Christ. Christ didn’t merely visit and recite a message. Christ ministered. If we would learn to minister, we must study the life of the Savior and seek to emulate Him. We must pray for gifts of the Spirit. We must filter the good and better from our lives and seek only the best. We must rise up and meet the challenges of our day without fear, and with an outpouring of love.

Ministering. Yes, we can do this!

BT

If we can remember that the purpose of prayer is to…

Yes, I left you hanging. Because I want you to ponder as you read this blog not actually on the stages of prayer, but the purpose of prayer…which is manifested in each and every stage of learning to pray. Ask yourself this question for the rest of this blog, “What do I feel the purpose of prayer is? What is the actual purpose of prayer? Am I prepared to accept the purpose of prayer?”

Learning to Pray

I grew up in a home where parents taught me to pray. We prayed as a family over food and as a way to sort of end the day. We tried to pray as a family in the mornings, but I can’t remember, honestly, if we did it consistently. I feel certain we were consistent enough in the evenings that it was daily. We prayed extra sometimes when family members needed it. We fasted and prayed on fast Sundays, and at times did so outside of fast Sundays because we were concerned about family members and health needs.

I don’t remember exactly when I started saying my own, personal prayers. I think because we prayed so often as a family, that like many Christians, I developed a sort of “inner prayer” that was offered at will without the usual prayer formalities. No pretense, just immediate pleas to God. “Help me get home safely,” while walking home from school. “Help me get through this…” if I was having a tough, lonely, or persecuted day. “Help me…Save me…” which is often the most common, informal prayer we all offer. But, I do know I’ve been praying at least once daily since I was 13 or 14.

I do remember the first time I got on my knees to pray to know the Book of Mormon was true. I remember it, because I wasn’t sure if I would get a direct answer. I wasn’t sure how the answer would feel or how it would come. I also remember one very important night at the age of 15 where I knew that if I didn’t say my prayers that I would go down a path in my life that was not what God wanted for me. I said my prayers that night and it changed the course of my life—that I know with certainty.

And you see, prayer is like that. Sometimes it is the thing that changes you. Sometimes it’s the thing you do because you’re supposed to. Sometimes you wonder if it’s doing any good. Sometimes you know for certain that it has saved you, blessed another, guided you, and so forth. The key word here is “sometimes.” But, it doesn’t have to always be sometimes…as I have at last learned.

Stages of Prayer

I don’t claim to have any special knowledge about prayer…other than what I have learned from personal experience. And, I’m still learning. So, in two days, two months, two years, or even two decades, I might add more to this. But, for me, I’ve found that I’ve progressed through what I call “stages” of praying.

  • Rote prayer
  • Rote prayer with additions
  • Formulaic prayer
  • Formulaic prayer with additions
  • Heartfelt prayer
  • Honest prayer

Wrote Prayer

As a child of a religious family, I was taught the basic words of prayer. Now, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don’t actually learn “wrote prayers.” We don’t read from cards or recite directly from the sermon on the mount. But, we learn how to: address God, thank Him for the day, bless us to…, help us to…, close the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

We are often also encouraged to use respectful and sacred personal and possessive pronouns for God, such as: thee, thou, and thy. But, we believe that all sincere prayer is acceptable to God, though we try to learn to use these to remove the casual nature from prayer and raise it up to a loving and respectful address to the Almighty God, our Father in Heaven. We tend to learn, in our religious culture, names for deity such as I’ve already listed: Dear Heavenly Father, Father in Heaven, Gracious Father, Celestial Father, and so forth, which we offer in an attempt to show God love, respect, humility, and honor for His station, as well as to show our personal feelings toward Him.

This is what I mean by rote prayer. This is what I mean by basic prayer. It’s getting the idea of it down. It is not a lesser form of prayer except in its power to effect changes in us. It has beginning power, but not a fullness of power.

Rote Prayer With Additions

Then, as I got older I learned to add in my own variations. I started taking liberty with what blessings I asked for and what help I asked for. But, much of it was still repetitive and wrote, if basically full of good intent. Thus, my prayer began to become more personal. I stopped asking for the same things I’d been hearing others ask for, time and again, and started thinking about what I really hoped for, needed, and wanted. Sometimes in family prayers my parents would whisper suggestions (since I was praying on behalf of the family) to me to ensure I remembered an ill grandparent or a needy ward member.

This is a big step for all of us in the process of getting to an honest prayer. We must begin to consider what is truly in our own hearts. I started thinking about what would effect change in my life. Unfortunately, I was not yet to the stage where I was thinking about what changes God wanted. But, I was thinking about what I wanted and no longer just going about generalities. So, it was a step toward increasing the power of prayer to effect change in me, because I had graduated to thinking deeper.

Formulaic Prayer

At some point in praying, we all begin to realize that we don’t have to do things exactly how others do them. We begin to personalize our lives and our relationship with God. So, in time, while I realized I always began my prayers with, “Dear Heavenly Father,” I noticed that some people said things like, “Dearest Father,” or “Gracious Father in Heaven,” and so forth. It was at that time that I realized that it was important that I begin prayer by addressing God, but that I didn’t have to address Him the same all the time or in the same way others did. I began to ponder “how I saw God,” and wondered just how did I really want to address Him?

I did this with all aspects of prayer. I began to address God how I felt comfortable addressing Him. I tried to thank Him for the things I was grateful for and in the way I wanted instead of using all the same ideas and terms others used, or that were easy to default to. I began pondering exactly what things I needed to ask forgiveness for. The ending of prayer is doctrinal, “In the name of Jesus Christ,” because He is the mediator through whose grace and mercy we access God our Father. So, I didn’t change that. But, I did decide to keep it simple—for myself—as others tended to elongate the name of Christ in dramatic ways. “In the name of Thy Beloved Son, even Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer… amen,” and other lengthy details. Few times did I feel the elongations were necessary. And sometimes I even felt people said them fairly sincerely, but also in a subconscious show of dramatism. This is not to say people can’t do that, I just felt that for me I was satisfied with saying Christ’s name simply. For me that was less dramatic and more true to me, and keeping Christ’s name sacred.

Thus, I had graduated from wrote prayer with additions to a formulaic prayer, where I began to ponder God and my relationship with Him. I began to think about Christ. I began to think about how my prayer reflected what I felt and knew. This was a huge step in increasing the power of prayer in my life; increasing its ability to strengthen my relationship with God and its power to effect change in me—godly change.

Yet, I was still stuck within a formula. Not a bad thing. But, my prayers followed the formula and were limited to that formula: address, thank, seek forgiveness, ask, and end. I found that while praying I often worried about ticking off every box within the formula (to be faithful, of course, and get my blessings) and nearly always used up time trying to thank God sufficiently, ask for forgiveness sufficiently, and remember everyone on my internal list that I needed to pray for, that I was really limited in my prayers. I wasn’t improving at great lengths anymore. I began to feel like I was coasting in my relationship with God and I didn’t know how to reignite my own spiritual progression in this area.

It was time to become doubtful and agnostic about prayer or to graduate to the next stage.

Woman hands praying with a bible in a dark over wooden table

Formulaic Prayer with Additions

From the beginning of my Christian life as a young Mormon, I had learned to follow a formula. And, the problem with a formula is not the formula itself, but how it is understood and applied. As I had become stuck in the doldrums of prayer, it was because I had not yet learned to abandon the formula and to apply what I had learned from following it.

As a writer, you learn that there are rules of style and grammar, etc. But, you also get to a point when you learn enough that you know when to break the rules, when to deviate from the rules of grammar, when to break the rules in the right way because you understand why the rules were given. We must also do this with prayer.

I remember the night I got on my knees in 2007 and was too tired, exhausted, fatigued, depressed, crushed, and barely surviving (emotionally and spiritually) to do the formula. I began with the address and tried to thank God for a few things, and then I simply quit. I didn’t have the energy to follow some ridiculous formula…not that night. I’d had true heartfelt prayers before, or at least pieces of them. But I had always kept to the formula, always reprimanding myself internally, “I can’t just ask, I’ve got to thank first.” “Oops, I forgot to ask forgiveness for…something…I guess I’d better get back on my knees and start again…” and other such thoughts.

That night in 2007 I said nothing, or very little. I began, in my mind, with “Dear Heavenly Father,” and then simply cried straight, sobbing for at least a solid ten minutes. During those minutes of crying desires, needs, hopes, disappointments, and more washed across my mind in waves. I couldn’t verbalize them. I could only think them.

It was during that ten minutes of sobbing, of deviating from the formula, that I had the first, truly deep spiritual guidance from God on what to say in my prayer. I felt His love, but I felt strongly that though I was living a righteous life that I had always lived it in my way and in the order I felt was right. I felt lovingly that I had not ever taken the time to listen to the steps God wanted me to take.

I suppose I could have felt chastised, but I didn’t feel it in the way we tend to feel chastisement from earthly people. It was during the silence following my sobbing that I was inspired to say to God, “Whatever path you want my life to take, that’s the one I’ll take. I’ll do whatever you want me to do. Just show me. Lead me. I’m ready to follow.”

It’s a long story. But God has spent every second since that prayer tearing apart the life I had planned so carefully (and it was a righteous life!) and reconstructing the life He wants for me. His deconstruction process was painful, I admit. But, feeling that I’m in the reconstruction stages, I can testify His dream plan for me is far beyond what I could have ever created for myself.

Now, I’m sure I had said those words in various ways before in many prayers, but I had never meant them the way I did that night. I had never been inspired by the Spirit to say them so purposefully in my prayer. They are the only words I prayed that night. I’m not even sure if I ended, “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” Yet, I know God heard and guided that prayer.

I wish I could say, thereafter, that I deviated from the prayer formula and was guided by the Spirit every time I got on my knees. It didn’t happen that way. And, it was because of me. Though that was the closest I’d ever come to God in prayer, I somehow considered it an exception. “Still gotta do that formula, ‘cause that’s how it’s done,” my mind kept telling me.

So, I did do the formula. But, slowly, I began to shorten my wrote lists and try to listen and feel more in my prayers. Nothing really happened when I did. I’d wait for minutes, trying to keep my mind clear and open. Nothing. No grand experiences. But, I kept trying.

I kept trying because I had been given a taste of how powerful prayer could be in changing me, in giving me pure heavenly direction, in literally altering my eternal spirit in a matter of minutes. Now, that’s power. I’d felt it and I was trying to find a way to recreate it.

Heartfelt Prayer

As my life has progressed, it has been spiritual exhaustion and mental and emotional exhaustion that has led me more and more often, to my knees, with no energy for prayer formulas. I can still say a good formulaic prayer even when I’m physically tired; but sap my spiritual, mental, and emotional strength, and the formula flies out the window. I have to abandon it because my own spirit is so depleted that I simply cannot offer generalities and lists with much sincere intent.

It was during another series of crying, wordless prayers, that it finally occurred to me how ridiculous it was that I thought God wanted my lists instead of my heart. I realized how absurd it was that I thought that God wanted my formula instead of me.

“How would I feel,” I thought, “if all of my family and friends spoke to me in a formula every time they visited and they couldn’t be persuaded to another topic until they’d canvassed a certain one?” “How would my family and friends feel,” I thought, “if all of my own conversation was limited to a certain order; if I had to thank them for at least five things before I could move on to asking their forgiveness on at least five things.” The ridiculous nature of my prayers continued to impact me.

Now, my prayers were not ridiculous, but the way I was offering them was silly. Does God want my thanks? Yes. But, if it comes at the end instead of the beginning and if I focus on one thing I’m truly feeling deeply grateful for that day instead of twenty others that I think I should thank Him for, so much the better. Does God want my repentance? Sure. But He doesn’t want me to grovel and repent of things by beating myself up for issues He already knows I’m working on. He doesn’t want me to tear my day apart and berate myself for every weakness and misstep. I think He’s far more pleased when I ponder in silence for a moment and ask Him, “What could I have truly done better today? What lack I yet in becoming like Thee?” and then letting the loving impressions that come to me be my focus rather than a pre-written, inked piece of sackcloth still dusty with ashes that I howl and mourn with before His throne.

Brace yourself, it was at this time that I began to rearrange the prayer formula. I began with the part that was first in my heart when I hit my knees. I even sometimes didn’t tick off every box. I would end my prayer—sometimes still a little worried—but I would end it when I felt I had said all I had to say and tried not to guilt myself for the pieces I’d skipped.

This was an experiment, see. I was daring to “be me” more and more and stop pretending. And, I began to feel better and better about my prayers. I began to see myself in glimpses and have life-changing thoughts and feelings again. I was beginning to be honest with myself and God and the power of my prayers to effect change in me and bring me closer to God began to grow again. It was more slowly and consistent and for myself, the purpose of prayer finally began to sink deep into my heart. I began to understand.

Honest Prayer

So often we make life, the gospel, scripture study, service (good works), etc. and especially prayer so complex. But, the purpose of all these things is the same purpose for which we are here on this earth.

We didn’t leave heaven to have a vacation. We didn’t come to this earth because God kicked us out. We didn’t come to this earth to figure out if we’re basically good. We didn’t even come here, solely, to get a body (though that was a big part of becoming like God as He has a glorified, resurrected, and perfected body). We certainly didn’t come to live it up.

We came to learn to be godly.

We came to earth to see if we truly wanted to become like God. We came to develop Christlike attributes to a greater extent than we had before, because we had them. We came to overcome personality issues, weaknesses, imperfections, and incorrect lines of thinking that we could not conquer in the heavens. This life, if we choose to allow it, will make us godly (as much as we are capable of in a mortal state). The purpose of prayer is to help us become like God.

  • We don’t pray to change God’s will. We pray to seek God’s will. We pray understand God’s will. We pray for strength to accept God’s will. We pray for help to apply God’s will.
  • We don’t pray to get what we think we want. We pray to learn what it is that will make us most happy. We pray to understand how to find the best that God has to offer us. We pray to align our wants with God’s. We pray to want godly things.
  • We don’t pray to tell God about our day. We pray to review our day with God so that He may inspire, guide, chastise, forgive, and comfort us regarding our day. We pray to better understand our day. We pray for eternal perspective on our day. We pray to learn from our day and understand what God would have us embrace on the morrow to continue the mortal process of learning to become like Him.
  • We don’t pray simply because it’s a commandment (although that’s a good start). We pray to receive grace to change us into godly creatures as we practice being godly by keeping the commandments. We pray for the power of grace to help us keep the commandments and to understand how they help us gain godly attributes. We pray for grace to remove the guilt for our mistakes that we may press forward keeping the commandments with hope and faith. We pray for grace to plan and practice overcoming sins and weaknesses until grace removes the temptations and desires for those sins from us. We pray for power to become godly.

There are so many reasons we pray. But, most of them are not powerful enough to help us to have the kind of experiences we wish to have. Most of them lack the power to bring us closer to God. It is not so much what we pray for but how and why we pray for it.

We are commanded to pray about everything (Alma 34:18-28). We are commanded to pray unceasingly and always (Doctrine and Covenants 10:5 |Doctrine and Covenants 19:38). God wants us talking to Him always. But, not because we can tell Him anything new or that He doesn’t already understand and know. He wants us to pray always that we may come closer to Him through the personal revelation He gives us as we ponder all that we pray about.

The purpose of prayer is to be honest with ourselves. To see ourselves as God sees us. To see our lives as God sees them. To see our future and potential and missions as God sees them. The purpose of prayer is to effect godly change in our lives on a daily basis. When we pray with this as our purpose, then our prayers at last become completely honest.

Formulas and Lists are Training Wheels to be Abandoned for Honesty

Let’s revisit my lists and prayer formulas. As long as I was checking items off a list, I didn’t think about what I was really grateful for. Without thinking, I wasn’t evil, I simply wasn’t open for personal revelation. As long as I was checking items off I thought I was praying with real intent. I wasn’t insincere, but my intent was low on the scale of its power to help me to be honest with myself and God.

In Matthew 6:5-13 Christ gives a formula for prayer. It was never meant to be typed on a card and repeated vainly, and memorized as the perfect prayer. It was never meant to be a fixed element that if we deviated from we were not praying as God intended. It was meant as an example of things we should pray for. It was meant to give us guidance as we pondered our own lives and sought honesty with ourselves.

If we break down “The Lord’s Prayer” into topics of honesty in prayer, it could look something like this:

  • How do you feel about God? Is His name hallowed to you? When you address Him, do you think about your true feelings for Him?
  • Do you want God’s will to run your life, or your own? Do you feel your will is “close enough” to God’s that He should simply let you keep on, keeping on? Do you believe God’s will has the potential to grant you the greatest amount of happiness? Or, do you want to grab all the happiness you feel you deserve in your way and time frame before you give yourself over to God’s will…just in case His will falls short of giving you the happiness you feel you are entitled to?
  • Which of your sins do you feel most prompted to change? Which of your sins do you ignore the most, setting it aside because it’s the one you feel entitled to, or that at the minimum you want to be the last one to let go? Which sins are your favorite, which you believe give you happiness, and you are afraid to trade for God’s plan for you?
  • Who do you struggle to forgive? Why do you struggle to forgive them? Do you really feel that you are entitled to not forgive them while you seek forgiveness of your own sins? What will happen if you honestly let go of worrying about them coming to justice? What will happen to them if you let go of worrying about them coming to justice and giving it over to God?
  • What is your daily bread? What do you do for a living? Is it the job you want? It is the job you think you need to be successful? Is it the job God wants for you? Have you asked God what He wants you to do with your time? Have you sought God’s will on the best way for you to earn your income and still serve Him? Are you willing to make changes in your work to do God’s will and trust Him to “clothe you as He does the lilies of the field?”
  • Do you pretend to not be tempted by something? Do you own up to your faults, weaknesses, and mistakes? Are you able to admit when you’re wrong? Are you able to apologize sincerely to others? What are you tempted by the most? Why does it tempt you? Are you honest with yourself about your possible psychological struggles, issues, and needs? Have you sought ways to meet your needs in a godly way? Do you seek God’s will to help remove and overcome the temptations you have?
  • What talents do you have? What experiences have given you strength? What gifts and blessings have you received over the years? How have you used these talents, experiences, strengths, gifts, and blessings to build up God’s kingdom? Do you feel that your life is a part of His kingdom? Or do you see your life as a separate thing from God’s plan and His kingdom? Where does your life fit in God’s plan, according to you?

If you pondered all of these questions and prayer topics before ever getting on your knees (or while on your knees)

how would your prayer look differently?

would you choose to review with God one or two of these areas rather than all?

would you avoid reviewing a topic for a specific reason?

would it be difficult to honestly talk to God about some of these feelings?

would you be afraid to get on your knees knowing the result would require you to change, and you’re afraid of change?

Conclusion

The stages of prayer are all about us personally discovering the purpose of prayer.

The purpose of prayer is to be honest with ourselves. To see ourselves as God sees us. To see our life as God sees it. To see our future and potential and mission as God sees it. The purpose of prayer is to effect godly change in our lives on a daily basis—honest change. When we pray with this as our purpose, then our prayers at last become completely honest. To me, thus far in my life, honest prayer is the best prayer.

BT

Check out blog: “Meaningful Prayer: The Next Step”

Each of us, who try to serve God and represent Him well, often struggle with many things that God asks us to do either Himself, or through His prophets. These things often include specific commandments or even simply suggested church guidelines. Such as: modesty, the word of wisdom, general good eating and exercise suggestions, limited piercings, not getting tattoos, and many other physical appearance, psychological, and health commandments/guidelines. We have so many good reasons why we should be able to dress, act, and eat how we want. And, the reason why we like our reasons and struggle to follow God’s guidelines is because we see a fence, or a line, in front of us and we don’t understand why it’s there. Yah, people spout reasons, but their reasons somehow never sink that deep.

Your Body is a Temple

So, often we hear the phrase, “Your body is a temple.” And, though we basically get the idea, if we don’t dig deeper, we will still miss the point. More importantly, we will struggle to apply it. Going through the motions of what we call temporal commandments (and guidelines) is okay. But, for most of us if we don’t dig deeper at some point, we will most certainly come to a point where we stop keeping those commandments, stop following those guidelines, and we will struggle to get why they are there at all.

Personal revelation and application come quickly, almost too easily, once we really grasp and understand the WHY, or the doctrine behind any commandment.

So, if you Google the word “temple,” you will basically get the following definition:

A building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the dwelling place, of a god or gods or other objects of religious reverence.

In 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 we learn the following about our body:

  • It is part of the body of Christ, meaning the body of His church and kingdom. It’s not dispensable. No matter it’s function or size, it’s critical to God and His kingdom/church.
  • It is a temple of the Holy Ghost.
  • It does not belong to us, but belongs to Christ.
  • It belongs to Christ because He bought it through His everlasting atonement (Christ bought our body back from justice/sin and death so that it might be resurrected again someday).
  • The purpose of our body is to glorify God.

Applying the Doctrine

If our body is a temple devoted to the worship of God and is a dwelling place for the Holy Ghost, then that changes a lot of things we may choose to do to, or with, or put into, it. If we, individually, are critical to God’s church and kingdom on earth, then our need to be well-functioning members becomes far more important than we thought. If our body is not ours, and belongs to God because He created it and then bought it back through the atonement, then that also has significant implications. How do we treat other people’s property? And, if our body’s purpose is to glorify God, then that opens a whole other topic for study and thought. If it has a designed purpose, then using it otherwise will seem a lot more unsatisfactory and uncomfortable.

But, let’s compare our bodies to actual physical temples. They are everywhere these days.

  • They are in service almost daily, excepting the Sabbath Day and when they are closed for cleaning.
  • They are designed, built, and adorned to draw attention to God.
  • They are not cheaply or shabbily furnished. Great care is taken in “clothing” them both on the inside and outside.
  • They symbolize Christ, the atonement, and God’s plan of salvation in every particular.
  • They are not merely cleaned when they are dirty, they are cleaned before they get dirty to prevent them from becoming dirty.
  • They lead others to God’s highest blessings and covenants
  • While they share godly-designed similarities, they are all different and unique in some way, whether in décor, design, color scheme, and location
  • They help people to look up, or away from their normal day-to-day
  • They are dedicated to God and are used only in His service
  • People must be worthy to participate in temple ordinances (activities involving the temple)

As you read this list, if you had any thoughts, inspirations, twinges of guilt, memories, or other feelings about a certain bullet point, STOP NOW, and write it down. This is personal revelation to you. It is a tiny nudge from the Holy Spirit about something you need to ponder about, pray about, change, learn, and come to understand about your own body.

I could make a million (or probably more) applications from this list above. But my applications don’t matter. It’s yours. Whether your thought seemed apparently unrelated, only related in a minor fashion, or it was dead on with something you read in the list above, it is a nudge from the Holy Spirit.

You may have been prompted to eat better or simply to change the focus of your diet. You may have been nudged to exercise more, differently, or even less. You may have been given reassurance that a part of the word of wisdom you struggle with can be overcome. You may have been prompted about one piece of clothing you wear, or many. You may have been nudged about something you need to repent of. You may have been inspired to make a change in the way you serve God day-to-day in your work, school, career, or home environment. You may have been prompted to change friends, or to reach out to someone. You may have been inspired to teach someone what you have learned about this doctrine. You may have been inspired to repent of, fix, or clarify to another a false doctrine you have taught about the body in the past. You may have been taught something about the cleanliness of your body or home. I could go on and on.

I Was Prompted to Stop Running

Years back, from my freshman year of college on, I ran. I ran long distance from 2 miles to 4 miles. I trained for some trail races. 6 miles or more, most of those were. I ran several 5k races. I eventually (despite many foot issues) made my way up to a half marathon. It was a spiritual experience, make no mistake.

For years and years I ran because I was afraid of getting fat. I ran because I was worried about being attractive. I ran because I was afraid of others (male and female) thinking I didn’t take care of myself. I ran for so many reasons, but none of them was to glorify God or my body in His service.

I ate for many of the same reasons. I was constantly punishing myself, feeling self-conscious, devalued, unattractive. I was rigid with eating certain foods. Then, if I did slip up, I overate terribly. It was a horrible, vicious cycle.

For years I went up and down and up and down and up and down. Weight, self-esteem, self-consciousness. I would think I had arrived. But, I never had. Then, despite my efforts to be what I thought everyone (including myself) wanted me to be, I went through a sad divorce.

It was after this divorce, that I was at the gym one day. I was, as usual, working myself into a healthy sweat while looking around and wishing that I could just have the body that other women had. Then, I could be happy, I thought. But, while I was thinking this, and feeling so down about myself, the thought hit me that this thought process I had was ridiculous. I saw it then for what it was—ingratitude. It was selfishness. It was pride. Others had hurt me, yes. But my own view of myself was my own fault, primarily, and I could fix it.

Before this, I had also began having back trouble. I was having trouble sleeping because of lower back pain. It was an odd pain and I couldn’t explain it. I tried to treat it in different ways (squatting to pick up things, yoga, stretching, core exercises, etc.), but nothing was working. Training for the half-marathon came after my gym experience. It was hard training. I was running all the time. My back got worse. But, I did it. It was such a hard thing. But, it was a personal, psychological, and emotional achievement.

Then, a little while after running that 13.1 miles, I was running one day. I was almost home and looking ahead of me. I never ran with headphones or music. I valued the silence. It helped me think and process life so much faster. So, as I was looking ahead, I began to notice the telephone poles. One pole, in particular, stuck out to me. I didn’t think about how odd that was. I simply focused on the pole. It was coming up quickly in the distance.

As I was focusing on that pole, a very clear thought came to me, “You don’t have to run anymore.” It was such a simple thought, but it came powerfully. So powerfully, that when I got to that pole, I stopped running instantly. And, I’ve never run more than a few hundred feet since. I know without any doubt that God told to stop running. And, willing to finally cast aside my personal struggles and fears, I listened.

These two experiences came together at a point when I needed them. But they taught me so much about the motivation behind my efforts with my body/temple. No matter how justified, my reasons back then for doing all these things were wrong. My past reasoning did not contribute to peace, happiness, or a consistent positive self-esteem. It was only a stretch of miserable years.

Now, I exercise because my body is a temple created to serve God and my family. I exercise as much as I can, when I can, and how I am able to maintain that ability—to serve God and my family. If I have to end my exercise several minutes early to help my kids. I do—without guilt. When I eat poorly for a few days, I don’t drop into a deep depression and get worse or become inordinately rigid to punish myself. I simply make better choices moving forward. Sometimes I’m tempted to eat uber-smart and deprive myself of any fun food. This never makes me peaceful and happy either. There are times when I have come to realize that I need to make changes because my health and fitness and even image are preventing me from serving God and my family. That always provides sufficient motivation to improve—without giving myself a guilt trip. I simply refocus and do better. The result: peace, happiness, and a positive self-esteem.

Christ Bought Our Bodies

Maybe you’d like to say that it’s not fair. You didn’t ask Christ to purchase your body out from under you. But, you did ask Him to do so. The very fact that you are here on this earth means you accepted Christ as your physical and spiritual Savior before you ever came to this world. You jumped into this mortal existence knowingly, even though you can’t remember it. God honored free will in the premortal world. He would never have sent you here had you desired to not enter into it.

So, maybe you want to change your mind. You want to “own yourself,” so you can do what you want without guilt or the need to change. Well, that’s fine and dandy. But, when it comes time for the resurrection and you are the only one who doesn’t get your body back and must remain a spirit forever, like Satan, and are subject to him, then you’ll likely want to recant your statement. But, good news is, you can’t change your mind and you’ll never have to recant. Your body is paid for–past tense. You’ll get it back no matter what you do—all because Christ bought it for you.

The fact that our bodies our not our own is incredibly humbling and significant. Not only did God give our bodies His image, but He ensured that they would be ours for eternity. We can choose to do what we like with them, but the consequences will always follow. We can have joy in our choices for a season, but by and by the end cometh.

When we take the time to realize that we are running around in someone else’s property, it can and should change the way we take care of our bodies. They are on loan for this mortal existence. We cannot escape the “bill” or “payment” that comes due when we damage them during our rental. They will be cleaned up and renewed for our ongoing eternal existence. But how we treat them directly corresponds to our spiritual growth. Our countenance and appearance will affect our spiritual one. We can’t escape that. What we do on the outside, is always to some extent, indicative of our internal emotional, psychological, and spiritual state.

We may be pretty darn good. But, only God can teach us how to best care for the bodies He has given us and simultaneously bought back so that we might eventually keep them forever. He has already provided many obvious and logical guidelines. He has already given us several temporal/physical commandments. It is imperative that each of us turn to Him and seek His will regarding the treatment of our bodies when it comes to the personal details. He cares!

Conclusion

It’s so tempting to do what we do for others. It so tempting to do what we do for our own issues, needs, and pride. It’s so tempting to think that these will provide the sufficient motivation and testimony to provide personal happiness. But, they never do.

It’s tempting to listen to the world’s reasoning for why we should flaunt our bodies, commit them to rigorous diets, draw attention to them, pierce them, mark them, and other physical applications. But their reasoning will never be sufficient to bring us lasting self-worth, self-esteem, or peace. We will bounce from diet to diet, outfit to outfit, and other internal and external fads, in an attempt to find that perfect balance. But, it will always allude us.

It’s tempting to think that our bodies belong to us and that we can do what we want without spiritual consequence. But, they are not ours and as we test this theory, we will eventually come to see that the greatest peace and happiness available to us comes when we learn to see and treat our bodies as temples of God.

We must do what we do for the right reasons. When it comes to our body (inside and out), everything—everything—is about its use as a temple of God, a dwelling place for the Holy Ghost, a tool glorify God and to bring others to Christ (or to not get in their way or distract them with “us.”). There is no other higher, or more fulfilling, purpose. No other motivation will bring us constant, powerful motivation, peace, dignity, and self-esteem. We can’t find happiness, no matter how rigid we are with ourselves, with any other purpose.

If you struggle with standards of modesty, the word of wisdom, piercings, tattoos, certain styles of dress or brands, exercise and eating regimens, eating disorders, getting help for physical issues, accepting help for physical issues, and more, all of your struggles can be answered as you continue to ponder your body as a temple and seek God’s will for you. If you don’t think you struggle with any of these, I challenge you to go to God anyway and seek to know if there is anything He would have you change in the care and treatment of your temple.

This is a powerful doctrine. I challenge to you make it a part of your life.

BT

If I was an investigator of the Jewish church, in Jesus time, and I had as my example Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, I might have been extremely resistant to joining up. The Pharisees certainly never appear to be peaceful and happy. They were judgmental and preoccupied with others, rather than themselves—in a negative way. I certainly would not have been willing to count my steps on Sundays or avoid pork simply because some God commanded it if…their sour-faced life was the result.

I sometimes can’t figure out why the Pharisees stayed converted to their own version (because it was certainly of their creation) of Judaism. The only thing I can determine is that they stayed faithful out of fear. And, it was fear they passed on to others. Fear of breaking a commandment. So much did fear guide their actions that they passed it on to others—judgmentally. Everyone was doomed in their eyes…even Christ.

And, because the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes led the religion, (and their principles), it was dying out. Israel had been conquered and scattered and would have continued to dwindle had not Christ come to fulfill the law and restore the truths that had been lost. Fear does not convert people to God. It only keeps them afraid. And obeying out of fear, ultimately, cannot produce salvation.

So, why do people choose a religion? Why do people convert? Why do people stay faithful? Why do people come back to God?

I think I can sum it up in two words: happiness.

2 Nephi 2:25 teaches us that “men are that they might have joy.” So, are we so surprised that the reason we seek God, or religion, is because we believe it will bring us happiness? No. And, the gospel of Jesus Christ is about happiness. It is not about temporary, fleeting excitement. It is not about intense, dizzying highs followed by horrific lows. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about peace, happiness, and continual joy.

But, are you happy? Are you peaceful? Do you experience joy despite the struggles of life? If not, why? Why aren’t you happy?

Happiness is Personal Peace

When most of us think of happiness, we think of the absence of trials, struggles, pain, suffering, sorrow, etc. And yet, God has shown us that joy can only come from opposition (2 Nephi 2:11). If there is no down there can be no up. If there is no sorrow there can be no happiness. This life is about the ups and the downs. The triumphs and the sins, and the weaknesses, and the mistakes (Ether 12:27). The gospel of Jesus Christ is about finding peace in knowing the downs are part of the ups and that ultimately Christ has overcome all of the downs. The ups become precious because of the downs. We become godly during the downs.

Now we come back to the Pharisees. They made the gospel about fear. Fear of making mistakes. When instead they should have preached the hope of overcoming them. They made the gospel about lines, boundaries, and achievement. When instead they should have preached the destination of godliness. Because ultimately there are no lines. There is only becoming godly. There are commandments, but they are practice in becoming godly, not an end unto themselves. The Pharisees, out of fear, made the commandments and end unto themselves.

Nothing, in the gospel, has a beginning or end, save in Christ. If we give it another beginning or end, apart from Christ, it will cease to belong to Him. When it has a beginning or end in anything else it becomes the gospel of that thing or person. Grace is not about not sinning. It’s about becoming godly as we learn from sins and mistakes. And so forth.

Personal peace comes from knowing we can do it, we can make it, despite our struggles, sins, weaknesses, and so forth. And when we say that, so many pharisaical people want to freak out. They’re so afraid that if we tell people that, that those people will stop keeping commandments and staying away from those lines. Again…they’re so afraid. And so they can’t be happy. And they can’t let others be happy, or peaceful.

Problems with the Rising Generation

I was pondering this blog post when the memory of the Olive Tree Allegory came into my mind from Jacob 5. You know, that chapter everyone dreads reading because they’re so worried that it has 70+ verses rather than what’s in it?

In the Olive Tree Allegory we always have the Lord of the vineyard grafting branches in and grafting braches out. Pruning branches off and dunging and aerating the roots. And, it’s always about the roots and the branches. Either the roots go bad or the branches overcome the good of the roots.

As I was staring out a window, watching the highway go by, a principle jumped into my head. The roots of the gospel are: faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the ordinances and covenants that follow. All of these things are centered in Christ. The branches of the gospel are the commandments and the organization put in place to keep the roots healthy. When the branches overcome the roots, the tree (person, family, ward, stake, region, area, etc.) gets sick. If the tree stays sick too long then the roots get ruined.

The gospel ceases to be the gospel if we let the branches overcome the roots. The roots can become corrupted if we allow in false doctrine. But usually, the problem with long-term religious culture (like the Pharisees) in our homes is that we start focusing on the branches without tending to the roots. We start making the gospel about fear instead of happiness.

Oh, we may preach happiness and peace, but that doesn’t equivocate. It must also be a part of us. It must show in our lives. We can say going to church will make us happy, but if we go to church and then are not happy, what are we really teaching? It’s something different than what we’re saying.

Branches Overcoming the Roots

It’s easy for this to happen when you get past the first generation of converts to a religion. The original crew is usually converted. They get the foundation of the gospel because they depended upon it so heavily in their conversion. Thereafter, however, to children and posterity, the gospel becomes something it is not—it becomes a tradition. It becomes a system of do’s and don’ts rather than a framework for joy, peace, strength, healing, and happiness. It becomes a set of lines and rules and lectures about negative consequences instead of tools and paths for the greatest amounts of joy, peace, strength, healing, and happiness.

The culture of religion so often preaches that happiness can only be had from a strict regimen of religious ritual and participation but fails to continue on to explain the doctrine WHY. Happiness can be found in lesser amounts in less strict religious observance. It can. And when it does, we appear as liars and control freaks determined to force our children into a life they can’t see the benefit of. A life they don’t yet believe in.

God doesn’t want our obedience and our devotion to His gospel and His plan out of fear, awe, and reverence. Those are mildly important. What He wants is our obedience and our devotion out of love for Him. Love that stems from an understanding of what He offers, what He gives, how He loves, and who He is. That is the kind of understanding that creates a visible peace and happiness in us that transcends life’s struggles and problems. That is the kind of example others, especially our kids, need to see. If they can’t see what it is to be truly at peace, to experience true joy, and to know a fullness of happiness, how can they desire it? How can they see that it’s not worth it to settle for less?

The Pharisees (and the others), as nearly as I can tell from scripture always seemed to be unhappy. They were so caught up in the details of not crossing the wrong lines and not appearing evil that they had room for little else, aside from pride. They were so stressed and preoccupied with building fences around fences to prevent themselves (and others) from sinning that they sinned worse than if they had crossed those lines. They omitted love, mercy, and righteous judgment (Luke 11:42). They were absolutely miserable. The only happiness they seemed to get was from judging others by their over-zealous piety and righteous data. And, that’s not real happiness.

In the Book of Mormon we have the story of the people of King Benjamin. They extol Benjamin as an incredible king. They listen to his final sermons and have magnificent changes of heart, covenanting to follow Christ and take upon them His name. Then, as always happens throughout the Book of Mormon when there has been a great Christian revival, the rising generation doesn’t become converted, or doesn’t remain converted (Mosiah 26:1).

Obviously, even our children, our responsible for acting upon righteous principles and gaining their own conversion to the gospel. But, it’s highly important that they know what the gospel is and not just the rules, lines, and commandments. The gospel is the atonement of Jesus Christ. All else stems from it. From His love. From His plan of happiness.

Parents giving piggyback ride to children

We Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Teach the Gospel of Happiness

Now, I’m not saying parents have to be perfect and that as families we can’t have struggles. Life is hard for everyone. But, to some extent, there are those who preach the gospel and yet create toxicity surrounding it. They don’t embody the godly characteristics (to any great extent) that they keep preaching to their kids. They pound into their kids heads that if they read and pray and keep all the commandments that they’ll have the Spirit and be happy. And yet, these kids see parents who do all these things and yet are rarely, if ever, happy. They see parents preoccupied with commandments, not doctrines. They see family going through righteous motions but not becoming happier or more Christlike. And that’s because that’s what’s really happening! They aren’t progressing. They are tripping and stumbling over major stumbling blocks, just like the Pharisees.

Now, one or more parents or family members may struggle with keeping the commandments. And yet, this also should not create crisis. The gospel is the atonement. The principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ can be lived and taught in any home even with varying levels of belief and testimony. The atonement is mercy, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, etc. Even with family members who lack righteous consistency, or who sometimes fail to say a kind word, peace can abide. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it doesn’t take heroic effort. I’m saying it’s possible. That’s what the gospel should provide. That’s what people, especially our kids, should see. The gospel should be lived so that our kids can see that despite weaknesses, struggles, and differing levels of testimony, the basic principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ can abide. And that those principles are what create peace, joy, love, and happiness.

If we preach forgiveness and mercy to our kids. Then we have to show it to them and our spouses. If we preach that keeping the commandments makes us peaceful and gives us strength to find happiness. Then, we have to show it. And, if we fall short a bit in showing what we know to be true, then we have to be open, communicate and bear testimony of the hope and faith we have in Christ despite our shortcomings. We have to frequently, outwardly, and honestly show the gospel of Jesus Christ working in our lives. Our imperfections are what give us the opportunity to show our children that the gospel works! We should not pretend to be perfect when our kids are smart enough to know we’re not.

I was sitting in Relief Society one day, and a woman said, “If we were perfect our kids would never learn anything about the atonement of Jesus Christ.”

I was floored. I had been feeling so miserable that day for my failings as a mother. Then, here this woman brings me back to the gospel. I have worked hard to focus my efforts as a mother into using my own failings to teach my kids more about the atonement. I am also trying to get better, and not mess up as much, but I know that as long as I keep trying, I can have peace. I want so much for my kids to see this and to never despair. I want to show them the happiness and peace that comes from God’s grace. I want them to feel the faith I have and to be infected with it as they face their own weaknesses, sins, and struggles. I want them to see that for me it is a gospel of happiness and peace.

So, is the gospel a gospel of happiness and peace for you? If it’s not, it’s time to get back to the roots. It’s time to make it a gospel of happiness and not a gospel of fear.

BT