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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abraham 1:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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BT

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

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

And guess what…relationships are scary.

Spirituality and Fear

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

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

Spirituality

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

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

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

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

Fear

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

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

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

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

Fear is Detrimental to Spirituality Because it Veils Truth

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

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

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

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

Fears Relating to and Regarding Spirituality and a Relationship with God

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

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

Overcoming the Fear of Spirituality

Cultivate More Love for Yourself and for God

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

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

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

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

Prove God and Yourself through Experimenting

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

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

Seek Godly Power through Ordinances and Covenants

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

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

Avoid Spiritual Infidelity

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

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

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

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

Get Counseling

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

BT

Today I have a guest vlogger of whom I quickly became a fan. One video? Ya, that’s all it took. And you’ll be a fan, too. Why? Because she is a woman of truth. And when she speaks, the truth rivets you to the screen. She is an inspiration to all girls, young women, and women. I asked to her guest vlog for me and she accepted. Take the five minutes to listen to her talk about how to eliminate the fear in your life with perfect love. She knows. She’s had to fight those fears.

Thanks Rebecca Kiser!

I’m a writer of fiction of all kinds. I’ve been writing for years. And, one of the biggest things I have to decide when a character visits (from another world, time, or place) and starts telling me their story is: what perspective do I write this story from?

Perspective can make all the difference in the world. It can ruin a story. It can turn an otherwise poor story into a page turner. Indeed, perspective is one of the most powerful tools a writer has.

Some characters are more interesting in first person. We get to see everything they think. However, the downside is we never know what any other character is thinking. It’s a very narrow perspective and often leads the character (and the reader) to make false and incorrect assumptions about his/her life, other characters, and the story itself.

Third-person perspective steps back just a bit and as a reader we can see a little bit more of what all characters are thinking. This removes ambiguity but creates a little less of a relationship between the reader and the characters. The reader (and characters) is still too blind to make completely accurate assumptions about the story or the state of others.

Omniscient third-person perspective is my least favorite for story writing, but it is the best for real life. This tends to be more of narrator perspective. The suspense we feel is that we know more than the characters and we are waiting for them to figure out what we already know. A very effective perspective for some stories and often for fairy-tales and age groups who can’t handle as much suspense. This, also happens to be the perspective that God has—omniscient. It’s a perspective we can’t get except from God.

So, why all this talk about writing perspective? What does this have to do with making your home a heaven on earth? Well, making your home a heaven on earth is 80% perspective and 20% action (in my opinion).

Perspective2: is a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.

If you view your home with only a first-person perspective you will always make hasty conclusions about how heavenly your home is. If you view your home with a third-person perspective, trying to see more of what others are thinking, you’ll do a bit better. But, ultimately, you’ll still make incorrect conclusions about how heavenly your home is. But, if you learn to (and seek to) see your home as God sees it, your chances of having a heavenly home will increase exponentially.

Toxic Homes

First, let’s address toxic homes. They exist—far more than we’d like to admit. And, they cannot be treated the same as other homes.

Abraham 1:1, 16, 18

Abraham had a toxic home. His dad was an idol worshipper (who placed many things before God and family). His dad tried to have him sacrificed to Egyptian gods. We don’t know anything about Abraham’s mom. But, many people have one-parent homes. They tend to be either tight and loyal or horrific on many levels. But, it is apparent that Abraham was commanded by God to leave his father (and the Egyptians) so that he could make a heavenly home. His own community and home had become so toxic and corrupt that it was “needful” for him to obtain another place of residence.

From Abraham we learn that not all homes can be turned into heaven. Sometimes we must be led out to a home of promise that God helps us make as we keep His commandments.

Ruth (the whole book)

Ruth, we don’t know much about her Moabitish family. But, we know she married into a covenant Israel family, of which Naomi was a part. Then, by tragic circumstance all the males were killed (her husband, her brothers-in-law, and her father-in-law). Ruth, chose to make Naomi her family rather than go home to her blood family. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

What we do learn from Ruth is that our family, and our heavenly home, doesn’t have to be conventional or blood relations. She felt loyalty and love for Naomi. She made her home with Naomi. We too can create our heavenly home with those who love us (and they may not always be our blood relatives).

Genesis 37+

Joseph may have been a little self-righteous and annoying. But, he was essentially good and righteous. He was doted upon by his righteous (yet imperfect) parents. Yet, he was resented and hated by his brothers because he had lived righteous enough to inherit the birthright blessings which the few in front of him had forfeited by their sins and lack of repentance. In jealousy and hatred his brothers sold him into slavery. Not very heavenly.

We learn from Joseph that it’s not only our parents who can make our home toxic. Siblings can do that as well. Sometimes we ride it out. Sometimes we suffer at our siblings hands. From Joseph we learn that time, forgiveness, and mercy can often change the toxicity of sibling relationships. Life tempers us all. Sometimes we simply have to patiently wait.

There are numerous stories in the scriptures, and our own lives, that show that toxic homes cannot always be transformed. Addictions like anger, pornography, alcohol, and others cannot always be rectified in a reasonable amount of time. But, many homes can be saved by repentance, faith, love, and patience. The only way to know if your home can be saved is to seek the Lord’s will. But, be prepared to accept His answer and His guidance. He may tell you that your home can be saved. In which case you may be in store for a long, hard journey—that will end up in a heavenly result. If your home cannot be transformed, God will teach you what to do next.

The perspective we need, if our home is severely toxic, is God’s perspective. We need to know what He sees. We need to know if our heavenly home lies elsewhere or if we have a mission to save our currently, toxic home.

Regular Homes

When I say regular, I don’t mean perfect. I simply mean to imply that, in general, these regular homes contain individuals who want to get along, be happy, and basically do what’s right. Sure, toxicity might enter from time to time in small ways (a short-temper, a bad day of constant fighting, etc.). But, regular homes weather these moments of toxicity and move on because the individuals in the home eventually self-regulate, seek repentance, forgive, try harder, and so forth.

So, remember we were talking about perspective. And, that it’s God’s perspective that we need in order to begin the process of making our home a heaven on earth.

How do you seek, and learn, to see your home as God does? An LDS Hymn (#2980 begins with the following line of lyrics:

Home can be a heav’n on earth when we are filled with love

The hymn also goes on to point out characteristics that make a home “like heaven:” warmth, kindness, charity, safety, and security. It continues on in the second and third verses to mention things that may help to create a heavenly home: drawing family near each week, serving with cheerful hearts, parents teach and lead by example, children honor and obey, praying daily as a family, searching scriptures as a family, and singing hymns of thanks. It ends each verse by mentioning how family members feel about the home: where we long to be, where we long to stay…

To me the first line is the one that matters most. Home can be a heaven on earth when we are filled with love. Others in our home don’t have to be what we want them to be in order for our home to be heavenly. We have to be loving in order for our home to be heavenly. We have to feel love. We have to see through the eyes of love. It is our perspective, the way we view our home and tell it’s story.

So, your home being a heaven is all about you. It’s your perspective that makes the difference and that has to change. It’s your actions despite your circumstances and hopes and wants that makes the difference. You can’t have a heavenly home if you see through eyes of disappointment, ingratitude, revenge, resentment, and anger. You can’t have a heavenly home if you focus only on what your home doesn’t have or what the people in it don’t do. You can’t have a heavenly home if the people who are supposed to want to be there don’t want to be there. Their feelings about your home reflect what it is.

…where we long to stay…

Conversely, you can have a heavenly home if you see through the eyes of encouragement, gratitude, forgiveness, appreciation, and joy. You can have a heavenly home if you focus on what your home does have and what the people in it do that’s good. You know you have a heavenly home if people long to be there, and to stay there. Whether you or the people who belong in your home are perfect, if they all “long to be there,” and “long to stay” there, then that speaks volumes!

Home and Heaven are Far More Than a Place

For me, my home is far more than a place. It’s the place, the feeling I get of loyalty, love, appreciation, tolerance, safety, and security. Those feelings are created by the people who are part of my home—my family. These include blood relations, in-laws, through-laws, adopted, and so forth.

My family includes people from all walks of life that simply belong with us. It just happens, you know. They come in the door and then, suddenly, they are ours. Admittedly, at first we are reluctant to accept some individuals based upon the circumstances that bring them into our home. But, then, they simply become ours. I don’t know how it happens, exactly, but I do know that it happens primarily because of our perspective.

At first we see these individuals one way. Then, as we bide our time and try to hold our tongues, we suddenly see their virtues, how they bless our lives (or the lives of family members), and then bam! We see them through the eyes of love. Our perspective changes.

I feel that I have a most excellent family full of amazing and excellent people. But, sometimes I don’t wonder if that’s because I’ve decided they are excellent or if they are truly excellent. Does the difference matter? I don’t think so.

What matters is how I see them. When I am filled with love then all these people suddenly become beautiful, angelic, strong, dedicated, resilient, talented, and so forth. I don’t see where they are in life as anything other than where they currently are. I appreciate how they support and tolerate me. I count it a privilege to pass through this mortal estate in their godly-assigned support group. What a blessing!

Home can be a heaven on earth when we are filled with love

Perspektive Vision ©yvonneweis

So, you might ask: “How can I be filled with love when my family doesn’t respond to all the good I’m trying to do? How can I be filled with love when they treat me poorly? How can I see my home as a heaven when everyone grumbles during family prayer, family scripture study, and when I wake them up to go to church?”

I posted recently on “The Power to Become.” In summary, I learned that I can spend the rest of my life reacting to all that other people do, all that life throws at me, and my frustrations with God’s timing–in an attempt to create what I want or take control of what I want. Or, I can act how I want to act completely independent of those other factors. I can choose who I want to be, how I want to act, what I want to do, and how I will live and do those things no matter what else happens. By doing that I will become the person I want instead of a person who changes who they are based on what life throws at me.

It is the same with having your home be a heaven. It SERIOUSLY can be a heaven if you choose to focus on seeing your home with love, filling yourself with love, and acting with love. If you decide now that no matter how your spouse, children, or life acts that you will see with and act with love, then you have the power to create a heaven on earth. It’s your perspective that has to change. It’s you who has to “be love” so that your home is filled with it.

Do you realize what power you obtain when you act heavenly because that’s what you want to be instead of only acting heavenly if you feel heavenly, or if others are acting heavenly? You gain the power of control over your life and your home. You don’t change simply because others change. You simply are heavenly because that’s what you want to be. You see with love because that’s what you want to do—that’s who you are. Then, no matter what others do, you don’t react, in an attempt to change them. You only act in the attempt to be who you want to be.

Others may come and go in and out of your physical home or your family. But, you will always be in it. Make it a heaven by filling your life and your perspective of your home with love. Do this independent of the rest of the “story” and that perspective will write your story. Your home will be a heaven on earth.

BT

Doctrine: There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. ~George MacDonald~

I have written before about “true love.” If you haven’t read those blogs you can certainly read this one and be fine without the others. But, if you’re interested in the prior, please click here.

True Love and How to Get It: Part Three

I was reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis this week (for probably the third or fourth time) and was particularly impacted, on this particular read-through by chapter 11. It might be easy to get confused by the title of this book without knowing what it’s about. The title however was chosen as an antithesis to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake. C.S. Lewis’s title is a play on Blake’s title and makes the point that no such marriage is possible. That in fact, at some point in all of our lives (and in God’s over-arching plan) there will be nothing less than a final great divorce between heaven and hell.

George MacDonald, Lewis’s primary inspiratory and muse said:

No, there is no escape. There is no heaven with a little of hell in it—no plan to retain this or that of the devil in our hearts or pockets. Out Satan must go, every hair and feather.

And, it is upon this that I will begin my thoughts.

True love IS heaven. God IS love. And, not only is He the definition of love and the embodiment of love, but He is the teacher, author, and example of perfect, true love. We cannot even begin to conceive of true love without loving its Author.

So, taking George MacDonald’s words, we might make any number of translations using the word love.

  • There is no true love with a little of selfishness in it…
  • There is no true love with a little lust in it…
  • There is no true love with a little illegality in it…
  • There is no true love with a little immorality in it…

And so on.

As selfishness, lust, criminality, and immorality (among other things) are all pieces of hell, we cannot ever expect to find true romantic love, true motherly love, true fatherly love, true friendship love, etc., if we are determined to arrive at and achieve such with a “little of hell,” in whatever type of form it may take in our particular lives.

Society would argue that all love is good. And, perhaps they might be right, in a manner of speaking. But, I would correct them by saying, “All love starts out good, but it may not end up good;” and George MacDonald and Lewis would, I believe, back me up. And my reasoning is that because God is the source of true enduring love (of all kinds), any exercise of love that does not lead us to love Him and convert us to follow Him, is essentially polluted. Polluted love is love that is attempting to be true while also fettered with a bit of hell. And as such, that polluted love cannot last. It cannot endure, and it will in fact eventually be shaken by some hellish variable. Polluted love cannot achieve a fullness because it loses power when is ceases to lead us to the source of true love—God. It ceases, in fact, to be love at all and begin to be a form of eventual hell.

Moroni 7:13-14 instructs us very clearly:

…that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every [love] which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

Alma 41:10 reminds us that, “wickedness never was happiness.”

Doctrine and Covenants 132:5, 13-14

For all who will have a blessing, [or love], at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing [or love], and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God.

For whatsoever things remain are by me; and whatsoever things are not by me shall be shaken and destroyed.

True love is, in other words, the only real love; and anything else becomes merely a temporary state of mind. Which, because of its temporary-ness and lack of “real-ness” is why it is eventually lost or corrupted and becomes hellish. This descent into hellishness may take minutes or years, but it will happen, if it is not real and true.

George MacDonald, as C.S. Lewis’s Teacher, in The Great Divorce says:

Hell is a state of mine-ye never said a truer word.  And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind-is in the end, Hell.  But Heaven is not a state of mind.  Heaven is a reality itself.  All that is fully real is Heavenly.  For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.

vintage image of a mother and daughter wearing rollers in their hair and having a good time

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis observes a ghost who is visiting sort of a place between heaven and hell. It’s like a ghost on a “holiday from hell.” This ghost is a woman, who in her mortal life lost a son to death. And, her idea of motherly love (in both life and now in death) has ended up being an obsessive, selfish love. She, who believes she has loved truly, is deceived in her ideas of true love.

In this in-between place, a messenger of sorts, a Bright Person, comes to teach her so that if she is willing to re-educate herself on what true love is and accept it, she can go on to heaven and be with her son again.

ONE OF the most painful meetings we witnessed was between a woman’s Ghost and a Bright Spirit who had apparently been her brother. They must have met only a moment before we ran across them, for the Ghost was just saying in a tone of unconcealed disappointment, “Oh … Reginald! It’s you, is it?”

“Yes, dear,” said the Spirit. “I know you expected someone else. Can you … I hope you can be a little glad to see even me; for the present.”

“I did think Michael would have come,” said the Ghost; and then, almost fiercely, “He is here, of course?”

“He’s there-far up in the mountains.”

“Why hasn’t he come to meet me? Didn’t he know?”

“My dear (don’t worry, it will all come right presently) it wouldn’t have done. Not yet. He wouldn’t be able to see or hear you as you are at present. You’d be totally invisible to Michael. But we’ll soon build you up.”

“I should have thought if you can see me, my own son could!”

“It doesn’t always happen like that. You see, I have specialised in this sort of work.”

“Oh, it’s work, is it?” snapped the Ghost. Then, after a pause, “Well. When am I going to be allowed to see him?”

“There’s no question of being allowed, Pam. As soon as it’s possible for him to see you, of course he will. You need to be thickened up a bit.”

“How?” said the Ghost. The monosyllable was hard and a little threatening.

“I’m afraid the first step is a hard one,” said the Spirit. “But after that you’ll go on like a house on fire. You will become solid enough for Michael to perceive you when you learn to want someone else besides Michael. I don’t say ‘more than Michael,’ not as a beginning. That will come later. It’s only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process.”

“Oh, you mean religion and all that sort of thing? This is hardly the moment… and from you, of all people. Well, never mind. I’ll do whatever’s necessary. What do you want me to do? Come on. The sooner I begin it, the sooner they’ll let me see my boy. I’m quite ready.”

“But, Pam, do think! Don’t you see you are not beginning at all as long as you are in that state of mind? You’re treating God only as a means to Michael. But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake.”

It’s interesting to note the point the Bright Person makes. Love for anyone should lead us to love God “for His own sake.” True love is not to love God as a means only to get to love the people we want to be with. True love is to love God first. Then, and only then, can our love for others become unselfish, chaste, legal (in both the mortal and eternal sense), and eternal.

We so often cast off our love of God in an attempt to save our relationships with others, only to find that they never flourish. Some relationships may die, initially, when we decide to love God first. But, we will find that in the long run, they will rekindle or transform into something far greater than the quality of relationship/love we initially tried to save—by casting God aside.

The account continues:

“You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a Mother.”

“You mean, if I were only a mother. But there is no such thing as being only a mother. You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature. That relation is older and closer. No, listen, Pam! He also loves. He also has suffered. He also has waited a long time.”

“If He loved me He’d let me see my boy. If He loved me why did He take away Michael from me? I wasn’t going to say anything about that. But it’s pretty hard to forgive, you know.”

“But He had to take Michael away. Partly for Michael’s sake. . . .”

“I’m sure I did my best to make Michael happy. I gave up my whole life….”

“Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long. And secondly, for your sake. He wanted your merely instinctive love for your child (tigresses share that, you know!) to turn into something better. He wanted you to love Michael as He understands love. You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God. Sometimes this conversion can be done while the instinctive love is still gratified. But there was, it seems, no chance of that in your case. The instinct was uncontrolled and fierce and monomaniac. (Ask your daughter, or your husband. Ask your own mother. You haven’t once thought of her.) The only remedy was to take away its object. It was a case for surgery. When that first kind of love was thwarted, then there was just a chance that in the loneliness, in the silence, something else might begin to grow.”

“This is all nonsense-cruel and wicked nonsense. What right have you to say things like that about Mother-love? It is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature.”

Pam, Pam-no natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.

“My love for Michael would never have gone bad. Not if we’d lived together for millions of years.”

“You are mistaken. And you must know. Haven’t you met-down there-mothers who have their sons with them, in Hell? Does their love make them happy?”

“If you mean people like the Guthrie woman and her dreadful Bobby, of course not. I hope you’re not suggesting. … If I had Michael I’d be perfectly happy, even in that town. I wouldn’t be always talking about him till everyone hated the sound of his name, which is what Winifred Guthrie does about her brat. I wouldn’t quarrel with people for not taking enough notice of him and then be furiously jealous if they did. I wouldn’t go about whining and complaining that he wasn’t nice to me. Because, of course, he would be nice. Don’t you dare to suggest that Michael could ever become like the Guthrie boy. There are some things I won’t stand.”

What you have seen in the Guthries is what natural affection turns to in the end if it will not be converted.”

“It’s a lie. A wicked, cruel lie. How could anyone love their son more than I did? Haven’t I lived only for his memory all these years?”

“That was rather a mistake, Pam. In your heart of hearts you know it was.”

“What was a mistake?”

“All that ten years’ ritual of grief. Keeping his room exactly as he’d left it: keeping anniversaries: refusing to leave that house though Dick and Muriel were both wretched there.”

“Of course they didn’t care. I know that. I soon learned to expect no real sympathy from them.”

“You’re wrong. No man ever felt his son’s death more than Dick. Not many girls loved their brothers better than Muriel. It wasn’t against Michael they revolted: it was against you-against having their whole life dominated by the tyranny of the past: and not really even Michael’s past, but your past.”

“You are heartless. Everyone is heartless. The past was all I had.”

“It was all you chose to have. It was the wrong way to deal with a sorrow. It was Egyptian-like embalming a dead body.”

“Oh, of course. I’m wrong. Everything I say or do is wrong, according to you.”

“But of course!” said the Spirit, shining with love and mirth so that my eyes were dazzled. “That’s what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living.”

It’s again interesting to see Pam trying to prove her true love by her obsessive actions. And yet, her actions showed her lack of love toward her husband and daughter. She obsessed about her lost son, Michael. Obsession is not love. It is destructive to both the obsessor and the object of the obsession. Both die under its influence. It leads a person to make an idol of the obsessed which they place before God and never reach Him, or the love of Him at all.

The account continues:

“How dare you laugh about it? Give me my boy. Do you hear? I don’t care about all your rules and regulations. I don’t believe in a God who keeps mother and son apart. I believe in a God of Love. No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to His face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, for ever and ever.”

“He will be, Pam. Everything will be yours. God himself will be yours. But not that way. Nothing can be yours by nature.”

“What? Not my own son, born out of my own body?”

“And where is your own body now? Didn’t you know that Nature draws to an end? Look! The sun is coming, over the mountains there: it will be up any moment now.”

“Michael is mine.”

“How yours? You didn’t make him. Nature made him to grow in your body without your will. Even against your will . . . you sometimes forget that you didn’t intend to have a baby then at all. Michael was originally an Accident.”

“Who told you that?” said the Ghost: and then, recovering itself, “It’s a lie. It’s not true. And it’s no business of yours. I hate your religion and I hate and despise your God. I believe in a God of Love.”

“And yet, Pam, you have no love at this moment for your own mother or for me.”

“Oh, I see! That’s the trouble, is it? Really, Reginald! The idea of your being hurt because . . .”

“Lord love you!” said the Spirit with a great laugh. “You needn’t bother about that! Don’t you know that you can’t hurt anyone in this country?” The Ghost was silent and open-mouthed for a moment; more wilted, I thought, by this reassurance than by anything else that had been said.

Pam’s (the Ghost’s) next tactic is to make God the problem by saying He isn’t a god of love if He doesn’t let her have Michael on her terms. Because He’s IS love, she feels God shouldn’t have terms for the eternal relationship with her son that she so desires. She forgets of course that her kind of love is not true and thus would only continue to drive away those she so desires to have. Such love cannot, and will not ever be, a part of heaven. Only by submitting to God’s terms of love, true love, could Pam ever even begin to hope to have her loved ones, especially Michael, forever.

We so often do this in our lives. We demand God allow us to love whom and how we wish on our terms which may, or may not, be very close to His terms. Then, when such relationships struggle we either blame the other person or God. We rarely take the time to look at ourselves and evaluate the terms upon which we were trying to retain the love we sought. We rarely see where we were determined to keep a little hell in our heaven.

The account continues with Lewis having a discussion with his Teacher (George MacDonald) about this discussion between Pam (the Ghost) and her Bright Person (her brother Reginald):

“Come. We will go a bit further,” said my Teacher, laying his hand on my arm.

“Why did you bring me away, Sir?” said I when we had passed out of earshot of this unhappy Ghost.

“It might take a long while, that conversation,” said my Teacher. “And ye have heard enough to see what the choice is.”

“Is there any hope for her, Sir?”

“Aye, there’s some. What she calls her love for her son has turned into a poor, prickly, astringent sort of thing. But there’s still a wee spark of something that’s not just her self in it. That might be blown into a flame.”

“Then some natural feelings are really better than others-I mean, are a better starting-point for the real thing?”

“Better and worse. There’s something in natural affection which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite could be led on. But there’s also something in it which makes it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.

“I don’t know that I dare repeat this on Earth, Sir,” said I. “They’d say I was inhuman: they’d say I believed in total depravity: they’d say I was attacking the best and the holiest things. They’d call me . . .”

“It might do you no harm if they did,” said he with (I really thought) a twinkle in his eye.

“But could one dare-could one have the face-to go to a bereaved mother, in her misery -when one’s not bereaved oneself? . . .”

“No, no. Son, that’s no office of yours. You’re not a good enough man for that. When your own heart’s been broken it will be time for you to think of talking. But someone must say in general what’s been unsaid among you this many a vear: that love, as mortals understand the word, isn’t enough. Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.”

“The saying is almost too hard for us.”

“Ah, but it’s cruel not to say it. They that know have grown afraid to speak. That is why sorrows that used to purify now only fester.”

“Keats was wrong, then, when he said he was certain of the holiness of the heart’s affections.”

“I doubt if he knew clearly what he meant. But you and I must be clear. There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion.

This part, where Lewis is pondering and evaluating what he saw (between Pam, the Ghost, and Reginald, her Bright Person) with help from his Teacher, is very interesting. Where we all might be want to condemn lust above misguided natural loves, MacDonald shows that, the higher a natural love the easier we find it to justify as true, or pure. How many people justify away their chastity by the high nature of being in love because it is, often, such a high level of natural affection. And yet, by itself is it not true or pure once it goes on for its own sake instead of for God’s sake.

MacDonald says, very clearly that it is difficult to justify lust and call it godly, or make a religion out of it. And, even today with lust being more acceptable, I don’t think anyone still dares call it “godly,” though they may worship it, to an extent. But, today we dare to call fornication (of all kinds and between all genders) and adultery forms of true love, as if following one’s heart or seemingly innate/natural attraction is what makes something pure or true. That we often feel high forms of love is certain, but ultimately, if we pursue them selfishly, illegally, lustfully, or immorally, they cannot be true, and they will not last. They will be shaken.

Pam (the Ghost) loved selfishly and obsessively. Thus, her “love,” which she felt was true, was not. And, it did not lead to peace, joy, or a love of God (much less an increased love for the rest of her family). Pam was miserable in life and her love never resembled charity, or even self-sacrifice. It was always obsession and resentful longing, and even, I suspect, manipulative pity or a spiritual temper tantrum. Thus, by its fruits, it was clear that it was not true love. And, it could not endure. Pam could not have Michael “forever,” if she insisted on persisting in that type of false love. The requirement to “have Michael,” was that she first learn to love God so that her love for Michael might be purified and perfected.

The same goes for all kinds of love: romantic, familial, friend, etc. If it does not lead us to love God first, then it ultimately will fail and will not endure. And, if we do not come to love God more than anyone else, then we will never be able to love those around us (in any type of relationship) as we could, and should, in the long run. And thus, it will not endure.

It is not coincidence then that the first and great commandment is to love God (Matthew 22:37-38); because then, and only then, can we learn to love our neighbor, spouse, father, mother, children, friends, and others as ourselves.

Note: I highly recommend reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. Not only is it incredibly short, not only is it a religious classic, but it will open your eyes and provide ample opportunity for you to be taught from on high on more matters than true love.

BT

Doctrine: You can’t be removed from God’s love. But, you can be removed from his ultimate blessings and glory. You may never stop hearing the voice of the Spirit, but you can limit the kinds of messages He is able to deliver.

LDS Living puts out some good articles. But, people need to remember that they are a periodical that is NOT church supported. Thus, they get some good stuff from time to time, but they are prone to emotionalism (which all newspapers/magazines) are, and they will turn a title or publish an article just to get readers. They subsist on readers and they will do what it takes to get them.

I don’t follow LDSLiving, though I do often check out the articles shared by others who read them. Most of the time they are alright. Sometimes, they are great. But, I have often noted a strong lack of doctrinal underpinning (which is a major problem leading to doctrinal aberrations), and a quick propensity to publish articles that lead to doubt rather than faith. So, today’s post is to address an article they’ve posted (based on a request from a good friend who found it confusing) that’s lacking a clear, doctrinal foundation.

That article is titled One Dangerous and Untrue Thing About Sin Mormons Need to Stop Believing.

The first issue with this article is the emotionalism the title prompts. This is a journalism tactic. It evokes fear and panic. However, if the panic is well-founded (which it rarely is), then OK. But, this article, by a wonderful lady (@qnoor_templedress) whom I follow on Instagram, has been titled wrong. It should be called, You Can’t Escape God’s Love.

The title is the biggest issue, and that is because it pre-conditions the reader to look for some major issue or sin with how the LDS Church (or its lay members) teaches truth. It breeds doubt before faith…my biggest issue with a lot of LDSLiving articles. Thus, it becomes an accusatory article. However, the article (in near direct opposition to its title) is a personal testimony about how God is always with us.

The fact that the author of the article refers to her own uncertainties about how lay leaders and members understand and teach how the Spirit works is not unprecedented. Keeping the doctrine of the church pure is a primary function of The Church (i.e., the organization of prophets, apostles, etc.); and it gets more and more difficult the larger the church gets, and that’s because people play the game telephone by generalizing church doctrines into phrases that lead to open interpretation and misunderstanding by those who didn’t coin the phrase (I’ve blogged about this issue before). And, so when it gets regurgitated it comes out as an aberration which is nearly always turned into a false doctrine.

Each person who teaches the gospel is required to pass on to others, in pure and undistorted form, the truths for which such great sacrifices have been made.

President Gordon B. Hinckley stated:

I have spoken before about the importance of keeping the doctrine of the Church pure, and seeing that it is taught in all of our meetings. I worry about this. Small aberrations in doctrinal teaching can lead to large and evil falsehoods (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 620).

What we have in this article by LDSLiving is a small aberration. An aberration is a precursor to false doctrine NOT because the individual always intends to teach false doctrine but because the way they state something leaves it open to interpretations that spread false doctrine. This is easy to do because none of us understands everything. This is why it’s so important for us to study, prepare, and to be careful what we teach and how we teach it. If we are unsure of something, we should not BS or makeup stuff, or generalize hoping that the Spirit cleans it up for us. We must obtain the word before we preach it (Doctrine and Covenants 11:21).

So, if you have issues trying to figure out how the Holy Ghost works, then I refer you to a previous blog and from there a host of scriptures, hard work, pondering, and study. From here onward, I’m going to talk about grace, the Spirit, AND the things about sin people need to keep believing.

This article, with its aberration, prompts the idea that there are no consequences to sin. Note, the author doesn’t say there are no consequences to sin AT ALL. And, I would bet if you asked her that teaching such an idea was not her purpose. But, her frustrations and the accompanying generalities in her testimony leave the reader open to the idea (if they choose to entertain it) that there are no consequences to sin as regards the Holy Ghost. But, there clearly are, so, let’s refer to some scriptures which can clarify the doctrines we need to understand about sin, the Holy Ghost, and God’s mercy and grace.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:31, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.”

Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21, “There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we receive any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”

1 Nephi 17:45, “…he hath spoken to you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore he has spoken unto you like the voice of thunder…”

1 Nephi 15:9, “And they said unto me: we have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”

Doctrine and Covenants 88:34, “And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.”

Doctrine and Covenants 137:9, “For I the Lord God will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”

Now, I could keep going with scriptural references, but now let’s get to the point.

Does God ever abandon us? Ever? No (Luke 15:4; Romans 8:29). But, the type of relationship we can have with Him (now, and eternally), and the type of communication we can receive from Him (now, and eternally) does change based upon our actions, whether sinful or righteous.

God gives truth and light (and salvation) to us line upon line and precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenants 98:12); and I would add, covenant upon kept covenant.

Truth Torn Paper

What people misunderstand and thereby teach with aberrations is how the Holy Ghost works. The Gift of the Holy Ghost works very much like the Liahona, according to the faith and heed and diligence we give unto Him (1 Nephi 16:28; Alma 12:9). If we listen to Him and follow, we will get more and more personal revelations, knowledge, and light which is intended to sanctify us over time and make us godly. If we only listen to Him when we feel like it, the messages and information we get will reflect our faith, heed, and diligence.

For example:

Note that Nephi tried to keep the commandments of God. I’m sure he was far from perfect (even annoying as a person), but he was in a state of forward progression, living the commandments, repenting, and following the Spirit. Thus, his own actions and diligence in seeking God’s will, guidance, and mysteries led him in a path of revelation and personal sanctification. He got to see visions and receive doctrinal truths and interpretations of scripture and dreams. His mind was opened up to amazing things. And, whatever his personality or disposition, he was faithful, diligent, humble, and quick to forgive.

In contrast, Laman and Lemuel were fair weather friends with God. They only followed God’s commandments if it suited their own, personally designated plans for happiness. They were often rude, vulgar, impatient, mocking, bullying, degrading, prone to anger and violence, pride, and grudge-holding. Lehi communicated God’s love to them through priesthood blessings and fatherly council, but he couldn’t promise them the same blessings as Nephi, Sam, and Zoram—because of their sinfulness.

Thus, when Nephi asked Laman and Lemuel why they hadn’t asked God about their questions regarding Lehi’s dream, they said, “…the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us,” and they were right. God never had communicated such things to them because they had never sought it nor been worthy of it. Because of their mindset about God, God’s commandments, and His plan and will for them, they were not abandoned by the Spirit, but the types of communications they could receive from Him were limited to their limited faith, heed, and diligence.

The author of the LDSLiving article likely understands this principle. Yet, her frustrations were with an apparent lack of correct doctrinal teaching in her youth. She was led to believe, based on generalizations and aberrations, that God, and the Holy Ghost, would completely forsake her if she sinned. What she found in her own straying times did not agree with what she felt she had been taught. Thus, her frustration that these girls she speaks to might be getting the same soup of aberrated thoughts and false doctrines. Her desire was pure. She wanted them to know that even if they messed up, God loved them. And, she wanted them to know that so that they would have the courage to repent and seek His face again…with hope—as she did.

Can God communicate His love to us even if He can’t allow us into the temple? Yes. Can God comfort us even if He can’t teach us deeper truths and reveal to us things that will make us more like Him? Certainly.

As the author of the LDSLiving article indicated, God is always with us. However, it’s the status of the relationship and our ability to progress that is affected by our sins. If we persist in sin we can’t expect God to answer all our questions about Him and His plan…because we aren’t capable of understanding, accepting, and acting on such revelation. Therefore, we are limited in our progress in becoming like Him in many areas of truth we become “past feeling” until we sincerely repent and open ourselves up again to those other messages.

Also, it is important to note that since all sin and righteousness are accompanied by consequences (both mortal and eternal), that any sin does result in a loss of access to upward progress toward God, and often as well in a loss of mortal protection and guidance (because we are “past feeling”). Well did Lehi quote God when he said, “And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to land of promise…(1 Nephi 2:20).Portrait of a liar

God’s whole plan is to lead us to become like Him. Thus, any other path leads us to not become like Him and is thereby a lesser path with lesser messages, blessings, and progress. It does not lead us to the same knowledge, protection, blessings, and ultimate glory UNLESS we repent and change course. Which, of course, we can always do—if we are sincere. Then, our sinful experiences are changed to glorified ones BECAUSE WE REPENTED. Sin cannot lead us upward if it is not accompanied by repentance.

Now, the worst aberration that I see members and leaders of the Church spreading is, “Our goal is to get home to God.” WRONG. Our goal is to BECOME LIKE GOD. There is a HUGE DIFFERENCE. And this aberration, I have found, leads to most others, including misconceptions about grace and the atonement. But, I’ve blogged about those repeatedly and will likely continue so I won’t go into those today.

So, does sin affect our access to the Holy Ghost? Yes, it affects the types of messages He can deliver. Does sin affect our progress in becoming like God? Yes, if we do not learn from it, truly desire righteousness, and meet the conditions for repentance. Does God ever abandon us? No, but He cannot change the law for us or deny His word, and so consequences for sin stand.

If you are a youth and you are living in sin, you will still feel God’s love. He will still seek after you. He will still offer as much to you as you are willing to receive by your actions and sincere desires. But, you will lose out on blessings IF you do not repent. You will lose out on spiritual (and sometimes other mortal) opportunities during those times you persist in sin. IF you repent sooner, rather than later, much can be maintained (or restored to you). But, IF you persist in sin and procrastinate repentance you will begin to become the actions you espouse, and therefore repentance becomes more difficult as the years pass, though it is ALWAYS possible.

You can’t be removed from God’s love (Roman’s 8:29). But you can be removed from His ultimate blessings and glory (Doctrine and Covenants 132:21-23).

BT

Doctrine: Learning to treat others as Moral Agents is critical to us becoming like God. Others certainly won’t become like God if we use any other lesser tactics. Just getting people to go through the motions of righteousness does not mean that they desire and want to become like God.

One of the biggest dilemmas all of the god-fearing have is how to love others without condoning sin. But, we often forget that we are also trying to be godly–we need to learn this not just for others, but for our own progression.

If you believe in a God of any kind and try to follow godly ways, then you have been taught that those ways are right and to go against them is wrong. So, how do you encourage others to live those godly ways, to “come unto Christ and be perfected in Him,” without forcing your beliefs on them?[i] How can you accept them for who they are and where they are in their own journey to God (because ultimately all journeys lead back to God, whether we believe in and acknowledge His laws or not)?

I’ve been working my way to this for years. But, I think I’ve finally come up with a digestible way to explain how to love others without condoning sin.

The answer is to treat them as Moral Agents. I’ve discussed the details and the whys behind Moral Agency in a previous blog Treating Others As Moral Agents. If you don’t understand the basics of moral agency, then this blog won’t be quite as helpful. This blog is more simplified and direct focusing specifically on how to do it.

In order to have Moral Agency we need several conditions in place. These conditions are the fundamental equation required to achieve the sum of Moral Agency. An equation would look like this:

The Conditions of Mortality = Moral Agency

The Conditions of Mortality must be in place to allow us to have Moral Agency. If even one is altered or changed, or removed, free will/agency ceases to exist. And, we need that Moral Agency to figure out if we want to become like God—the purpose of this life.

So, here are the Conditions of Morality, or the Conditions for Moral Agency/Free Will

  1. Law defining right and wrong choices that will lead us toward godhood or away from it; and the blessings and consequences that accompany those right and wrong choices
  2. Knowledge of good and evil (established by the law) communicated to us and taught to us
  3. Enticements to do good and enticements to do evil (marketing from God and Satan)
  4. Ability for our actions to have tangible impact, or in other words, the mortal conditions (of pain and joy) that make our choices matter (this is not a simulation or a video game)
  5. Sufficient autonomy to act without interference (this includes the environment/world and even God, Himself out of our immediate presence)
  6. Ability to learn from mistakes and sins without being condemned by those mistakes and sins when we learn to do otherwise

So, how do you treat others as Moral Agents? How do you love them without condoning sin? How do you lead them to God without using coercion, fear, or other unrighteous tactics?

Answer: establish and maintain the conditions for Moral Agency in all your interactions with others.

Remember, you don’t want people to simply DO what’s right. You want them to LOVE GOD and BECOME LIKE HIM. We can get people to “go through the motions” using all sorts of tactics that we may justify as OK, but they aren’t. So, the goal of maintaining the conditions for Moral Agency in all your interactions has nothing to do with creating or evoking a specific reaction. But, it has everything to do with creating an environment where individuals will be encouraged to:

  • Ponder
  • Self-evaluate
  • Self-judge
  • Be open to spiritual impressions
  • Feel and share love

I refer to only one scriptural account of Christ interacting in such a way that all of the above were accomplished, as there are many. But, if you wish more, you’ll have to study the scriptures with the specific intent to notice how God treats others as Moral Agents and maintains the conditions of Mortality.

In John 8 we read the story of the woman taken in adultery. Please take note of the bolded and highlighted words which I will elaborate on further down:

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

There is so much beautiful stuff going on in this story. First, note that Christ had been up in the Mount of Olives communing with God. Thus, we see that His own spiritual strength was firmly intact. He met the conditions to be in tune with God and the Spirit. He submitted to His Father’s will, despite the fact that He himself was a God.

Next, we note that though we was repeatedly taunted, He reacted in three very interesting ways. First, He didn’t respond to the question initially because it was a blatant act of contention. Though Christ had been teaching up to that point, He stopped responding because the negative intent was clear. Note also that physically He brought Himself low to the ground in a non-threatening body position. This is so interesting to me. Also, He drew in the sand. Did He really need that time to think? I don’t think so. But, He set an example for each of us because we do need to follow His example and take the time to think in similar circumstances.

After it was clear the Pharisees were not going to leave Him alone, Christ does rise up. And, notice He doesn’t say, “Well, I know the law says to stone adulterers, but we really should give this woman a second chance.” He doesn’t say, “I’m the Son of God and I choose to let this sin pass.” He doesn’t condemn the Pharisees by saying, “How dare you? Each of you is sinful and how could you think to condemn this woman?”

Christ’s response to their contentious question is nothing short of pure godly artistry. He says, “He that is without sin, let him first cast a stone,” indicating that they were right, the law did say to stone adulterers. So, He actually validated that the law was “the law,” and yet, His statement invites each one of them to self-evaluate and self-judge. Which of them—who probably actually thought they were nearly sinless—was going to publicly proclaim to be perfect? The result? Mercy for the woman and mercy for the Pharisees slowing taking their leave of guilt. Christ’s response to the Pharisees was also an act of love. He didn’t judge them publicly, they judged themselves publicly.

Next, Christ turns to the woman, “where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” (Note: condemnation is the act of final judgment) He invites her to recognize and ponder her current situation. She has escaped immediate judgment for her sins. An act of mercy. “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more,” He finishes indicating that though she has sinned, she has another chance to set herself right. She is not under “final condemnation,” IF she will repent and sin no more.

Not only was the woman publicly ridiculed, but because of Christ’s actions she was publicly acquitted and given mercy, the chance to repent and become better.

  • Did Christ change the law defining right and wrong to make anyone feel better? NO.
  • Did Christ ensure the woman (and the Pharisees) were aware of their sins in a loving way? YES.
  • Did Christ interfere with their ability to choose? NO.
  • Did Christ allow them to feel the tangible impact of their choices (good and bad)? YES.
  • Did Christ allow them to ALL go and repent without being under final judgment or condemnation? YES.

I don’t know if it’s possible for each of us to let go of our desire to get others to do what’s right in the wrong ways. I don’t know if we can master loving them without condoning sin perfectly. I don’t know if we can treat others as moral agents as perfectly as God and Christ do. But, I do know that as I’ve understood this doctrine and tried to implement it that I’m learning to understand it better, and implement it better. The more I try the better I get. And, since my goal is to become like God, I’ve got to keep trying, because these conditions are why we have Moral Agency to begin with. These conditions are so important for our eternal progression that it’s why we’re here, on this earth, out of God’s presence. These conditions are how God treats each and every single one of us in every single interaction we have with Him. We must learn it too!

So, avoid unrighteous dominion. Avoid using fear tactics to get people to “go through the motions.” And embrace Treating Others as Moral Agents because that’s the only way they will ever actually BECOME like God.  And, it’s the only way you will ever BECOME like God.

BT

[i] Moroni 10:32

Doctrine: Free will has one specific goal and purpose: God’s desire to help us become like Him and to have all that He has. It allows us to decide, and ultimately prove to ourselves (through experience), if we desire what God desires for us. To enable its purpose, free will (agency) has set conditions; which if we try to obscure or alter (superficially) results only in misery and suffering. Moral agency may be the highest law of heaven because it has sponsored the greatest applications of God’s love: His plan for us to gain access to His life and power, and the atonement performed by Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

Agency, i.e. free will, is one of those doctrines that many people believe they understand. And yet, I find that they understand it very little. Some think free will means no law, no guidelines, no rules, no restrictions and no consequences. Others believe laws, commands, rules, and consequences are necessary but then they use unrighteous dominion and fear to enforce them.

These are extremes, but many of us struggle to find the middle ground and thereby fail to understand our own moral agency and how to treat others as moral agents. Because we don’t grasp the doctrines behind agency we end up frequently misapplying it. We adopt false doctrines that guide our behaviors and impact our relationships. But, there is a correct place to sit along the spectrum of communication and treatment of others. And, it all comes down to understanding Moral Agency.

Moral Agency is the product of one specific goal or purpose: God’s desire to help us become like Him and to have all that He has. Our agency is a gift from Him. Moral Agency is what allows us to decide, and ultimately prove to ourselves (through experience), if we desire what God desires for us. That’s its purpose.

In order to preserve the purpose of God’s gift or Moral Agency, we need several conditions in place These conditions allow us to have free will and exercise to figure out if we want to become like God:

  1. Law defining right and wrong choices that will lead us toward godhood or away from it; and the blessings and consequences that accompany those right and wrong choices
  2. Knowledge of good and evil (established by the law) communicated to us and taught to us
  3. Enticements to do good and enticements to do evil (marketing from God and Satan)
  4. Ability for our actions to have tangible impact, or in other words, the mortal conditions (of pain and joy) that make our choices matter (this is not a simulation or a video game)
  5. Sufficient autonomy to act without interference (this includes the environment/world and even God, Himself out of our immediate presence)
  6. Ability to learn from mistakes and sins without being condemned by those mistakes and sins when we learn to do otherwise

I don’t have the luxury of going into great detail on these items without writing a book. But, suffice it to say, if God removed one of the above items, our agency would become null and void; of which the final consequence would be that our choices wouldn’t matter. And, if our choices don’t matter this life becomes pointless. If our choices don’t matter, they lose power to damn us or exalt us. No agency = an eternal limbo without sorrow but also without joy. No agency = the state of constant suspense with no hope of any fulfillment. Yuck.

God has established a world where we have true agency (Abraham 3:24-28). And, He never changes the above conditions. Agency has the power to help us become like God. Preserving agency is the truest form of love God can give us. And, it is the primary reason there was a need for an infinite atonement. The atonement allows us to exercise our agency in the godly learning process without being condemned by that process. Thus, moral agency may be the highest law of heaven because it has sponsored the greatest applications of God’s love: His plan for us to gain access to His life and power, and the atonement performed by Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

So, here we are. And, purposefully, life isn’t ever fair or idyllic. We have marriages suffering. We have parent-child relationships suffering. We have sibling relationships suffering. We have friendships suffering. We even have cultural and societal relationships suffering. And, they are all suffering because of the lack of understanding of God’s plan and the conditions of Moral Agency.

Neal A. Maxwell said (The Great Plan of the Eternal God, 1984):

So vital is this framework [of God’s plan] that if one stays or strays outside it, he risks provinciality and misery. In fact, most human misery represents ignorance of or noncompliance with the plan. A cessation of such mortal suffering will not come without compliance to it [the plan]. Hence, the Lord, who has freely shared this vital knowledge with us, has urged us to teach the fundamentals of this plan “freely.” (Moses 6:58)

So, let’s look at the issues that happen when we fail to teach the fundamentals of Moral Agency and its critical purpose in God’s plan. If we superficially change even one of the conditions, all sorts of extra misery and suffering results.volunteers with hands up

First, society keeps trying to change the law defining what is right and wrong in order to remove guilt and the idea of moral consequences. But, all removing such law does is prevent people from taking the time out to see if they want to become godly or not. Changing the societal law doesn’t actually change God’s law or the very real and inescapable moral consequences (both immediate and eternal). It only keeps people from understanding why they are here on earth and deciding if they want to be like their Heavenly Father or not.

Second, a lot of religious people do more than enough instructing and informing their children on godly laws and yet fail to also inform and instruct their children about the “other side,” accurately. They apply blind generalities that canvass the real experiences of sin thinking it will prevent their children from experimenting with evil. And, they do so because they are worried their children will be more curious if they are more informed. Yet, what they accomplish is removing the power their children need to make an educated and accurate choice.  It’s difficult to make a honest choice without honest information. They are too worried (and afraid) about what their children will do rather than trusting them with all the information so they can determine the true desires of their own hearts.

These parents give the knowledge of good (in detail) and then only the knowledge of bad (in generalities and statements/threats using fear) and believe that this will keep their children from choosing the evil. However, what this well-intentioned plan does is leave children blind to their own hearts and desires until they are truly confronted with the sin. Then, when actually confronted with sin’s enticements and realities they are unprepared to fight it properly. They don’t know their own hearts and so they are more likely to succumb to such sin. If not in their youth (while at home) then possibly later when out of their parents’ purviews.

Knowledge increases the power of agency. And, relationships that are managed by the withholding of knowledge are those in which one party does not have a true testimony of the atonement, its accompanying grace, or God’s actual plan. In Alma 12:32 we read:

Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God.

In this verse we can see that God didn’t give rules, guidelines, or commandments until AFTER expounding to Adam and Eve the fullness of the plan. I’m pretty sure God was thorough with His information. Yet, so often we give rules and commands without helping our children to understand the purpose of the rule and the full, detailed information of why breaking said rules will hinder their progress in God’s plan.

Third, Some of us are afraid of being too religiously pushy. Thus we err by eliminating proper and godly enticements and invitations to do good in order to not “impose” upon another’s free will. All the while Satan’s side has no qualms about imposing and inundating all of us with enticements and invitations to do evil. Thereby, our reluctance to invite and entice leaves our beloved ones overwhelmed by all the wrong propaganda. Now, granted, if we entice or invite in ways that stifle moral agency, such as: using fear tactics, coercion, manipulation, guilt trips, etc., then obviously we need to learn to entice and invite as God does. But then we should do it! By eliminating enticements to do good we decrease the power of an another’s agency because they have little chance of choosing the right because they are unaware of it or have forgotten it.

Fourth, some people, albeit understandably, would like to remove all the pain and suffering from the world. And, I don’t blame them. But, unfortunately (and fortunately) pain and suffering (all of it) is what makes this life and our choices matter.

Think about it. A tornado strikes. You can get mad at God for letting the tornado strike and deprive people of their homes (and possibly their lives), or you can gain peace in the fact that it generates an opportunity for Christlike service, gratitude, perseverance, sacrifice, long-suffering, etc…(all godly attributes). Take away the calamity and you take away the refining conditions it provides. As well, Christ has overcome death. Death is tragic, but it is not permanent. Such an event should arouse our relief and gratitude that God has already, in a past sense, reversed the calamity.

Or, a woman has an abusive husband. After years of verbal and physical abuse she finally gets out. Was the whole experience a total loss? No. First, because the atonement will eventually completely heal all of her mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wounds. Second, it’s not a loss because she will understand Christ’s suffering better than most—innocent suffering. And by understanding Christ she will feel greater love for Him and have a chance to draw closer to Him and become like Him. Third, she will be able to entice others to get out of their abusive situations sooner than she did. She will be able to counsel them, comfort them, and understand their struggles. Her own experience has granted her power to become a Savior of others.

There is deep doctrine attached to all suffering. Suffering makes wrong choices wrong and also means that justice has to be paid. And, though Christ paid for all wrong choices, for those who don’t repent, they will eventually have to suffer, even as Christ did, because the ability to be hurt and to hurt others makes the hurt they caused matter; and it’s what makes it necessary for them to pay for it if they do not repent. (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19)

Fifth, and finally, people want God to step in and stop all suffering. They want Him to interfere and remove our necessary autonomy…especially in major crimes and catastrophic suffering. Little do they realize that removing the impact of choice removes the reality of choice. God can’t condemn those who sin if He stops them from sinning and removes the impact of their choices. And, if He steps in to stop a murder then He must also step in and stop you from gossiping, committing adultery, and other sins. There is no middle ground. Either we are allowed to condemn ourselves by our actions (and access grace by our actions) or we are not. And, if we are not allowed to choose and be impacted then there is no need for an atonement. (Alma 14:10-11; Alma 60:13; Helaman 14:29; 1 Nephi 18:11; Doctrine and Covenants 136:39)

Additionally, removing the negative also removes the positive. If the impact of choice is removed or preempted, then the good we do won’t matter either. If only the good matters and not the evil then there is no true free will (because we only have one choice) and there is zero power to become godly—which, do not forget, is the whole purpose of being here on this earth under these conditions and circumstances in the first place.

The atonement of Christ did not take place to remove all suffering. It took place to pay justice for the suffering we would all experience for all the various variables (conditions of morality) that cause suffering. It took place to bring us back into the presence of God, so that we don’t have to remain out of His presence forever—if we repent. It took place to resurrect us and get us out of these fragile and corrupted mortal bodies after using them to learn to become godly, or not. The atonement took place to give us the chance to learn to become godly (which requires agency) while also ultimately allowing us to change, repent, and improve. Without the atonement there is no agency and there is no plan and this life would never have happened.

As a last note, I have to mention that many Latter-day Saints take to heart the command found in Doctrine and Covenants 68:25-29. And yet, they subconsciously and inadvertently change the word “teach” to “coerce, threaten, manipulate, guilt, shame, or force.” God commands us to “teach” not to exercise unrighteous dominion. He commands us to “persuade,” not to threaten (Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-46).

People who struggle with this tendency to change the meaning of the word “teach” to “coerce…” need to ask themselves, “What does a teacher do? How do they help their class master a topic? How does a teacher encourage application? How does a teacher determine the level of understanding students have and their ability to apply that information and understanding?” As parents, are we teachers or taskmasters? Just food for thought, here.

So, as we consider how to treat people with love, and as moral agents, we need to be certain we maintain the conditions of agency (i.e. God’s love) (as listed above). As well, a study of Christ’s ministry and His treatment of people in the scriptures will reveal many principles and applications for “how” to apply our knowledge of true Moral Agency. If we are prayerful about our scripture study and want to know how to treat others as moral agents and invite and entice them to come unto Christ, then we will find guidance in abundance.

BT

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

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

Thinketh no evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how do we avoid thinking evil?

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

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

For example:

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoicing in goodness and not enticed by iniquity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facts about ALL sin

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

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

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

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

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

Green transporation sign with true love wording and direction on

Willing to bear all things/Endures all things

Bear = carry, support, endure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believing and Hopeful

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing remarks on Charity

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

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

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

BT

Doctrine: Christ had to suffer unfairly to receive His glory and advance the possibility of ours. We must do the same for ourselves and others. Suffering unfairly helps us come to know Christ, not just about Him. Trials faithfully endured increase righteous power, faith, and confidence in our worthiness before God, which can be attained no other way.

I have had my share of trials of all kinds (though I suspect my current ones have yet to play themselves out and that there are many more in store). Some of my trials I may admittedly have brought upon myself. But, most, I feel quite certain came to me based on the natural opposition of life or because of the poor and unkind choices of others.

When we’ve have caused our own suffering—whether to a lesser or greater extent—and are receiving the brunt of consequences we very well could have avoided through wisdom or righteousness; the suffering isn’t necessarily more pleasant, but because we have a cause, we understand it better. And, that understanding gives us purpose in repenting or enduring the consequences. Such suffering is often what leads us to resolve to be more righteous, more repentant, or in general more wise.

However, when those trials and troubles come that we likely have no, or little, fault in, they seem to be particularly distressing. These kinds of trials shake faith, bring about personal crises, and cause a much greater level of agony. This is because we are suffering in what might be considered an UNFAIR manner. Struggles have come to us despite our best efforts to live righteously, be good citizens, and be healthy. So, it feels worse. It feels like a gyp. And therefore, it causes more wretchedness due to a lack of understanding.

I remember, as a youth growing up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often hearing my church leaders saying things like, “If you keep the commandments and get married in the temple you’ll be happy.” Now, what they said wasn’t necessarily untrue. Yet, it was so general as to leave my young and inexperienced mind open to interpret such a phrase in many incorrect ways.

For example, many incorrect interpretations included:

  • If you do what’s right you’ll never have any major problems

  • If you keep the commandments you’ll always be happy (or never be sad)

  • If you get married in the temple your marriage is guaranteed to last

  • If you keep the commandments God will always save you from troubles

As I have studied the scriptures and experienced many unfair trials (despite my best attempts to be righteous) I have come to laugh at the early ideas I had regarding the meaning of this phrase. Because, if you read the scriptures, they are replete with stories of super righteous (although imperfect people) experiencing trials at every turn. Indeed, by the accounts open for study, it often seems the more righteous a person is, the more UNFAIR trials they receive.

The scriptures illustrate that being righteous has nothing to do with getting out of UNFAIR suffering and trials. The scriptures do, however, provide explicit advice on how to avoid the suffering and trials that come from FAIR suffering—meaning the suffering that sin, wickedness, and unwise choices bring naturally and that we are capable of avoiding to a large extent. As well, the scriptures never promise no troubles, suffering, or sorrow. They do promise blessings, support, guidance, and help. The happiness that the scriptures often promise correlates more powerfully with peaceand not the peace the world gives (which we might equate with the emotion of happiness), the but the peace that Christ gives (St. John 14:27) which is much more likely to be a peace of conscience, an unwavering trust in God, certainty of eternal compensation and restoration, and consequently a lack of undue fear.

However, because God prizes agency above all else, He sometimes, but does not always remove or prevent the UNFAIR suffering that comes to us from the actions of others. Nor will He always remove the disinterested and unfeeling acts of nature. Suffering is necessary, both the FAIR and the UNFAIR, to our eternal progression.

How is it necessary? In Romans 8:16-17 we learn: “The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if it so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together.”

What Paul is saying here is effectively the same thing said in Joseph Smith’s Lectures on Faith: “It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtain faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him” (Lectures on Faith, p. 58).

So, if we hope to be joint-heirs with Christ, who more than any other suffered UNFAIRLY for our mistakes, issues, weaknesses, and sins, as well as our sicknesses, illnesses, infirmities, and so forth; why should we think it unfair to also suffer UNFAIRLY at times due to the nature of mortality and the agency of others?

Now, I’m not saying that we have to smile through such UNFAIR suffering, or that we can’t struggle through it, that we can’t have bad days where we want to give up, etc. When God says, “endure it well,” I think He means a Job-figure type of endurance. Job whined and complained plenty. He simply never blamed God.

So, what I’m saying is, we should not sit around in a puzzlement wondering, “Why me? Why did God let this happen? Why didn’t God step in and fix this? This is God’s fault for not saving me… Why didn’t God make these people act differently? Has God abandoned me? Did I fail to keep some commandment perfectly and that’s why I have to suffer this? Why did God let me marry so-and-so if He knew it would end like this? Why didn’t I get a prompting to leave before this horrible tornado hit? Etc.”

Christ never spent a selfish moment in His life. He never said, “Why me?” He did say, in effect, if there be another way (Matthew 26:39) then that would be nice, but He never complained against the God and Father whose will was His constant and primary focus the entirety of His life. He never said, “I don’t deserve this.” Because, He already knew that He didn’t.

So, why did Christ suffer UNFAIRLY on purpose? Because it was God’s will (St. John 4:34; 6:38). Christ knew what His mission was. That mission was to suffer UNFAIRLY on purpose so that all the UNFAIR and FAIR suffering we would pass through could be overcome—eternally—if not always in the present life. What a gift!

I have also begun to think about Christ’s words in the Doctrine and Covenants (19:16-19), where He says:

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 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.

There was a clear purpose in Christ’s suffering. For those who follow Him and repent and become Christlike, whatever mortal suffering they suffer, they will not have to experience the torment that awaits those who do not repent. Those who do not repent will someday suffer what Christ suffered for them because they refused Him and His offer of salvation. In other words, if they fail to repent, the gift of Christ’s suffering will be retracted.instagramquotes9

As well, Christ suffered more horrifically than any of us will ever suffer for any reason. He says quite clearly, as I’ve already iterated, that it was daunting even to Him and that He asked if there was any other way. But then, what did He say? “Glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” Meaning, He accepted God’s will and partook of the bitter cup that was offered to Him.

So, when trials come to us, it is okay to blanch at the scope of them. It is okay to cry. It is okay to have some depressed days. It is okay to walk through them without a perfect smile on your face during every moment. It is okay to say, “If it be thy will, let this cup pass…” But, if it is not God’s will for the cup to pass, then we must also say, “the Glory be thine, Father, give me the cup and I’ll drink it. I’ll set an example of humility, diligence, patience, and long-suffering for others. I’ll find ways to refine myself to be more like Christ through this trial. I’ll do what you want me to do.”

To me, there is another very critical piece to the purpose of UNFAIR suffering. I remember very clearly the first time I understood what UNFAIR suffering felt like. It was emotional, psychological, and also physical. I felt wretched in a different way than I had ever felt before. Physical injuries and maladies bring horrific pain. But there was no pain killer, no morphine for this UNFAIR injury which seemed to be ripping my soul apart.

It was in that moment that I remembered John 17:3, “And this is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.”

How can we hope to be like Christ if we don’t understand even a spec of who He was and what He did for us? How can we hope to stand at peace in His presence if we haven’t even come to understand Him? We cannot.

It was during this time that despite all my religious upbringing, I began to comprehend for the first time how deep, powerful, and horrific the Atonement must have been for Christ. I saw His suffering with new eyes. I saw beyond the physical pain He suffered. I saw the whole picture—that He was crushed in spirit, emotional, and mind, just as He was physically. Why? Because He was feeling the weight of the UNFAIRNESS and betrayal of all of us.

So, there are many more reasons why trials are necessary to God’s plan of salvation. But, to me, these two stick out as some of the most important. We have to “suffer with Christ” to gain the faith necessary to inherit such a rich weight of glory as God offers to us. As well, we simply cannot move beyond knowing about Christ to truly knowing Him without understanding, even in the smallest part, what it meant for Him to suffer for us.

Trials are hard. Like I said in the beginning, I’m not without my own. They are ever-present. And yet, I’m learning (very slowly of course) to say as Paul said, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distress for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Cor. 12:10) because as I rise above each and every trial my faith and confidence in God becomes stronger and stronger and more unshakeable. In fact, trials have never weakened me when I have persevered through them. I can look back and gratefully appreciate them all (even the present ones). Seeing how far I’ve come, all I’ve learned about Them, gives me confidence in myself and in God. It gives me the knowledge that I can continue on and that as Theoden said in Return of the King, “I go to my fathers in whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed.”

I don’t claim to be perfect or extremely Christlike. But, my confidence in my ability to keep trying and make small gains is certain. Trials, even the UNFAIR ones, create in each of us a sense of worthiness before God. They remove shame (if we endure them faithfully) and increase our understanding of ourselves and improve our personal relationship with Christ.

BT