Think back to a time when you had a gut feeling that you shouldn’t do something, and you did it anyway. In the aftermath, did you think, “Why didn’t I go with my gut?” Or, perhaps you had a gut feeling that you should do something, and you didn’t. Did you ever think, “I should have trusted that feeling,” or “I wonder what would have happened had I trusted that feeling?”

Now, take a moment and ponder the questions I’m about to put to you.

Here are questions:

  • First, what is a gut feeling? If you had to define what it is to a family member, friend, or child, what would you say?
  • Second, what is the purpose of a gut feeling? Does it serve a purpose? And if so, what do you think that purpose is?
  • Finally, where do you think gut feelings come from? And depending on how you answer that, consider the question, “How is it even possible that we have gut feelings at all?”

The Gut Feeling Defined

So, why do we call it a “gut” feeling? Dictionary definitions of the adjective “gut” imply that we associate this term with the: internal part or essence of who we are. It’s also related to the idea of courage, or inner strength. The connotation of the word also implies that we associate the idea of a gut feeling with something that is instinctive to who we are, even involuntary. It’s not only at the center of who we are, it is inseparable from who we are.

This is interesting in light of the fact that involuntary reactions and processes in our body are normally things like: blinking, breathing, reflexes, the heart beating, flight or fight responses, and so forth. And, here’s something even more interesting. The “gut feeling” often times—even frequently—disagrees with our other involuntary or instinctual actions.

We may instinctively feel attracted to another person and want to be with them, but our “gut feeling” warns us that our other instinctive feelings needs to be set aside, or given less importance in light of a higher sense—that this person will not be good for us in a relationship in the long run. Or, we may feel instinctively that we need to leave a dangerous situation, but our “gut feeling” tells us that we need to respond to a higher sense—that we need to save someone else from the danger if we can.

We may want to eat food because we “feel hungry” and yet have a “gut feeling” that the food we are choosing will not help us become healthier and may, conversely make us less healthy. Our “gut feeling” may instruct us to seek for better food even in light of the fact that we are hungry, or thirsty.

Such examples suggest that our “gut feeling” is our highest and most important instinctual guide. If it is high enough to sense when other instincts are in error, then it is, all of the sudden, the most important and best instinct we have—and therefore, should be followed.

The Origin of the Gut Feeling

How did we, as humans, come to possess this “gut feeling,” this instinct that somehow senses the rightness, wrongness, or even future impact (for good or ill) of all other impulses and their accompanying actions? The very idea that it can see things—even foresee things—that the rest of our physical, emotional, and conscious reasoning self cannot suggests that it has a higher origin.

In the Bible Dictionary we can learn much from the spiritual identification and explanation of the “gut feeling.” It is called the light of Christ. Meaning, our “gut feeling,” which many people call our conscience, is actually a spiritual instinct installed in our mortal form by Christ. It is a portion of His light—which is His power and His knowledge of truth. This Light of Christ not only gives us a fundamental sense of right and wrong, it is the power by which we become beings of reason at all.

The light of Christ is just what the words imply: enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ. For instance, Christ is “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:2; John 1:9). The light of Christ fills the “immensity of space” and is the means by which Christ is able to be “in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.” It “giveth life to all things” and is “the law by which all things are governed.” It is also the “light that quickeneth” man’s understanding (Doctrine & Covenants 88:6-13, 41).

…its influence is preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost.

Our “gut feeling” then is really another way of saying the “light of Christ.” Such an understanding also gives us motive to trust it and to follow it. If our “gut feeling” is actually a deep, spiritual instinct given to us by Jesus Christ then it suddenly makes sense when we say things like, “I knew I shouldn’t have done that,” or “I wish I had trusted my gut. I can see now that…” Christ is all-knowing. And though we aren’t, a piece of His light is in us and that piece knows things deeply that we can’t see or put into words consciously. Our “gut” knows! How cool is that!

Light of Christ versus the Gift of the Holy Ghost

A lot of people, even learned members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, struggle with the difference between the “light of Christ” and the “gift of the Holy Ghost.” So, let’s address that for just a moment.

Now, I don’t claim to have all the answers. All I can talk about are the few insights I have received and how I’ve come to see it in my own life. These insights have helped me make sense of the difference. They may or may not help anyone else. They also may be understood (especially as metaphors) differently in the context of someone else’s life. So, what seems clear as a bell to me may seem like a glass of muddy water to someone else. But the fundamental point is this: if you really want to understand the difference, go to the Lord, pray about it, study, ponder, and you’ll get your own metaphors. I do not in anyway promise that these metaphors will work for you. Perhaps they may get you on a track of thought that will facilitate personal revelation of your own.

Analogy #1

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that heaven and hell aren’t merely two static places. We believe in multiple kingdoms of glory. Whatever law we are willing to abide by, that is the extent of the glory God is able to give us. The more Christlike we become by living the laws and commandments of Christ, the more of His glory we can receive in the life to come. For details on this doctrine read Doctrine and Covenants 88:13-40. It’s clear and direct.

Generally, however, we break down heaven and hell into the three degrees of glory: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. And, if the blessings we receive correspond to that glory, you might say that the light of Christ (or that gut feeling) is a telestial blessing. It’s a basic knowledge of right and wrong with the potential to lead us to the next level of heavenly guidance. The terrestrial blessing would be the “power of the Holy Ghost” or direct manifestations/communications from the Holy Ghost (another member of the Godhead). These communications go beyond a mere gut feeling and are powerful witness of truth (when we hear it or see it, etc.). We may sometimes doubt a gut feeling (initially), but direct manifestations from the Holy Ghost are full of power. We may doubt them later (if we dismiss them and do not act on them), but in the moment there is no doubt that we are being taught, or are feeling that something is true. A celestial level blessing would be the gift of the Holy Ghost. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not just a burst now and then.

To elaborate, the gift of the Holy Ghost does the following (as far as I can tell):

  • He (the Holy Spirit) validates the gut feeling, so that we know for certain that what the light of Christ is telling us is true before we act. This is critical. We don’t merely suppose that our gut feeling could be right. We know it is and know that if we don’t follow it that we will be going against our own benefit and against the will of God.
  • He (the Holy Spirit) teaches us how to act on the direct messages of truth He delivers. The powerful messages that come to us from the power of the Holy Spirit can’t ultimately benefit us if we don’t act on them. That power will die away. The gift of the Holy Ghost (since it is with us always) teaches us and prompts us to act on what we felt.
  • He (the Holy Spirit), by the above actions makes it possible for us to learn truth, assimilate it into our lives, and have that truth become part of us. The gift of the Holy Ghost is called the baptism of fire because He (as a member of the godhead) makes it possible for us to actually be changed through the grace proffered to us by Jesus Christ. As we act on the validation and instruction of the Holy Spirit, He actually uses our righteous actions to make fundamental and eternal change within our very beings.

Analogy #2

We are all familiar with the idea of cell phones plans. Nowadays nearly all plans contain every kind of service for a flat fee. But it didn’t used to be that way. Different plans had access to different services. Long-distance calls were an extra cost/service. Text messages were an extra cost/service. Text messages including photos or media cost extra or were an extra service. Now that we have phones that are actually little computers and have access to email, internet and any other number of aps and services, this analogy works a little less well. But here it is.

Christ pays for a basic cell phone plan with His infinite atonement. We all get the “light of Christ,” which is a basic service for getting communication about right and wrong from God. These basic messages are not voice, text, or access to the Google ap. They are merely gut feelings. If we use this service and follow the basic messages we receive, we can upgrade our communication service from God to getting text messages anytime we hear or see something true. These clear text messages are a limited time service that is dependent upon our actions. IF we act upon those texted truths and agree to a life-time service agreement (covenant of baptism), we can receive an “unlimited plan” for communicating with God. But this plan comes with a bonus. Not only can we communicate with God directly—through His Spirit; carrying that “phone” with us all the time and using its godly services (acting on the continued communication and guidance we receive) will actually transfer God’s power and blessings to us directly from Him—changing us fundamentally into more godly beings.

Light of Christ = gut feeling
Power of the Holy Ghost = clear
communication that something is true (or false)
Gift the Holy Ghost = clear communication… + infusion of godly power…

Gut Feelings Transcend Emotion

It is important to note that as discussed in the beginning, the “gut feeling” transcends other involuntary functions and instinctual feelings. You may feel excited about the prospect of something and yet have a gut feeling that it’s not a right choice. You may feel angry and hurt about something and yet have a gut feeling that you should forgive, or minimally not take revenge. You may feel in love with a person and yet have a gut feeling that they are not going to be a good long-term partner and that the good you feel will be temporary. You may feel happy in the moment about something you are doing, or have done, but your gut may tell you that this feeling is going to wear off because of the incorrect way in which the feeling was achieved.

There is no end to the ways in which the gut feeling transcends and trumps other temporary instincts and involuntary processes. But, it’s important to reiterate this because it is so easy to get caught up in these other things. I, for one, find it easy to shove that gut feeling away when my emotions are screaming of hurt, offense, and exhaustion. I find it easy to shove that gut feeling away when what my physical body wants is a greasy hamburger and French fries. My mind and my body say, “Who cares that it’ll make you sick half way through! Who cares that it’ll make you want to sit around the rest of the day!” But, my gut says, “You’ll be far more satisfied with something that actually addresses what your body needs and tastes good at the same time.” Or “Take the time to make something that tastes amazing and addresses the nutrient need of your body.”

Our gut tells us to do a lot of things we know we should. But we ignore our gut in favor of what’s easier or more immediate. Love, excitement, fear, and other powerful emotions can hide our gut feeling if we aren’t in tune to it, or if we shove it away. And, I must admit, that at least for me, my gut feeling has never been eccentric like emotions are. Excitement has never been a gut feeling for me. Neither has love. Rather, my gut feeling has validated an emotion or warned against an emotion. It has invited me out of anger and revenge, but it has not felt like anger or revenge.

At least for me (and I suspect others) the gut feeling is an instinct, an involuntary reasoning that pushes itself up over the top of whatever else I am feeling. This is one way to recognize it apart from all else that you perceive or feel.

Why Trust Your Gut?

So, what is the whole point in getting to know your gut feeling and trusting it?

Well, if you’re gut feeling was given to you by Christ, then its trustworthy. It may not bring immediate success and prosperity into your life, but it will bring immediate peace—which is priceless—and guidance for the success and prosperity God has in store for you.

If trusting and following your gut feeling has the potential to lead you to clearer and more powerful communication from God, then that’s certainly worth it all by itself. It may not produce that clarity at the level you would like initially, but it opens the door for you to enter a contract/covenant with God for continuing clear guidance and direction—if you’re willing to act on it.

Many of us spend a large portion of our lives floundering. Many of us have a lot of regret, a horrific suspense for what we might have enjoyed had we trusted that gut feeling before. And, maybe we are still afraid to trust it. If that’s you, here’s why it’s time to start trusting that gut feeling.

God’s plan includes unlimited communication with Him and power to become like Him. His plan removes the floundering and the regret and replaces it with certainty, hope, and peace. And, the first step in that plan is learning to trust your gut. Start trusting your gut and you get bursts of powerful confirmations of truth in your life. Act on those bursts of communication and you will get the next offer—the unlimited plan, the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Then, as you are diligent in listening and following, floundering in life disappears. It is replaced with certainty. It is replaced with peace. It is replaced with guidance in all that you seek that is right. In fact, God can get you to your goals much faster than you can ever get yourself there. And, He does one better. He gets you to places far better than you ever aspired to be. This is the path that awaits you if you can learn to recognize your gut feelings and to follow them. Follow the light of Christ.

BT

While all of us may have some experiences and memories of times when we have received clear impressions and instructions from the Holy Ghost, it is rarely an ability that we master without time and significant, consistent effort. In fact, sometimes it seems that God gives us Holy Ghost nibbles and snacks and then makes it difficult to get the rest of the banquet. And, in my opinion, this is exactly what He does and for good reason.

The Holy Ghost is a Gift, not an Entitlement

Unlike any other gift that God gives us, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is the one gift that is essential to our eternal salvation and exaltation. The Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire. He is the Master Teacher. He is the one who, because of the Atonement, can take our righteous desires plus our imperfect actions and effect real and permanent changes in our very souls. This makes the Holy Ghost the great Sanctifier. Even with the Atonement of Christ, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we cannot become like God nor even aspire to.

A gift like this God WILL protect. It is not for the passive Christian or the doubting Thomas’s. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is also not a gift with only one educational certificate that you can master by attending church a few times. There aren’t only a couple levels of personal revelation. Just as a person must participate in a basic course of education to become a doctor in any philosophy or profession (whether they are brilliant enough to skip grades and/or CLEP out of college courses), so also, recognizing the Gift of the Holy Ghost has nearly unlimited steps and degrees that must be pursued one at a time and with diligent, consistent faith and effort.

Christ was the most intelligent of us all. Yet, He humbled Himself to progress according to God’s will. He received grace by grace until He received a fullness (Doctrine and Covenants 93:13). He was perfect and yet He still was baptized, and so forth, to “fulfill all righteousness,” and to do His Father’s will (St. John 6:38), not His own. And, He didn’t make a fuss over having to do it. So, if we think we are too smart, or righteous enough at present, to submit to a path of hard work, humility, and diligence, then God will not force us to do so, nor will He lightly part with His guidance. We can demand that He give us proof and guidance in “our own way” and we will get exactly what we want (Alma 29:4)…to our own condemnation (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12).

The more Christlike we become, the greater our ability to recognize God’s promptings and guidance through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, though a doctor may spend up to 18 years or more reaching his/her desired level of understanding and education in a specific field, it would be very unwise to assume that the level and degree of promptings you can receive from the Holy Ghost ends as quickly time-wise and can be achieved with even a third of the effort.

So, if you’re looking for a quick answer, this blog cannot offer you a blanket set of ideals which will solve your struggles. At best, it will prescribe a course of “spiritual education and effort,” that, IF pursued will lead you along a path to your desired goal. It’s a prescription for years of hard work, study, hope, faith, and practice (St. John 7:17; 17:3). The prescription is simple and will follow below.

So, how bad to you want it?

Note: This blog post is directed specifically at recognizing promptings from “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” For a commentary on the difference between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, please click here to visit a previous blog.

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow

God Purposefully Requires Diligent and Consistent Effort in order to Access to Increasing Guidance from the Holy Ghost

Why does God make it so hard to recognize the guidance of the Holy Ghost? Is it some game to Him? Doesn’t He realize we are trying to do His will?

God doesn’t give guidance to those who don’t want it, don’t appreciate it, are skeptical of it, and don’t plan to follow it. He will invite you to seek His guidance, but He won’t give it lightly, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33).

As well, God says (Alma 12:9-10):

It is given to many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they [the mysteries] are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of the word…according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (See also Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is just that—a gift. It is intended to be given to us in increasing amounts as we use it for its designed purpose: to grow, learn, become more Christlike, more humble, more faithful, more loving…more like God. So, if we get into a “I’m good like I am,” rut, then we may begin to struggle to receive continued guidance beyond the current level we have received to date. This is because the guidance is meant to lead us upward, not to keep us on the same plane we’ve camped on. We can’t be complacent or satisfied with a minimal, or even what we consider a high, level of righteousness.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost isn’t something we can use when it’s convenient. We can’t go crying to the Lord for help and then expect guidance to come if we haven’t been actively seeking His will to improve over time. Or, if we only seek guidance from the Holy Ghost for what we consider big decisions and ignore the little promptings about things He would have us improve on, change, forsake, or repent of, then we may find the Heavens silent, or at least a little slow in responding.

You may ask, “Well, even if I have been a little reluctant or complacent, when I go to God at last, you think He’d answer, right?” “He wants me back, right?” Well, while God loves us unconditionally, His love is true love—tough love. The kind none of us particularly like. But, the kind we actually need. Sure, He wants us back. But, it is also His work and glory to help us become as much like Him as possible (Moses 1:39). So, if withholding answers and guidance for a moment will lead us to re-evaluate our lives and become better; then God will likely withhold and give us a chance to desire, more deeply, such a priceless gift as the Holy Ghost. He will wait until we desire it so much that we are willing to come closer to Him and further away from our own will. He does this so that when He does answer we are humble and willing to follow His counsel. So that we have a greater chance of not taking it for granted.

Why doesn’t He let you make that decision? Why doesn’t He give without using tough love to help you improve? Because, “for he who sins against the greater light receives the greater condemnation” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3). If God gives miracles and guidance and blessings when we are not willing to accept them or follow them, then our condemnation for not accepting or following is greater. In other words, the more you receive the more eternal trouble you can get for deciding not to accept that which is given to you. It would be unfair for God to punish us for not accepting light and truth if we weren’t prepared to receive or follow it. By withholding He is showing mercy.

The Prescription for Better Recognizing the Guidance of the Holy Ghost

President Monson, who seems to have a particular gift for recognizing the promptings of the Holy Ghost, gave these simple steps in several recent conference addresses (see endnotes for sources):

  1. Communicate daily with Heavenly Father in sincere prayer. God has commanded, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).
  2. Be worthy to receive inspiration. God has said, “…seek me diligently…” (ibid)
  3. Trust inspiration when it comes. (Proverbs 3:5)
  4. Follow inspiration when it comes.

I might add:

  1. Pray less passively. Ask for ways to act, listen, feel, hear, and do; instead of praying with passive, generalized statements, like, “Please help me to…” or “Watch over me when…” An active statement in prayer might be, “Please show me how to ensure this journey is a safe one for our family,” or, “As I visit with my friend, please make bring things to my remembrance that I can share to help comfort him/her.” (Check out this address Ask In Faith by David Bednar as he teaches how to prayer with active prayer language, and this helps immensely in being led by the Holy Ghost)

So, that’s it. I might surmise that if you are having trouble getting the guidance you desire to receive, then you might try to: 1) pray more often and more sincerely and meaningfully (Ask In Faith), 2) become more worthy and seek God’s will more diligently, 3) be more trusting when inspiration comes, 4) follow more willingly and more quickly when inspiration does come.

Different Ways of Feeling or Receiving Promptings and Guidance

Now, if you’ve made it this far, then what I’d like to do is to talk a little bit about the different ways the Holy Ghost talks to and guides me. This won’t mean that He’ll talk to you the same way. But, by seeing how He talks to me in different situations, it might help you better ponder the possibilities for yourself. That’s all I can offer. The rest is up to you.

Reading the Scriptures

When I’m reading the scriptures and the Holy Ghost wants me to take note of something, I generally find that the verse subtly zooms out at me a bit and gives me pause making me want to reread it. Sometimes, that won’t happen, but I’ll read past the verse and then my mind will catch a certain word or phrase as a trigger and it takes me back to the verse. Then, on the second read it will often give me pause and I will see a direct correlation between a few words or a phrase in the verse and something in my life.

I don’t always feel a big weight or burning in my chest when this happens. But, often, when I reread the verse several times and ponder why it is giving me pause, thoughts will come to me or aspects of my life that seem to tie to these words or phrases. Then, there is another step, if I’m willing to take it. As I think about how I can apply these words or phrases to my life situation, when one of the things I think about and consider is right, then, I will often feel a strong mental weight on that action or idea. Often I’ll feel it is something I need to do now, or soon. Once the idea has been pressed upon me, it is not easily forgotten, and will continue to come to my mind as something that needs to be done—until I do it. If I ignore it long enough, it will go away, but I try not to do that.latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Other times, when reading my scriptures, I come across something that means something different to me than it did before. This is not a pillar-of-light kind of experience. But, it is enlightening. Usually, I review cross-references on the phrases that have a new meaning to me and find my mind carried away into aspects of a principle or truth I have never considered before. It’s a pleasant journey. It uplifts me. It’s exciting to learn something new. Then, if I continue to ponder how to apply it in my life (which is yet another step required), I will find ideas and inspiration coming to me. Not always in the moment. Sometimes it will come the next day, or days later. However, often, if I do not record these impressions, they are lost by the next day. Sometimes I can be reminded of them by revisiting the verses, but sometimes not. Then, I find that the more I record these types of minimal impressions, the more frequent they become and the new and deeper truths and doctrines I uncover.

These are two of the ways that the Spirit works with me when I’m studying my scriptures. It may be different for others. But, I can recognize when these moments come. And, they don’t come when I just read “to read.” They only come when I’m putting forth sincere effort.

Making Life Decisions

Learning to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost in life decisions is not an easy task. I believe that the level of study and effort required to access this personal understanding says something about how sacred it is. Things given to us without effort and hard work are nearly always taken for granted, misused, exploited, wasted, etc. Not everyone who wins the lottery blows all the money and ends up in more debt than before winning, but the percentage who do is considerable.

I know some people who seem to get promptings for their life as easily as going to the faucet with a cup for water. However, I am NOT one of those people. I find generally, that the Lord lets me bump into walls and bounce about until I make my way down the path He intends for me. I often run spiritual marathons before finding a drop of water on a leaf that hasn’t dried up from a recent rain. So, I’m not about to tell anyone anything that will lead them to believe it’s easy to get promptings. However, I do know, after much bumping and running, how the Spirit speaks to me. And, at least for me, He always does.

When it comes to decisions, I am usually already trying consistently to keep the commandments, live worthy of the Spirit, and seek the Lord’s will. Because of this, I make my pros and cons lists. I study it out in my mind. I ask all the suggested questions, like: “Will this choice help me serve the Lord better? Will this move, or this job change, help me and my family come closer together and to the Lord? Etc.” Then, instead of asking the Lord to tell me which decision to make based on my research, I have learned, that for me, the Lord expects me to make a decision first and start moving toward it. Only then does the Holy Ghost exert influence upon me in the form of validation or an icky feeling that makes me feel uncomfortable with my choice.

Many people often overlook the “studying it out.” But, even more forget to “make a decision” before asking “if it be right”(Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9). And, for me, I have to actually exert effort and time into pursuing a decision before the feelings of “yes this is good,” or “no, don’t do this,” comes.

Many people take the words from Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 so literally, that if they don’t get an immediate “burning in the bosom,” while they are still on their knees in prayer, they get confused. Yet others take the words “stupor of thought” to mean that while they are on their knees in prayer they will completely forget what they were praying about. I don’t know if this actually happens to some people. If it does, then lucky they are. However, for me, the confirmation or stupor of thought happen a bit differently.

All of us are familiar with small magnets. If you put two of the same poles together they push away from each other. If they are small, you can exert sufficient force to hold them together, but the moment you stop exerting force, they push apart naturally. On the other hand, if you put two opposing poles near each other they pull together without any extra exertion from you.Red and Blue Horseshoe Magnet Isolated on White Background

This magnet example is how most (though not all) of my life decisions come to me. If it is a good thing or even the best choice, it just “sits right.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t ever any external barriers, but as far as my mind, logic and heart are concerned, the idea makes sense and attracts me to it. On the other hand, things that are not wise choices, or that are not the best choice God would have me make; while they might sound nice or seem logical, they simply don’t “sit well.” I have to sort of force the idea on myself since it sounds so nice. But, I’m never comfortable with it. And, if I stop trying to make myself consider this unwise or not best choice, I do sort of stop thinking about it. It falls to the side and becomes unimportant or pales in comparison to another option or idea that arises. This is my particular kind of “stupor of thought.”

Now, some life decisions I have felt a big “no” or “yes” on. But, they are not common for me and I can remember all of them. So, sometimes I have received a more significant “burning in the bosom” or a weight of impression that is unmistakable. But, I can also say, that the better I get at recognizing the magnet-promptings, the more clear and understandable all of my promptings are becoming. But, I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been working at this since I got a testimony of the gospel at age 14. So, 26 years of practice.

Being Inspired at Church

If I am making an earnest attempt to pay attention and participate at church, I find that it’s not really the lesson, or talk, itself that impacts me. But, often, a certain phrase spoken a certain way, or an experience someone shares, or some small piece of what they do or ask triggers an idea or memory in my mind and heart. The idea or memory that comes past that trigger is often unrelated to the general topic being taught or spoken on, though not always. This is often how I know it’s a prompting.

Now, when I say “unrelated” I mean that it is unlikely that I would ever have made the connection between this phrase from the talk/lesson and a certain idea or memory on my own. It’s not impossible. So, I suppose it could be justified away. But, it’s happened so many times in my life that either I’m stupendously brilliant in ways other people are not, OR, the Holy Ghost is bringing these ideas and memories to my remembrance (St. John 14:26).

Preparing a Lesson

As I have noted in my blog entry “Teaching BY the Spirit or Some Other Way,” the Holy Ghost works somewhat differently in the teaching environment. Teaching is a different situation than basic personal revelation. It’s different than just having the Holy Ghost with you. It’s even different than getting up to bear your testimony. Why? Because you are not doing it for yourself. You are acting as an instrument through which the Holy Ghost can work to accomplish His task as the Master Teacher to both you AND those whom you are called to teach.

If you want to understand how the Holy Ghost works in teaching, then I refer you to that blog entry.

Conclusion

Now, there are lots of different aspects of life and for each of us the Holy Ghost will work with us differently based on our personalities, emotional/psychological state, talents, and spiritual gifts. I don’t have the knowledge or the ability to tell each of you how to figure out how the Holy Ghost works for you. That’s your job and His job.

So, that’s it. If you really want to get better at recognizing the Spirit, then you’ve got to work at it using the steps given by President Monson. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the most valuable gift you will ever receive in this life. Thus, it’s the most difficult gift to make use of. It transcends all money, possessions, intellect, fame, glory, etc. The Holy Ghost is the second baptism, the baptism of fire. If you do not seek His guidance, if you do not allow Him to sanctify you through diligently seeking to follow His promptings, then what remains to you? There’s either “you + a member of the godhead,” or “just you.”

I don’t know about the rest of you. You are free to feel and think as you wish. But, for me, I have found this gift of guidance from the Holy Ghost to be worth all of my efforts—through times of doubt, times of trial, and times of peace. I know, for myself, that the Holy Ghost is real. And, I can confidently promise any who read this that if you follow the simple steps above, and exercise hope and faith, that in time you will come to recognize the promptings and guidance of the Holy Ghost well enough to live your life well, and with confidence in the Lord.

BT

Doctrine: The Holy Ghost is a gift, not an entitlement. God purposefully requires diligent and consistent effort in order to access increasing guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are 4 simple steps to coming to better recognize guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are lots of different possibilities and ways the Holy Ghost may try to communicate with you.

End Notes

Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 86-69.

Thomas S. Monson, “Stand in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 82-86.

Thomas S. Monson, “Tabernacle Memories,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 41-42.

Doctrine: If you are fundamentally uncomfortable in life, then you are not growing up to be what you should be. You are doing the opposite, refusing to mature spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.

I read a post by a FB friend the other day titled, “10 Uncomfortable Signs You’re Actually Becoming the Person You’re Supposed To Be,” and it taught so many incorrect principles and doctrines that I felt compelled to do my own version. It is, in fact, the most depressing post I have read, of late, and I’m surprised that anyone would read it and feel “OK” about it, or would think that it is in any way something they should actually believe. IT IS NOT.

To show you just how “ick” it is, here is a comparison of the subtitles in that blog post versus those in this blog post.

That Blog Post Subtitles This Blog Post’s Subtitles
You do everything by yourself and you feel isolated from others You do many things by yourself and you know when to ask for help
You realize that you have some issues with yourself You recognize your weaknesses
You have a strong desire to cut off some unnecessary relationships You seek those relationships which help you become more like God, and you begin to see others as God sees them
It’s hard for you to trust people You have learned to trust God above all else
You always feel that your life is boring You recognize that life is meant to help you become like God
You are too familiar with the feeling of sadness You recognize the purpose of opposition and trial and are learning how to channel it into growth and personal refinement
You always feel like you’re running out of time You have learned to use time wisely and focus your time on the things that really matter
You regret the mistakes you’ve made in the past You have embraced your past mistakes and have used them to learn, grow, and become better
You always miss childhood, family, and your loved ones You embrace the time of life you’re in, and do not take for granted the family and loved ones you have
You feel lost, confused, and anxious about your future You take advantage of the direction of the Holy Spirit and find peace in your present and future

It’s sad to me how little the world understands true happiness. They think us religious types are missing out on all the fun. But I have yet to find one person who ignores God’s plan (to any extent) to be any happier or full of peace than I am. They simply can’t be. They are always nursing insecurity, fear, anger, resentment, pride, and the like.

Why?

Because the only true happiness and joy that can ever be found comes from God’s plan for us to become like Him. He is the author of the plan that brought us here to earth in the first place. We accepted that plan. We run on “God’s light” whether we recognize it or not. And, the only way to get more of that light (than the bare minimum) is to follow His plan. As C.S. Lewis said:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.

To the extent we follow His plan is the extent of light and happiness and peace we can access.

And, as long as all, a part, or even small pieces, of our life is in noncompliance with God’s plan we will to greater or lesser extents feel… isolated, full of issues, a desire to shun people, a lack of trust in God and others, that life is consistently falling short of what we wanted (boring), that there is more sadness than peace and joy, that there isn’t enough time to accomplish all we think we want to do to gain the happiness we seek, that our past mistakes have robbed us of future joys, that we can’t connect with our family and loved ones like we did when we were younger (more innocent and pure), and that our life is a mess that we aren’t sure where it’s going.

So, now I’m going to mirror the paragraphs written in that article with my own.

10 Comfortable Signs You’re Actually Becoming the Person You’re Supposed To Be

You do many things by yourself and you know when to ask for help

Contrary to what most people think, maturity is not doing everything by yourself. Maturity is humility, meekness, responsibility, and accountability. When you are mature, you take responsibility for yourself. You don’t have to be micromanaged into taking care of yourself. You own up to mistakes, repent when you mess up, make reparation for injuries to others, and proactively seek to be the best person you can by following God’s plan. You do these godly, grown-up things without having to be told. Are you perfect? No, but you know you’re trying and that gives you a comfortable feeling of confidence before God and your fellow men.

Is this type of maturity difficult? Does it require hard work? Does it require sincerity and humility? Yes. But, the discomfort and isolation and misery that comes with failing to do these things is far more uncomfortable. The confidence and peace that comes from embracing this kind of personal betterment and refinement is far more peaceful and comfortable.

You recognize your weaknesses

Let’s get to the bottom of weakness. By simply being mortal we are weak. We have to recognize that. And mortal weakness allows many trials into our lives that are simply part of mortality. This includes: sickness, infirmity, genetic problems, our ability to die, psychological issues, and so forth.

Once we recognize that most weakness simply comes from being mortal and stop taking it personally, it’s easier to own those weaknesses and act proactively to make them strengths. I spent years thinking I would never get the chance to be a biological mother. So, I didn’t toss the idea of motherhood aside as weakness, or something, I would never get the other side of. I studied, prayed, and worked to become the best “velveteen mother” I could. I embraced the principles of motherhood and became one despite being childless. Etc.

Weakness doesn’t have to “disturb our well-being.” It can, in fact, create well-being equivalent to the following:

…And I feel like Paul, to glory in tribulation; for this day hath the God of my Fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth… (Doctrine and Covenants 127:2).

You seek those relationships which help you become more like God, and you begin to see others as God sees them

Yes, as we age, we do often find that few people are those that will be by our sides for the entirety of our lives. Or, that we want them as close as they have been in the past. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we seek to cut them out of our lives completely. Obviously, there are a few types of people that do need to be “cut off.” But, in general, maturity should help us understand how to honestly see people how God sees them.

So, if we have a few toxic relationships in our lives, we need to love them, but we don’t have to trust them. Thus, we accept them for who they are, but we don’t allow them to manipulate our lives. We decide what is right and then do it. If they, in consequence of our newfound confidence and centeredness throw a fit and cut themselves off, then that is their choice. But, I think in rare instances (which do present themselves, unfortunately) do we actually have to send people out of our lives.

As we become godly, better, and more of what we know we should be, we will naturally gravitate toward those people that support that lifestyle and share our deep values. And, we should invite those from our past to join us. If they don’t, then that is their choice. But, when possible, as we see them and acquaint with them (since they don’t feel comfortable around us anymore), we should continually love them and try to bring them with us. Christ shunned none. But, He didn’t pretend that their way of life (if sinful) was okay. He always invited them to improve, learn, grow, and change. He said, “Come follow me,” and those that followed, followed. Those that went away, went away of their own volition.

You have learned to trust God above all else

People are imperfect. Even the best ones, to whom we will claim loyalty, can, and will hurt us and cause us disappointments—for various reasons. To live life with the acceptance that you can’t trust anyone is a horrible way to live. It is far better to accept that you, and everyone else, is mortal. Then, place your trust, devotion, and loyalty to the one being who can be trusted—eternally.

Those who have a firm faith and trust in God (despite the ups and downs) have more joy, peace, and confidence than anyone I know. They weather life’s storms with incredible grace. They seem to have unearthly strength and an unshakeable quality. And…that’s because they do have unearthly strength. They place their highest trust in God and His power, peace, comfort, and guidance is their reward. They fear no one, can love all, and don’t have to suffer the depth of continued disappointment that others suffer, for, “[they] know in whom they have trusted” (2 Nephi 4:19, 34).

You recognize that life is meant to help you become like God

The opposing subtitle in that article was about “you feel that your life is boring.” I thought this was the most useless section provided. It talked about becoming accustomed to the monotony of responsibility and lack of drama in your life.

Life, boring? How can life be boring? Oh, I know…if you have no eternal purpose or ultimate goal.

Sure, short term goals can motivate us and keep us “excited” and “busy” and “occupied” for a minute. But, we will always be bemoaning our current state and seeking for our next educational degree, trip, work promotion, money drop, etc. if we continue to ignore the ultimate goal and purpose of our life. There are no boring down times when your ultimate goal and purpose is to become like God. Every moment of every day presents opportunities for learning, growth, eternal advancement, self-evaluation, gratitude, personal change, service to others, etc.

Our purpose isn’t to just get a college degree. Our purpose isn’t just to find a livelihood and then use the money to seek for temporary thrills. Our purpose is to use all of our talents, gifts, education, trips, activities, and so forth, to bring ourselves and others to Christ and to become like Him. All of life is boring and loses meaning when you remove from it its primary purpose. That’s because you’ve taken away the diploma and rendered all the “classes” as important solely for their individual content and not for how that content should vault you upward toward godhood.

When you know where life is leading you and the purpose of all within it, it can’t get boring. Why? Because everything within it becomes deep, powerful, gains meaning, and eternal reality. It’s impossible to get bored with that. Overwhelmed a bit? Sure. But not bored.

Boredom is uncomfortable because it is the direct result of a lack of purpose. Eternal purpose may breed hard work and result in the need to make personal changes, but it breeds the comfort of purpose and peace. Both are priceless feelings.

You recognize the purpose of opposition and trial and are learning how to channel it into growth and personal refinement

We are all familiar with sadness. And, even to the godly it can be debilitating. Depression strikes all (god-fearing or not). But for those with confidence and trust in the purpose of sadness, it doesn’t long overwhelm or dominate their lives. It is nearly always accompanied by a deep hope.

I love the recent movie, Inside Out. This movie teaches us that sadness is nearly always the precursor to happiness. If we are familiar with sadness, then we should also be familiar with happiness. No down is ever long without an up. In fact, it is the downs which enable us to appreciate the ups. Those who go long periods of time with all ups and no downs, take their ups for granted. They’re spoiled and thus have no true joy, only entitlement.

Eve wisely said, “Were it not for our transgression (and accompanying confession, repentance, and covenant with God) we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).

Sadness is often triggered by the feeling of pain, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. Sadness and regret often accompany sin and guilt. Sadness alerts other people to our struggles and jump starts the hope for help.

If we are too familiar with sadness and do not have enough opposing happiness, it may be because we are not making use of the sadness we feel to change, embrace help, and accept the happiness that can come to us. All of us were created to have joy (2 Nephi 2:25). If we cannot access it, it is not because it is not offered to us, it’s because we aren’t proactively using our sadness to enact the change, or accept the help, that will provide the happiness and peace we seek.

Beautiful Hispanic Woman Sleeping.

You have learned to use time wisely and to focus your time on the things that really matter

If you are running around with your head cut off and you never seem to have the time you need for the things that really matter, the answer is NOT that you are growing up and becoming who you were meant to be (as that article states). The problem is that you don’t focus your time on the things that really matter.

Latter-day Saints pay tithing. We don’t do it because God needs our money. We don’t have a paid ministry so our preachers don’t get it. The Church does use the money to build temples, chapels, print religious materials, etc. We have offerings for other more specific uses. But, ultimately, we don’t pay tithing to keep the Church running.

Why then do we pay tithing? Because it teaches us an important godly principle: to put the things that matter most first in our lives.

God should come first in our lives. He doesn’t need our money, it’s already His. But, He asks us to pay tithing with the money He has given us to teach us about our own hearts. If we can learn to pay 10% to God before doing anything else, then the principle of putting God first will begin to trickle down into our lives and prioritize it.

God first, family next, spiritual and physical self-sufficiency, then building up God’s kingdom (of which we desire to a part), then the rest.

If our lives are played out by what is truly important than we will have few, if any, regrets. We will sacrifice what we think we want for what is most important and find that we still have time for all the rest.

There is an object lesson commonly used to teach this principle. It is a jar in which you place three things: large rocks, small rocks, and sand. If you put the sand in first, then the pebbles, you will not ever be able to cram in the large rocks. However, if you put in the large rocks first, then the pebbles, and then the sand, miraculously you are able to fit it ALL in.

The order in which we choose to live our lives DOES make a difference. So, if we are unsettled, regretful, and always in a state of wishful thinking, wishing we had more time for the things that matter; it’s because we haven’t yet learned to mature and prioritize. Thus, we have constant misery, resentful-longing and regret.

If, we follow the “tithing principle” and put the things that matter first, we will have peace and comfort in our lives because the things that really matter are always getting taken care of.  People always tackle the pebbles and sand of life first because they live in fear of missing out. Then, they feel regret for the large rocks. As we lose the fear of missing out and tackle the rocks first, we will find peace in realizing the pebbles and rocks don’t matter so much and that in comparison they have not actually given us the fulfillment we thought they would.

You have embraced your past mistakes and have used them to learn grow, and become better

Those who actually learn from their mistakes and use them as catapults to vault them into a better way of life can never truly regret those mistakes. Few actually would be willing to take them back. Why? Because those mistakes enacted a fundamental change in their very being. It made them who they are.

Yes, we can regret the hurt we caused. Yes, we regret the offense against God. But, ultimately, if we truly repent and change because of those mistakes and sins, then they become blessings (in retrospect) rather than curses. They don’t haunt us or define us. They contribute to our capacity for understanding and compassion for others. They contribute to the strength of our personal testimony as we testify to others—who have current similar sins and struggles—that they can overcome!

In this light, our past mistakes become points of power, experience, and teachers of godly truth. This kind of perspective reflects our understand and appreciate for God’s grace, through the atonement of Jesus Christ. We know no matter our sins we can still become like God! That breeds peace, comfort, and confidence in the presence of God and our fellow men—not discomfort.

You embrace the time of life you’re in, and do not take for granted the family and loved ones you have

The paragraph in that article was incredibly depressing. “Growing up sucks,” it said. Ugh. Regret is the response to guilt from omission, transgression, and sin.

On the other hand, parting with a “time of life” can be sad, to an extent, but it should not be looked back on with regretful or resentful longing. It should be what I would call “bittersweet.” In other words, we are leaving something behind that was great, but we are also embracing the greatness that is to come.

Those who live life looking backward, or with unresolved guilt, are always going to be full of misery, sadness, and depression. Those who live life looking forward, who appreciate the journey and not just the destinations, who repent and make efforts to change, who appreciate what they learn from each stage, do not live with regret. They do not think “life sucks,” or that “growing up sucks.” For them, because they live and learn, life only gets better as time goes on.

The people who think that “growing up sucks,” tend to be those that don’t know what true joy or is where it can be found. They tend to be those that sin and do not repent. They tend to be those who don’t learn from their past. Thus, they regret the loss of each unfulfilling and fleeting happiness that ends because they think that is all the happiness that can be found.

You take advantage of the direction of the Holy Spirit and find peace in your present and your future

People who embrace God’s plan, and the blessings and guidance He offers within it, never are overly anxious about their future. Do they have worries? Sure. Do they have uncertainties from time to time. Yes. But, not the deep anxiety and life insecurity referred to by that article.

How can they live with so much surety? Because they have confidence in their standing before God. Thus, they have ultimate trust that He will guide their paths and lead them in the path that will help them become like Him. The initial stresses of job losses, life changes, trials, major illnesses, and many other calamities are all easily swallowed up in their understanding of God’s plan. They have an eternal perspective. They have made and kept covenants with God that assure them on an eternal scale (such as the sealing covenant).

Thus, no short-term mortal uncertainties can ultimately ruffle them. This is because they know that God is in charge and will remove the burden (if that’s His will), make a way for them to bear it (if it’s His will that they carry it), and turn that uncertainty into renewed and strengthened faith and trust when His blessings are poured out upon them.

Conclusion

To put it bluntly. If life is uncomfortable to you, fundamentally, then you are actually NOT growing up to become as you should be. Though life is darn hard, it can be full of peace and comfort. I know that to be true 100%. If you don’t know it, then perhaps it’s time to consider doing what you need to do grow up to be as you should be—like God—and to find true comfort and peace.

BT

Doctrine: Because Christ suffered, our suffering matters and gains the power to make us godly. Because Christ died and was resurrected, our deaths have power to help us progress in God’s plan. Because Christ suffered, as we suffer we will come to understand Him and know Him better and thus gain eternal life (John 17:3). Our suffering “according to the flesh” enables us to know how to succor others.

In the beloved movie, the Princess Bride, Wesley (disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts) says to the Princess Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” And, the interesting thing is that Wesley is right. Life is pain.

In this life, pain hits us from all sides. There’s physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain, psychological and pain. There’s pain we cause ourselves. There’s pain that happens to us on accident. There’s pain that’s a default of Mother Nature and Father Time. There’s pain others cause us. And it seems to just go on and on.

girl sits in a depression on the floor near the wall

Recently I heard the question more, or less, asked:

“If Christ suffered for everything, sins and other kinds of suffering too, on our behalf, why then do we still suffer? Since we still suffer, then why did Christ have to suffer if it doesn’t keep us from suffering [referring specifically to physical pain]?”

The answer given to this question was:

“Christ had to suffer for our physical pains—even though we still suffer them too—so that He could understand how to succor us.”

This answer was based on the scripture Alma 7:11-13. And, though it’s not incorrect, I felt that it was insufficient in response to the question asked. Or, at least to me, it didn’t provide much comfort. And when the question was asked, I perceived that the person asking was looking for comfort and more understanding.

Sure, it helps me to know that Christ understands all of my suffering, personally. It helps me to know that everything I go through He comprehends perfectly so that even when I struggle to explain it in my prayers that He knows. But, I think that there is so much more that could be offered in response to this question.

So, let’s look at Alma 7:11-13:

And he [Christ] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

Verse 11 refers specifically to the life of Christ. His life was full of pain, affliction, and temptation. And, as He went through it all He also set a perfect example of how to respond to such struggles. So, for me, the first reason Christ suffered things that we still have to suffer (to a lesser extent, I might point out), was so that He could show us how to respond to suffering in a godly manner.

Verse 12 refers to His ability to take on the ultimate physical pain/problem—death. Yes, we die. But, we don’t have any control over whether or not we die. Christ did. As part of the great vicarious ordinance of the Atonement, Christ had to choose to lay down His life (John 10:18). For those familiar with vicarious ordinance work, Christ basically chose to die for, and in behalf of, each of us. Then, He loosed the bands of death by choosing to take His life up again, in the resurrection, for, and in behalf of, each of us. Because He did this we will all be resurrected as well.

So, why do we still die if Christ already died for us? Because death and resurrection are both ordinances which we must pass through to receive our immortal glories. Ordinances, which would have no power or effect if not for Christ granting them power through the grace of His Atonement. If Christ had not died, He could not have raised Himself up again so that we could also rise again: perfected and immortal. Meaning, that our deaths would be ordinances that had no authority/power to advance us forward in God’s plan. As Latter-day Saints with access to true priesthood authority and power, we often cannot comprehend what it is to partake of ordinances that “avail us nothing” because they are “dead works” (Doctrine and Covenants 22:2-3). But our deaths, without Christ’s death, would be “dead works” and avail us nothing.

Verse 12 also refers to the primary source of the original answer. However,  when quoted out of context from verse 13, it loses a bit of meaning. So, let’s look at them together.

…and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

The phrase “according to the flesh” is used three times. This seems rather significant to me. Especially in light of the fact that precursor to the final use of it we see the phrase, “Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless…”

From His birth we know that Christ was a perfect vessel that absorbed pure information—through the Holy Spirit—as He grew “grace by grace” until He received a fullness (Doctrine and Covenants 93:12-13). We know that Christ was instructed entirely by the Spirit because “he needed not that any man should teach him” (JST Matthew 3:25). If this was the case, then we could say that He already knew according to the Spirit how to succor us according to our infirmities. Yet, He chose to also suffer for our infirmities “according to the flesh” that He might know “according to the flesh” how to succor us. Then, He suffered “according to the flesh” that He might take upon Him the sins of His people.

Just as Christ’s death and resurrection grants power and progression to our deaths, and makes possible our resurrection. We might also say that Christ’s suffering “according to the flesh” grants power to our suffering “according to the flesh,” and makes possible our sanctification. Let me explain.

gethsemanefinal

I think sometimes we forget that the Atonement of Christ, though deeply individual and personal, is also much more all-encompassing and grand—on a universal scale—than we mortals can ever comprehend. But, for those of us who understand vicarious ordinance work, it seems quite clear that all eternal, saving ordinances must be performed “in the flesh” or “according to the flesh.” From this, we might postulate that while Christ knew enough according to the Spirit to succor us in our infirmities, that as part of His great vicarious ordinance on our behalf, He also had to pass through it all physically as well in order to grant the ordinance power and validity. But, by default it also grants power and validity to our individual sufferings, which, without the Atonement would be powerless to improve, refine, or sanctify us.

So, we have established why Christ had to suffer even though often we still suffer. But let’s now consider the question, “Why do we still suffer if Christ already took all the suffering upon Himself?”

All the answers to this question come from the very same doctrines we’ve already canvassed.

If we are to become like Christ, then even though we do not have to (nor could we) perform the Atonement, it seems clear that in order to become godly we still have to suffer “according to the flesh” that we might be able to learn to succor others. Certainly the Holy Spirit can reveal certain things to us according to the Spirit , and yet I think we can all grasp the fact that our compassion is deeper and our capacity to comfort and succor is greater when we have passed through something “according to the flesh.” This includes emotional, mental, and spiritual anguish because they all manifest themselves in amplified forms through our physical bodies’ reactions.

As well, as mentioned above, because Christ suffered our suffering now matters. Because of Christ’s suffering, our suffering now has the power the help us progress in God’s plan of salvation. Because of Christ’s suffering, our suffering grants us power to actually become godly, and to help others in ways we could not otherwise do. Have you ever considered that without Christ none of our suffering would have any purpose? We would be doomed to misery (Mosiah 16:4). But, because of Christ’s life and Atonement, all of our suffering becomes important, meaningful, powerful and necessary. We cannot become godly without it.

Most importantly, we know that Christ said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent” (John 17:3). We also know we can’t become like Christ if He is far from the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Mosiah 5:13). As well, the five foolish virgins were kept from the wedding feast, not because they were late, but because they didn’t really know Christ (Matthew 25:12). They were strangers to Him. They didn’t know Him because they hadn’t become like Him (1 John 3:2).

If for no other reason, we suffer in this life, continually, that we might not only become godly, but that we might come to know God.  I still remember the first time I truly suffered anguish and deep emotional injury because of the deliberate actions of another person. It was so entirely unfair and hurtful. And I remember realizing for the first time this was the only type of pain Christ suffered. All of His suffering was the result of others’ deliberate actions and was unfair. He warranted none of it. I remember this moment so clearly because my love for the Savior grew exponentially as I began to (in a small way) comprehend what He really did for me and for you. I thought I had understood before. But in that moment I realized how little I had ever understood anything. Because of my suffering, I came to know Him better.

Portrait of sad woman.

Certainly we suffer pain from the consequences of sin so that we might be led to repent. But, I find that the majority of the pain in life that we suffer is outside of our own sinfulness. Pain, both fortunately and unfortunately, is what makes everything in this life matter. For, if we can’t be hurt then we also can’t be healed, helped, or blessed.  Pain is what makes it possible for us to come to know God. It makes it possible for us to understand, and purely comprehend, the joy of life without pain (when we are privileged to experience it for a time). Pain is the crux of opposition which is critical to agency (2 Nephi 2:11). This list just goes on and on.

So, as Wesley so wisely said, “Life is pain.” It has to be. It’s a problem, sure. And C.S. Lewis undressed this problem in a literary fashion so much better than I ever could in his book The Problem of Pain. But I congratulate myself that the one thing he doesn’t point out is its most critical function in helping us come to know Christ. But, if he were alive at present he might beg to differ. Who knows.

But it all boils down to this. Christ had to suffer. We have to suffer. I think the sooner we understand this the tiniest bit easier it is to accept pain, rise above it, use it to progress toward godliness, and to help others through it.

BT

Doctrine: There are two things faith cannot do: it cannot violate another person’s agency, and it can’t force our will upon God. Agency is the preeminent doctrine of heaven and earth–it cannot be overthrown. Covenants can only secure/bind us individually to God when we keep them. Our kept covenants cannot bind others to God. Sealing covenants bind eternally only those family members who keep their covenants.

The Abrahamic Covenant. It’s something most Latter-day Saints have barely thought about, let alone studied. It’s something they’ve heard bits and pieces of and like to quote ideals from; but they have no idea of the context of what they are quoting. And, most often, this covenant is misunderstood in regard to wayward family members.

Next, Agency. It’s another thing Latter-day Saints claim to understand—better than most, even. And yet, they only understand it as far as they like it. The parts of agency they don’t like, they disdain, ignore, or push away and purposefully remain ignorant of. And, the one place people like to pretend they can remain ignorant is in regard to wayward family members.

The word “wayward” means: difficult to control or predict because of disobedient behavior, having turned, or turning away from what is right or proper, etc.

Now, when I say “wayward,” I mean the children, or grandchildren, or other descendant posterity (from a man and woman who have been sealed in the temple and who are bound by the Abrahamic Covenant i.e. the New and Everlasting Covenant) who have rejected the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, gone inactive from it, or who even actively fight against it.

So, what is the big misunderstanding? Many people who have been sealed in the temple falsely believe that if they (meaning the two of them) keep their sealing covenant and are faithful, that their wayward children will be forced by God to someday repent and “make it” to the celestial kingdom. And, they think that this will happen because of the Abrahamic Covenant by which they are bound. They mistakenly believe that their covenant with God will save their children despite the actions of their children. [See Elder Bednar quote and reference at the end of this blog post for the reason many people have strayed into this belief.]Bored Teenage Girl Being Told Off By Mother

It’s the hard truth, but this is simply not the case. It can’t be the case because it is contrary to all the foundational doctrine upon which the gospel is founded—upon which this life is founded. In Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 and 132:21 teach quite clearly that kept covenants are what bind us to God and give us access to His fullness. We cannot bind others to God by our kept covenants (Matthew 25:1-12). They must make and keep their own.

So, not only is this mistaken belief not part of the Abrahamic Covenant, but it totally goes against the whole plan of salvation which is designed to allow, encourage, and protect agency. God makes no covenant with any of His children which overrides the agency of any of His other children. If agency was that easily sidestepped then the Atonement of Jesus Christ would never have been necessary, or God’s plan, for that matter.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently taught in his October 2016 General Conference address, Fourth Floor Last Door:

Faith is powerful, and often it does result in miracles. But no matter how much faith we have, there are two things faith cannot do. For one, it cannot violate another person’s agency.

One woman prayed for years that her wayward daughter would return to the fold of Christ and felt discouraged that her prayers had seemingly gone unanswered. This was especially painful when she heard stories of other prodigal children who had repented of their ways.

The problem was not a lack of prayers or a shortage of faith. She needed only to understand that, as painful as it might be for our Father in Heaven, He will not force anyone to choose the path of righteousness. God did not force His own children to follow Him in the premortal world. How much less will He force us now as we journey through this mortal life?

God will invite, persuade. God will reach out tirelessly with love and inspiration and encouragement. But God will never compel—that would undermine His great plan for our eternal growth.

The second thing faith cannot do is force our will upon God. We cannot force God to comply with our desires—no matter how right we think we are or how sincerely we pray. Consider the experience of Paul, who pleaded with the Lord multiple times for relief from a personal trial—what he called “a thorn in the flesh.” But that was not God’s will. Eventually, Paul realized that his trial was a blessing, and he thanked God for not answering his prayers the way he had hoped.

Christ himself said to the Jews (the blood descendants of Abraham) who continued to reject Him (Matthew 3:8-9; JST Matthew 8:35-36):

Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Why is it that ye receive not the preaching of him whom God hath sent? If ye receive not this in your hearts, ye receive not me; and if ye receive not me, ye receive not him of whom I am sent to bear record; and for your sins ye have no cloak. Repent, therefore, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance; And think not to say within yourselves, We are the children of Abraham, and we only have power to bring seed unto our father Abraham; for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children into Abraham.

Christ declared that being of the literal blood of Abraham was not sufficient for salvation or Priesthood authority. The Jews had to also bring for fruits meet for repentance in order to fulfill their calling as God’s people.

So, what is the Abrahamic Covenant for if not to force people back to God?

The Abrahamic Covenant is THE COVENANT God made with Adam and Eve, and all the righteous who lived thereafter. It was renamed after Abraham because of his faithfulness. The Abrahamic Covenant contains many smaller covenants, promises, obligations, powers, and assignments; which, if undertaken will help us become like God. That is its sole purpose: TO BECOME LIKE GOD.Hipster girl with beanie hat showing attitude

The following covenants are all a part of the Abrahamic Covenant:

Baptismal covenant (Abraham 2:9-11)

In the baptismal covenant we agree to try to become like God by keeping His commandments, serving our fellow men, and sharing God’s plan with others. We accept the command to receive the Holy Ghost and live worthy of His companionship. By entering this covenant, we become the seed of Abraham (whether we are already blood descendants or not).

The Gift of the Holy Ghost covenant (Abraham 2:9-11)

When we enter the baptismal covenant we are commanded to receive the Holy Ghost. This power is the baptism of fire. Different from the power of the Holy Ghost, and the Light of Christ, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is what cleanses us and changes us—over time—into a godly being. As we exercise our agency to do good, the “fire” of the Holy Ghost is able to make permanent changes in our nature (like a blacksmith using a forge to heat metal and change it into something; the heat is necessary to create the malleability needed to make long-term change to the metal).

Priesthood Ordination covenant (Abraham 2:9, 11)

Both men and women act under the authority of the Priesthood of God. Therefore, the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (found in Doctrine and Covenants 84:5-44) applies to all; especially endowed members (who have gone to the temple to receive “the fullness of the Priesthood”. We are to live by every word which proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. We are to receive, embrace, and keep our baptismal covenants and temple covenants.

Part of having access to the Priesthood is using it to spread the gospel and offer its saving ordinances to all mankind. This is one of the chief responsibilities of the Abrahamic Covenant—of God’s people. It is not just to preach the gospel, but to make available its saving ordinances to all. This is a responsibility and a command. It is not just a nice thing to do.

Endowment covenant (Abraham 1:2-4; 2:8-9)

A primary part of the Abrahamic Covenant is taking upon us deeper covenants to live in such a way that we can become like God. The endowment is not just about “living with God.” It’s about “becoming like God.”

The covenants that accompany the endowment are critical to us binding ourselves more firmly to God (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10) and His plan for His children, and for us. As we receive greater knowledge and power to be righteous and godly, we become “like God.”

Sealing covenant (Abraham 1:2-4; 2:8-9)

God promised Abraham eternal seed (family). This is what God has. If we want it also, we must enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. It doesn’t guarantee that all our children will be exalted. It does, however, guarantee that those of our children who keep their covenants with God will be bound to us forever, as we are bound to God by keeping His covenants.

Contrary to the generalized belief that most Latter-day Saints have, getting married in the temple is not “about them.” The sealing covenant is an individual covenant made with God to live worthy of having eternal family. It is a covenant made in the pursuit of receiving godly privileges. Even if one member of the marriage fails to keep their covenant, the covenant is still in force for the person who remains faithful. Those who take upon them the New and Everlasting Covenant agree to join God in His work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. That’s what the sealing covenant is!

This is the covenant that so many people think means God will force their posterity to repent and live the gospel. This is not the case. The sealing covenant, however, does provide something that often gets mistaken for God forcing people to give the gospel. What is it? Well, let me tell you.

In Jacob 5 we read the olive tree allegory. This allegory is long. Most people skip over reading it. They are overwhelmed by its symbolism. But, this allegory is a strong visual of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Throughout the allegory we see God do everything He can to get his olive trees (the primary tree being the House of Israel) to produce good fruit (or to be righteous). He takes wild (wicked) branches and grafts them into good (righteous) trees. He takes good branches and grafts them into wild trees. He takes good branches and plants them in different places and soil trying to preserve the righteousness of the tree they came from. He slowly prunes away wild branches trying to give those that remain a chance to turn good.

Back and forth, and back and forth, the Lord goes trying to save The House of Israel, the Covenant People, the Children of Abraham so that they might “salt/save” the rest of the vineyard. The House of Israel carries the responsibility to preach the gospel and carry the ordinances to all the rest of God’s children! So, the Lord promises, because of the covenant, that He will work extra hard to provide conditions for those “children of the covenant” to choose to fulfill their covenant responsibilities. But, He will not force them to change. He will merely go back and forth, back and forth, pruning, grafting, dunging, planting, etc. trying to get “His people” to keep their covenants and bless the lives of each other and the rest of His children.

“For of whom much is given, much is required (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3)” which is why the Lord works extra hard to make sure that those of us who have entered into, or who have been born into, His covenants, don’t end up with “greater condemnation.” This is also why He tries to encourage us to make those covenants only when we are prepared to embrace them. God’s covenants are not just membership in a church, or saying we want to be affiliated with the church. They are a firm contract between we and Him about our responsibility to do His will and learn to become like Him.

Divorce in the family
Divorce in the family, the husband leave the family

Now, let’s talk about agency.

In order to have agency we must have:

  1. Law defining right and wrong
  2. Opposing choices
  3. Opposing enticements
  4. Power to choose (to act and not be acted upon)
  5. Environment that does not interfere with choice

If we take away wrong choice in order to make things nice and to keep people from feeling bad, then we also take away right choice. Law defines both. Remove law, neither exists. Remove wrong, the other disappears also. So, we can’t say, “But, I love my son/daughter. I cannot imagine heaven without them. Even if they are unwilling to keep such and such commandment, surely God will still let them in—for my sake.” Not going to happen, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:13).

Notice God said He cannot look upon sin with the least “degree” of allowance. That’s why they are several “degrees” of glory. The degree of sin any of us is determined to hold onto, and not repent of, will also determine the degree of our glory (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15, 18-24, 33-39).

But, here’s something else to consider: if we love our children more than we love God…or if we love our version of God’s plan more than God’s version; so much so that we would force our children to live in a kingdom of glory they would not be prepared for, would not like, nor appreciate (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33), then perhaps we don’t really understand what degree of glory we really desire.

If our children don’t succumb to the pruning, grafting, dunging, etc.; if they don’t succumb or submit to the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, then we cannot manipulate them into becoming godly. It’s terribly sad. It’s heartbreaking. But, that is simply not the plan. We cannot override their power of choice. God is the one who has given it to them, and who are we to try to fight against God?

If there is anyone out there who still struggles with this concept, please read, Faithful Parents and Wayward Children: Sustaining Hope While Overcoming Misunderstanding by Elder David A. Bednar.

But, here is one quote from it:

The statements by Joseph Smith and Orson F. Whitney are construed by some members of the Church to mean that wayward children unconditionally receive the blessings of salvation because of and through the faithfulness of parents. However, this interpretation is moderated by the fact that the most complete account of the Prophet’s sermon was not available to Church historians at the time they compiled an amalgamated version of his teachings from the notes of Willard Richards and William Clayton. In the more complete set of notes recorded by Howard and Martha Coray, Joseph Smith is shown to have qualified his statement to make the promised blessings conditional upon the obedience of the children:

“When a father and mother of a family have [been sealed], their children who have not transgressed are secured by the seal wherewith the Parents have been sealed. And this is the Oath of God unto our Father Abraham and this doctrine shall stand forever.”

So, I’m posting this blog, not to dash hopes. But, to hopefully influence the actions of those lovingly, but sadly, misdirected parents. Salvation is dependent upon our individual relationship with God (St. John 17:3; Matthew 25:12). We cannot make our children have a relationship with God. If they are to have His image in their countenances, then they must do their part to become like Him.

So, if you’re a parent and you’re trying desperately to be more righteous, in an unbalanced way, in order to save wayward posterity, then you are missing the point. You can’t be more righteous on their behalf. You can only be righteous on your own behalf.

So, what can you do?

You can focus your faith and your energy on what you can control. You can focus your faith and energy on helping them come to know God “through you” by showing charity, grace, and love to them where they are in their spiritual journey and no matter what degree of glory they choose. You can invite them to serve and love you and their family and friends. You can pray for opportunities to speak to them by the Spirit. You can focus on using your agency to invite (not manipulate or coerce) them to use theirs—to choose God.

You cannot visit the temple an extra ten times, or read your scriptures an extra fifteen minutes, or serve yourself into exhaustion in order to force the Lord to save your children despite their agency. What a useless burden to carry? How little trust in the Lord and His plan? How selfish to force our desires on others?

The beautiful thing about God’s plan is that we will all get exactly what we want. Sure, those of us with a testimony of what’s best will always mourn when others choose less than the sum that’s available to them. But, ultimately, we all end up exactly where we want. And that, alone, should give us peace.

Alma 29:4:

I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.

So many people have often said to me, “I wish I could do <fill in the blank> like you.” But, they don’t really want to. They think it would be nice to do <fill in the blank> without any practice, study, or effort. But, when it really comes down to it, they put the effort into the things they really want. And, if they wanted to do <fill in the blank> just like me, then they’d put the effort into it. It’s as simple as that. And that’s what God is asking of all of us, whether parents or children. We must bring forth our own fruit.

BT

Doctrine: Like a seed is planted in the darkness of dirt where it can best take root and germinate, so also is true faith sewn/born in darkness. Exercising faith in darkness (or dark times), lighting a mere candle, is what eventually brings us out into the glorious light of Christ. Christ is the light that disperses darkness.

Depression is real. Anxiety is real. Mental disorders and conditions are real. To what extent, to what duration, and to what level we experience these mental and psychological struggles is different for each of us. Some depression and mental disorders are clinical—meaning they are semi-permanent, or permanent. They may come and go, or they may never go at all. Some depression and anxiety is circumstantial based on hurtful life experiences and temporary struggles—and it passes with time.

No matter what extent we suffer any of these issues, they are difficult. And, these are often the times we struggle the most to feel a connection to God. Indeed, we may struggle to feel anything at all. Or, conversely, we may feel so much that connecting spiritually with God is nearly impossible.

Though we may not realize it, strong feelings, of any kind, can be more than a sufficient blocker to feeling the Spirit. But, simply because we can’t feel the Spirit doesn’t mean we are evil or that we have done something wrong. It’s simply difficult to connect when we are in the throes of any kind of extreme emotion; whether it be anger, infatuation, pride, selfishness, exhaustion, despair, intense grief, intense emptiness, and so forth.

Richard G. Scott (April 2012) taught: “…yielding to emotions such as anger or hurt or defensiveness will drive away the Holy Ghost. Those emotions must be eliminated, or our chance for receiving revelation is slight. (Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life)”

C.S. Lewis says in A Grief Observed, that:

You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately; anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence. ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead?

…and so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: [because] you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.

On the other hand, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? And there’s also ‘To him that hath shall be given.’ After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity.

C.S. Lewis goes on to describe grief/depression/despair like both fear and suspense. And, I think depression, anxiety, and other mental struggles often feel similar.

If you are empty, you fear you may never feel again. Then, you experience the suspense of waiting till the moment feeling returns. You may even try to initiate, or take charge of, the return of feeling by resorting to actions that bring on anger, lust, despair, and guilt. I use these because for some reason when we are in such depths we rarely (unless we have trained ourselves) naturally (Mosiah 3:19) resort to those actions that bring on forgiveness, love, hope, and peace. We seem to naturally choose to excite negative feelings. Maybe that’s because those Christ-like actions seem more impossible when one feels nothing at all.

Or, on the other hand, you may feel so much, an excess of emotion, that you fear you may never bet back to normal levels. Then, you experience the suspense of waiting for blessed normalcy and equilibrium in your emotions and feelings to return. You may, again, try to initiate the return of normal feeling by taking unhealthy actions; simply because in this excessive emotional stimulation healthy actions are not natural (Mosiah 3:19) and seem to require heroic effort, while negative ones “seem” to not require as much.

Again, I want to emphasize that having feelings that temporarily block our ability to feel and comprehend God’s hand on our shoulder during these mental struggles does not make us evil. It also doesn’t mean He isn’t there. In fact, He is there, but our ability to tune into that presence is often difficult because we are wearing emotional and psychological sunglasses in an already dark room.

Lest anyone think I don’t know what it feels like to be in any of these throes or to struggle with anxiety, emptiness, excess emotion, or the like; I can only venture to say I have experienced them all in several ways and to extents I have not the room to explain. And, unfortunately, I continue to experience them. However, over years of practice, I have learned how to get out of these “dark ruts.” It is for exactly this reason that when I was asked to blog on this topic that I had sufficient doctrine fodder to present—because I have pondered it extensively.

So, how can we stay spiritual if our mental, emotional, and psychological illnesses are akin to the wall of China between us and our ability to sense the presence, love, guidance, comfort, and Spirit of God in our lives?

I have two answers to this. Both came to me while listening to well-prepared talks at church.

#1

The first came a year or so back. I don’t remember what the talk was, but I had a jolt of insight about light.

So often, when we feel we are sitting in a void unable to reach God or to feel His presence, we are in a metaphorical darkness. Of such darkness, Elder Uchtdorf (April 2014) taught:

Spiritual light rarely comes to those who merely sit in darkness waiting for someone to flip a switch. It takes an act of faith to open our eyes to the Light of Christ. Spiritual light cannot be discerned by carnal eyes. Jesus Christ Himself taught, “I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

This quote talks about how when we are in darkness, we need to make an effort to feel light. When we are in darkness it is hard for us to comprehend the light that very well may be present. However, Elder Uchtdorf compares it to flicking a switch. Yet, while I was sitting in Sacrament meeting one day, a more applicable illustration came to my mind. Because as we all know, flipping a switch from darkness to light simply isn’t that easy.

So, in my mind, instead of a switch, I saw a candle. When we are in darkness and we light a candle, there is still darkness. The small light, while better than ultimate darkness, still casts shadows creating fearful images and it leaves much of a room, or space, still hidden from us. Yet, we can use that candle to make our way, little by little to the light switch. We navigate with anxiety past certain shadows and dark patches that once we are past we see they aren’t as frightening as we thought. Then, at last we reach the light switch. Because it is the light switch which is able to disperse all the darkness and leave very little, if any, of the room (or God) obscured.

Candle, flame.

So, when we feel that our ability to feel the Spirit and God’s presence in our lives is inhibited by our weaknesses and struggles, we do have to take a leap of faith and light a small candle. We have to reach out to the Lord even though in that moment we feel that He couldn’t be farther from us, that He doesn’t care about our struggles, or that perhaps He doesn’t exist at all. If we can light that small candle and protect it, it will give us sufficient light to creep closer and closer to the light switch. That small candle light—though not sufficient to disperse all fear and darkness—by slow and steady progress, will lead us across the “dark room” of our current struggle to the switch. Then the Light of the World will make Himself known unto us and enable us to continue forward through each and every dark room that follows until one day, all the lights are on: “and I say it unto you that you may know the truth, that you may chase the darkness from among you (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24-25).

Would you like an example of lighting a candle? Well, in my past I had at least 2.5 years of depression, sadness, and hurt that was quite intense at the beginning and then slowly ebbed (going up and down) over the course of those 2.5 years. During that time, I told myself that when I felt down in that dark pit of feeling sorry for myself or of feeling empty and abandoned, that I would text my three visiting teaching sisters. I would say something nice to them and ask how they were.

It was that simple. That was my candle. And, believe it or not, it was extremely difficult to do even that, to strike that match and light a stubborn wick with a shaky hand. But, I always had my phone on me and those numbers were programmed in. So, every time I was down in that pit I texted those ladies. They didn’t know that was why I texted. They never knew. But I knew that thinking about someone other than myself for the 30 seconds it took to text could make a difference.

And, you know what…that candle helped me climb out of the pit—every time. Every time I did it, I would think, “It’s not going to work; not this time.” And, that candle would flicker, but somehow it was always enough. It enabled me to change my course of thoughts, to stand up, to move, to go and do something that brought the light flowing back into my mind and heart.

(See also my blog post Knowledge versus Intelligence on acting on truth even when we don’t “feel” like it)

#2

The second answer, came to me at a recent Stake Conference that I attended. One of the ladies who spoke had me riveted for her entire talk—which I sadly admit doesn’t happen very often. The reason she had me riveted is because she said something that was like pure truth being injected into my head and heart. And yet, it was something so simple I couldn’t believe I hadn’t ever discovered it myself.

This woman had spent years, and I mean literally years upon years, battling a life and death and yet entirely unknown and never before treated brain stem issue/tumor (I believe). She talked about being in constant darkness. She consistently struggled to “tune in.” Yet, there were many times she did feel the Lord’s help, comfort, and guidance despite the fact that He did not remove or easily fix her problem. She entered many experimental surgeries never knowing if she would come out alive. And, even as she spoke to us she wore a unique neck brace and could hardly move her head. So, she wasn’t out of the darkness, completely—not yet.

Then came the injection of truth. She said quite simply that during these dark times, she often felt she lacked faith in God. She struggled to find her faith. She was in “darkness.” Then, she quoted several lines from Alma 32 (the noted chapter on “faith is like a seed”). She said:

It occurred to me one day that when we plant a seed that it goes down into the darkness of the dirt. Then, as it is watered and nurtured, it is still in darkness as it takes root, sprouts and begins to grow. It isn’t until it has been nurtured with great care that it begins to break the surface of the darkness of the dirt and burst forth into the light. So, it would seem that all faith must be born in darkness if it is to grow at all. And it is only when we nurture our faith despite the darkness that it will eventually bring us out into the light.

I remember sitting there, stunned. How had this simple truth about faith totally escaped me?

I mean, I may have experienced such a phenomena, but no one had ever explained why before. No one had ever put it before me so plainly. I wondered how I ever thought true faith came in any other way (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4).

In the parable of the sower, did not seeds that fell upon the soil and remained out in the light get eaten by the birds? Did not the seeds that did not sink down into the dirt and “take root” in darkness fail to properly germinate and thrive? How did I miss this beautiful doctrine all these years?

Light Switch - On

So, my second answer is this: If you feel that you are often, or nearly always in mental, emotional, or psychological darkness, remember that you have the capacity to grow and produce a deeper, stronger faith than many others will ever have. I don’t say this is “on the surface” something to celebrate. But, certainly it is without a doubt a spiritual gift that if grasped will lead you straight to the throne of God.

So, like a seed must be planted underneath the soil to take root and to germinate properly into a plant with the potential to grow up and produce true fruit; so also, must our faith be born in darkness. It must be tried before it can thrive.

But, when we are in these dark moments, we need only light a tiny candle. That candle won’t disperse the darkness immediately. But, it will give us enough light to proceed forward until we can reach the light switch and then be showered with the glorious light of the Master.

BT

Doctrine: Charity does not have to be an attribute shrouded in scriptural generalities. By breaking it into smaller qualities and attributes it becomes tangible—doable. If tackled and understood one-quality-at-a-time, it can be achieved. And, if possessed of it at the last day we will be what God sent us here to become—for God is charity (i.e. LOVE).

Continued from “True Love and How to Get It: PART ONE

Thinketh no evil

Charity “thinketh no evil.” However, the term evil is too generalized for us to correctly interpret what it means to think evil. We all have different ideas on what evil is. So, let’s define it.

Evil = profoundly immoral (or morally bad), wicked, malevolent, depraved (perverted), criminal, etc.

I don’t think a lot people dwell on morally bad, wicked, malevolent, depraved, or criminal thoughts. And, whether or not we have such thoughts briefly (or are tempted to think of them based on a response to our feelings and environment) is not, in my opinion what it means to “think evil.” So, what might it mean to think evil?

Just as our ability to take note of the fact that a woman or man is attractive is not evil; to be aware of evil, or to be able to notice it mentally, does not make us an “evil thinker.”

However, while it is ok to notice a woman or man is attractive, to continue to appraise them and purposefully entertain sexual thoughts about them is lust, and by the law of Christ: adultery in our heart. Lust and adultery in our hearts and minds is certainly evil thinking.

Thinking evil = to desire to and to purposefully hold onto and entertain morally bad, wicked, malevolent, depraved (i.e. perverted), or criminal thoughts.

Proverbs 23:7 teaches us that “as a man thinketh so is he.” But again, we’ve all had plenty of evil thoughts cross our minds momentarily and we still seem to be basically okay. So, what I believe Solomon is trying to say is: the thoughts we purposefully choose to engender and entertain are those that direct our ultimate desires and actions, and by consequence those that slowly mold us into who we are.

So, how do we avoid thinking evil?

Well, I could offer a lot of suggestions here, but ultimately, first we must not desire evil. But not desiring evil is not a good enough solution. We must also replace evil desires with the desire to be selfless. For all evil thinking is centered in selfishness. We must want to remove selfishness and replace it with selflessness (See section on Selflessness in the previous blog post True Love and How to Get It: PART ONE).

Those who engender evil thoughts do so because they are afraid that they will miss out on gratification, justice, love, peace, and other forms of fulfillment. They selfishly entertain evil thoughts in their minds (and often ultimately act on them) to “get the feelings” they desire, and feel destitute or robbed of.

For example:

We entertain thoughts about immorality with pornographic pictures or with the last attractive man or woman we saw in an effort to satiate our selfish desire for the euphoria for sexual fulfillment. We may justify our fantasizing or eventual physical fornication or adultery as a way to selfishly compensate for emotional, psychological, or spiritual issues/fulfillment that we have not correctly dealt with.

For example:

We entertain thoughts about physical abuse, winning arguments, seeing people suffer for their actions, sexual abuse, and other forms of dominance, revenge, and control. We justify these thoughts (and often eventual actions) by the selfish needs we have to conquer pain, to be right, to avoid perceived embarrassments, to enact our version of justice, to feel loved, etc.

Now, though our pains and struggles may be real and valid, their validity does not justify selfishly exploiting others (even if only in our minds) to satiate our needs.

So, the goal is to identify and eliminate “evil thinking?”

We can identify evil thoughts easily enough if we catch ourselves turning other people into “objects to alleviate OUR issues.” This is the root of selfishness: using others as objects to attain our own ends. Selfishness is the true antithesis of charity.

Those who murder, plunder, abuse,  violate, and exercise unrighteous dominion, etc., do so to alleviate their own issues and fulfill their personal passions, hungers, or wants. This objectification is necessary to selfishness because it is the only way to justify their actions. If they allow themselves to see others as sons and daughters of God, as potential deities, as people with families, talents, hurts, and emotions; then they cannot in good conscience assault them. It’s much easier to wrong an object, or non-entity, for our own selfish needs than a real, living, breathing Child of God.

Now, even if we aren’t prone to objectifying others very often, let me also suggest that we can objectify ourselves. Many people turn themselves into objects (or lesser beings, or animals, etc.) in order to justify selfish actions and sins against their own bodies and spirits. Sometimes psychological issues (undealt with) cause these self-objectifications. Sometimes abuse by others causes self-objectification. But, the sooner we recognize that we are “thinking evil” (whether intentionally or unintentionally), the sooner we can repent and change.

All of us have, at one time or another, justified sinful actions and thoughts against our own bodies and spirits by ignoring who we truly are. We have starved ourselves, dressed and acted immodestly, eaten unhealthy, attempted suicide, used habit-forming substances, committed unchaste acts, beaten ourselves up verbally or mentally, etc. by first turning ourselves into an object whose worth and purpose can be easily debated.

So, it’s important to note that objectification takes place anytime we remove our primary identity and worth as a child of God (or other’s primary identity and worth)—for whom Christ, the Lord, gave His immortal life willingly—which renders us priceless and grants us nearly unlimited potential. If we do not truly believe and value ourselves, or others, by our true identity (children of God), then all other forms of identification and self-value systems can easily turn us (or them) into objects of evil thinking.

So, two possible ways to overcome and avoid evil thinking:

  1. Desire to be selfless, which requires…(see True Love and How to Get It: PART ONE)
  2. Do not allow yourself to objectify yourselves and others, i.e. always see yourself and others primarily as children of God.passeggiata sulla spiaggia

Rejoicing in goodness and not enticed by iniquity

To rejoice is to feel great joy and delight. Note: We’re not talking about excitement and temporary euphoria here. Rejoicing is deep, pure, and consistent even during sorrow and difficulty. Rejoicing is not a cursory feeling, but a condition of the heart.

Therefore, to rejoice in goodness is to feel great joy and delight when we experience and witness goodness. Also, it is important to understand that this type of innate rejoicing in goodness is a critical precursor to get to a point where iniquity is no longer enticing.

Addiction recovery programs often call doing good but not desiring good White Knuckling. This means people go through the motions of good, but they still desire the evil addiction/action in their hearts. Scripturally, White Knuckling is preceded by “worldly sorrow” (2 Cor. 710). Therefore, it is only a matter of time before White Knucklers return to the addiction/action because they still deeply desire it. Therefore, because they still desire the addiction, and mourn its absence in their lives, and have only quit because they’ve been—in a sense—caught, they will eventually lose their White Knuckle grip on their attempt at righteousness, fall into a strain of “evil thinking” and then soon find themselves again deeply submerged in their addiction.

We have all been White Knucklers at times because we have not yet learned to rejoice in goodness.

But, let’s face reality. Deep down, we all have a love hate relationship with sin. It’s universal. And, we each exhibit this love-hate relationship differently.

Many sins seem not so bad and so we like to hold on to them. We rejoice in our relationship with these lesser sins. We enjoy them. Sins that seem to be worse sins we don’t particularly rejoice in, but sometimes neither do we hate them. We try to avoid these worse sins because of the warnings of others, but when the temptation to engage in them comes knocking at our door, we find that they are not nearly as abhorrent to us as they should be. Finally, there are a few sins we all love to hate. They are not enticing. They are loathsome. But, they are…too few.

We all hate murder. We all hate rape. We all hate extortion and blackmail. We hate physical, verbal, and sexual child abuse. But, the question is, why do we hate these sins so easily? The answer: because these horrific sins create an immediate host of victims. Their consequences are immediate, widespread, ugly, impossible to bypass, and they injure free will in the most horrific ways. They are, in effect, sins that it is almost impossible for anyone to make palatable to even the basest human. We can’t dress these sins up and make them look enticing. Atheists and the God-fearing alike can agree that the actions that fall in this group are wrong.

So, why don’t we hate all sin the way we hate these gross crimes against humanity? Why don’t we hate even the little sins and the worse sins with the same vehemence?

We don’t hate lesser sins as much because of the very reasons we find it easy hate the horrible sins. The consequences of smaller and less worse sins are rarely immediate and often delayed in visibility and scope. In lesser sins the consequences don’t seem to extend as far in their negative reach. Lesser sins, and even worse sins, can be made to look okay. We sometimes stupidly think there are no consequences, and that free will is somehow still preserved in ourselves and others for lesser sins. The lesser and worse sins can be made to look palatable to even the most righteous/good people.

In order to rejoice in goodness in the way Christ did, we must learn to find all iniquity unpalatable—even disgusting. And, the only way to do that is to take the time to see all sin, even the itty-bitty ones, in their horrible, ugly reality. We must force ourselves to stop and take the time to ponder the full scope of the sins we like, love, sort of dislike, and even those we hate to love—but we do. We must refuse to be distracted by their pretty costumes and lying faces.

Facts about ALL sin

  • All sin has impact not only on ourselves but others. We cannot do anything sinful that will not injure or hurt those around us. This is because all sin affects the very core of who we are and how we act—even in small ways—and so even if others don’t know about them, they suffer by association with us.
  • All sin is addictive to some extent—meaning that because it is the wrong way to get the good we desire, it can never permanently satisfy us. If we do not repent and seek the right way to get the good we desire, we will become powerless to the sins we embrace. We know we are addicted to a sin if we can’t imagine living without it and if it easily trumps better and best things we know we should be doing.
  • All sin is offensive to God; from a tiny off-color joke to the heinous crimes we all can agree to hate together. No sin, no matter how small, is acceptable in His presence. If you find yourself justifying that one of your sins can remain a part of you and you get still become like God, then you have deceived yourself.
  • We can’t take joy in any sin if we desire to have charity—the pure, true love of Christ. If you take joy in a sin, and you are aware of it, then if you seek charity you must be willing to desire charity more than you desire your guilty sins. Otherwise, you are damned (stopped in progress) in becoming godly until you can part with your sin.
  • We can’t balance our righteousness against our sins and come out ahead. Grace is not earnable.
  • We can’t barter with God about what’s right and wrong. We can’t make our sins okay by changing or altering commandments simply because we don’t understand them. His righteousness is the only true righteousness that exists.

Now, I could keep going here…but I think you get the point. So, we all need to stop dressing up and justifying our lesser and worse sins for ourselves. God can see through the costumes and disguises. It’s time we got up the bravery to see past them too.

It’s time we asked our sins to take off their costumes and masks. It’s time we asked ourselves how even the little sins are hurting ourselves and others. It’s time we asked ourselves what sins we have that could be truly satisfied (not only temporarily or partially) by seeking them in the proper way. It’s time we stopped judging offensiveness by our own standard and place our lives in front of God’s light so that He can reveal what in our lives offends Him. It’s time to find out why we still take joy in and desire certain sins. It’s time to find out if we are subconsciously balancing our good deeds with our bad ones. It’s time to find out if we are trying to get God to submit to our idea of good, instead of us submitting to His standard of good.

If we ask the Lord to do these things for us (as mentioned in the previous paragraph), to reveal to us the ugliness and consequences of our sins that we keep pretending don’t exist, ALL SIN will become clear to us. We will see the horrible troll behind the enchantment making it look like a prince or princess. We will become disgusted by it. We will no longer be enticed by iniquity.

Then, as we embrace the right way to pursue all the good we desire and we experience real fulfillment, peace, joy, and happiness, we will be able to then rejoice in goodness! We will see good not just as a list of unfair rules that we have to abide by. We will see good as glorious fulfilling light that leaves all of our past ideas about joy in the dust.

Green transporation sign with true love wording and direction on

Willing to bear all things/Endures all things

Bear = carry, support, endure

Christ was willing to carry all our sins. Christ was willing to support the plan of His Father selflessly. Christ was willing to endure the pains, suffering, ridicule, and misery that was part of His role in God’s plan for all of us. He was willing to bear all things that we too could bear all things.

Though we don’t like it, and often fail to preach it, life is meant to be hard. Life is a proving process. Through time and a host of mortal conditions, we prove to ourselves what we love, what we want, and who we really are. This is the process of being tested. We are not tested so that God knows what we are made of. He already does. We are proved so that we know what we are made of.

Charity is willing to bear all things because charity understands that to become like God we must be willing to do as He did. Now, we will not ever have to perform the atonement as Christ did for us. But, each of us, according to our own capacity will be tried as Abraham (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4).

To be tried as Abraham doesn’t mean we will be asked to offer up one of our children as a sacrifice. Yet, God, the Father, had to do such that we might all have the opportunity for immortality and eternal life (Moses 1:39; John 3:16; Doctrine and Covenants 34:3). Christ was not only His Only Begotten in the flesh, He was the firstborn of God’s spirit children, as well. To become godly we must submit to godly conditioning.

While the righteous are promised blessings because of their faithfulness, it doesn’t mean they are promised no problems, no sorrows, and no suffering. What problems and suffering they are spared is that which is consequential to their own righteous and wise actions. However, the conditions and weaknesses inherent in mortality are still part and parcel of the whole “becoming like God” gig. The righteous will still get sick, suffer persecution, lose jobs, struggle with personal issues and weaknesses, lose children, die, be injured by others actions, etc.

To be tried as Abraham means to be willing to submit to whatever God allows in our lives. It means to submit with patience. It means to submit with faith and hope. It means to submit without resentment and loss of trust in God. It means to take what comes and maintain trust and faith in the glorious future that awaits when this life passes.

All we are asked to pass through in this life is not insignificant or unimportant. In fact, it is quite the opposite. All that we suffer is significant and important inasmuch as it proves us. But, though “bearing and enduring all things” is extremely difficult and sometimes feels impossible to overcome,  it will one day seem but a “small moment;” and then if “we endure/bear it well” God shall exalt us on high (Doctrine and Covenants 121:8).

Now, this is hard doctrine. It’s not the fluffy stuff we all would prefer to hear.

When I have struggled through life’s curve balls, debilitating mazes, unfair sufferings, and horrible experiences, I have often heard the older and wiser people around me say things like: this too shall pass, or time heals all wounds, etc. When they have said these things I have often felt angry and resentful. “Don’t they realize how NOT comforting that is!” I have thought.

But, then, despite the fact that I didn’t like their “hard doctrine,” time did pass, my troubles passed, time did help with healing, and in time all things turned out exactly as they said with their little sayings. So, I grumbled about their lack of sensitivity. But, what I was really grumbling about was that they told me the truth. I wanted fluffy promises even if they wouldn’t really come true. But, what they gave me was tough love, true love—the only kind that really helps.

It was after some of these struggles had passed that I realized that bearing, enduring, and submitting to all that comes our way in life is the only way to overcome. It is the only way to find peace. It’s to stand in front of the mountain wave and say, “Here I am. Let’s get this over with.” That’s what Christ did in Gethsemane.

Christ has already overcome all the problems we are presently in, facing, have faced, or will face. Because He has already “won” for us, our only job is to endure the problems and to do so with as much grace as we can. Whether our sufferings are caused by our own sins or the sins of others, we can still learn from the suffering. It can still add to our understanding and spiritual resources. There is nothing that we experience that isn’t for our profit and learning. That’s why our mission in gaining charity is to simply learn to bear with and endure ALL things.

Believing and Hopeful

Now, if you’re an optimist, you may expect this section to be about having a super-positive attitude. I’m sorry to disappoint. I do believe optimism—in general—is a good thing. But, charitable belief and hope is much deeper (in my opinion) and has to carry much more power than a simple sunny perspective on life.

First, belief and hope are precursors to faith. Faith is a principle of action and power. People often use faith and belief interchangeably, but in the true gospel sense, they are NOT the same.

Belief and hope are so intertwined it is hard to define them separately. In fact, most dictionary definitions of belief include the word hope. Hope is an expectation and so belief is often the extension of hope or the precursor to it. So, as you can see, I don’t think it’s possible to believe and not have hope except in very rare circumstances, none of which I can postulate.

So, when we believe in something and hope for it, it is then that we tend to exercise faith—meaning that we act with the expectation that what we believe and hope for will be the result of our action. Those that believe and hope but do not exercise faith are much more likely to fall into the category of disappointed hope. Belief and hope not accompanied by action/faith rarely produce results. So, charity must believe and hope all things in order to produce perfect faith.

However, most important in this concept of charitable belief and hope is that it has to be exercised toward something within our limited personal reach of agency. This is because belief and hope must be followed by faith/action. We can believe in others and have hope for them to varying degrees, but rarely are we capable of bringing something to pass on their behalf. This life, for the most part, rarely accepts vicarious offerings. We can rarely exert vicarious righteousness on another’s behalf. And, even if we are allowed to do some vicarious work (like saving ordinances, fasting, praying), the people for whom we offer the vicarious actions still must exercise their own agency to believe, hope, have faith, and to accept what we offer.

Our belief, hope, and faith is never wasted. But it’s reach is limited by the agency of others and God’s will. So, be optimistic—yes. But, it is important to note that charitable belief and hope are based in correct knowledge accompanied by eternal (not merely mortal) expectations. Charitable belief and hope know (and do not resent) that God’s will reigns, and that all His promises will be fulfilled in His own way, and in His own time. This kind of belief and hope leads to faith in what WILL come to pass—as it’s only a matter of how and when.

Closing remarks on Charity

This is PART TWO of my charity musings. In reality, I feel like a Kindergartener toying with Ph.D. level material. This blog is likely only the ABC’s and I’ve still got to get to the level of writing a thesis.

However, I do feel that what I’ve learned for myself is a big deal. I’ve never seen charity in this way; not easy, of course, but finally tangible, understandable, and possible. For the first time in my life I feel like I have the capability to actually try to get charity, or parts of it. It’s no longer an attribute shrouded in beautiful scriptural language.

Hopefully, I have made charity seem the same for each of you—that it’s something you can grab onto and try to get for yourselves.

BT

Doctrine: True Love (i.e. Charity) is not one attribute; it is a combination of attributes that must be conquered one at a time to turn us into a being that has and shows true love. The common thread in each of the attributes housed within Charity is the ability to transcend selfishness, self-focus, fear, and doubt.

The definition of Charity is available in both the New Testament and The Book of Mormon. It is the pure love of Christ. It is unselfishness, it has no guile (or personal agenda in its actions), it is not prideful or vain (over pre-occupied with self) or materialistic, it is not easily angered, it is patient and full of love, it has no fear, and perhaps most importantly, if we do not have it we are nothing. Charity is also preceded by and complemented by faith and hope.

For me, the hardest part about all of these attributes which reflect pure and true love is that it never explains how to arrive at them all at once—to attain charity. We know Christ embodied all these traits. In fact, it was charity that enabled Him to live a perfect life and ultimately give up that life willingly that each of us might be given grace and the opportunity to be made perfect and return to live with and like God. This is the love, housed in a multitude of attributes, which we are commanded to have. This is true love.

This is the love that when sought and being attained by a man and woman can produce the true love we imagine, see represented to varying extents in songs and movies, and believe exists for us. This is the love that is not natural to us but is the kind that when sought produces the results we expect from the lesser forms of love we are continually failed by. This is the love that has the power to save souls, change hearts, effect reformations and revolutions, and enact change in society.

Loving couple in the park. Vintage retro style with light leaks

Charity is not one, but a multitude of Christ-like attributes

We always talk about charity as one attribute. However, to look at it this way is to try to become everything Christ was all at once. Perhaps looking at it as one feeling or attribute is what makes it so impossible to comprehend and daunting to try to achieve. By seeing it as once characteristic we have basically rendered charity as some idealistic floating bubble of perfection far beyond anyone’s reach.

Yet, if we look at the definition of charity in the scriptures, it is clearly broken down into several pieces, or attributes. They are: patience, kindness, contentment, humility, selflessness, not being easily offended or angered, virtuous in thought, rejoicing in goodness, not enticed by iniquity, willing to bear all things, believing, hopefulness, and enduring all things.

If we are truly to attain charity, I think it is necessary to look at each attribute of charity separately. It is not one big thing we can pray for and attain. It is something we must tackle a small piece at a time.

Patience

What is patience? Patience is a natural suppression of restlessness, annoyance, temper, and emotion in the face of irritation, delay, provocation, misfortune, and complaint. Someone who is patient doesn’t overreact in the face of what may appear to be something painful, unfair, terrible, unkind, or frustrating.

If this is truly the definition, then it would seem that to be inherently patient a person may need to be emotionless. How else could a person naturally and easily be patient in terrific trials, injustices, sudden distresses, and life-changing problems? In other words, how can we naturally suppress our inherent reactions to life’s oppositions? Is it even possible?

When life’s troubles and struggles come in waves, especially to the righteous or innocent, some people will ask, “How can God not intervene? How can He let this happen? Why hasn’t He helped us, or them?” How is God, who is supposed to love us unconditionally, able to allow us to suffer in the ways we do here in mortality? How can He be so patient?

Since God is love and full of emotion, then there must be another reason God is patient, because it seems as if it is love and emotion which leads us to not be patient. Remember Christ who was petitioned to come when Lazarus was dying. He could have arrived before Lazarus died. Yet, He didn’t. He was patient. He took His time doing the things He knew needed to be done as He made His way to Bethany. How could He be so unemotionally driven? Why did He delay?

As far as I can tell through Christ’s example, the answer to patience is eternal perspective. With God all things are present, even our past and our future. He can see what was, what is, and what will be. He can see our state of existence beyond our current trials, sins, and weaknesses. He knows where every choice and trial will lead us. He also knows what effects all kinds of opposition will have on our faith and spiritual and mental growth.

So, why doesn’t God act impatiently? Because with Him we are presently forgiven, presently saved, presently changed, presently healed, resurrected, and so forth. We are in one moment. But while He suffers with us in our present moments He is able to simultaneously see our healing and salvation in the future. Therefore, He can patiently lead us through our trials and through this life.

Eternal perspective is a frustrating principle for those of us currently in this very temporary and emotional mortal state. Clearly, without divine intervention and/or revelation, we mortals are incapable of remembering clearly too far into the past. We are also easily overwhelmed by the emotions of a moment. Additionally, we cannot see into the future, and what hopes we have for the limited future we can imagine, are easily dashed by opposition.

How then can we become patient if we are not omniscient? As far as I have been able to tell, the key to patience is an unshakeable and immovable testimony of God’s eternal plan of salvation and incredible faith in the atonement. This kind of testimony, or faith, is not built upon a cursory understanding of the plan, nor is it built upon casual and convenient obedience. An unshakeable and immovable testimony of Gods plan must be built by obedience, study, prayer, faith, and perseverance.

The plan of redemption is situated perfectly upon the atonement of Christ, which atonement overcame both physical and temporal death. The atonement overcame weakness, it overcame sin, and it overcame all suffering and opposition. It has saved, past tense, all who will repent both now and in the future. It has healed and resurrected all who have and who will die or suffer physical pain or deformity. Because of this infinite atonement, God’s plan was meant to have opposition, suffering, trials, and temptation. We were meant to learn patience by strengthening our knowledge, understanding, and testimony of His plan.

Some people are afraid to pray for patience because they are afraid of what God will allow to come into their lives to answer this prayer. They are afraid to seek this attribute of charity. However, fear is not necessary. Patience is not about being put through trial after trial in some morbid way until we submit to despair and resignation—which is the mortal idea of patience. Patience leads to peace and joy, not misery. Patience is about using whatever experiences God allows in our lives to strengthen our faith in the atonement and His plan. The stronger our testimony of the plan of salvation the greater our capacity to wait upon blessings, to wait upon wayward loved ones to return to God’s covenants, and to wait upon psychological, emotional, and physical healing.

Those with patience understand not only in their minds, but in their hearts, that they do not have to worry about if or when blessings will come. This is because that they have sure faith; they know and feel with a surety that all things are part of God’s plan and that all will be completely fixed, explained, made clear, or restored in God’s timing. As well, the knowledge of God’s timing doesn’t bring them anger, resentment, despair, or bitterness. It brings them hope, reserve, and peace. They don’t worry about if. They only wait patiently for when.

If you have a difficult spouse, do you wonder when he/she will repent and change? Or do you exercise patience while you wait for when they will? If you have a child who is ungrateful, unkind, or wayward, do you wonder how you can make them grateful, kind, or repent? Or do you exercise patience while you wait for when they will learn it on their own? If you have lost a job or your health, do you agonize over when these cups of opposition will be removed? Or, do you exercise patience while you peacefully wait for your promised blessings—whenever they are ordained to come?

Anything in your life that causes you a feeling of unrest and impatience can be turned into a question like those above. Faith, hope, and charity are interconnected. To attain the patience that is a deep part of charity, we must first have faith in the atonement and firm hope in the plan of salvation, and also that God has an individual plan for each of us. For faith and hope in these things will make patience possible.

Chain with heart

Kindness

What is kindness? Kindness is the quality of being innately generous, considerate, and friendly.

While many of us can go through the motions (or appearance) of kindness, it is not necessarily something that comes naturally or easily. Nor are the motions of kindness evidence of an innate charitable-kindness. I have often wondered why this is. Why isn’t it easy to be kind? Why do I have to force myself to serve? Why do I often feel annoyed when I know I need to show kindness? Why is the natural man (or woman) usually the opposite of kind?

I have seen many examples of people who find it easier to be kind to animals than to humans. I have seen people who find it easy to be generous with children but not with their adult peers. I have myself often struggled to be considerate to those whose personalities tend to annoy me. I don’t wish them ill, but neither do I naturally want to go out of my way to bless their lives. If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?

Kindness is so simple a trait that it is overlooked more often than not. But, in my experience, it is not the simplicity of the trait that leaves kindness so underperformed. It is that kindness is not solely an action but a condition of the heart. A heart condition of kindness is much more difficult to create. It requires us to become kind, not to simply act kind.

Christ was kind. He embodied kindness. It was who He was. He was kind to all, without regard to their actions toward him. As He was being crucified, did He not say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?

If kindness is not an action only but a condition of the heart in the doer, the level of complexity jumps up to Godly standards: standards from which I have often shrunk. I have often felt so frustrated. How could I get my heart saturated with kindness that I didn’t have to force there?

There are likely many reasons for an unkind heart. However, for myself, I found that kindness came much easier when my motivation for giving kindness changed. Because kindness requires emotional, spiritual, and almost always physical effort, the motivation for kindness is important.

Often, we are kind because it’s a commandment. We think in the form of an equation: be kind = blessings. We do to receive. This isn’t evil. It is good. It’s the natural course of growth and is usually the first step toward becoming kind at heart, but it isn’t charity.

When I was younger, still a teen and young adult, I keenly remember my mother giving a talk in sacrament meeting on charity. Like me, she had always struggled to ‘like people.’ She certainly loved people as children of God, but because she didn’t always like them as friends and as such, she struggled to be actively kind. In her talk she talked about a spiritual epiphany she’d had about charity. “For me,” she said, “charity is helping people through the plan,” meaning the plan of salvation. This was also a revelation to me.

If I think about going out and serving someone, just to be kind for the sake of keeping a commandment, I’m not likely to be excited about it, or to feel a genuine ease of doing so in my heart. There are all sorts of excuses I can make, such as: this person doesn’t care about or need my kindness, or, someone else will do it, or, they don’t like me anyway, so going over there to help probably won’t make them happy, and so forth. It’s a commandment, but why keep it with slothfulness? Isn’t that worse than not going? Or, wouldn’t I feel more prompted to go if it was important?

Being kind to just to keep a commandment cannot always produce the heart-changing motivation I need. This is because the motivation is self-focused. It’s me doing something to keep my own report card looking good. It’s about me keeping a commandment so I can get the blessing.

However, if I think about going and serving someone in the hopes that my kindness will open their heart to the Spirit, to truth, to a step forward in God’s plan for them; that is something I can get excited about. The reason why this motivation is different is because it’s not focused on me. It’s focused on the possible outcomes I can help create in helping another through the plan of salvation. I’m thinking about them, not my own checklist or desired blessings. The minor change in my motivation makes a huge difference in the condition of my heart.

Kindness is a commandment. But it not something we do simply to get blessings, to check it off a list, or to feel better about ourselves. We do it because our acts of kindness toward others are a key part of helping them to get through God’s plan. Whether we help them move, take them meals, bear with their idle chatter, weed their garden, forgive their lack of tact, visit or home teach them, donate money or resources, etc.; we do it not because they are our favorite people or because we have a specific friendly emotion in our heart, but because we want them to have the help and resources they need to get through the plan of salvation. We want them to have access to God’s covenants and to have what they need to make it home. Certainly, we don’t want to be the reason their journey through the plan is delayed. Kindness…it’s about God’s work and His merciful plan.

Christ said in 3 Nephi 27:7 (as well as in many NT scriptures):

Behold, I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

Like Christ, we to have come into the world to do the will of our Father, because our Father has sent us. Once we embrace the gospel ourselves, God has commanded us to take upon us His work and glory for our own. Like Christ’s life, no matter our powers, talents, or graces, all was meant to be consecrated wholly to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of our fellow man.

Now, there are those who have a genuine spiritual gift to like people in general, to envelop them in their social circle, and to show kindness and befriend them with little effort. These individuals have an incredible gift and are critical examples to those of us who struggle a bit more. However, even for those who find kindness is already a part of them, they still have to act to use this God-given trait in a purposeful, powerful, and God-focused way: to help people through the plan. A talent is of little worth unless it is invested and multiplied in God’s service. That’s why the talent was bestowed to begin with.

Christ was kind to all because He saw clearly His role in their lives. He was there to help them recognize their Father in Heaven. He was there to help them have the knowledge, physical strength, spiritual boost, or necessary Christlike reprimand to get them on the path to eternal life. Kindness was as much in His heart as it was in His stewardship. So it should be also in ours.

Contentment: charity envieth not

To be envious is to have a feeling of discontentment or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. It can also be the idea of possessions, qualities, or luck. Simply by our preoccupation with the blessings of others we become discontent with our own life whether to a great or miniscule extent. We may even feel denied a particular blessing by some secret divine decree; one we are certain we should be given. After all, we have fasted, prayed, acted, done our part, and yet the desired blessing hasn’t come, and we feel entitled to it.

The day I realized I was full of envy was the day I read the definition. Two words popped out at me: resentful longing. Now, I would never venture to say that longing by itself is wrong. But resentful longing certainly is. For me, resentful longing was a deep, very well hidden ache that plagued me about several blessings which I desired. For all intents and purposes, I knew I was living as God wanted me to. I often felt peace regarding my standing before Him; and yet, deep within was a resentful longing for things I felt I had been denied.

There are many righteous, faithful saints who have as yet not received blessings they may feel they have earned by obedience and hard work. How many sisters are childless despite years of desire and efforts? How much money and stress have they invested in medical assistance and still nothing? How many men have never achieved a desired profession or level of education, or expertise or rank in their chosen career path and its accompanying paycheck? How much money and effort have they expended in additional education and work experience to arrive and yet no one seems to recognize them from among job candidates? How many righteous, willing, single saints date and date and date and yet never feel a confirmation of the Spirit that those they are in company with are a satisfactory eternal companion? After all, they are following prophetic counsel. They have even been willing to settle or compromise.

So, how do we beat down these feelings of disappointment, discouragement, and resentful longing? How can we change our propensity to compare our current circumstances, bodies, incomes, clothes, educations, talents, and smarts to others? How can we become inherently content? Instinctually, we might answer this question with the commandment to be grateful, to have gratitude. But, like kindness, gratitude is not a forced mindset, nor will unenthusiastically vocalizing thanks create in us a content and grateful heart, though it certainly helps and is a good habit to get into.

I have often struggled with a sense of envy throughout my life. I didn’t see it as envy for a long time, because in general I felt quite grateful for all that I had. I could easily count my blessings. I could easily recognize where I had been protected and blessed. I could easily see and verbalize my gratitude for things I had been given that others had not. But, my ability to count or recognize my blessings didn’t actually create in me a content heart. It didn’t remove the deeply hidden resentful longing.

When I think of Christ, I try to imagine what He may have longed for that others had. When we compare Christ to anyone else, He always comes out ahead. So, does that mean He was not tempted to be envious of anything? Was His ability to be content a piece-of-cake?

As a member of the church, I was raised keeping the word of wisdom. However, in my youth, when most people are tempted, there was never a desire in me—to any extent—to experiment with drugs, alcohol, tea, or even coffee. I had opportunities, but the opportunities held no power or enticement over me. I simply had no interest. I didn’t see the draw.

However, in my adult years I experienced a few heartbreaking trials. These trials were accompanied by very real and crippling emotional and psychological wounds. Like any physical wounds, they needed time to heal. The healing did not happen quickly, and it couldn’t be rushed. It’s progress was to a great extent, beyond my ability to control—though I did all I could to try and speed it up.

Now, when I go to the dentist, I happily accept all forms of pain killers. I get the shots that keep me from feeling pain when work needs to be done. And, I certainly accept with gratitude any prescribed pain medication that will hide the pain of my dental work while my body heals. The same goes for other medical issues and visits to a physician. When pain is anticipated or caused, I happily fill my approved prescriptions to kill the pain.

On the other hand, during the trials of my life, when I have been under very real intense emotional and psychological distress and pain, it has occurred to me that there were no prescribed pain killers for this stuff. Not only did the trial come and enact upon me a very real injury without any anesthetic, but when the unfair procedure was done, I was given nothing to kill the pain while I healed. It has been in these times that I have joked with those closest to me that being a Latter-day Saint I can’t go out and kill the pain. Because I know what’s right, I can’t go get drunk or take drugs or sleep around to hide my emotional and psychological pain while I heal. Because I know what’s right, I must grin and bear my struggles and find righteous ways to apply healing salve to a wounded soul.

It was during these healing years that for the first time I understood the draw for alcohol and illegal drugs. I didn’t desire to break any commandments, but there were days when my psychological and emotional pain was severe enough that I resented those that could drown their sorrows without guilt. If I were to go out and try to drown my sorrows in the same ways I would be left with guilt. I couldn’t do what they could do because of what I knew and what I had been taught. I had resentful longing to kill my own pain.

Now, I’m not advocating that Christ looked longingly upon pigs and wished that He could have some bacon. But, I am suggesting that His burden was so heavy, His calling so elevated and taxing, and His love so great, that it might have been tempting to long for, or envy, a lesser cup. If it be thy will “let this cup pass from me”, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done (Matthew 26:39).

Christ was ridiculed throughout His life. He was treated unkindly, inhumanely, and He was the subject of abject hatred. I can’t presume to know what He felt, but since like His Father, Christ was the embodiment of love, it is possible that His righteous longing would have been for a return of that love. To look upon His brothers and sisters who were preparing to betray and kill Him and long for them to recognize Him, to realize what He had done for them, to love Him in return so that He might save them.

Did Christ have longing? Certainly. But fortunately for us it was never resentful. He understood His role and while He longed for many things, He never resented His role nor the stations or possessions of others.

The truth is, though Christ was likely tempted, He didn’t waste any time resenting His role, His mission, or even His sacrifice. Though He may have been tempted, He didn’t dwell on the fact that His path was the hardest any would ever be called to take. He didn’t resent the fact that despite all the service He rendered, He still had very few friends in comparison to others. He genuinely rejoiced in those who did call Him Lord, Savior, and Friend. He embraced His role in God’s plan and therein He found His joy and fulfillment.

As I have struggled with envy, I have found it most easy to diminish and overcome when I stop comparing my life to others. I have had to stop wondering why God has given others the blessings I clearly want more (or so I think) and have worked for. I have had to gain a testimony that God has a specific mission and plan for my life and that if it doesn’t entail what I desire or feel entitled to then there is a good reason. Not a reason I should resent, but a reason I should embrace. God has a plan for me! He has a mission for me! No matter my perceived gifts or abilities, no matter my efforts or focus, no matter my powers or capabilities, God has a plan for them and it’s His plan I should seek out, embrace, and do with all my heart. That is what Christ did.

This is one way I have found out how to be content and to envy not.

Love Stories

Humility

To be humble is to have or show a modest or low estimation of our own importance. It is to inherently be able to see our own role and mission, talents or gifts, as the property of God and not of ourselves. It is to get to a point where we stop comparing ourselves to anyone but Christ.

The problem with the idea of humility is that it often gets confused with self-deprecation. People misunderstand the idea of “modesty” or “low estimation” as the need to devalue and degrade themselves. In an attempt to not be overly self-focused or prideful they merely change their act of pride, comparison, and self-focus. Instead of finding themselves better by comparison, they use comparison to focus on their faults in an effort to be humble. Thus, they are still prideful and self-focused in a manner which is nearly, and sometimes more, destructive as the first.

I have discovered that the key to humility is to remember that “it’s not about me.” Now, the world would turn this phrase upside down and inside out and accuse me of telling people they don’t matter, that their lives don’t matter, that their efforts don’t matter, and that they should take up some sort of religious obsession in place of normal every day life. The world would argue that by preaching the idea of “losing self” I’m convincing people to neglect their self-esteem and self-worth and in effect destroying them as they get run over by other people and by life. Therefore, before anyone begin to think I’m encouraging self-deprecation or unhealthy religious obsession, let me explain what I mean.

Christ was the most powerful being to ever walk this earth. He was more intelligent than us all. He was capable of being an infinite and eternal sacrifice. It would have been easy for Him to be prideful. For, certainly He had all power. Yet, though His mission was central to the Father’s plan—indeed, without His atonement there would have been no plan—He didn’t focus on Himself and how wonderful He was being. He knew His mission, His power, was not about Him. It was about ‘the Father’s plan.’ It was about us. He didn’t place Himself as a God to be worshipped. He gave the glory to God, the Father, and pointed us to Him. He didn’t claim a greater reward because of His greatness. He used His greatness to bring us the chance of the same reward, in Heaven. As great as Christ was, He was still the son of God. His mission was still ultimately about God and His plan.

On the other hand, though Christ gave all the glory to God, the Father, He also never put Himself down. He never made a big deal about being lesser than the almighty. Rather, He rejoiced in His station. He also never diminished His own role in God’s plan. He owned it, did it with confidence and surety, and yet never tried to exceed it. He didn’t back away when people wept on His feet and then wiped them with their own hair. He never turned away gratitude and gifts. He accepted all “charity” with grace and yet never made people feel awkward for giving by a show of arrogance or self-deprecation.

Each of us has specific talents, abilities, smarts, intelligence, knowledge, and spiritual gifts. Some of us are gifted in many ways. Some of us are gifted in fewer ways. But ultimately, no matter how many gifts or talents we’ve been given; no matter how intelligent or knowledgeable we are, our gifts are not about us, and they were never meant to be. All that we have is about God and His plan for His children. As small or as great as we may often feel, none of what we have matters in comparison to others because what we have is not about us. It’s about God and His plan.

It doesn’t matter that we can’t play the piano or sing like someone else. It doesn’t matter that we can’t teach or speak like someone else. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t Ph.D’s like someone else. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have a knack for gardening, canning, and food storage like someone else. It doesn’t matter if we have 20 million dollars or 20 dollars. It all belongs to God and He expects us to use it in His service. Whether they had one talent or ten, the servants of the Lord were expected to own their gift, invest their money, and return it to their Lord with usury.

It’s tempting to think we keep a commandment better than others. It’s tempting to think we are better teachers, speakers, leaders, piano players, church administrators, parents, or missionaries than others. It’s also equally tempting to think others are better, by comparison, and that we have been given so little that we are nothing. It’s tempting to beat ourselves up emotionally and psychologically in order to make sense of our lack of testimony or of our value to God.

It’s tempting to think that motherhood is unfair in comparison to fatherhood. It’s tempting to think that being born in an affluent home or country is better than being born elsewhere. It’s tempting to resent not being born in an affluent home or country. It’s tempting to resent others who appear, by comparison, to have been born to privilege or money when we’ve been born to abuse and poverty. It’s tempting to compare our efforts for a job or career versus someone who already has what we want and seems to have achieved it at so much less of a personal cost.

Comparison looking down or up can consume our lives. It will do so, to some extent, until we are able to see that our lives are swallowed up in God’s plan. Our individual lives, whatever their content, are about God and His plan. Whether it’s God’s plan for our individual salvation and exaltation, or whether it’s God’s plan for how we are to use what He’s given us to lead others to salvation or exaltation, it’s never about us. It’s always about God and His plan.

Selflessness

To be selfless is to be more concerned with the needs and wishes of others than our own. At first glance selflessness appears to be similar to humility. But, while humility is an absence of incorrect comparison and an inherent understanding of our place in God’s plan, selflessness is a condition of the heart that leads us to forget ourselves within that plan. In other words, we stop worrying about missing out on something. We stop worrying about what we want, what we may be denied, and what we may or may not get.

In the New Testament (Mark 8:35) we learn: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

I find that the key to this scripture is “lose his life for [God’s] sake”. We aren’t asked to lose everything simply to make a show of loss. We aren’t asked to sacrifice and to take stripes in order to have evidence for our righteousness. We are expected to be willing to put others first because we recognize that nothing offered, given, sacrificed, or missed out on ‘to help others through the plan’ is actually lost. It is lost/given for God’s sake; for His plan’s sake. In fact, anything we sacrifice is multiplied each time we give it up. The more we give for the sake of God’s plan the more we shall receive.

A good friend and sister I knew in my home ward growing up said something to the effect of: you can’t give God a slice of break and not get a loaf in return. God knows how to give good gifts to His children. Christ said in Matthew 19:29:

And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

So, how do we overcome our natural preoccupation with getting and receiving? How do we eliminate the worry of losing out on some blessing or opportunity that we are certain is the best path or opportunity for us? We’ve even given God a list of how many amazing things we could do in His name, if He would only grant us this thing! How do we put off the natural man and lose our life for God’s sake?

Each of us has in our mind’s eye and life plan of some sort. We have dreams and desires. We imagine the joy of arriving at some future rest. This may take the form of a dream job, a dream house, a dream educational degree, a dream family, or a dream situation of some kind. We have this dream and we naturally design our lives around arriving at this future rest.

As we dream, we come up with ideas of how to get what we want. We focus on these paths to our dreams in attempt to have what we want in the way that we think is best to achieve that desire. This is a natural process, and certainly not inherently evil. In many ways, it is a good mental effort and helps us to be anxiously engaged in a good causes and to bring to pass much righteousness.

Then, life happens. Trials, the agency of others, health issues, mistakes, oversights, and other unforeseen issues begin to barricade the path to the rest we have dreamed of. What is our reaction? Panic. Whether we express it moderately or to extreme, we begin to panic. We begin to problem solve. How can we find the shortest route around this barricade, this issue? We become preoccupied with our destination. We work to get it back at almost any cost to the people around us. We are solely preoccupied with getting our way back on track to our rest.

Or, on the other hand, life is great. We are headed forward toward our dream with relatively minor setbacks and we are on a roll. During our leisure time we begin to add detours and side trips to our future rest. Things are going so well we see no need to look around at what we can do for others. Instead we create bigger and bigger dreams for ourselves.

Whether we are in panic mode or in excessive dream mode, we are selfish. Our own perceived needs make the needs of others appear far less important. We plan to help others, or to serve God better, once we have gotten what we believe we need and want first. We are far from selfless.

God has a plan for each of us. This plan is tailored to make us like Him and includes receiving all that He has, worlds without end. Yet, sometimes we get comfortable with our own dreams and plans, which in general are far beneath what God has imagined for us. We think we know what will bring us true joy and current happiness. Or, sometimes our path to our future rest takes seemingly unfair and devastating detours and we get sidetracked troubleshooting to get back to something that God already has a plan for restoring.

It’s like a child wanting a tiny, cheap sucker from a road-side candy stand, when the Willy-Wonka candy paradise is a 20-mile walk down the road. Yet, that child sees the sucker and is so worried about not receiving anything sweet that it throws a fit, gets mad, yells unkind things at its parents, picks a fight with a more patient sibling, and so forth. In the moment, this child is so preoccupied with self and what he wants that what’s available or how everyone is being affected never crosses his mind. He is blinded by his own selfishness and lack of trust.

The parents may say, you have to walk 20 miles and be nice to your sister, but at the end you can have 1 billion suckers if you want. But, the longer you delay, you keep not only yourself from Willy Wonka land, you are slowing down our progress and your sister’s progress to receiving it also.

We become selfless when we lose our fear of missing out or being overlooked. We become selfless when we come to know for ourselves that every blessing and joy we could ever imagine and more can never be denied us if we follow God’s plan and example for us. Giving a generous fast offering will not cripple us financially nor will it enable the lazy. Giving our used car to a needy family member or friend rather than selling it for a profit is not going to cripple us. Will we miss the money we might have made on the purchase? No. For we have enough and having more won’t make us happier if we leave another in need.Romantic Love

Not easily provoked

To provoke someone is to try to anger them, exasperate them, stimulate a rise or response, or to purposely vex them. To be easily provoked is to be like a dry pile of hay. One spark and you become a raging inferno. To be easily provoked is to be easily offended. It is to perceive offense even when none is intended. It is to look for reasons to get offended. To be easily provoked is to have a negative mindset that merely waits for a possible provocation and to act on it with the inherent belief that the actions of others is what has caused you, and given you right, to be vexed.

Charity is not easily provoked. This means that it is nearly impossible to provoke someone with charity. Instead of a dry pile of hay, a person is a wet log with no dry kindling nearby. Instead of perceiving offense, charity assumes none or sees instead that others are hurting which is why they are lashing—charity doesn’t take it personally. Instead of looking for justification to be vexed and to lash out, charity sees no purpose or value in taking things personally or in an outward show of anger.

So, how do we do this? Does this mean that feeling angry or hurt or offended is wrong? Again, do we have to cease having emotions at all to avoid getting provoked? Especially when a person does it on purpose? Certainly it is much harder to not get vexed when purposeful offense is given.

It is important to note that because of the gift of agency, the actions and words of others have real impact on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is because of this real and valid impact that the atonement was necessary. Our actions and words have to matter or we could not sin, nor could we do good (which people often forget…the power to do good is part and parcel with the power to sin). Agency is what makes the plan possible. Purposeful action is what makes God’s plan work.

Therefore, when people give purposeful, or even perceived, offense, it is a natural reaction for us to feel hurt, slighted, and offended. It is natural to feel a sense of anger. However, those who are easily provoked respond to these valid feelings in a self-focused manner. They feel the impact and choose to take it personally. They want to lash back. They want to judge, or punish. They want a sense of revenge or restitution. Or, they are looking for justification to act on some other sin or negative action and because they are focused on self, they use the offenses of others to provide their justification.

Sin is not compulsory (or in other words, we can’t be made to sin).

Christ certainly felt hurt, anger, frustration, and offense. How then did He keep from getting provoked?

Though we are allowed to have our natural feelings and responses, we are expected to learn to respond to them unselfishly. We are expected to view our response in how it will help others through the plan. If I am angry and I choose to yell and scream, belittle and demean, and cause fear in those around me, how does my reaction bring those around me a chance to participate and embrace God’s plan for them? It doesn’t. But, if I am angry and yet I choose to openly forgive, to have courage and be kind (borrowing from the current Cinderella), or to righteously rebuke, then while my anger was appropriate, my response was Christ-like.

When Christ entered the temple and found moneychangers and unrighteous financial dealings, He was certainly angry. I venture He felt hurt and betrayal for the sacredness of His Father’s House. He certainly dealt out a righteous rebuke. But even in His reprimand He did not purposefully belittle, injure, or act with tyranny. He taught firmly, “Ye have made it a den of thieves.” The Jews knew better, for they had “been given much” and therefore received “the greater condemnation.”

BT

To be continued soon with:

  • Thinketh no evil
  • Rejoicing in goodness
  • Not enticed by iniquity
  • Willing to bear all things
  • Believing
  • Hopeful
  • Endures all things

Doctrine: Abraham is one scriptural example, among many, that proves that God DOES and will continue to ask, command, and request His people to do things that don’t make sense…initially. He does this, not for His own benefit, but to teach us about ourselves. We learn the extent of our trust, spiritual commitment, and power. If we will trust Him and do what He asks, even when it doesn’t make sense, we will be rewarded with meaning, purpose, answers, and unshakable faith.

People throughout the history of the earth have gotten frustrated when God has asked them to do things that didn’t make sense, or even seemed crazy, initially. Some people have pressed forward and done the apparently senseless things anyway. Some have thought that because the requests or commands appear senseless, even unfair, that God can’t be behind them; so they have jumped out of the church/God wagon. Human logic, human sense, they feel, dictates whether or not God will do something.

If you don’t believe in God or religion, then, this post isn’t for you. However, if you believe in any scripture (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, etc.) and you take the time to pay attention to the things God asks, does, or institutes in His church, you will find that He frequently DOES, ASKS, and INSTITUTES things that don’t make sense…initially.

Let’s talk about Abraham. Abraham and his father didn’t agree on their religious beliefs orabraham-39462-print practices. In fact, Abraham’s father set aside Jehovah and instead opted for Egyptian gods and Egyptian culture. Abraham’s father was so far off the  straight and narrow that he willingly allowed the priests of Pharoah to take Abraham and sacrifice him to Egyptian idols. Abraham was, of course, saved by Jehovah and led away to safety; but I’m guessing the psychology of such an experience was still plenty horrific and made a sufficient scar on Abraham’s soul.

Fast forward many, many years. You’re Abraham. God has repeatedly promised you posterity (seed) that will number more than the stars in the sky and the granules of sand on beach. But, you and your wife are barren. So, then, the Lord commands you to take a second wife—a concubine. Your first wife agrees because the Lord has commanded it, and because you both think, “Well, perhaps this is how the Lord’s promise will be fulfilled.”

So, the concubine conceives and gives Abraham Ishmael, who was undoubtedly righteous. But, because of the bickering between the concubine and the wife, the Lord tells Abraham to send Ishmael, his son, and concubine away. Then, God renews the promise of seed through another child. But, Abraham and Sara are still barren, and getting older, and still don’t conceive.

Then, by another miracle, some angels visit and renew the promise of a birthright child. Sarah at last conceives and brings forth a son. The miracle at last! This son grows up. He is a joy. He is righteous. He is good.abraham-isaac-sacrifice-2

Then, the Lord comes one day and asks Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, by his wife Sarah, and sacrifice him to the Lord. WHAT? THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE!

Let’s simply consider all the reasons this request was somewhat incredible, ridiculous, sort of twisted, and simply senseless.

  • First, how many times and over how many years had God promised Abraham seed by his wife Sarah?
  • For how long had Sarah been barren? We know she was in her 90s and Abraham about 100 or so. That’s a long time.
  • How much of an impossible miracle was it that Isaac had ever been born to begin with? It was amazing!
  • Second, let’s not forget Abraham was nearly sacrificed to Egyptian gods by his own father. We have to believe that that left a psychological scar.

So, any of us might, as Abraham certainly could have, be tempted to think that God was not who we thought He was. Any person might be completely justified in thinking that this was a sick joke and that all that they had once thought they believed in was somehow now completely off. Any person might be tempted to leave the faith of Jehovah over a request like this. This was not from God. God wouldn’t do this, right?

But, Abraham didn’t leave. Why? The answer: FAITH.

Now, we know the Lord did not, in the end, allow Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. We also know that Isaac was a willing sacrifice. He too exercised FAITH in Jehovah. There are many beautiful doctrines and parallels to be extracted from this account. However, let’s talk about Abraham.abraham-isaac-sacrifice

Genesis 22:11-12 reads:

And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

Now, scripture also teaches us that God knows everything (2 Nephi 9:20). And, if He knows everything, then He already knew what Abraham would do. So, what then was the purpose of this seemingly senseless request?

Hugh B. Brown said of this experience. “Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham” (Joseph Smith the Prophet [1989], 93).

Abraham had to trust what He knew about the Lord and have FAITH, despite the senseless request. By doing what the Lord asked (or complying with the Lord’s request) despite the fact that it didn’t make any sense, he was rewarded with a FAITH that could not be shaken and a knowledge of his own righteousness. Abraham now knew that the LORD would always provide, as he named the place Jehovah-jireh (Genesis 22:14). He also learned about himself! He learned that He really would do all the Lord God asked of him. He didn’t just hope he was faithful. He didn’t just assume he was faithful. He now knew.

There are numerous other scriptural examples of God asking His church, the Saints, and His children individually, to do things that don’t make sense…initially. Each one is different. And, it is for you to search them out for yourself. Abraham (as far as we know) was the only one asked to offer his only son as a sacrifice (symbolic of God offering Christ). Ultimately, Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice Isaac. But, others are asked to do other things and God doesn’t always provide a ram. God doesn’t always step in. Sometimes the hard, seemingly nonsensical things He implements or asks us to do we are expected to do (like Nephi being asked to kill Laban). We receive no witness, no added strength, no confirmation of our own standing and power, until after the trial of our faith (Ether 12:6)!

But, no matter the sense or senselessness of the commands of God, they have a clear purpose. They teach us about ourselves. They teach us the extent of our personal commitment to God and the covenants we’ve made. They can significantly grow our faith and increase our trust in God and make us unshakable.strong-shadow-converted

It seems in these current times, these last days, these modern moments, that people like to highlight that faith is waning. They like to make a big deal out of people leaving the LDS church. They cite the people dropping out of the church as evidence for its false nature and fallibility. They think the prophets and apostles are coming out with policies that don’t make sense, and are “not what God would do.” They think the church has always done things that don’t make sense. They find anything they can to prove we don’t know what we’re talking about, or that leaders and members past and present are flawed.

Now, I’m not about to say that people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are perfect. They’re not. They’re flawed, messed up, human, prone to regular struggles, prone to pride and over-zealousness, and sin. Even the church leadership, past and present, is not perfect. Yet, I can’t find anywhere in scripture where God cites that prophets have to be perfect. But, He does say that prophets receive direct revelation from Jehovah, the Savior, Jesus Christ; and that this is how God communicates with His people (Amos 3:7). And, when these prophets and apostles release a policy or maintain a policy that we feel doesn’t make sense, I know that the policy (or the maintenance of it) has been given by revelation from God.

These are the days to be tested! These are the days to be tried! These are the days to learn about ourselves. To find out the extent of our trust and faith in the God we believe in; in the organization of his latter-day church. We can’t sit lukewarm in the middle (Revelations 3:16). There isn’t a middle, not really. There never really has been. But these are the days to choose, once and for all! Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?

So, when things that don’t make sense to you come up. Will you fear and jump out of the wagon? Or, will you, like Abraham, trust in the Lord with FAITH that He will provide answers, meaning, resolution, guidance, and peace regarding the things you don’t understand—in time.

Now, everyone has a different experience. And I can’t speak for others. But, I’ve had my share of opportunities to jump out of the wagon. I’ve had my share of things I didn’t understand and that didn’t make sense. I’ve often been crushed under the weight of uncertainty. But, though it’s often only been by a sliver, I’ve held on. And, without fail, without any exception, God has given meaning, purpose, and perspective to everything that didn’t make sense…to every struggle that logically justified jumping out of the wagon.

How grateful I am that up to this point I have hung in there. My FAITH and diligence has been rewarded. It ALWAYS is. I know, that if you are struggling with things you don’t understand. You’re not alone. And, I know that in many ways it’s on purpose. God is teaching you about you. You will learn, as you press forward in faith, the extent of your own strength. You will come to know as Abraham did, that you fear God and will do what He says…no matter what.

BT

Doctrine: All sin is trying to get something God intends for us to have in the wrong way–or NOT the way God has designed. God dispenses all blessings and powers through the keeping of commandments and the making and keeping of covenants. His way is the only way to get what we really want.

Often the excuse or argument people use for justifying their actions is to equate their actions with something that is respectable and acceptable. They draw all the positive comparisons in an attempt to make what they’ve done “okay” or “respectable.” Sometimes, they even gloat about getting something for nothing, or “beating the system.”

Some people are quick-witted, intelligent, brilliant, and savvy. They are skilled at using small print, big terms, scriptural examples, and logical assumptions to masterfully justify their unrighteous actions. What they don’t realize is that they are in poor company. They are not the first to be so brilliantly foolish and prideful. And, they won’t be the last.

Who was the first to think He had bypassed the system and could get what he wanted without the red tape? Well, Satan of course.

Satan came before God, during the foundation planning for the earth. He didn’t like the idea of having to go through such restrictions, commandments, and covenants (or red tape, as he saw it) in order to get God’s power. He saw no need to exercise restraint, to be bound by covenant, or to actually become godly.

So, he looked at God’s plan and thought, “Well, it looks like God just wants us all to come back home. So, I’ve got a plan that will do the same thing…in a different way. But, it’s still the same thing. Everybody will get what they want without all the hard work and suffering. It’s a better, smarter way.”

So, Satan, NOT knowing the mind of God, suggested to God, and all of us, that there was no real need for agency, for a Savior. Why didn’t God just force us all to do what’s right? Heck, he’d go down and do it, if God didn’t want to. He’d be the quote-unquote-savior. “Then, we’ll all come back home. Savvy? Oh, and by the way, in exchange for me bringing us all back home, Father, why don’t you go ahead and make me a god. Give me your power without all the red tape.”

This is likely not Satan’s first attempt at getting something good in the wrong way, but it’s the first one we have a record of. God, of course, whose goal for all of us was far more deep, rewarding, and eternally beneficial, said, “No.”

Satan, of course, thought this was ridiculous. How could God not see how smart and simple his plan was? It was so much easier. He got angry and would not submit to God’s plan. He refused to except God’s perfect plan of salvation—which was perfect in its design in allowing us learn through experience by choice and consequence, to exercise righteous restraint, to bind ourselves by covenants, and to actually become godly—and so Satan was cast out. So, not only did he NOT get what he wanted, he got much less than any of the rest of us will get.

But, Satan couldn’t accept his fate. If he couldn’t have what he wanted in his easier, more enlightened way, he would take revenge and try to frustrate God’s perfect plan. He would take power for himself—in the wrong way. He would do what God would normally do before God could do it. So, NOT knowing the mind of God, he got Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. But, here again, trying to get God’s power in the wrong way and to frustrate God’s plan did not work. The works of God can’t be frustrated (Doctrine and Covenants 3:3). He got nothing but another curse. Lessen NOT learned.

Choosing The Right Way
Choosing the Right way instead of the Wrong one.

Next, Satan influenced Cain to get what he wanted in the wrong way. Cain thought he was going to be a master of such a great secret, “to kill and to get gain” (Moses 5:31). This sneaky plan to get something “in the wrong way” ended poorly, as the scriptures say. So again, the “brilliant, better way” was not really the brilliant, better way.

There is a reason there is such a thing as stealing. Stealing is getting something we want “in the wrong way.” There is a reason there is murder, rape, extortion, cheating, unrighteous dominion, or blackmail. These, and many other things, are considered wrong because they are all ways of getting what we want “in the wrong way.”

If life, or people, treat us unfairly, we take revenge to get justice “in the wrong way.” If life, or people, have damaged our self-esteem or our emotional and physical needs have gone unmet, we often act in ways to get what we want that are “not the right way.” God’s way always requires restraint, self-discipline, love, forgiveness, patience, trust, and faith—all traits that require a lifetime to develop and improve upon with no short amount of failure in the process.

Some people use unrighteous dominion (see blog entry “Unrighteous Dominion: It’s easy to do” for details on meaning) to control others and get what they want. But, this is not the way God has commanded us to get these otherwise good desires. He want us to use long-suffering, persuasion, kindness, meekness, love un-faked, pre-instruction/pre-reproval, etc. and so on (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-43).

I’m not going to try and make a comprehensive list. There are diverse sins that are sins simply because they are an attempt to get something that God dispenses in a way that people don’t like to conform with. The think it’s needlessly difficult.  There is a reason God has set specific “right ways” of receiving certain powers and desirable blessings (see blog article “God’s Power is NOT Absolute”). This is because power that is not bound by law and covenant (or, in other words ‘absolute power’) brings eternal destruction and corrupts absolutely.

There is an LDS Seminary video called “The Maze” which illustrates the different techniques people use to go around the “right way.” They do this because the “right way” seems time consuming, foolish, and unnecessary. But, in the end, it ends up being the best way. It’s the way that brings true reward and fulfillment. Watch it here! The other ways end up being the ones that are foolish.

In this finite, mortal existence, God allows us to abuse His laws, use some of His powers unrighteously, and abuse the “right way” of getting things. He allows it so that we can learn by experience to know the good from the evil (Moses 5:11). But, beyond this life we cannot have access to that which we learn to take for granted and abuse here on earth. This is why celestial glory is reserved only for those that bind themselves by celestial covenants and laws (and keep them); and when this life is past only they will be able to reside in family units and have access to powers, authority, gifts, and blessings to progress eternally (Doctrine and Covenants 88:14-40; 131:1-4; 132:15-21).

The sad thing is that people truly believe they have found a way to get happiness by going around and bypassing “the right way.” But, even if they are happy for a moment, that happiness will end at some point; and most certainly it will end when they die. Just as Satan’s plans to bypass God’s ways are short-lived, so also will be ours. There is no shortcut to true repentance. There is no shortcut to becoming patient. There is no shortcut to creating a celestial marriage relationship. There are NO shortcuts to becoming like God.

Satan spent (and still spends) all his time trying to get God’s power “in the wrong way.” He wants power, the same power we all want, but he has and will continue to pursue it in the wrong way. If he can’t have God’s power, he will also try to get us to lose it as he did. Seeking good things “in the wrong way” does not bring ultimate happiness, peace, comfort, or joy. Instead, so doing creates addiction, powerlessness, anger fear, unhappiness, resentment, and misery.

Want to go do a doctor who faked his degree to get access to the paycheck because he figured out how to bypass the system? Want to go to a hairstylist who faked her certificate to do something she loves but is too lazy to learn? Want to date or marry a man or woman who lied to you about who and what they are so that they can get you, or the “you” they are obsessed with? The principle can be applied endlessly.

There is never a shortcut to true joy, true peace, and true comfort. There is never a shortcut to becoming like God and having His power. There is always a right way and it comes with hard work, discipline, knowledge, study, law, and covenant.

So, we can pride ourselves on being smart enough to take shortcuts, on “bypassing the system,” on “showing God” that His way is full of useless red-tape. But, if we do this, then we must not forget where the source of our brilliant justifications come; and what happened to him, what is still happening to him, and what will always happen to him…forever.

I remember once teaching my Seminary students that if there is truly opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11), then a fullness of joy comes only after a fullness of sacrifice. We can’t give only a little and expect to get a lot of joy; just as it wouldn’t be fair to sacrifice a lot and get only a little joy. In fact, God requires all of us—mind, heart, soul, body. We must give all that He requests to get what we want. And, He has made “the right way to do things” clear. But, the beauty is, that when we do this, He always gives us far more than we deserve (Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:30)—save through grace.

So, in this life we can try to bypass “the right way” and find sneaky, intelligent, yet foolish “wrong ways” to get the things we want. But, it’s much better to pride ourselves on the brilliance of God’s plan. It’s much better to pride ourselves on taking the hard road and enduring to the end. For that is the road that leads us to eternal life—life like God (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7). It’s even better not to “pride ourselves” at all, but to humbly and gratefully submit to God’s plan, partake of Christ’s grace, and help others to do the same.

BT