I’ll never forget, during one early morning seminary class, several years back now, when a student shocked me with a very inspired interpretation of a verse of scripture.

Often, as a teacher, you try to anticipate comments. It’s necessary in order to be prepared to answer questions, or to help students seek their own answers. Often, you feel in your preparation you’ve discovered all the most important doctrines, the most important things for your students to know, and grasp. You’ve dug up all the necessary “in the moment” information, and then you turn it over to the Lord.

But then, you have those days that no matter your preparation, no matter your own aha’s while getting ready, God has something better in store…and your students teach you. Those were always my favorite days—when my students came up with profound truths that made my mouth drop open and which set me pondering. And this is one I have never forgotten.

The scripture was Doctrine & Covenants 93:33-34. It reads:

For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.

I asked my students, during this particular lesson, to read certain sections of scripture and pull out truths (i.e. doctrines). These two verses were simply in a large block of verses assigned and I hadn’t even focused on them by themselves. Then, one of my students got up when it was his turn to share some “truths” and he said something to the effect of:

What I learned from these verses is that suicide won’t make people happier. Suicide disconnects people from their physical body. And, if a fullness of joy only comes from them being together, or eventually reunited, then maybe if people knew that, they wouldn’t be tempted to commit suicide.

I remember sitting there (because I always sat down when I had my kids stand up and share) stunned. Such a doctrine had never before occurred to me. And certainly reading those verses had never led me to contemplate the intricate doctrines attached to suicide.

In Doctrine and Covenants 138 we find a vision by Joseph F. Smith regarding what happens to people after they die. While studying verses about Christ’s atonement and what He did in the three days His body was in the tomb, Joseph F. Smith received this incredible witness of the spirit world. In verse 11-17 Joseph F. Smith recounts:

As I pondered over these things…the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company… I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided that they might receive a fulness of joy.

Then, in verse 50, we read:

For the dead had looked upon the long absence of the spirits from their bodies as bondage.

Contemplating suicide

Now, if we are to be frank, there are a lot of reasons people contemplate suicide. I myself, during the chaos and struggle leading up to my divorce (9+ years ago now) seriously considered the idea of it. I considered it from a very lucid state of mind, though I was most certainly compromised emotionally and in consequence physically from the stress and lack of sleep and the struggle to maintain my life at the time. I remember perusing all the medications in my house and seeing if any of them could be overdosed on. I did with an acute sense of how ridiculous it was, but I did it anyway.

But, in reality, I knew why I was doing it. And, it wasn’t because I didn’t believe that happiness was out there in the future somewhere. I figured it probably was, though I couldn’t comprehend it at the time. I contemplated suicide because I wanted to get my ex-spouse’s attention. I wanted to find a way to quickly bypass all the pain that was there, at present, and that subconsciously I knew was coming. I wanted to progress through this trial faster. I wanted to shock my ex-spouse into some kind of state where he was willing to see how much I (and our marriage) should mean to him. I wanted to skip past all the unknown drama and hurt, because there seemed to be no end to the pain (both emotional and psychological).

I had never known such numbness, such emptiness, such neglect, nor such personal stagnation. My life was in a horrific limbo. I couldn’t do anything until I knew I had given everything to save the marriage and I couldn’t move forward until the other party “threw in the towel.” And, suicide, in the back of my mind, seemed like a possible way to take control—to force something to happen, because it seemed like nothing was. I was trying so hard to save the marriage and yet it was getting better and it some ways it wasn’t getting worse…it was just stagnating in the slowest possible way.

That contemplation of suicide only lasted one evening. I have the blessing and curse of being incredibly self-aware and nearly incapable of going against my own testimony, my own logic, and reason. Rebellion against common sense and practicality is nearly impossible for me. Thus, so also was suicide.

However, other people contemplate it for reasons that may include: escape, fear, depression, revenge, control, psychological collapse, or despair. Other reasons tend to be more fanatic and are rare and I’m not sure such fanatic and eccentric reasons for taking one’s own life are related to this article at all.

superhero

Bodies are a spiritual catalyst and a spiritual amplifier

However, no matter why a person may contemplate suicide, it’s important to understand that no matter how difficult life “in their body” is, that abandoning that body doesn’t necessary mean happiness. Bodies (whether mortal or immortal) are powerful. They are a power (i.e. glory, Abraham 3:26) that our spirit gains by simply coming to this life. To cast them off, no matter how much pain or suffering we may be experiencing, is to cast off the most powerful tool we have to access happiness.

The scriptures teach us that eternal happiness is achieved first and foremost by having our body and spirit together, or reunited (if we have died). A physical body (whether mortal or immortal) is a godly power. It’s something God had that we didn’t, and it is one of the primary reasons we chose to come into this mortal world.

A body grants us the power to create life, manipulate matter, and do all sorts of amazing things by the sheer act of our spiritual/mental will. In a body (D&C 138:33-35) we can gain access to ordinances and covenants that allow us to take advantage of God’s grace and by so doing seek godliness—to be like God. We can’t do that without a body!

Without a body…none of these critical, eternal things are possible unless done vicariously by proxy individuals who have bodies. And God has made it clear that this is not the best way, though it is available (Alma 34:32-36) because our bodies amplify who we are and are a catalyst to godly development. Simply separating our body from our spirit won’t make us into something we aren’t already, fundamentally. We are who we become while we are in our bodies. Our bodies have an amplifying effect upon our spirits (2010, Bednar, David. A, Things as They Really Are). Our bodies also have the power to help us change, and improve, our fundamental spiritual nature. If our spiritual nature needs improvement and refinement, a mortal body can help us accomplish that faster than eons of existence as a mere spirit.

A lot of people who don’t understand the purpose of life foolishly assume that religion is about simply being a good person. It is not. God’s plan of salvation and the fullness of His truth is about becoming like Him. We can’t do that by casting off our body simply to escape pain or trouble, to abandon fears, to avoid dealing with the very real physical struggles of depression and other psychological, to enact revenge, to seek control, or to escape despair. Our body is the very godly tool that allows us, through perseverance, to transcend pain and trouble, to overcome fears, to conquer depression and other psychological struggles, to gain peace and conquer forgiveness, and to find joy.

To cast off our body purposefully is to give up the power to gain happiness and joy. It does not create the power to gain happiness and joy.

Death comes to all

Death is a very real thing. It comes to each of us in God’s own will and time. It is the doorway to other pieces of God’s plan for us prior to our eventual resurrection. But, even to God death (separation of the body and spirit) is temporary. Through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ we will get our bodies back, perfected and immortal. His body is eternally connected with His spirit and so will ours be. Our body, because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It is His to take, not ours to cast off.

Martyrdom and Sacrifice

There is only one person, in all of God’s plan, who got to choose (by God’s divine decree) when to offer up His physical body and cast it away and when to take it up again and reunite it with His spirit, and that was Christ (John 10:17-18). And, He did so in a supreme act of self-sacrifice and by a vicarious ordinance to save us both physically and spiritually for eternity. He didn’t do it to escape anything. Rather, He wished that He might not have to do so (Matthew 26:39).

Throughout scripture we see that God commands people to kill in rare instances, to be the hand of justice. We also see God commanding His prophets, apostles, and people to die for His truths rather than to compromise. We also see many people giving their lives to save others. Such instances, it would seem, are the only godly ways to walk purposefully into death. And God is the judge and grants the authority to do so.

Conclusion

What’s God’s feeling about suicide? Even as mortals we understand that suicide is not a solution, ultimately. It’s not something we should choose, and even non-religious people recommend against it. But how God treats it for those that commit suicide? That’s not for us to worry about. It’s in God’s hands.

But, if you are contemplating suicide, or if you know someone who is, please share with them God’s love for them. Remind them how precious and powerful their body is. And that just as their body allows them to experience so much pain and sorrow, it is also the catalyst and godly tool which can allow them to seek ultimately joy and happiness, both in this life, and in the life to come. Remind them that their soul (spirit + body) is, by the grace of God, the tool He has given them which gives them the power to find, create, and seek happiness and joy. Love them. Encourage them to hang on. Encourage them to seek help. To find answers. To take ownership of their ability (that body) to change their lives!

BT

Doctrine: The law of opposition requires that true joy comes only in response to true sacrifice. Getting something easy only makes it less valuable, less meaningful, and less powerful. Sin and righteousness are both very hard. The only difference between them is that sin seems easier up front but ends up being exponentially harder in the long run (entropic), whereas rightness seems harder up front but ends up being exponentially easier in the long run.

I get really frustrated with people who, over the years, have basically made the assumption that living righteously comes easy to me. I get frustrated, because when they make this assumption, they do it in the awestruck/pity context of saying that they would be righteous too if it came easier to them. They act like I’m some anomaly because I consistently try to be righteous (and healthy), and simultaneously resent me because I manage to keep going despite trials, stress, setbacks, and troubles.

Not only is their assumption semi-insulting, it’s also a reflection of their lack of common sense and reason. These people are basically saying the following to me:

IF something is easy, I’ll do it. IF something is hard, I won’t do it. Lucky for you that being righteous comes easy for you. I wish it came easy for me, because I’d want to do it if it was easy for me like it is for you.

These people are also basically saying to me:

Being unrighteous (or doing what I want despite commandments or sound advice) is easy, and that’s why I do it. So, instead of asking me to get stronger or work harder, I just wish God would make it all easier.

Now, I’m fairly certain these people don’t actually believe that the hardness or easiness of a thing is the whole reason for doing it. I don’t really think that they take the “path of least resistance” in everything in their lives. But, they seem to take this point-of-view when it comes to hard things, like keeping the commandments or getting healthy. They don’t want to admit to themselves that the real underlying problem is that they don’t want to keep the commandments or get healthy because they are not yet personally convinced that the effort to do such things is worth it to give up the perceived value of the things they will have to sacrifice. In other words, they don’t think effort and sacrifice = true happiness.

red ant rolls stone uphill

Now, here’s the doctrine:

Both unrighteousness and righteousness are extremely hard. The only difference in the two is that righteousness is harder up front and exponentially more rewarding  and joy-producing in the long-run; and unrighteousness is easier up front and exponentially less rewarding and misery-producing in the long run. Which, if you do the mental math means that unrighteousness is actually far more difficult because you’ll eventually have to do things the righteous way anyway, which will still be hard, initially when you finally get to it. In the long run, unrighteousness is non-sustainable. Righteousness is sustainable.

Unrighteousness is natural entropy (defined: natural decline into disorder or large-scale collapse). It will, if pursued continually, turn one’s (spiritual or physical) life into a living hell. On the other hand, righteousness is natural improvement, increase, or a natural rise. It will, if pursued continually, turn one’s (spiritual or physical) life into a living joy.

Righteousness is initial and up-front sacrifice of something we consider of temporary value (perhaps even extreme temporary value) for something of lasting and eternal value.

Sin is holding onto things of temporary value and ultimately sacrificing things of lasting and eternal value. (Or, in other words, sin is trying to get the lasting and eternal value of something in a way that cannot produce it.) [Makes sinning sound pretty stupid.]

C.S. Lewis says this in his book The Great Divorce:

That is what mortals misunderstand.  They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.  And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin.  Both processes begin even before death.  The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness.  And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost “we were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.

Here are some scriptures about peace, joy, and lasting feelings that come after initial, upfront, and early hard work and sacrifice:

  • That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)
  • …wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith (Ether 12:7)
  • And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36:20)
  • And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statues, and the commandments of the Lord in all things…we did sow seed…and we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of all kinds…And I did teach my people to build buildings and to work…And I, Nephi, did build a temple…I, Nephi did cause my people to be industrious and to labor with their hands… And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness. (2 Nephi 5:27)
  • For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad, [happiness nor misery, sense nor insensibility]. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one… (2 Nephi 2:11, brackets moved up from later in verse)
  • And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit… Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of our faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you. (Alma 32:37, 43)

Hard construction work

I could list volumes of scriptures. But, I wouldn’t want to deny each of you the joy that comes from discovering them yourself. But, the underlying doctrine regarding reaping true peace, joy, and fruit (i.e. lasting results) is sacrifice and hard work. It is NOT sitting around and waiting for something to become easy or easier. It is NOT waiting until the consequences of sin compel you to choose sacrifice. In order to get lasting joy and peace we must get stronger, not wait for things to get easier.

A lot of people wait until they are deep in the throes of depression, abuse, addiction, bankruptcy, incarceration, or other entropic ends before they consider living life the harder way (up front). The better, true, lasting way. Yet, in their current entropic/fallen state, they have nearly doubled the level of starting difficulty into their mental, spiritual, or physical health turnaround. Their choice is no longer simply about doing one or the other. It’s choosing the initially better, harder option, at last, while still dealing with the entropic consequences and aftermath of choosing the initially easier, worse option in the past. And, whether or not they are able to make the leap into “living after the manner of happiness,” they most likely will live with the extra weight of the consequences from their past unwise choices, for the rest of their life.

There is no “something for nothing” principle in all of the universe. Every choice has a consequence. It’s eternal law. No matter how we may fight it, we simply will never be able to get anything of value (and hold onto it lastingly) without considerable effort. [Which is worth it!]

There is no relationship, of any kind, that will magically last without significant, concerted effort. There is no career path or education that will magically fall into our laps without significant, concerted effort. There is no health or happiness of any kind that we can truly grab hold of without hard work and sacrifice. And, if we ever choose to sidestep into getting something that we want through lazy, faddish, shameful, or dishonest means, by the laws of entropy (since dishonesty is an entropic decision) that something will eventually be taken back away from us. We will lose it (Helaman 13:30-36).

Or, if we do not lose something by natural, entropic laws, we will cast it away ourselves because it has no value to us.

I’m not sure if the statistic is true. But, a lot of business articles out there claim that 70% of lottery winners (or people who get a big monetary windfall—implying that they didn’t have to lift a finger to get it) end up broke within five years. And the reason they end up broke is because the money has no meaning to them. Why does it have no meaning? Because they gave it none.

Determination concept

Things we have not worked for we are not prepared to receive. We haven’t thought about them. We haven’t pondered them. We haven’t planned for them. We haven’t done anything. Thus, we are not equipped to appreciate them or value them. And, because they came with no effort we part with them (or blow them in the case of spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical currency) with the same amount of thought—none.

Whether we like to hear it or not, nothing in life has meaning or value or power to bring us joy if we don’t give it meaning, value, and power by our blood, sweat, and tears. Our action in the pursuit of something is what gives that something meaning, value, and the power to grant us satisfaction—and lasting joy.

You don’t have to believe this. But, I guarantee that whether or not you put in the work to test it, you’ll eventually find that it’s true.

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

Doctrine(s): Sadness is necessary to comprehending Joy. Opposition in emotion can also lead us to knowledge and understanding. Feeling sad is not evil or sinful, it is natural and necessary. All of our emotions, when properly utilized and controlled, act on our behalf to lead us to Joy. We should not allow Sadness (or any other emotion) to become a fixed state; it should be a stepping stone back to Joy.

I’m not sure how many of you have seen the Disney Movie “Inside Out”. But, owing to the fact that I have a young toddler at home who absolutely loves the movie and can watch it start to finish without blinking, I get to see it a lot. Strangely, it’s not one of those movies that’s easy to get tired of. Let me tell you why.

Each and every time I watch the movie Inside Out I see more and more subtle truths being revealed in grand splendor. To me they are like little nuggets of “real life doctrine” that teach important, yet simple, truths that help us understand life and get through it just a bit better.

The first doctrine seems to be the main plot of the movie. That is that sadness is necessary in life, it’s okay to feel sad, and that sadness is necessary often times to arrive at pure joy and happiness. There needs to be an opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11) and indeed, even the omniscient, omnipotent God of heaven still experiences sorrow and weeps (Moses 7:28-33). That’s how important it is.

When the movie begins, Joy doesn’t understand the purpose of sadness. And, in her lack of understanding, she tries to save Riley from Sadness. Sadness is the initial enemy. Even though Riley has been subjected to a major, life-changing event (moving), Joy seems determined that Riley (the character) can proceed forward with life without any emotional impact.

At the beginning of the movie, after Riley has moved to her new house, Sadness begins feeling compelled by the difficult impact of the move to touch memories, fix things, and take control of the console. This compulsion, as Riley reacts to the move and change, is natural. But Joy doesn’t understand that. Indeed, she and the other emotions are sort of in a panic. Then, Riley’s first day of school produces the first ever sad core memory. Joy is so upset by this change she does everything she can to stop the sad core memory from becoming part of Riley’s islands of personality.

Joy, who doesn’t understand the need for Sadness, tries to prevent Riley from it. Because of Joy’s panic, and in her attempts to stop the sad core memory from being put in the core memory slot, she causes both she and Sadness, and all the core memories, to be sucked up into the tube that takes memories to Long Term Memory. Once they’re stranded down there, Joy blames Sadness for their descent from headquarters, but it was actually Joy who was to blame. Joy was so adamant that Riley (the character) not have Sadness in her life that she caused the whole malfunction.

Now, I don’t mean to be hard on Joy. But, the reality is that we all do what she does. We try to have Joy without Sadness. We often try to ignore Sadness or prolong it affecting us. We try to push Sadness to a corner and hope to avoid it. And yet, just like the movie, by not letting Sadness have its place in our lives we cause the opposite of our true desires: significant lack of Joy and a great deal of mental, emotional, and psychological malfunction.

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteous could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11).

 Here’s another interesting doctrine the movie teaches. If Joy were not balanced with Sadness then we would also remain ignorant and be kept from greater happiness. This is illustrated by Joy as she tries to occupy Sadness with mind manuals to get Sadness out of the way, so she (Joy) can keep Riley happy. Then, when the two of them finally do get stranded down in Long Term Memory, Joy doesn’t know anything about where to go or what to do, how to get back to headquarters, what dangers to avoid, or anything. She’s clearly never read the mind manuals herself; likely this is because it wasn’t fun, or because of her positive outlook she kept planning to get around to it eventually. She’s so uninformed that she misses the fact that the mind workers send a memory up to headquarters through a recall tube and yet she doesn’t think to send the core memories she’s carrying up that way. Or, it may also be that her natural selfish bent to “I can fix everything and keep Riley happy” throughout the movie may have blinded her to the idea of not being present to present the core memories and fix Riley herself. So, instead of sending them up to headquarters without her, she plunges onward.

Joy, alone, can often be selfish. Joy, by itself, often procrastinates the necessary drudgeries of life that when embraced lead to greater amounts of Joy. But Joy tends to live for the moment; which is the type of thing that often leads to more sorrow, not more Joy.

The next instance we see Joy’s ignorance is in her inability to comfort Bing Bong after he loses his wagon. Joy wants to ignore his pain and disappointment. She tries to make him laugh, or play a fake game to get him to do what she wants. She sees no point in taking time to be sad so she tries to bypass it. This makes Joy seem a bit insensitive and unkind, which Joy can be when not balanced with other emotions. Then again, we see Joy’s inability to succeed in waking Riley up from sleep with happy dreams because she thinks that only happiness can solve problems.

Thankfully, this continued struggle is slowed when Joy begins to trust Sadness. Sadness helps them get into the subconscious. Sadness helps Joy to see that scaring Riley was the only way to wake her up. But, then, yet again, when Joy thinks she’s found a way back to headquarters through a larger recall tube, she won’t let Sadness come too because Sadness’s presence is turning the core memories sad. This return to thinking Sadness is bad for Riley is Joy’s final downfall. She ends up in The Dump.

Joy only begins to understand Sadness’s true purpose while in The Dump. She realizes that Riley’s sadness is what allowed people to come to her aid in the past. She also sees that Sadness was also the precursor to one of Riley’s happiest moments! At last Joy understands.

So often, each of us thinks that Sadness is an evil thing. That we should never feel sad. That we should feel bad about ourselves if we can’t feel super happy each day. Even when life’s is throwing big things at us like: job changes, moves, financial struggles, relationship issues, crises of faith, and more; we think there is something wrong with us if we can’t paste on a smile.

I’m not saying that people don’t suffer with anxiety or depression that doesn’t need to be treated. Modern medicines are so helpful and often necessary. But I am saying that as Latter-day Saints, we often misinterpret, “…and if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…” to mean that we have to pretend to be happy in difficult times and avoid the natural dips into sadness (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8). Being at peace is a form of happiness and joy. But, it does not mean we can’t have days where we feel sad, sorrowful, or depressed when the weight of life is upon us. It doesn’t mean we don’t pray for, cry for, and hope for the end of some struggles and transitions. It does mean that we don’t lose faith and that we press on with or without a smile. But, though we should try to remember our blessings, to count them, and to serve others, it doesn’t mean that being sad is wrong or bad.

Sadness leads us to seek help from God when we are down. Sadness is a precursor to humility and seeking knowledge and comfort. Guilt for sin—a form of regret and sadness—leads us to seek repentance. Sorrow from the consequences of unwise choices leads us to make wiser choices. And so on.

In fact, it is those depths of sadness and sorrow to which we sink which make rising out of them into glorious blessings, relief, forgiveness, and answers so sharp, beautiful, clear, fresh, and transcendent. Well did Eve say, “Were it not for our transgression 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 to all the obedient” (Moses 5:11). If it were not for the lows, the highs would not feel so high. “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).

 Having been down to plenty of sad lows myself, I can testify that the joys are far more rich than they ever could have been had the lows never come. Contrast is a true teacher.

The rest of the doctrines in the movie Inside Out are much more subtle. For instance, one time that I was watching Inside Out, I was struck by the fact that the other emotions (aside from Joy) didn’t seem to resent the fact that Joy did most of the driving. She was acknowledged and accepted as the PRIMARY DRIVER. Indeed, the other emotions only came into play when they wanted to return Riley to a happy state. Disgust drove when she wanted to keep Riley from eating broccoli. But, when the vegetable was avoided, Disgust stepped aside and let Joy resume driving. When Riley was threatened with losing her dessert Anger stepped in to provide the impetus for Riley to complain so that her happiness could be restored by getting dessert. Fear stepped in only to keep Riley from hurting herself, then immediately stepped aside. On Riley’s first day of school, when Joy suggested that she drive the console all day, not one of the other emotions seemed to feel shafted or left out. Why? Because, it occurred to me, that the purpose of all the emotions is to help Riley to be happy. Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust play their roles to help Riley have Joy. It is not a matter of equality in time driving or in importance.

The doctrine: all of our emotions, when properly understood, utilized, and controlled, play a necessary part in helping us achieve Joy.

Now, when the other emotions were left to drive without Joy and Sadness, the excess of Anger, Fear, and Disgust put Riley’s life into crisis. She made poor decisions that while they led her to action, that action was not going to lead to actual happiness. So, though our emotions try to protect our happiness they must be trained to understand what true happiness is. Losing out on dessert can teach us to eat healthy which in the long run will lead to greater happiness, etc.

The doctrine: when our emotions/passions are not properly understood and controlled, they try to bring us happiness, but their excessive responses can lead us to more Fear, Anger, and Disgust.

So, all in all, it’s amazing how much doctrine one cartoon can contain. You wouldn’t think you’d read a blog article telling you it’s okay to be sad. But it is okay. It is not bad. It is not a sin.

Yet, while I do encourage the notion that Sadness is necessary and most certainly okay. We must all still exercise our agency and not allow Sadness to engulf us. Sadness has a place. It is meant to help us get help. It is meant to help us comprehend true Joy and feel true gratitude. It is meant to lead us to self-evaluate and act to climb back up to Joy. To let Sadness overwhelm us is just as ineffective as letting any other emotion mindless control.

BT

(P.S. Sadness is my favorite character!)

Doctrine: “… Joy is a gift for the faithful. It is the gift that comes from intentionally trying to live a righteous life, as taught by Jesus Christ” (President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Joy and Spiritual Survival, October 2016 Conference). Joy is not simply a brief feeling of happiness. It is not a fleeting high. It is a purity of feeling unhindered by any remorse, regret, guilt, uncertainty, or self-deceit.

As I was watching General Conference this morning (Sunday, October 2, 2016) some interesting thoughts came to my mind after hearing President Russell M. Nelson talk about Joy. He said that the unrighteous experience many feelings but that they cannot experience joy. I found this particularly profound because I think many who are quite good but who do not live up to their godly potential (or at least try) feel that they do experience joy. They would, perhaps, not agree with his statement

However, I think what they actually experience are brief and potent moments of happiness that are tinged, even if only slightly, by a feeling of sorrow—of some type. It is not the true joy spoken of by prophets or promised by God. It is incomplete. It is a feeling that is good, but not full, and devoid of peace. Let me explain.

When I was teaching early morning seminary for several years; one year in particular, I remember focusing a great deal with my students on the doctrine: sin makes you stupid. This is a sort of a colloquial way to talk about the effects of sin on our ability to recognize, discern, and avoid sin. We also talked about several specific ways that sin dulls the light of truth and joy we are capable of receiving.

First, is that sin is addictive in all its forms whether to lesser or greater degrees. This is because sin is trying to get something good in a way other than that way which God has designed for us—which is the best way and the only way that will bring us joy. So, because we are pursuing a roundabout way of getting the good we desire, we cannot get the full benefit. In consequence, we have bouts of momentary happiness, but ultimately something is missing. The addiction to the sin takes place in that because we are left psychologically, emotionally, physically, or spiritually hungry (whether to a lesser or greater extent) we have to keep returning to our sin to fill our hunger for joy. We continue to try to get a fullness of joy out of something which can only give us short bouts of happiness.

Second, is that sin is not compulsory. This means that no matter the negative we suffer or that someone threatens us with, we cannot be forced to sin. We can choose to sin in response to negative experiences or because of threats, but those experiences or threats, in and of themselves, cannot force our will. So, those that succumb to the idea that they can be forced to sin can never achieve a fullness of joy because they never accept a fullness of accountability. The power of accepting accountability is that is also gives us the power to change. So, those that are determined to blame others for their unhappiness, problems, or choices to sin, can never experience a fullness of joy because they have robbed themselves of the power to choose it.

Third, is that sin, and its effects/consequences, are often contagious, like a disease. Whether we actually choose to commit a sin or not, we cannot experience a fullness of joy if we choose, minimally, to surround ourselves to some extent with sinful environments or behavior. This is because joy is a gift of the Spirit. If we don’t willfully commit sin but we purposefully surround ourselves with sin, its ability to rob us of the Spirit, and therefore light, truth, and joy, is still something we will experience as if we too are involved in the sin. We may experience bouts of happiness, laughter, excitement, but never true joy and peace.

Fourth, is that sin invites darkness and shuns light. Darkness and light can be metaphors for knowledge, truth, reality, the Spirit, and so forth. Sin is determined to pursue its idea of happiness and good in its own way. It doesn’t want to know or be reminded that there is a better way—that its way is not God’s way. Sin also invites darkness because those who sin often seek to hide their sins (whether to a small or great extent). The effect of a loss of light is as blatant as the loss of real light. Like a forest that looks inviting and beautiful during midday looks spooky in darkness because we cannot see it as it really is. It looks threatening because its true nature is hidden from us.

Likewise, as we dim the light in a room, so as we sin our ability to see truth and to feel joy is also dimmed. The truth can be written in clear letters on the chalkboard right in front of us, but if the lights are dim we can’t see it or it is easily ignored. So also joy is unreachable for it is only available when we are willing to choose and accept light over the comfortable darkness we have chosen.

Fifth, sin makes us unsavory, in a matter of speaking. Christ compared His followers to salt. St. Matthew 5:13 says, “I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall thenceforth be good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.” The only way salt loses its savor is if it gets contaminated by bad air or an ingredient with similar, powerful, properties. As we seek to pursue the good we want in a way not sanctioned by God our very natures lose their savor and our ability to feel joy and to spread joy to the rest of the world is ruined. We can still do good. But we can’t give all the joy we would normally be capable of.

Consider the Ammon in Mosiah 21:33, not the Ammon who was a counterpart of Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah to which we are all familiar with. But, the Ammon who was sent to seek after the wellbeing of the people of Zeniff who had long ago left Zarahemla. Ammon found the people of Zeniff led by Zeniff’s grandson, Limhi. Limhi’s people had suffered many trials which had led to their repentance and their desire to be baptized. But, Ammon had to turn down their petition to be baptized because “he considered himself unworthy.” Would not Ammon’s happiness in finding Limhi and his people and freeing them from bondage have been true joy had he been worthy to baptize them? But, it couldn’t be because in having to decline he was reminded that he himself had things to repent of and to change.

Finally, sin makes us stupid and incapable of a fullness of joy because joy comes because of peace, gratitude; and an understanding, a love of, and a preference to truth and godliness above all else. Alma 12:9-11 says: “It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, 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 now the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they now nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.”

We can’t expect to experience true joy if we refuse to acknowledge and accept a fullness of truth. We can pretend our way around things we know or suspect. We may experience many other positive feelings, but they will always be tinged by the knowledge that there is more available…that there is more to be had.

The king of the Lamanites, after hearing about the plan of salvation from Aaron, in the book of Alma (22:15, 18) in the Book of Mormon said: “What shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy? …Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy…I will give away all my sins to know thee…”

BT