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

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

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

We Know What We Need To Do

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

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

But We Struggle To Do It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Don’t Have To Struggle Anymore

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

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

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

BT

What does it mean to be happy? The dictionary says it means to feel or show satisfaction or contentment. To me, that means to be at peace.

I think the modern world today defines happiness very different from what it actually is—thus confusing many and creating an environment of misery and entitlement, which can never produce happiness. It’s a vicious cycle of always wanting and never being satisfied, content, or at peace. I see happiness in the world today defined as a lack of suspense, lack of effort, lack of patience, and even ignorance. Indeed, our entitled world seems to feel that happiness is the absence of troubles rather than what happiness really is.

Happiness, in fact, has nothing to do with the absence of troubles, trials, sickness, pain, poverty, calamity, or even the state of society. We can be happy even when the world is falling down around us. We can be satisfied and at peace when our hearts are hurting and our bodies are incapable of moving the way we’d like. We can be happy if we focus on our lives and what we can control and accept and let go of the things we can’t control.

Living after the manner of happiness is truly about what we can individually control.

In 2 Nephi 5:27 Nephi says, “And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.”

So, what is that and how do we do it, right? Let’s take a look.

Keeping the Commandments

And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things (2 Nephi 5:10)

2 Nephi 2:13 clarifies why observing the judgments, statutes, and commandments of the Lord brings happiness when it talks about God’s law establishing what is sin and what is not, and ultimately declaring, “And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness.” Alma 41:10 is also often quoted, “Wickedness never was happiness.”

Consider the idea of accomplishment and achievement. A law establishes how to achieve and accomplish something. Godly rules: when we keep them or know we’re making a sincere effort to keep them, there is a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Such a feeling of spiritual peace is not possible without a law and set commandments. Thus, observing them helps us to feel happy with ourselves.

When there is uncertainty about what is good and what is evil, there cannot be the peace that comes from accomplishing good and avoiding evil. Let me explain.

The world today calls much that is sin, righteousness, and much that is righteousness sin (Isaiah 5:20). Thus, people engage in sin thinking that it’s okay. Yet, because God’s law stipulates that it’s sin, the consequences still follow. Gravity is gravity even if we are determined to jump off a cliff. Thus, happiness comes not from fighting against, or remaining ignorant of, the law but in learning to apply it (D. Todd Christofferson) to preserve our lives and to be happy. So also with the eternal and indisputable laws of God.

Whether we acknowledge it, believe it, or feel it, every one of us is alive and has the opportunity to partake of this mortal existence because of the light of Christ. It lights every person that comes into this world (John 1:9). We can’t go against that godly light, which is our fundamental and even subconscious conscience and essence, without experiencing its effects. Sin leads to guilt, uncertainty, un-identifiable internal suspense, heightened anxiety (above that which life already presents), unexplained loss of self-worth, defensiveness, pride, fear, despair, and misery.

Thus, to live “after the manner of happiness,” requires a submission to God’s judgments, statutes, and commandments. By embracing them and learning to apply them personally we find satisfaction, contentment, and peace. We experience faith, certainty, meekness/humility, identifiable internal composure and calm, decreased anxiety, an increase in self-worth, a decrease in defensiveness, trust, assurance, happiness, and self-confidence. We feel like we are right with the world, because we are. This is happiness.

For example: Most people know, or suspect (even un-religious folk), that forgiveness is healthy and holding grudges is not. God defines holding a grudge as a sin. God defines not forgiving as a sin—even a worse sin than the one committed against us (Doctrine & Covenants 64:9). And yet, people today thrive on the negative euphoria of focusing on the offenses they’ve received. They try to stay angry all the time. They don’t believe in God or they don’t trust God to enact justice in the time frame they want. They try to find ways to revenge themselves (another sin, since God says vengeance is His) or enact their version of justice. They devote time and energy to actively hate and exert force or manipulation on the lives of others—whom they can’t fundamentally control—instead of actively forgiving—which they can control. Thus, they suffer all the consequences that accompany it (as noted above). They think they have a right to hold on to that offense and yet all doing so does is make them unhappy—because it’s a sin. Their negative attitudes and hatred never make them happy. They do not find happiness until they leave the matter in God’s hands (hands much more capable of enacting both justice and mercy). Then, peace, satisfaction, and contentment can enter.

Hard Work, Being Actively Creative, Learning Trades

And the Lord was with us; and we did prosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance. And we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind. (2 Nephi 5:11)

And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. (2 Nephi 5:15)

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands. (2 Nephi 5:17)

Nephi is very clear here about what his people are doing that creates happiness, self-worth, satisfaction, contentment and peace. They are working hard, being actively creative, learning trades, and enjoying the fruits of their labors. They are up and doing.

There’s a reason why we feel good about ourselves after we’ve worked hard, offered service, attended educational courses, learned or discovered something, or created something. It’s because these are all godly endeavors. God has a work and glory—it’s us. He spends all of His eternity trying to help us become like Him. He doesn’t hold anything back as “His.” He shares it all. He creates everything. He gives all of Himself to us. He serves us non-stop. He tries to give us as much of Him, His power, and His resources, as we will worthily seek and accept.

Whenever we exert our moral agency to get up and do something that is similar to what God does, we will always get that beautiful, peaceful feeling of contentment and satisfaction. We feel right in a way that we can’t explain. We also can’t explain why something that seems like it should be unsatisfying is so satisfying. It simply is, because its godly.

There are some strong principles here. Happiness doesn’t come from outside ourselves. We create it.

[Note: Some people suffer with clinical depression and anxiety and I’m not suggesting that just performing an act of service will take these things away. I happen to live with and be related to several people who struggle with these very real psychological diseases. And yet, even for them, they have to choose to be up and doing despite their clinical struggle. The depression and anxiety rarely go away for them and if they waited to do anything until these diseases were cured they would be robbed of the little happiness that is available to them.]

When we put many godly things in the right order in our lives they gain the power to produce satisfaction and contentment. Such godly things include: taking care of our physical body, studying the scriptures, serving others, earning our living fairly and honestly, seeking education, reading from the best books, seeking our talents and using them to bless others and to serve God, etc. When we abandon godly things for unproductive endeavors, or sin, we begin to feel the effects. And while they may seem unexplainable, they are.

A Thought on Unproductive Endeavors

Psychological studies are beginning to suspect a strong correlation between social media/computer use and increased levels of anxiety, depression, and even suicide (see Endnotes for links to these study results). How can this be? Technology is such a blessing. Is it now only to be discovered as a curse?

I remember a few years back, after my divorce, I began to spend a lot more PASSIVE time on social media, email, and phone games. I went to those places looking for a pick me up. I wanted someone to send me an email and pick me up by saying something, or doing something that would change my life up a little bit. I wanted to pick up my phone and find a text from the perfect man who’d just happened to notice me. I wanted to play games that would make me feel happy and satisfied with my life.

Well, the result should not be unexpected. Those PASSIVE hours looking for external (outside of myself) pick me ups was fruitless. Those texts didn’t come. Or not as often as I wanted. Those emails didn’t come. Those games didn’t create any sense of satisfaction or contentment. They only made me feel like I needed to spend money to get more credits and buy more virtual stuff to keep the game exciting and to have it go somewhere. I was a bunny chasing a carrot. This viewpoint was leading me nowhere. It was unproductive, and over time debilitating.

Then, I remember the day I decided that whenever I felt down I would text someone else to pick them up, or even just to see how they were doing. Instead of waiting for a text I sent uplifting, genuine, messages to women I had a stewardship for that I cared about. I’d always think, “Sending this text isn’t going to help me feel better.” But, every time, EVERY TIME, I acted to create happiness for someone else it got me out of my funk. I’d find just that extra bit of energy to go for a walk, or cook a fun meal, or to sit down and write a book on my computer for a family member or to hash out a doctrine I had been pondering.

It was in these moments that I realized that happiness comes from doing, working, creating, giving, serving, etc. It seems so counterintuitive. We imagine hard work to be difficult and require so much effort and so we think: work=unhappiness. We’d much prefer to watch another episode of our favorite show on Netflix. We imagine our talents are too meager to create something that other people will appreciate. We’d much prefer to search Pinterest and copy what someone else has created. Laziness and depression feed on self-deprecation and the need to create mountains out of molehills. These downers protect themselves by creating false beliefs and ideals in our minds about getting up and doing.

And then, despite what we are certain is true, when we finally get the impetus to get up and work hard, to create, to give, to serve, we end up with this feeling of satisfaction and contentment that can only be recreated by the same godly endeavors. When we stop waiting for someone else to pick us up and we act, we find satisfaction and contentment. This is absolutely true and it never changes.

Thus, if we are to be active on social media and our electronic devices, then we should use them to create and share uplifting material. We should use them to serve others. We should go to these devices looking not for pick me ups but for ways to pick others up. It’s amazing how it changes the end results. We may get tired. Our brain may get over-stimulated. But, the anxiety, the depression, the lack of satisfaction of our lives in comparison with others, the misery of not getting any likes, dies. We have used social media “after the manner of happiness.” And, we can apply this to nearly everything in our life we use passively. We simply have to become active to increase its capability to provide satisfaction and contentment.

Rest

Have you ever noticed that when you lay in bed all day (unless you’re really sick, and sometimes even then) that going to bed at night is difficult, and uncomfortable. Mentally and physically you just feel rotten. Sitting around all day doing nothing is not restful. Sitting around all day and playing video games or scrolling through social media timelines is not rest. Laziness is not rest. And yet, rest is not always sleeping.

For me, a good book helps my mind to rest during, and after, a long, stressful, busy day. Sometimes, after being active from 7 a.m. to  2 p.m. with errands, a good TV show is restful. Digging into my scriptures at night before I go to bed always re-energizes my spirit and allows me to feel at peace so I can turn my mind off and get sleep. Prayer also lets me mentally work through my day and settle down so I can have a greater chance to get rest.

A vacation is a rest from work. Wholesome recreation is rest from our labors. But too much vacation and too much recreation and we are back to feeling unsatisfied and discontent.

Even if we are anxiously engaged in doing good (Doctrine & Covenants 58:27), we should still not run faster than we have strength (Mosiah 4:27). God rested after creating the earth. We should also work hard and then rest well. The Sabbath is a day of rest, hallowed and sanctified by God. What does that teach us about rest? We need it. If we don’t take it (like even God, Himself, did) we cannot be happy. We cannot feel satisfied and content and at peace. We’ll be a basket case.

Reasonable Preparation

And I Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us… (2 Nephi 5:14)

What Nephi is talking about here is preparation. How much suspense would the Nephites have been in if they hadn’t been prepared to defend themselves against the Lamanites, who were always coming upon them unawares and trying to bring them into slavery and bondage? Perhaps not all fear of the Lamanites could be eliminated, but preparation to defend themselves certainly increased their confidence in their ability to preserve their way of life.

Each of us has areas of our lives that increase suspense and fear. Preparation can decrease and often eliminate that fear. Doctrine & Covenants 38:30 teaches us that, “if [we] are prepared [we] shall not fear.” We can’t always do everything we want to do. We don’t always have the money or resources to prepare for every possible calamity that could come our way. We don’t always know when a job will be lost. We don’t always know when a loved one will be unkind or even attempt to hurt or abuse us. We don’t always know when a tornado is going to rip off our chimney. But, if we have prepared to the best of our ability based on the resources we have, our fear will be greatly decreased and our peace of mind, contentment, and self-confidence will skyrocket.

Nephi and his people were prepared against their greatest fear. As we do what we reasonably can to prepare against our fears and worries, we are living “after the manner of happiness.” We can relax and know that we’ve exerted ourselves in our defense and can leave the rest in God’s hands.

Conclusion

Living after the manner of happiness is not about the absence of struggles and troubles. It’s about actively being who we want to be, actively living in godly ways, resting sufficiently, recreating wholesomely, and being prepared against our greatest concerns and worries. Then, we can let go and give the rest to God.

This doesn’t mean we walk around with a smile pasted on our faces. But it does mean we move forward in faith with peace, power, and contentment.

BT

End Notes – sites with stats about social media/computer time leading to increased anxiety, depression, and suicide

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amitchowdhry/2016/04/30/study-links-heavy-facebook-and-social-media-usage-to-depression/#3c46a5334b53

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/11/14/563767149/increased-hours-online-correlate-with-an-uptick-in-teen-depression-suicidal-thou

https://nypost.com/2017/11/14/rise-in-teen-suicide-connected-to-social-media-popularity-study/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4183915/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26783723

http://www.upmc.com/media/NewsReleases/2016/Pages/lin-primack-sm-depression.aspx

 

The Monster

I didn’t know there was a monster

Hiding inside of me

I didn’t know it was lurking there

Waiting to be set free

I didn’t realize that there was so much

Ugliness in my heart

I didn’t think I was angry at all

That rage played any part

Yet I have reacted and yelled and spat

A vicious diatribe

My face has gone red and stiff and cold

I’ve sunken to the dark side

I’ve drowned in hurt, self-deceit, and hot pride

All for justification

I have sunk far below civility

All for guilt allocation

Yet the monster never left me alive

My spirit always dead

It ate and devoured my peace and my joy

Puking up what I had said

Then it hid deep down within my heart

Awaiting another meal

It knows that eventually I’ll feed it

A dish of repress-ed zeal

 

It was yesterday that I caught this Thing

Feeding on my life

Holding tight and tearing into my soul

Bleeding and breeding strife

I was shocked and pained to find it inside

An actual part of me

I was embarrassed, ashamed, terrified

At all that I did see

I wanted control, and I wanted out

Of burdens, need, and stress

And I had been willing to get them all

By feeding that angry Mess

I wanted to avoid pain and some hurts

Annoyances and noise

Quite willing to obtain perceived com-fort

By sacrificing joys

 

Though I know there’s a monster inside me

I can’t seem to set it free

I keep trying to cage and kill it

This evil part of me

I’ve tried to stab it and wrestle it down

It’s a slippery fiend

It keeps yelling that it’s a piece of me

That it can-not be weaned

So last night I came before the dear Lord

Begging for His healing

Offering up my anger and my rage

To His al-tar of sealing

For only He can sacrifice this piece

Of my broken mess of soul

If I give it to Him with all my heart

That is indeed His goal

 

It’s His now…         I have given it away

The monster is now done

And I can now live my life in sure peace that…

My angry monster is gone

What Does Your Angry Monster Look Like

I wrote this poem not long ago. It was therapy. You see, I never thought I was an angry person. I’m not, really. I hate contention, heated debate, unkindness, and hurt. I’ve always avoided arguments and fights. Recoiled from them. I’m always the first to self-evaluate and apologize for my part. I can’t stand the suspense of things not being resolved between me and those I love.

But, in the past year and a half this unruly, hateful creature came out of me. It was called righteous indignation. It was called justification. It was a monster of many names.

I suffered under attacks from this monster far more frequently than I’d like to admit. And each and every time it came out, I fed it. It was very persuasive, you see. And then, as soon as it left I felt as if I was on the verge of emotional death. It sucked everything out of me.

So, for quite a while I thought I understood the monster and thought I could handle it on my own. So, I put a little chain around that anger monster and pretended I could master it. And yet, it kept snapping the chain and getting free. Impatience and unkindness were seeping out of me from every direction. I was like a simmering pot of unhappiness and condemnation. I couldn’t seem to get control.

Finally, after months of trying, I collapsed on my knees one night and asked God where this monster had come from. “This is not me!” I cried. “I’ve never been like this, ever. Please help me figure this out.”

In that moment, a few clear memories from my childhood came up to the surface of my own little internal pensieve (thanks to Dumbledore for making this a part of my life). I saw my younger self running around with a smaller, younger version of this very same anger monster. Most importantly, God showed me the triggers that let the monster out: helplessness, frustration, tiredness, and a tendency to react rather than act. I saw my supposedly righteous anger and justified reactions from a place outside myself. They didn’t look the same at all. I looked ridiculous.

It was in that moment that I suddenly began to understand that as far as mortals are concerned (in my opinion), there is no such thing as righteous anger. Righteous anger is a fallacy. I don’t believe it exists—inasmuch as we refer to the action we take* when disappointed, hurt, frustrated, offended, or injured (whether on purpose or not). There is no such thing as justification for letting out our anger monsters. There is no time when it is okay to scream and yell to get a point across. There is no time when it is okay to hit or strike another person in an attempt to make them listen or do what we want them to do. There is no time when impatience, unkindness, insults, emotional digs, or vengeance is okay.

I believe God is capable of righteous anger (i.e. acting righteously in perfect love with perfect justification for His actions). But, as you read the scriptures, it seems God’s references to anger, jealousy, and wrath are much more of a rhetorical device (wording used to persuade, achieve a certain purpose, or to emphasize something). They imply how He feels about our wickedness or lack of repentance. But, you’ll notice He never calls anyone worthless except those who purposely offend little children (Matthew 18:5-6), and then I might have to agree with Him there. He doesn’t insult or jibe to purposefully retaliate or hurt us. His anger is always represented by a spiritual ultimatum. He does use appropriate terms such as fool, hypocrite, deceiver, and liar. But these terms when in use by God are not used lightly. They always accurate describe the actions of those He is addressing. They are not meant to insult but to teach and call to repentance. Again, He can do it right, I don’t think we can.

Even when God is speaking of curses that will come upon us if we don’t repent (spiritual ultimatum), I can hardly imagining Him yelling and screaming them with a red face, glaring eyes, and clenched fists and gnashed teeth. That is how Satan looks. Not God.

When I imagine God reprimanding me I imagine only sad looks of love mingled with disappointment. And those are sufficiently powerful to make me want to improve. I imagine Him delivering His “rhetorical devices” with sadness and looks of pleading for me to repent, to trust Him, and so forth. If I imagine a firm voice, it is firm and loving. It is firm and pleading. It is forthright and honest. (Kind of like Dumbledore or Gandalf…always measured, understanding, seeing the bigger picture, etc. although obviously these are mortal, fictional examples and very rare in actual humankind even on good days.)

There is a scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19 that is often read in a way that is wrong (in my opinion). People always read it with the idea of this angry God in their minds instead of a God (Jesus in particular) who has already suffered for their sins and is pleading with them to not waste it. It’s a firm, loving, pleading voice (to me, anyway). Not an angry one.

So, I invite you to imagine a God who has given everything for you, and you are running around wasting it. A God who loves you infinitely. A God whose love you can’t escape. Imagine Him now pleading with you, perhaps firmly, perhaps with tears in His eyes. Perhaps both. Imagine Him saying the following to you with gravity and sincere intent:

Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

Now, there are some powerful words in here that have sufficient rhetorical device: smite, rod, wrath, anger, sufferings, sore, exquisite.

Now, notice some other words: tremble, bleed, suffer, bitter, shrink

Have you ever smitten someone with words? Have you ever used your hand or another device as a rod to beat someone? Have you ever exercised your wrath upon someone physically or with words? Have you ever purposefully tried to make someone suffer? Have you ever been sore emotionally or physically after berating someone for their flaws? Have you ever caused someone to tremble, bleed, suffer, or shrink from you? Have your pains ever been exquisitely terrible when you have come down from your anger and you have realized what you’ve done?

Imagine now that Christ suffered these things. It was Him you smote with words. It was Him you beat with a rod. It was Him you had wrath against physically or verbally. It was Him you purposefully insulted or made suffer. It was Him you berated. It was Him you made to shrink. (Matthew 25:40) It was because of His atonement that you felt terrible when you exhausted your anger. His mercy allowed you to feel the horror of what you had done. That horror is merciful because it encourages you to repent.

Does He not have a right to use rhetorical device to persuade you to stop being angry? Does He not have the right to plead with you firmly to please repent, to stop feeding your anger monster? Does He not have the right to remind you that if you don’t seek His help to rid yourself of this monster that you will suffer that which you have handed out…that He has already suffered?

God has to remind us of what will happen if we don’t repent so He can be just and merciful. If He didn’t tell us how horrific it would be, that would be eternally unfair. We need true information to use our moral agency completely. Thus, God is capable of using rhetorical device in an attempt to help us repent. He can do it righteously. You and I cannot. Our motives, no matter how justified we think they are, are selfish and satanic.

Satanic is a powerful word. Let me elaborate.

This is Moses 1:18-22. Moses has just talked with God face-to-face. After God leaves him and Moses recovers a little bit, Satan comes tempting (which is often Satan’s pattern, coming after we’ve had spiritual highs and feel invincible).

And again Moses said: I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him: for his glory has been upon me, wherefore I can judge between him and thee. Depart hence, Satan.

And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.

And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.

And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook; and Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan.

And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not.

Notice what Satan does:

  • cried with a loud voice (yelled) twice
  • ranted upon the earth (threw himself down? punched something?)
  • made demands
  • created fear and embodied the bitterness of hell in his visage (scary!)
  • trembled or moved in a way that shook the earth (stomped his feet? beat on things?)
  • weeped (manipulatively), wailed, gnashed his teeth

There is nowhere in scripture where we ever witness Jesus Christ doing any of these things—the things we tend to justify in reaction to others. There is one instance in the New Testament where Christ overturns a few tables in the temple because people are defiling it. He also casts many people out, but I can hardly imagine Him accosting them bodily and throwing them out. Can you? I also do not believe He screamed and yelled and went red in the face. I don’t believe He stomped, punched things, ranted, raved, or gnashed His teeth. It is my opinion that He spoke with a direct and firm voice, even an incredulous one, teaching them saying, “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations a house of prayer? But ye have made it den of thieves.”

Portrait of screaming angry man on black background

Many people might say, “But he/she hurt me on purpose?” and will claim justification for the injury they have received on purpose. So, to that I ask, “Do we say that Satan was justified in yelling at Moses and threatening him all because Moses hurt his feelings and wouldn’t do what he wanted on purpose?” Certainly not. Satan reacted in enmity and hatred toward Moses because Moses would not do what he wanted. He threw a fit to scare Moses into worshipping him.

Do we ever throw a fit to get others to listen to us? Do we ever rant and rave and overkill our point to silence another? Do we create an environment of bitterness and fear to manipulate others into doing what we think is right? If we do these and other related things to elicit a certain reaction in others it is because we believe in compulsion. We are acting a certain way in order to get others to act a certain way. It’s a circle of reaction; of allowing ourselves to be acted upon by others.

We cannot claim our reactions are ever justified.* Why? Because we were created as beings to act and not to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14). If sin is compulsory (meaning others can make us sin), then we have no power to become godly. We are trapped in a hellish state. But, sin is not compulsory. No matter how strong the threat, injury, frustration, or persuasion, we can always choose to act how we wish. We always have the power to choose the right. That is the very power of agency. It gives the power to change. It is the power that makes it possible for us to become like God.

The Holy Ghost speaks in a still, small voice. God is not in thunder, earthquakes, wind, or storms (1 Kings 19:11-12). He speaks by the Spirit.

Make a Comparison

For those that are able to attend temple endowment sessions, I encourage you to evaluate what you find there about how God expresses His wrath, disappointment, and judgment. Pay strong attention to His responses to Adam and Eve’s transgression and Satan’s willfully rebellious actions.

Evaluate also how Satan reacts when he doesn’t get what he wants. Pay attention to his variability and his reactive nature.

Then, consider whom you resemble more? Ya, that’s a sobering thought.

So, what does your angry monster look like? What situations trigger its need to feed on your soul? Have you identified these triggers? Have you made a plan? Have you come up with a coping mechanism, that you can turn to when these triggers hit?

Most importantly to consider is how you can sever ties with your adoring, self-destructive monster. Anger can be an addiction. Are you addicted? If so, treat it as an addiction. For some people it’s as powerful as pornography, alcohol, and drugs. If you are addicted to your monster, it’s time to humble yourself and get help to sever its hellish ties to your soul. Addiction Recovery Programs now dot the world and the Internet. You need plans, backup plans, and backup-backup plans for coping mechanisms you can adopt to help you vanquish your monster. And, you can do it. You have been created to act and not to be acted upon. You are not a prisoner to reaction. It might be hard. But, God’s grace is sufficient (Ether 12:27).

My angry monster, I’m proud to say, is quite anemic these days. I go long stretches where I think it is gone forever. Sometimes, I’m not proud to say, it shows up in my house and it takes a serious amount of willpower to pick it up, drag it kicking and screaming to my door, and push it out through the narrow opening. But, I am glad to say that when it does make unplanned visits I am getting better at recognizing it, taking a deep breath, and slamming the door in its face. I’m getting better and better at apologizing when I’ve had a close call. I’m getting better.

I’m not perfect.

Thank goodness for grace.

*A Quick Note About Justifiable Feelings*

So, I’ve written this whole blog about how there is no such thing as righteous anger—as an action. But, there is such thing as righteous anger—as a feeling. Feelings are justifiable. You will get hurt by people. You will get offended. You will be horrified and angry at people who do horrible things. You will be overwhelmed by the effects of sin on yourself and others. The feeling—justifiable. Angry actions based on this justifiable feeling—not justifiable.

It’s okay to feel angry. It’s not ok to act angry. It’s okay to feel hurt and to respectively let others know they have injured us. It is not okay to take out our hurt and anger on others even if they have hurt us.

It’s okay to feel tired and past your limit. It’s not okay to then pat yourself on the back and justify unkind or impatient words and actions toward others because you felt angry or tired. We certainly can claim that we have acted because of our feelings. But just because we have justifiable feelings doesn’t mean that reactions are justifiable. They are not.

God is Justice. Vengeance and mercy are His to deal out and repay. Not ours. Why? Because He has claimed them for Himself. And that is because only He can do it right. Only He can do it justly. Only He can do it mercifully. Only He can do it with perfect love. Righteous anger and condemnation are His to own. Not ours. Our job is to learn to manage our justifiable feelings in a Christ-like way.

Forgiveness and Apologies

Apologies are the best place to douse the anger monster. They are the best place for us to acknowledge and own our actions and commit to being better. The better we become at understanding our triggers and owning them, the better we will get at apologies, and the better we will get at destroying our monsters. The more we take the time to realize what is triggering our actions the more power we gain to control them.

For example: “I know that I was a bit short and unkind earlier. I shouldn’t have accused you of not caring. I just had a rough day and have secretly felt hurt by something you said yesterday that I should have talked to you about, rather than harboring. But neither of those things made it okay to treat you that way. I’m sorry. I will try to be better.”

Also, forgiveness will injure and destroy nearly every anger monster alive. Even those who purposefully hurt us truly, to some extent, do not understand the full weight of what they do. Christ set the example with this statement prior to being crucified, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). At some point we have to choose to not let others have power over us because of their actions. We must learn to act in the way that we desire independent of others actions. We must capitalize on the Power to Become.

Learn to Admit and Own Your Faults

For some people, it makes them angry to admit fault. It hurts them internally to realize they are wrong. So, they use blame on, and anger at, other things to protect themselves from the hurt of learning the truth about themselves. The sad thing is that they suffer the consequences of acting in anger. Which, are far more damaging and hurtful things than if they would simply learn to admit fault.

If you can’t admit fault, you will be angry all the time. If nothing is ever your fault you have rendered yourself powerless to change. You are, in effect, damned (stopped in progress). If you always have a nice way of pinning all of your shortcomings and sins on others (claiming compulsion and that you “had no choice”), then you are of all people most pitiful. Learn the serenity prayer.

Make a Plan

The most important thing to do, once you have caught and captured your anger monster, is to make a plan on how to keep it caged, and if possible, to destroy it. Anger monsters are not buddies. They exist only to destroy you. Part with them willingly and happily. “And if thy [anger monster] offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that [thy anger monster] should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29).

If you have used anger as a coping mechanism, then in order to “pluck it out and cast it from thee” you are going to have to make a plan to replace it with something else. Only you can determine, with God’s aid and sincere prayer, how you are going to replace it and with what. You also will need to make a plan on how you will apologize and repent should your anger monster bang down the cage door and go running loose. Make a plan.

Conclusion

I could have listed prayer as a way to eliminate anger, but I guess I felt it was a given. I do know that without going to God in prayer and asking Him where my monster came from and what was triggering it that I may not be where I am today. That prayer I remember vividly and I hope I never forget it. It was immediate and direct personal revelation—which is often rare. Thankfully, I think God was waiting for me to ask and I was more than ready to do whatever it took to destroy the beast.

May you also get to the point where you are ready to destroy your anger monster. That it’s preservation is less important to you than becoming the person you want to become.

BT