Doctrine: We have a perfect Father in Heaven, whom we can honor on Father’s Day, even if our earthly father is difficult to honor.

Father’s Day… It’s a tough day for many and not a holiday at all. Why? Because despite the pictures painted by advertisements and even our imaginations, many people’s earthly fathers were not so great. Maybe they were absent during those important growing up years. Maybe they were semi-present but unkind, abusive, alcoholics, rag-aholics, neglectful, or even workaholics: in other words, something in their lives always came before fatherhood—or us. And, today, fatherhood is quickly becoming something that is unappreciated and even dismissed as unimportant and unnecessary by jaded men, women, and children.

So, is there any father we can celebrate on Father’s Day? Yes.

The father I’m referring to is Heavenly Father—God, the Father. If your earthly father fell/falls far short of perfection, you and I, all of us, have a father to honor on Father’s Day. He is the Father of us all and unlike the frail and faulty versions (of Him) we have on this earth, He is perfect.

Heavenly Father is the perfect father. And, He is the God of the whole universe. What does that make you? It makes you galactic royalty. Your spirit (that deep part of your soul that often gets bogged down under mortal life and sometimes knows there has to be more) knows Him. And, though mortal life makes your vision of the eternal and the memory of your pre-earth life nearly impossible to process or imagine, yet somehow you do feel Him. Not all the time. But, you have felt His love and His hand in your life and you know it was Him even if you try to deny He exists; even if you are mad at Him; even if you go years without remembering those moments. You can’t pretend away your connection to Him anymore than you can pretend that the sun doesn’t exist.

So, what makes God, the Father, so perfect?firstvision

He loves you perfectly (1 John 4:8, 16).

God’s love is so perfect that it hurts. But, it is perfect love because it is true love. His perfect love is evidenced by His plan for us to become like Him. As part of that plan, He willingly offered His Only Begotten Son to right all the wrongs we would ever suffer, to heal all mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical injury and infirmity, and to pay justice for all the wrongs we commit as we learn godliness (St. John 3:16). Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of choosing whatever we wish. And, if we don’t choose to become like God, our Father; He loves us so much that He has provided kingdoms of glory equal to the laws of righteousness and perfection we are willing to adhere to (Doctrine and Covenants 88:22-40). There is no eternal loss by taking part in God’s eternal plan, unless we choose it.

God’s love is so perfect that He allows us to have completely moral agency, to act and not to be acted upon (or compelled in any way to choose right; 2 Nephi 3:26). We can be influenced by others—sure—but we cannot be forced to choose anything we do not wish to choose. Even our lives can be restored to us—if threatened—because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Therefore, though it is the primary power of mortality, even free will (or moral agency), that we have a paramount example of God’s love. He will not make us choose Him, His life, or His ways. We are free to choose His way for ourselves IF we want them. So, you could say He loved us enough that He was willing to let us choose to not be with Him forever. It’s sad, but it’s perfect love.

God is perfectly just (Alma 42:15).

If we do anything wrong, even a hint of something wrong, we incur a debt to justice. And God never waives the reality of our choice. Whatever impact our wrong choice (or thought) has on us or others becomes a debt that must be repaid to Justice. Thus, there are also prescribed consequences accompanying the reality of our choice. We, and others, suffer the consequences of our wrong choices. This part of justice is no fun. But, because of that justice we have the ability to learn from our wrong choices, and others have the ability to learn from suffering the consequences as well. Justice, is actually a gift from God making this life matter. If God let anything slip by, no matter how small, then He (our Father in Heaven) could not be trusted to be fair. Thus, He would become a partial God, a changeable God, and then would cease to be God (Alma 42:13).

But, because our ability to learn and grow is paramount to our eternal progression, God is perfectly just and He will never stop being perfectly just. Thus, we can trust Him—perfectly. He loves us enough to be and remain perfectly just.

God is perfectly merciful (Alma 42:15).

Because of the Atonement performed by Jesus Christ, God can be perfectly just and also perfectly merciful. However, mercy can only be offered to those who meet the conditions to receive it. For example, if we commit sin, we are doomed by eternal consequences (not just earthly ones). Mercy can remove those eternal consequences if we are willing to learn from the sin, have the desire to become better, and repent. When we repent, then, justice is paid by the Atonement and while we may suffer earthly consequences, the eternal consequences have been stemmed on our behalf. We can transcend our sins and be “saved.”

Father and daughter outside house

Grace and mercy are extended to each of us in varying degrees. And, the only thing that creates those degrees is the differing levels of our willingness to become like Christ. So, we have control over what we receive—God has put that control in our hands. The more Christlike we become, the more mercy and grace we receive until we are eventually changed, grace by grace, into a being that is perfect (Doctrine and Covenants 93:19-20).

God’s mercies are over all His children in differing amounts. And, He doesn’t love any child more than another. But, His mercy and grace are extended by these conditions (1 Nephi 17:35). He could give grace and mercy to those who don’t repent or try to become like Him, but if He did so, not only would they not care or appreciate it, it would render moral agency (or free will) null and void. And, God loves us too much to give us something we are incapable of understanding or being accountable for. To do so would not be just or fair. Thus, God is perfectly merciful by placing conditions on the receipt of grace and mercy.

God never gives up on us (Jacob 6:5; Revelation 3:19; Helaman 15:3).

This is something that if you think about it may surprise you. But, consider: God knows the beginning from the end. He knows if we are going to sin in two minutes or twenty years. He knows, ultimately, what eternal end we will all come to. And yet, He still exerts all His universal and galactic resources to persuade, encourage, plead, chasten/reprove, and ask us to follow Him, become like Him, and live so that we can return home to Him…whether we will eventually do so or not.

When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ (our Mediator between us and God, the Father), we will stand in awe that God knew all the wrong we would do, and even if we would ultimately eternally spurn His offer of godhood. Yet, He used His resources to encourage us anyway, despite His knowledge of the future. What a show of perfect love!

To an earthly CEO or perhaps even an earthly father, such resources might have been withheld “if she/he is going to waste them and not use them to accomplish this or that.” But, when we stand before God we will know with certainty that He tried to give us everything that He has despite knowing we would waste the effort/resources. Because, to God, such an allotment of resources could never be wasted on showing His love and desire for us to choose Him and His godly life.

When I was younger, I admit to sneaking out one night. The moment my earthly father knew what I was up to He was upset. But, He didn’t write me off. He sought me out, drove me home, patiently reproved me, and encouraged me to be better.

This is what God does for us. Even if we choose wrong, He comes after us, invites us to “come home.” He reproves us, asks us to repent, and encourages us to be better. And, whether we like that constant barrage of “come unto Me,” or not, His perfect love requires that He offer it until the end.

God is perfectly sympathetic and empathetic (Alma 7:11-13).

Not only does God understand everything we will ever feel or think, He also knows it by experience. We know that Christ suffered both body and spirit (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19) and “according to the flesh” that He might know and understand all of human suffering and sin (Alma 7:11-13). But, God, the Father, understands all and knows all because He was once as we are.

Newborn baby in Hispanic dad's arms

Lorenzo Snow taught: As man now is, God once was, as God now is, man may be.

Though it is difficult to comprehend, there is nothing about our human experience that God, our Heavenly Father doesn’t understand, comprehend, feel, know, or that He hasn’t experienced. Thus, He truly weeps with us and for us (Moses 7:29-40), though ultimately He must (because of His perfect love) stay His hand for the majority of this life’s struggles.

God gives us eternal gifts (Doctrine and Covenants 46:11; Moroni 10:8; Mosiah 2:20-21).

Nothing that we have is truly our own except our agency, and that too is a gift from God. This earth, God’s plan, our bodies, you name it—it belongs to God. Yet, He gives it all freely to us that we may become as He is. He even goes above and beyond our lives and our breath and day-to-day strengths and gives us unique talents, spiritual abilities, and gifts.

Not one of God’s children is identical to the other. Each prophet has different talents and strengths than another. Each mother has different strengths in mothering than another, and so forth. Even if two of God’s children appear to have similar talents, when you sit them down and compare how they apply them based on their own personalities and personal inspiration, they come up completely different. And those differences impact the world in important and necessary ways.

So, our commandments may be the same, but that is not the same as God treating us all the same. He treats us all the same inasmuch as He treats us all as individuals. The commandments of God are all the same because despite our unique differences, the path to Godhood is certain and sure. Just as no two doctors are alike, so also no two of us who seek to become godly are alike. The gifts God has bestowed upon us make each of us unique both now and in eternity.

God has a perfect sense of humor (Alma 55:32; St. John 20:4) and likes to have a righteously good time (Doctrine and Covenants 136:28; 25:12).

God does not trifle (make light of) with sacred things and He condemns irreverence, loud laughter (or rude laughter), and evil speaking (i.e. dirty jokes, demeaning sarcasm, etc). But, He does know how to have a good time in a way that uplifts all (never at the expense of any of His creations).

I remember, as a young teenager, hearing a talk by my elder sister when she talked about discovering God has a sense of humor. I remember listening intently as she read St. John 20:4 where a disciple takes the time to point out that he ran faster than Peter to the sepulcher. There was no derogatory statement about Peter’s “being out of shape” or “the slow one.” Yet, there in the NT is the personality of the disciple taking a brief moment to point out (like a little boy) that “he won.”

Then, reading in the Book of Mormon, it’s so funny to hear  in your head the words, “And they were thus cautious that no poison should be administered among them; for if their wine would poison a Lamanite it would also poison a Nehite…” (Alma 55:32). I mean, think about it: the Lord helped Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon. He could have easily told Joseph to bypass this statement, or translate it differently. Yet, it remains an innocent bit of humor—for us.

I haven’t known any great prophets or leaders of our church (both male and female) who haven’t had a great sense of humor. They present all sorts of mortal ironies and understand how to couch real mortal suffering in proper context. They do it in a way that hits home with us, often teaches an important doctrine, and yet still allows us to laugh. It seems clear to me that God appreciates a good clean joke, and often, when we are exhausted and stressed beyond measure, it is a laugh that comes to our lips (instead of tears or anger) when we come upon something else that burns up our last nerve. This is because for a moment we see the futility of our mortal predicament in an eternal sense and we are led (by the Spirit, in my opinion) to laugh.

God wants us to sing and dance and show gratitude—all forms of good music and body movement. He even goes so far as to say that He loves music, it is a “prayer unto Him” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12)fatherhood3

Conclusion

Well, I could go on and on with all of our Heavenly Father’s perfect traits. But, in conclusion I wish to pay a short tribute to my earthly father. I have been blessed beyond measure to have a father who though imperfect was still wonderful enough that he made it easy for me to trust in and follow my Heavenly Father. I know my Dad didn’t start out flawless. But he was the type to embrace truth the moment he became aware of it. He was the type who when he saw right, adopted it and pressed onward without looking back and without any thought of loss or sacrifice to himself. He has never seemed to have any particularly earthly selfish agenda. He is, like Nathan of old, without guile.

My Dad always lived according to what he believed was right, the opinion of others meant nothing. He never seemed to ultimately care what others thought, but only what God thought. And, to my blessing, such goodness just seems to be a natural part of him. He is full of light. If you stand in his presence or sit by his side for enough minutes (it doesn’t take long), you can simply feel the love rolling off him in waves.

My Dad blessed me, coached me, cried with me, held me; picked me up off the floor of our home, a basketball court, the airport, and has moved heaven and earth to pick me up off the side of roads and countless other broken parts of my life. My Dad has always made his most important “work and glory” our family. He loves nothing more than to be with us and all of his many talents and joys seem to derive from that center. Which…seems to be the same as God, the Father (Moses 1:39).

My Dad doesn’t overlook sins, but he invites us to choose the right and “go and sin no more” with a kindness I can only describe as Christlike. His disciplines were always tears of disappointment, which had a more powerful effect upon me than “the sword.” I never could bare to see my Dad cry.

My Dad has been a father to countless “children” both inside and outside our family. And, if you don’t have a father like him on earth, I assure you that you have a Father even greater than the one I described, “in heaven.”

I testify that Fatherhood is real. “Our Father by whose name, all Fatherhood is known…” is God, the Eternal Father of heaven and earth, and you and me. He alone proves that being a father, and fatherhood, is important, necessary, and worth honoring. And, if on this holiday you struggle to honor your earthly father, then you most certainly have a Father in Heaven who is worthy of a prayer of gratitude and love—a spiritual Father’s Day card—for His perfect love for you.

BT

Doctrine: The Gift of the Holy Ghost is about being in constant communication with the Almighty God. The baptism of fire, or the Holy Ghost, is prerequisite to entering God’s celestial kingdom. God’s commandments are how we gain spiritual reception and receive His messages, guidance, correction, and inspiration. When we place ourselves in places and circumstances that allow us to get the spiritual reception we need, the Holy Ghost can deliver His heavenly correspondence. By communicating with God, and especially by receiving His messages, we come to know Him!

If you are Christian, then what you are trying to become is more “like Jesus.” This results in a desire to emulate and to invite others to also emulate Him. However, if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you aspire not only to emulate Christ and invite others to do so, but to actually become like Him, which includes inheriting and sharing in His glory (Romans 8:16-17).

When we are baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we covenant to:

  • Take upon us the name of Jesus Christ
  • To keep God’s commandments and progress toward higher covenants
  • To help, serve, bear with, and bless our fellow men
  • To live worthy of the companionship of the Gift of the Holy Ghost

We promise to do all these things in exchange for one major promised blessing: that His Spirit may always be with us (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79; Mosiah 18:8-10).

It may seem like a lot of effort for one primary accompanying gift. But, OH what a gift it is.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11), which Christ, Himself, said was prerequisite to entering His kingdom (John 3:5). The Gift of the Holy Ghost is the gift of eventual sanctification, perfection, and holiness akin to that of Christ. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is about being in constant communication with the Almighty as He tells us what we need to do to become like Him and inherit and share all that He has and His glory.

QUESTION: So, how do we get this constant 24/7 communication and instruction from the Holy Spirit that will help us in our goal to become godly?

ANSWER: We place ourselves in places and circumstances that allow us to get the spiritual reception we need so that the Holy Ghost can deliver His heavenly correspondence.

That’s it, huh? Yep. Think about. How hard is it to make/get a phone call or a send/receive a text message with only one bar? How difficult is it to upload or download files with a spotty Wi-fi connection? And these are just worldly metaphors. When it comes to divine communication, the strength of our connection and service provider makes all the difference.human hand using smartphone on white background

If you want to know why it makes a difference whether you go to church or not, you need only ask yourself the following type of questions:

What happens when I go to church that enables me to get messages from the Holy Ghost that I may not be able to get while sitting at home?

What happens when I accept a calling at church and fulfill it that doesn’t happen when I’m merely a spectator?

Church is one of the places we can increase our number of spiritual service bars or strengthen our spiritual Wi-fi connection.

If you want to know why it makes a difference to read your scriptures, you need only ask yourself the following type of questions:

What happens when I read God’s word that enables me to get messages from the Holy Ghost that I may not be able to get by reading other things?

What happens when I study the scriptures looking for answers to a problem that doesn’t happen when I merely sit on my couch and complain that I have a problem?

The shear act of exerting mental and physical effort toward something increases the strength of our spiritual connection.

If you want to know why it makes a difference to pray even though God already knows your thoughts, feelings, and future, you need only ask yourself the following:

What happens in my mind when I get on my knees and talk to God?

What happens to my logic and reasoning as I try to seek God’s help or explain my troubles to Him?

What happens when I confess my sins to God and ask for Him to forgive me that doesn’t happen when I don’t consciously approach Him?

Now, it’s possible to pray with vain repetitions and not do much to change our spiritual reception. That is akin to uploading your files but not downloading the response. It’s also quite possible to pray and ask God what decision to make and yet be unwilling to accept His answer. In these cases, we may be trying to get a message, but we keep failing to receive it based on our lack of humility and submission to His actual answer. God doesn’t send messages we are not prepared for. Hence, the need for us to do the things He requires so that we are willing and prepared.

Every commandment we have, no matter how small or simple it seems, has the ability (as we keep it) to open our minds and hearts up to communication from the Holy Ghost. When we open up our hearts and minds, the Holy Ghost can tell us the next step we need to take to inherit eternal life. He can tell us what we’re doing right, where we’re close but need to refocus, and what we need to improve upon, change, or forsake. He can help us to forgive. He can grant us peace while we persevere through a trial. He can open our eyes to the struggles of others so that we can help them. Every message we get from Him we get by placing ourselves in circumstances where our thoughts and actions will best open us up to God’s guidance.

By communicating with God, and especially by receiving His messages, we come to know Him! It is the only way to do so. Yet, many Christians (and that includes those who claim to be Mormons) today are happy to settle for a one-sided relationship with God, and only when it suits their needs. Indeed, modern views of God and His commandments are preached by those who are the worst kind of follower—fair weather friends—who abandon God anytime loyalty requires sacrifice, struggle, patience, long-suffering, charity, or effort.

In Alma 37:6 we read:

Mobile Phone Signal Search

And now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

God’s simple requests and commands to get spiritual reception baffle even the most devout when they fail to understand their incredible and necessary purpose—to create opportunities for us to receive heavenly communication and develop a relationship with God.

A person can’t truly claim to have a relationship with God if they don’t try to communicate with Him (especially receiving communication from Him) in even small ways. Showing up for twice a year holidays is not a relationship. As well, if they keep a selective list of commandments and agree with only some beliefs then they are not the religion they call themselves by, they are their own religion and have created their own god (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16). We can claim to be Christian, but if we don’t attempt to at least emulate Christ and “keep His commandments,” than we aren’t truly His (John 14:15). If we claim to be Mormon and yet make no attempt to become godly and enter into the strait and narrow path that allows us to inherit His glory (Doctrine and Covenants 132:21-25), then we are not keeping our baptismal covenants (priesthood covenants, or temple covenants). We are of those who say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name done many wonderful works” (Matthew 7:22)? God’s answer to this minimal or partial conversion to His plan was this (Matthew 7:2123):

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven… And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

This is also reminiscent of the parable of the ten virgins. Remember the ten virgins were likened unto the Kingdom of God, which is His church (or those who claim to be of His church). The five foolish virgins were rejected because Christ knew them not, meaning also that those foolish virgins didn’t know Him, either (Matthew 25:1-12).

If we don’t live our lives so that we can receive correspondence from the Almighty, how can we say we love Him? We don’t even know Him! It’s like having a thousand celestial text messages sitting out in the limbo of cell phone towers waiting for us to put ourselves in places where we get service. And then, we can still only get one message at a time and respond to it before the next one will come. Meaning, that occasional moments of reception a few times a week simply isn’t going to cut it.

In Mosiah 5:13 it says:

For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?

For this is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent (John 17:3).

To know God is to know His voice, which we can’t know if we purposefully choose to avoid receiving messages from that voice. If we truly love Him we will keep His commandments and follow Him (John 10:14-16). For, the things that He has done we are commanded also to do (3 Nephi 27:21-22).

So, maybe you pray, but you don’t attend church and you knowingly break commandments. Failed connection. You’re missing tons of messages. So, maybe you attend church, but you don’t read or study your scriptures. Failed connection. You’re still missing many messages. So, maybe you attend church but you refuse to accept a calling. Failed connection. I could go on and on with temple attendance and many other things God has asked us to do; and most of them are small and simple things. If you are ignoring one or many of these things, you’re still missing messages. In fact, you are spurning them because of your pride. And, the longer you go without good spiritual reception (on a consistent, constant basis) the longer it will take you to truly come to know God and to understand the path He wishes you to take in order to inherit His glory and to become like Him.

God is the one who established the spiritual reception guidelines (i.e.commands). They include daily prayers with real intent, daily scripture study, daily service to our fellow men, keeping the Sabbath Day holy, attending the temple, and NOT doing many things. He gave us those commandments so that we could get to know Him, correspond with Him, and become like Him. And He gave us those commandments, which if we keep, we will have constant, 24/7 guidance and help from Him. That’s what we covenant to do when we are baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Most of us rarely miss a text message or social media post from mere acquaintances. Indeed, we can hardly set down our electronic devices for fear of missing one of those cursory messages. How sad, then, that we do not treat messages from God with at least the same urgency because we don’t want to do what it takes to “get spiritual reception.”

BT

Doctrine: God’s equality is true equality–everything else is childishness. God creates us different on purpose. Because of our inherent differences we are affected differently and we will respond differently to life. God treats us the same inasmuch as He treats us all as individuals. Equality in power and characteristics does not translate to sameness in stewardships, roles, and responsibilities. Equality is established by sameness in godly characteristics and attributes. Equality is established by a focus on similarities not differences. Equality is the result of being unified in goals and purposes, not in roles and responsibilities. God acknowledges all of our individual differences and yet offers us all the same commandments and ultimate blessings for our obedience.

many hands symbolizing teamwork/power/unity/equalityThe Merriam-Webster Law Dictionary states that the definition of EQUALITY is as follows:

The quality or state of being equal: as A) sameness in equivalence or number, quantity, or measure; and B) likeness or sameness in quality, power, status, or degree

It seems that now, more than ever in our society there is a drive for EQUALITY. Everyone wants the same rights, roles, privileges, and opportunities. And yet, at the very same time there is an EQUAL drive for unique identities and the establishment of differences. Everyone wants to define who they are, in relation or comparison to everyone else, to show how they are different. In other words, they want to tout their unique differences.

I find this to be a societal conundrum. In the midst of fighting for unique identities, these very fighters also want to be treated “just like everyone else.” It’s like a bunch of young children fighting over how much milk is in their glass or who got more M&Ms where all of the sudden exactness and equality is paramount; and then ten minutes later not wanting to share their toy because it’s theirs establishing individual identity only when it suits their perspective and feelings.

Childishness is immaturity because it is selfish and situational. Childishness is egocentric and incapable of seeing the bigger picture. So, to the world today (in general), it would seem EQUALITY is far more about acting like a child, being childish and immature, than it is about TRUE EQUALITY.

So, I have been pondering what it means to be EQUAL ON GOD’S TERMS. I’ve been hashing around in my brain what TRUE EQUALITY is to GOD. Because, it stands to reason that God’s equality is the correct equality, and anything else is simply a bunch of childishness.

My pondering began at the beginning of religious world history: Adam and Eve. No matter what our feelings are about the creation, we know that God began with one man and one woman to establish His plan.

How were Adam and Eve THE SAME?

They were both created by God. They were both children of God. There was only one of each of them on the earth: one man, one woman (1:1 ratio). They both had human appearances that were nearly identical (with regard to basic anatomy and structure). They were both loved by God. They were both given the same instructions and commandments. They were both given the same warnings and were both promised the same blessings. They were both needed to fulfill God’s plan of salvation. Satan tried to tempt both Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit.

Adam and Eve were both changed from immortality to mortality after taking of the fruit. They both had to work by the sweat of their brow to live, day-by-day. They were both cast out of God’s presence for their transgression. They both taught God’s plan to their children (Moses 5:12).

How were Adam and Eve DIFFERENT?

Adam was a male. Eve was a female. As such, they had some basic anatomical differences and the accompanying results of that in their physical development. Adam was created first. Eve was created second. Satan tempted Adam and Eve differently based on the differences in their personalities and genders. Adam withstood the temptation of Satan. Eve succumbed to the temptation of Satan. Adam then later chose to partake of the fruit because of Eve’s pleas so that the two of them would not be separated and could still keep God’s other commandments together.

God’s response to Adam and Eve’s transgression was nearly identical, except in their stated roles. Because of their biological differences, being changed into mortal beings meant that mortality would affect them a bit differently. As well, Adam was given the responsibility/stewardship/role to preside, provide, and protect; while Eve was given the responsibility/stewardship/role to help Adam fulfill his responsibilities as well as to bear and nurture children. Yet, unlike Adam, Eve understood immediately that the opposition that would come because of their transgression was necessary and important. Adam was taught this truth by Eve (Moses 5:11).

So, if we look at EQUALITY on God’s terms based Adam and Eve we can see a few principles take place.

First, God didn’t create Adam and Eve as both male or both female. He specifically instituted a biological difference (and therefore a stewardship/responsibility/role difference) to enable them to “multiply and replenish the earth.” He didn’t make them exactly the same, on purpose.

Second, because of their biological natures as male and female, Adam and Eve were not affected identically by the consequences of their transgressions (though it was nearly so).

Third, because of the differences in their personalities (which God obviously allowed/intended) they made different decisions when tempted by transgression and had somewhat different responses to its consequences. By this, we can postulate that two people will naturally act and feel differently based on their differences, no matter how small.

Fourth, it is clear that God treats people the same inasmuch as He treats them as individuals. Everyone doesn’t get the same amount of milk in their glass or the same amount of M&Ms. God gives them what they need individually not in comparison to others. The equality is in the unique and individual treatment He offers.

teamwork

The Godhead

The next thing I pondered was the Godhead. Why? Because here are three powerful, glorified beings with nearly identical goals and attributes. How do they coexist since with equal powers they have equal capabilities?

The Godhead consists of God-the-Father, God-the-Son, and God-the-Holy-Spirit. Each of these Gods is EQUAL IN THEIR POWERS, CHARACTERISTICS, and KNOWLEDGE. However, despite the fact that they are identical in these ways, their physical attributes are a bit different, and thereby their roles are different. Thus, their actions and places in God-the-Father’s plan are different—on purpose.

The Holy Ghost has no physical body of flesh and bones so that He can communicate directly with our spirits and leave eternal impressions that mortal communications and impressions cannot successfully imitate nor erase.

Jesus Christ took upon himself mortal flesh and blood, condescending to be born of a mortal mother, that He might have the unique personal attributes necessary to suffer, bleed, and die and as well as raise Himself from the dead. Such suffering was certainly the “raw end of the deal” when it came to Godhead roles, don’t you think?

God-the-Father (who already had a glorified, resurrected body of flesh and bones when the plan was instituted) is the author of the plan. Though it is His plan, He is bound by eternal law and covenant to let it take its course. He may have provided for all injustice, inequality, misery, mistreatment, and suffering through the Atonement of Christ, but it does not remove the fact that He must watch us struggle, that He must suffer with us, that He must refrain from stretching forth His hand to correct every ill—those He knows are already taken care of—because He does not take joy in our suffering. It takes greater love than any of us can know or comprehend to do what God-the-Father does. He refrains from stretching forth His hand (with few exceptions) so that we can come to know ourselves, so that we can exercise our agency in learning to become like Him, and so that we can be truly accountable for who and what we become (meaning that His final judgments will be just). Talk about TRUE LOVE.

So, if we look at EQUALITY as it relates to the Godhead, there are a few more principles to glean.

First, EQUALITY IN POWER AND CHARACTERISTICS DOES NOT TRANSLATE TO SAMENESS IN STEWARDSHIPS, ROLES, AND RESPONSIBILITIES. Each member of the Godhead meekly and willingly carries out their individual roles despite the fact that they can do most of what the others can do. Christ didn’t complain that He had to do the Atonement. He didn’t try to usurp power from God while He was on earth. He directed all praise and glory to God-the-Father, “for there is none good but God” (Matthew 19:17). God doesn’t complain or get jealous that we approach Him through Christ, His son—who is the Mediator—because He knows that is 1) the only way we can approach Him since we are imperfect, and 2) It was His plan that we do so to begin with.

Second, it would appear that all stewardships, roles, and responsibilities gain EQUALITY WHEN THEY ARE FOCUSED ON AN EQUAL GOAL WITH THE SAME PURPOSE. All three members of the Godhead have one purpose: “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Thus they are EQUAL IN PURPOSE and EQUAL IN THE GLORY that will come from their different responsibilities and work.

Third, EQUALITY IS ESTABLISHED BY SAMENESS IN GODLY CHARACTERISTICS AND ATTRIBUTES. Equality is about unity of mind, characteristics, desire, and focus. It is not about sameness of daily actions and responsibilities.

Fourth, the Godhead spends all of its time talking about how THEY ARE ONE and then encourage us to become like Them. They rarely talk about their differences in scripture except when supporting each other’s roles (or getting out of the way so the others can fulfill their roles). God withdrew so that Christ could perform the atonement. Christ withdrew so that the Holy Ghost could come. The Holy Ghost spends all His time testifying of God and Christ and leading us to Them and teaching us how to become like Them. The Godhead is UNITED, THE SAME, UNIFIED, ONE IN PURPOSE, all the while giving glory to each other and not interfering with each other’s roles.

The Body of Christ–US

The next thing I pondered was references in the New Testament to the body of Christ—referring to God’s church. Let’s look at one scripture in particular: 1 Corinthians 12:12-27:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many.

If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

And if they were all one member, where were the body?

But now are they many members, yet but one body.

And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the ahead to the feet, I have no need of you.

Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

It seems to me that this scripture says it all. We are all unique. We have all been given different gifts, roles, responsibilities, and assignments. We have all been given (or not given) what we have by God. We are not all the same (even though biologically we have nearly all of the same possible capabilities). Thus, we are treated individually by God. While, at the same time being granted EQUAL BLESSINGS if we will keep His commandments and strive to be LIKE GOD.

Now, I’m not ignorant of the fact that throughout world history women, minorities, and even whole races have been treated as unequal (if we refer to the Merriam-Webster definition of equality). Meaning, that these categories of people have been treated as though they were not of the same worth or value as others. They have been treated as though they were lesser beings, of lesser intelligence, of lesser capability/power, of lesser status, and were not given the same options for degrees of happiness.

And yet, I might point out that how the world treats us has little to do with GOD’S EQUALITY. How God’s church is set up, how God has ordained the family to be set up, how God offers individual revelation, blessings, and salvation—these have to do with GOD’S EQUALITY which is TRUE EQUALITY.

  1. God is far more concerned with our godly development than He is with giving us equal circumstances.
  2. God is far more concerned with enticing and inviting us to repent of sin and become like Him than He is with giving us everything we think we want and need (because someone else has it).
  3. God is far more concerned with us learning to have compassion on others, to attain charity, and to understand things from an eternal (long-suffering) perspective than fixing everything the moment us or others struggle.
  4. God is more interested in us receiving all He has in eternity, including His powers and perfection, than giving us lesser blessings and glories temporally.

In God’s plan, ARE ALL FREE TO PURSUE GODLINESS including God’s glory, power, and attributes. And, all who keep God’s commandments by faith and covenant—despite their roles, stewardships, responsibilities, trials, problems, and natural circumstances—will receive an EQUAL endowment of what God has (which, I might point out is everything).

In God’s plan, ALL ARE FREE TO BECOME ONE WITH HIM OR REMAIN AS THEY ARE and focus on their differences to the exclusion of receiving His glory and ultimate blessings.

Symbol of scales

All are Alike unto God

Does not God say, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And did He not say, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And did He not say, “…all flesh is mine, and I am no respecter of persons” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:16) despite the fact that I created you with different circumstances. Did he not say, “…and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33).

In the very same verse where God acknowledges the differences in wealth, societal standing, religious beliefs, and gender, He also says, “all are alike.” How can that be so? Because what He means is that He knows that mortality is messed up. Agency (free will) reigns, nature is allowed to be indiscriminate, and justice, healing, and peace are not always contemporary blessings. But, despite the conditions of mortality, He offers us the SAME BLESSINGS AND GLORY, His glory, IF WE WILL BUT SERVE HIM DESPITE THOSE CONDITIONS AND DIFFERENCES.

Remember, Christ was a slave, a minority, a half-sibling, a step-son; he was abused, persecuted, hated, despised, treated as less than a common thief, and the fact that He suffered for OUR TRANSGRESSIONS AND SINS (and their consequences) was 100% unfair because He was perfect. Yet, He didn’t cry over spilled milk (forgive the use of cliché here). He embraced His life and His role. He lived God’s law and entered into His GLORY despite the real differences and injustices in His part of God’s plan. And, for so doing He entered into His glory on God’s right hand.

Same Testimony | Different Missions

The final scripture that came to mind as I was pondering God’s equality was St. John 20:21-23. In this scripture Peter is talking with Christ about what will happen to him and the other disciples when Christ leaves them. He directly asks Christ what John, the beloved, will do/get.

Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper…

Peter seeing him [John] saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple [John] should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

John, for his testimony of Christ, went on to live for a very specific and special role (and lives still; 3 Nephi 28:6, Doctrine and Covenants 7) and Peter went on to be crucified for his testimony of Christ.

The main principle that I get from this passage is that our roles, stewardships, blessings, individual treatment, and all other stuff are decided by God. HIS LOVE FOR US IS THE SAME, but how He disperses His own stuff (which is all of creation) is up to Him. We can either accept this, or complain about it, but sadly complaining doesn’t change it.

Both John and Peter had the same testimony of Christ. They walked with Him, talked with Him, served by Him, and testified of Him. Yet, God gave them different missions to perform. He did the same with the Nephite apostles. In that case each was given exactly what they individually desired and asked for (3 Nephi 28).

Conclusion

It is because we will get exactly what we want (Alma 29:4), whether unto salvation or destruction, that we should be all the more careful about deciding exactly what it is that we want. So, do we really all want the same amount of milk and M&Ms even if it’s not in our best interests? Or, do we really want to focus on what’s ours so that we don’t have to share? Do we want to steal the other kids toys because we think we deserve it and it looks cool? Because that is FALSE EQUALITY.

Or, do we want to find out from God what we need and pursue it? Do we want to focus on our eternal identity and potential and become like God? Do we want to spend our time appreciating other’s roles and missions and getting out of the way so they can fulfill them? Do we want to help others recognize our role and mission so that they can get out of our way so we can fulfill them? Do we want to live like God, and in His presence? Then we must embrace TRUE EQUALITY.

BT

 

Doctrine: When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed—to turn our life and will over to Him—we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way.

Consider the following scenarios:

A. Jill meets the missionaries, takes the discussions, enjoys marvelous spiritual experiences, and gets baptized (enters into a new/deeper covenant with God). Jill is excited to have found the truth. But, very soon after getting baptized, several family members shun her for her new religion. She has also newly committed not to work on Sunday and her current job is unwilling to support her new beliefs. She gets laid off. As well, a few members in her new ward seem to be openly judgmental about her Sunday attire. To Jill, it suddenly seems that she is getting punished, in multiple ways, for her choice to join the church. She now doubts whether she should have joined at all.

B. Joseph is a long-time member of the church. But, recently, he has been inspired to make some deeper commitments and promises to the Lord. After doing so, his current marriage begins to fall apart. The more he tries to keep his deeper commitments to the Lord, the worse his marriage relationship becomes. His wife seems to resent his increasing efforts to become more godly. Joseph knows he has been inspired by God to make these deeper commitments. But, now, it seems as if he is getting to a point where his wife may leave him. Does he have to choose between his wife and God? He is beginning to doubt whether or not the Lord would rather he keep these deeper commitments if it means his marriage will end.

These two scenarios have several things common:

  • The person makes a new covenant with God, renews their covenant with God, or deepens their commitment to their current covenants with God.
  • The person experiences a negative effect, or aftermath, directly related to their new/increased covenant/commitment with God.
  • Because of the directly related aftermath, the person doubts their promptings, actions, or past spiritual feelings/experience.

Often when we are guided, or inspired, to make deeper commitments to the Lord—and we follow those inspirations—things in our life begin to change. These changes do not always seem to be for the better—at least not initially. And, because these changes are often initially negative, we may incorrectly judge this negative aftermath as a sign that what we have done is either unwise, wrong, or perhaps not from the Lord after all.

When we judge such aftermath negatively, we do so because we are afraid and confused. As we ponder our impressions and feelings, we can remember feeling strongly that we were guided to act. But, now, with so much backlash, lack of support, and other confusing happenings, we second guess our spiritual experiences, testimony, and faith. It is hard for us to imagine that God would lead us in a direction that would seem to rob us of what we thought was already good in our lives.

In Moroni 7:16-17 we learn that anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Yet, we still have this juxtaposition of spiritual experience with negative aftermath.

Isn’t God bound to bless us when we do what He says (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10)? So, if we are inspired to make covenants and deeper commitments, by the Lord, why does everything appear to go south afterward?

I call it “The Reconstruction Process.” God is the supreme remodeler. Why a remodeler instead of a modeler? Well, because we have free will (agency). God will not force us to live our lives in the way that will bring us ultimate peace and joy. However, when we make covenants and commitments with God, we are, in effect, turning our lives over to Him. We are giving Him our free will and agreeing to do with it as He commands. We are handing Him the reigns to our life.Backyard Deck Reconstruction

It is in this moment when we turn our lives over to God that the remodeling and reconstruction process begins. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way. Before God can build us a mansion in the celestial kingdom, He has to tear down the two-bedroom ranch we’ve constructed in a lower level of glory. There are no spiritual vacation homes.

In fact, no matter what level of righteousness we are currently at, the moment we commit more deeply to God and strive to improve, the reconstruction process begins. This reconstruction process often includes removing or changing certain aspects of our lives that we are currently comfortable with. It may include removing something that we think is good, or even great. And, so we get discouraged and misunderstand what is happening.

Hydraulic crusher excavator backoe machinery working on site

I remember very clearly the day I had the courage to get on my knees and sincerely say—with a bit of fear—to the Lord, “What is it that you want for me? I’m willing to follow the path you’ve designed and I’m ready to let go of the one that I’ve been clinging to. My life is in your hands. Make of it what you will.”

What was the aftermath?  I lost the brand new home my spouse and I had only recently bought. I continued to fail to get pregnant and have a child. I had to give up my job to move across the country. I had to live without a home of my own for two years. Then, my marriage crumbled to the ground no matter what I did to save it. Then, I had to quit yet another job where I was earning more than I had ever earned. Then, I had to move back in with my parents for 5+ years. During this time, despite my many qualifications and connections, I couldn’t seem to get a decent job. The list went on and on…

It took the Lord 7 years to tear down the life that I had built up; before He could begin to rebuild it. He did it as slowly as He could—so that I was not overcome—but it was still incredibly confusing and painful. I spent many years doubting where my life was supposed to go and what I was supposed to be doing. I often doubted that the Lord had any plans for me at all. But, I decided to be as content as I could with where I was and the circumstances I was frozen in. I did my best to own my situation and count my blessings–and the Lord gave me many even though I felt a bit lost. I had given my life over to the Lord. So, part of me knew that even if I wasn’t settled and content with the current circumstances that I was where the Lord wanted me.

Level and pen on an architects planThen, 7 years after I said, “My life is in your hands,” the Lord began to start the actual new construction. I was finally back to the foundation of my life and God could work with it. I saw the plans begin to form and materialize before my very eyes. What He has done since has been beyond anything I could ever have imagined for myself—and I thought I could imagine a lot. Yet, the Lord has shown me that no matter what I can imagine, He can produce something beyond the reach of it.

Seven years is a long time. I started that 7 years of demolition at the age of 26. The new construction is now 4+ years in progress. What if I had waited until I was 30, or 40, or 50 to submit my will to God’s?

At the age of 26 I was trying do to my best to live God’s commandments and do His will. What if my life had been more deviant? What more might I have had to pass through in order to get to a clean slate where God could build anew?

When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed, to turn our life and will over to Him, we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Sure, it’s frightening. We always wonder what will come along if we “let go.” But, though the path is unknown and the process stressful, faith-testing, and often time-consuming; when the actual reconstruction begins and we get glimpses of what the Lord is doing with our lives, we will rejoice in ways we never could have ever dreamed before.Time to rebuild

God is the master of eternal joy. He is the master of healing, and hope. He is the master contractor. He is the master gift-giver and the preeminent lover of our souls. And, after giving our life over to Him we must trust that we can endure the demolition required before the reconstruction begins. Without fail, the more we trust the Lord and the more we covenant with Him and the more we deepen our commitment to those covenants, the more initial struggles and growing pains we will experience as He alters our lives to put us on track for eternal joy—His joy.

So, when these initially negative hours, days, months, and years come in the aftermath of your new, renewed, or deepening covenants and commitments; retain your faith and trust the Lord. For, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; St. John 14:15).

BT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1

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

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

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

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

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

Candle, flame.

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

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

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

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

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

#2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light Switch - On

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

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

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

BT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chain with heart

Kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contentment: charity envieth not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Stories

Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selflessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not easily provoked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BT

To be continued soon with:

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

Doctrine: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is run by the doctrines of Presidencies and Councils, as established by God and patterned after the Presidency and Council of the Godhead.

A lot of people wonder how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints runs. These wonderings are not exclusive to non-members. Many members of the Church often struggle to receive callings, accept them, and even more, to tackle the responsibility of trying to master such callings. Yet another struggle, often faced, is the struggle to allow others to receive, accept, and act in their callings. However, this struggle can be lessened if we understand the doctrines/truths that provide the foundation for godly presidencies and councils. For, “mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8).

Many members and non-members alike often dislike policies or church organization; or want policies and organization to be changed because they are unhappy with how it all runs-either in timing or outcomes. However, the Lord has established how His Church is to be run-by council (Doctrine & Covenants 90:16). And, He has established it in such a perfect way. Not only is the pattern of God’s Church set up as it was in the days of Christ’s ministry; it is set-up to ensure the Church moves forward despite human weaknesses; the pattern is set-up to help individuals become godly. This pattern of training us to be godly applies to those God calls whether the call is to to be the prophet all the way down to young primary children giving talks and prayers.

A few years back, my mother (the 1st Doctrine Lady…and the one I try to emulate) wrote this essay about Church Presidencies and Councils and, basically, how the Church does function. It also addresses some things each of us need to know as we wish to become godly in our individual service to God.

Why Presidencies and Councils?

The entire Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “the Church”) is governed by presidencies at all levels.  From the smallest Young Women classes and Aaronic Priesthood quorums, all auxiliaries (Primary, Young Women, Young Men, and Relief Society), all Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and groups at ward and stake levels, to Branch Presidencies, Bishoprics, Stake and Area Presidencies, the Seven Presidents of the Seventy, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and First Presidency.  Though the Quorum of the Twelve is not titled as a “presidency”, by virtue of the fact that they govern as a council, and all presidencies are councils, they are included in this category.

Higher than all of these listed above is the First Presidency of Heaven which we commonly call the Godhead.  It is, and should be, the prime example of what every presidency should be.  Though there is much we don’t know about how the Godhead functions, we do know some things.  So to begin, listing those things we do know is of primary importance.

  • First, we know that the Godhead is perfectly united in purpose.  That purpose is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
  • Second, we know that though united in that purpose, the three members of the Godhead have different assignments.  In those assignments they complement one another.
  • Third, they counsel together, perfectly carry out their plans as they counseled, and then report back and determine their success (Abr. 5:1-5).
  • Along with these three main facts we also know much about their physical attributes and the perfectness of their characters.  But for our purposes here we will focus on how they function as a presidency.

UNITED IN PURPOSE

The Godhead being united in purpose is our first example of how any presidency should function.  The main objective of the Church is to bring souls to Jesus Christ.  It is the one and only purpose of all the auxiliaries, quorums, programs, and buildings.  Sometimes that fact is forgotten or overlooked as we work to keep our percentages up, activities fun, and people organized.  We must constantly remind ourselves of this one goal:  to bring the souls over whom we preside to Christ so the Godhead can provide for their immortality and eternal life.  We are working for the Savior, feeding His sheep, seeking out His wandering lambs, and maintaining His pasture.  As soon as we think we are more than servants, caretakers, or stewards, we lose proper focus and we are not united with the Godhead in Their “work and glory.”council1

It is important that members of a presidency are united as a presiding council like the Godhead is.  But it is essential that a mortal presidency be united with the Godhead itself.  If all members of a presidency are united in God’s work with the Godhead itself, as well as with each other, there should be few problems to overcome in the work of accepting and fulfilling assignments and through counseling because each member will be on the proverbial “same page.”

DIFFERENT ASSIGNMENTS

The Godhead is united in purpose but each member has a different assignment.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost each has His own work to do in relation to the divine purpose and destiny of the Father’s sons and daughters.

  • Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had direct access to God the Father—the author of the Plan.  They walked and talked with Him in the Garden of Eden.  God the Father is the god we worship.
  • Since the Fall, God the Son has been the mediator between the Father and His children.  The Son, Jesus Christ, mediates through the power of the Atonement (D&C 45:3-5), a redemption which transcends the Fall and makes it possible for each of us to return to the Father’s presence again.
  • The Holy Ghost, not yet a personage of flesh but of spirit, is therefore able to do His work of testifying, sanctifying, purifying, and so forth, as the children of God seek for the truth and apply it.

All three Gods work to make the plan of salvation function perfectly.

Members of the Godhead often speak for each other by what we call “divine investiture of authority,” but they do not appear to interfere with each other’s particular assignment in the plan.  Each is perfect in character, knowledge, and power.  To know one is to know them all.  But each has His function and assignment and there is complete mutual trust between them that each will do his part.

As members of a mortal presidency, it is important to allow each member fulfill his or her assignments as agreed upon in council meeting.  Complete mutual trust is of extreme importance.  Presidents should choose counselors with the idea in mind that they will be allowed to fulfill their assignments and responsibilities without interference and report back in presidency meeting.  This concept overlaps into the third imperative, that once assignments have been completed, each member reports back in presidency meeting.

REPORTING BACK

The idea of returning and reporting upon completion of an assignment is very important to the overall unity of the Godhead, and consequently a mortal presidency.  Often one of the others cannot complete his mission or assignment until another member has performed his duty or assignment.

Example:  Jesus had to ask His apostles the question, “But whom say ye that I am?” before the Holy Ghost could testify to Peter enabling him to answer, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16).

Example:  Jesus went to be baptized of John.  After the baptism both the Father and the Holy Ghost were able to do their parts; the Father voicing His acceptance of His Beloved Son, and the Holy Ghost lighting upon Jesus in the sign of the dove (Matt. 3:13-17).

The wording, reporting back, is not a scriptural phrase.  But there are other indicators that seem to suggest reporting back.  Two examples follow.

First, in John 20, Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ sepulcher and was both astonished and worried about the disappearance of Jesus’ body.  After reporting the loss to Peter, and after he and John ran to check out her report for themselves, she was finally alone at the tomb and saw the resurrected Jesus.  Immediately she reached out to touch or hold Him.  Jesus said, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father…” (John 20:17).  I would like to suggest that Jesus may be referring to his need to return and report to His Father, having accomplished His redemptive mission, and receive further commandments on how to proceed from there.

Another example is in 3 Nephi.  Jesus, after having spent the day with the people of Nephi teaching all that He was commanded of the Father to speak (3 N3 17:2), announced that His “time is at hand” (3 Ne 17:1).  The footnote for verse 1a reads, “IE to return to the Father. See v.4.”  I am suggesting that this is reference to Him having to report back.  He then perceived that they could not understand all that He had so far taught them, so He commanded the people to ponder and pray to the Father in Jesus’ name for understanding.  This will then consequently open the door for the Holy Ghost to fulfill His assignment of preparing the people for further enlightenment.

The fact that each member of the Godhead perfectly performs His duties and responsibilities may seem unattainable to a mortal member of a mortal presidency.  But it is not impossible to do one’s best at all times.  That is what the Godhead does and that is what they expect from us.  Though the Godhead’s best is perfection, ours can be as perfect as possible within our spheres and callings.  Therefore, to return and report on an assignment completed is vital to finishing a task to the best of our ability.council2

To summarize all the above, then, we can say that the First Presidency of Heaven, the Godhead, is the perfect example of how presidencies in the Church should function.  We have mentioned three basic things they do to maintain unity and insure success:

  1. They are perfectly united in purpose.
  2. They each have specific duties to perform, and they don’t interfere with the others’ duties.
  3. They counsel together and carry out those plans within their areas of responsibilities and then report back.

COUNCIL AND COUNSEL

The words council and counsel have been used a few times already.  Let’s look at the meanings of those words.

A council is an assembly or meeting for consultation, advice, or discussion, the sharing of information, and the accepting or reporting back on assignments.  All presidencies are councils.  Other Church councils are Ward and Stake councils or Priesthood Executive councils, consisting of the presidents of auxiliaries and quorums.

When the Lord was revealing the need and scope of the First Presidency of the newly restored Church, He gave this command:  “And this shall be your business and mission in all your lives, to preside in council, and set in order all the affairs of this Church and kingdom (D&C 90:16, italics added).

From this scripture we learn a few things.  First, a president presides in council.  He is not a dictator or one who simply sets out his plan and hands out assignments.  He calls this council together, and after making sure that all the council members are all centered on the main purpose of the work, as a council they all then discuss, consult, and advise one another on ways to accomplish the Lord’s purposes.

The word counsel entails what happens during a council meeting.  Each member of the council counsels.  In other words, each member of the presidency (or other council) gives advice and helps deliberate on how to proceed in accomplishing the goal at hand.  It is the responsibility of each counselor to draw from his or her experience and knowledge and to frankly and honestly place these thoughts and ideas on the table for consideration.  It is imperative that the president does likewise, and allows, and even encourages, this free exchange.

Brigham Young taught, “It is only where experience fails that revelation is needed” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.416, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1977). 

To discourage any complete and thorough dialogue over any objective under consideration is to cut off revelation.  President Young also taught, “Be willing to receive truth, let it come from whom it may…” (ibid. p.11).  A council is an aid to revelation.  I relate two examples below.

EXAMPLE:  My husband was serving in a stake presidency some years ago.  He was a counselor to a stake president who had lived in our stake for over 25 years.  This president knew everyone and had been involved in the stake presidency as a counselor to another stake president for a decade previous to his own call as president.  My husband and the other counselor were relatively new in the stake and were mostly acquainted with members in their respective wards.

One night at their weekly presidency meeting the stake president brought up the plight of a particular individual, one he thought his counselors were not familiar with.  He also said up front that he had already made up his mind on how to handle the situation, but he just wanted to hear if the counselors had anything they wanted to say in regard to the person and matter.  By the time each counselor had finished his counsel the president, stunned, said, “What you have said has completely changed how I am going to handle this situation!”  The frank and honest discourse that came from the experience and knowledge of the two counselors revealed information the president didn’t have, and the Holy Ghost was able to confirm that information in the heart and mind of the president and help him save a soul according to the Lord’s will instead of the president’s.

EXAMPLE:  Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt following numerous and constant revelations and instructions, a large part of which he received from face-to-face encounters with Jehovah.  From the burning bush to the plagues, through the sea and providing water from a rock for God’s people, Moses received constant revelation from the Lord.  It would seem that Moses never lacked for divine counsel on how to proceed.

At one point, however, as Israel camped in the wilderness, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law and the high priest of Midian, arrived at the camp bringing Moses’ wife and sons to join him.  It was a grand reunion, for Moses had lived with Jethro for 40 years and married his daughter Zipporah while living in Midian as a refugee from Egypt.  Jethro was the one who had ordained Moses to the Melchizedek priesthood (D&C 84:6) during that time before his call from God to be a prophet.

Jethro stayed on a few days before returning to his own land and watched as Moses presided over the children of Israel.  He was astonished at what he saw.  Moses was presiding all alone and dealing with every problem that arose within the entire camp.  Jethro approached Moses and told him that to try and manage all the Israelites alone was pure folly and would ultimately do him in.  Jethro then encouraged Moses to divide the Israelites into groups and set wise men to preside over them to take care of the lesser problems.  He encouraged Moses to only take on the problems and issues that couldn’t be solved by these others.  He testified to Moses that this was the way to govern such a large people, and encouraged him to seek validation from the Lord.  And that’s exactly what Moses did (Ex. 18:13-26).

Why didn’t the Lord, who had been conversing with Moses face-to-face on every other situation that came upon His people, tell Moses to set up judges and wise men over the people?  The answer appears to be as Brigham Young suggested, “Revelation is only needed where experience fails.”  The Lord knew that Jethro had the knowledge and experience Moses needed.  All Moses needed from the Lord was confirmation on Jethro’s counsel.  And that’s exactly what happened.

AVENUES OF REVELATION

For a president at any level of Church government to presuppose that all the revelation for business regarding his or her stewardship will only come through himself is pure folly.  It has never been so.  The council of a presidency is an aid to revelation.  The Lord regards it as such and operates through that council.  When a president chooses to ignore or neglect the counsel of his or her counselors, he is setting himself up as a light (see 2 Ne 26:31).  When serving the Lord and His purposes we must do it His way, which in this case is “to preside in council” (D&C 90:16).

Human beings come into this world with five senses with which to communicate: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell.  If we lose one of these five senses, or one doesn’t work that well, we are considered handicapped.  Each sense helps us give and receive information in this mortal world.  When a president purposely chooses to try to function without counsel, it is the same as purposely choosing to go without one of his or her senses.  No one would purposely choose to be blind, or deaf, or single out only one sense with which to communicate and cast the others away.  Yet, choosing to ignore or not even ask for the counsel of one’s counselors, who the Lord has provided to ensure proper lines of revelation, is as foolish as choosing to go without one or more senses.  To do so is to neglect the very purpose of the calling of a presidency.  Always remember, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses…” (D&C 6:28)

WHY A PRESIDENT?

So, if all presidencies are, at their core, a council, why have a president at all?  Why not a council of three counselors?

In the restored Church there is a president in every council.  Remember “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” (Matt. 6:9).  We are patterned after the Godhead.

The role of a president is to:

  1. Conduct council meetings,
  2. Receive assignments from higher councils,
  3. Report to higher councils, and
  4. Be responsible for the decisions of his or her own council.

A president presides over and conducts the meetings of his or her own presidency, or assigns another to do so in his absence.  He/She is always responsible for the decisions of the council and, in fact, is the final and authorized voice once the decision is made.  He or she is to preside with charity, meekness, and lowliness of heart just as the Savior does over the Church.  He/She encourages and listens to all ideas, thoughts, experiences and counsel that his counselors have to offer, knowing that revelation and inspiration from God come in this way.

A president assures that all decisions are supported in unity by his counselors.  When the president voices the final decision after receiving counsel, the counselors should then support it whole-heartedly.  No practices or program should go forth until the entire presidency is unified in purpose, each understands his duties and assignments pertaining thereto, and knows when to report back.

A president reports to higher councils from which he or she receives assignments and duties.  A president participates in larger councils (such as ward or stake councils) representing his or her presidency, auxiliary, quorum, or class.

A president upholds his or her counselors in their duties and assignments.  Once assignments are accepted he does not interfere.  If he is invited by a counselor to assist in his duty, then it would be appropriate to only do that which he is invited to do.  But never should a president reach over into his counselor’s predetermined task because he would do it differently, more quickly, or better.  There should be mutual trust, respect, love, and faith in working as servants of the Master.

Deborah Kent Updated June 1, 2015

Just a Few More Thoughts!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this. My mother is an amazing woman. She knows her stuff. Thanks, Mom!

But, I’d like to add that this viewpoint is also how the Church views the marriage relationship. God is the president of a marriage. In establishing marriage, God’s purpose was to provide a framework identical to His own (for He is an Eternal Father and Husband). Then, the husband and wife (like Christ and the Holy Spirit) have roles that support God’s purpose: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children. This viewpoint removes the competition between the sexes and instead places more importance on each’s unique, inherent capabilities, and talents. It re-establishes order in the home and in society.

If Husbands and wives everywhere saw their relationship, talents, gender strengths, and other unique individual gifts and powers as tools to use in exalting their children (who are also God’s spirit children), then it would be much easier for couples to find balance, support, and guidance. It would never be about one person dictating to the other, but all decisions and tasks would come down from the God of Heaven. It would never be about who was right, but about what was right from this eternal perspective. Each husband and wife would always report back to each other AND God for confirmation of success and guidance for continued unity, love, service, and success.

And, I might add, marriage wouldn’t be entered into except by those whose desire it was to become “like God.” But, that’s a topic that runs deep and is a doctrine for another day!

BT

Doctrine: There is only one way to access a fullness of grace and that is by seeking to BECOME GODLY. Becoming godly requires both WORKS and FAITH. These two spiritual items are welded firmly together and cannot be separated to serve our particular brand of righteousness.

Grace is not a topic that any one of us can claim to truly understand completely. Why? Well, because it’s God’s gift, not ours. God is the one who designed it. God is the one who has set its conditions on it. And God is the one who gives it.

However, when it comes to making sense of grace personally, most people tend to fall into two categories of understanding grace. You have the WORKS team and you have the FAITH team.

The WORKS team is under the impression that:

Good works = grace

In other words, keep the commandments, check everything off the righteous list and you get grace. It’s something you earn by being “good.”

The FAITH team is under the impression that:

Confessing Christ = grace

In other words, love Christ, believe in Him, and admit that you can’t get back to God without Him and you get grace. It’s something you get because of your “belief.”

Here is the sad reality. There aren’t two teams. There is only one team. It is the BECOMING GODLY team. If there is another team, it is the NOT BECOMING GODLY team. Which, would, in effect be the team that Satan presides over; not necessarily because he’s wanted as a coach, but because he’s the only coach available for those who don’t want to become like God. There are only two coaches: Christ and Satan. Stinks to not have a third choice, but there you have it.

The reason there is only one team for getting grace is that the purpose of grace is to become like god. It has no other purpose. So, if you’re only checking things off a list (WORKS) but your heart isn’t changing into something godly through faith in the process, then you are like a “whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

Or, if you are saying you love Christ, believe in Him, and can’t get back to God without Him (FAITH team), but you have no desire to, or intent to, change your life too much (especially where it’s uncomfortable and difficult to change) to be more like Him, then you are in the group the Lord was referring to when He said: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Faith that doesn’t lead to good works is not true faith.

Cooperate for successful work
Faith and Works are two pieces of the grace puzzle that can’t be separated.

I find it simply ridiculous that people study the scriptures, or Christian religion, until they find the sayings and scripture verses that support their beliefs and then leave off. It’s like they don’t want to know the whole truth, or they only want to know the truth they like, because it’s easy to keep doing what they are doing. Or, they are too lazy to make a study of the spectrum of God’s commands, covenants, and instructions regarding grace because it requires effort and change. They don’t really want to “know” God. Because you can’t throw yourself into becoming godly and getting to know Him without being prompted to start becoming so.

As we seek Him, God will give us more and more light and knowledge until we become like Him (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24; Alma 12:9-11). That’s why so many people stop. It’s scary! To stare grace in the face—real grace—and realize what God is asking is terrifying. To try and boil it down to WORKS versus FAITH is laughable, selfish, and prideful. While God has created us to experience joy (2 Nephi 2:25), He didn’t send us to earth to clown around and simply have a good time. A lot of people don’t want to know that.

People who count themselves as good commandment keepers (WORKS team) will quote WORKS scriptures all day and take joy in finding others have fallen short of grace; or at the least they will congratulate themselves that they have earned it when others are still hopelessly unenlightened. On the other hand, people who count themselves as good confessors of Christ (FAITH team) do the same thing in the opposite manner. They quote only faith scriptures all day long and hold enmity in their hearts for the WORKS team who acts so high and mighty. Both are exhibiting selfishness and pride.

God has asked not only for our acts, or body, but for our heart, mind, might, and strength –which I think covers just about everything (Doctrine and Covenants 59:5).

If grace is about becoming godly, then we need to think about what God has that we are trying to get.

  1. God has eternal family
  2. God has a resurrected, perfected body that cannot die
  3. God is perfectly just
  4. God is perfectly merciful
  5. God is all-knowing and omniscient
  6. God is perfectly obedient and sinless
  7. God is all-powerful (to the extent that He remains 1-6)

As a free gift for stepping into this mortal life we will all get #2. Wicked or righteous, it’s ours.

However, the rest of the things we need come through grace.

To get #6 we have to develop a nature that repents immediately and loses all desire to sin. We exercise faith when we act to repent and work toward change. The Holy Ghost takes that faith and work and uses it to put our soul in the furnace of grace and bend our desires to God’s.

To get #1 we have to receive specific ordinances and covenants (several) that one by one lead us to this great privilege of being bound to our spouse and children forever.

To get #3-#5 we have to have faith that by acting in obedience to God’s commands that over time we will become these things. We have to take the time to learn, ponder, and figure out how God does these. We have to seek the Holy Ghost for the knowledge we can’t get on our own. This requires faith and lots of work.

To get #7 we have to receive all the ordinances and covenants of God’s gospel plan so that as we receive power in this life, and in the eternities, that this power is controlled by our covenants and natures of righteousness. We have to have faith that as we receive these ordinances and receive these covenants that God, through the furnace of grace and the power of the Holy Ghost, will slowly alter our souls to become like His, so that He can share all He has with us–that includes His power.

The NOT BECOMING GODLY team looks the exact opposite of all of this. I’ll let each of you read through the above again in the negative. It has an incredible impact. We often fail to do this and we miss out.

So, you’ve seen the “BECOMING GODLYL team’s” viewpoint, and, the case in point is this. Why did anyone ever create two limited teams for grace at all? Why aren’t we all on the same team? A team divided cannot stand!

Advocates for WORKS, who are themselves usually great commandment keepers, are so afraid that others will get the same glory without all the same effort. They are so afraid that by not preaching WORKS that others will take grace for granted and sit around in laziness expecting to be saved. What these WORKS advocates don’t realize is that they are just as lazy as those who advocate FAITH. They are lazy in the aspects of the law that are not visible to others. They have left some stuff undone!

Did not Christ say, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).

Yet, if you look closely, this verse also instructs the FAITH team that though judgment, mercy, and faith are weightier, the other more “worksy” commandments are still not to be left undone. The FAITH team needs to stop being lazy in the more visible aspects of the law.

BOTH FAITH and WORKS are synonymous with BECOMING GODLY. You can’t become godly without both. So, it’s time to get rid of the delineation and animosity between the teams.

People connect letters to compose the team word. Teamwork concept
We’re all on the same BECOMING GODLY team.

Could you have faith in a God whose works you couldn’t trust, who didn’t adhere to law? Could you have faith in a God who only had good intentions but never carried them out? Imagine God saying to you, “Well, I meant to bless you, and I believe I should and that it’s a good thing, but I’ll get to it another day, unless something more important comes up.” I can’t. So also, we should not expect to become godly with only good intentions and invisible faith.

On the other hand, none of us can imagine a God who cared only about works and not about faith, hope, charity, and mercy. Indeed, if God were not merciful and didn’t love us despite our lack of good works, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.

The reality is that those who truly love God will attempt with every mortal breath to emulate Him (John 14:15) both in WORKS and FAITH. That requires faith and works.

Now, when it comes to others we have to stop judging who has access to grace and who doesn’t. We cannot judge others to be outside of grace only because they sin differently than we do (whether visible or invisible). We cannot treat them as if they are outside of grace. They are not. We can postulate and estimate and guess all day long what other people need to fix and do better, but it will still never give us a sum of grace for them that is accurate. And, if we do so, we are sitting in the same hot pot that the scribes and Pharisees sat in which wasn’t so great. So, if I were you, I’d get out.

All of us are eternally bound within Christ’s grace to the extent that we meet its many and varied conditions. Grace is how we live and breathe. We all have access to it in differing amounts based on the light and truth we are willing to receive and honor. But, when it comes to others, we should always treat them as God does-with grace. Accept all the good they can offer, and let them and God work out the other details we simply will never be good enough to see. It’s not your job to carry their burdens, to make them feel guilty, to forgive their sins, or to cast judgment upon them. Christ has taken all that. So, let it go.

As a final thought on the oneness of the terms FAITH and WORKS, Let’s look at one example. Prayer. We get on our knees to pray (WORKS) because we have FAITH that God is there and He is listening. Then, add our real intent to do as He asks (WORKS) believing that if we do it He will bless us (FAITH). How could anyone ever separate FAITH and WORKS of any kind, ever?

I could go on and on. The evidence is there in the scriptures (all of them) as clear as day. FAITH and WORKS have never been separate. They have always been welded firmly together. One validates the other. One leads to the other. One inspires the other. Only humanity has been unsuccessful in trying to separate them. And look at the damage it’s done.

WORKS without faith is useless in accessing grace. FAITH without works is useless in accessing grace. God demands both as the condition of receiving salvation and exaltation.

As well, conditions for grace that require WORKS and FAITH do not keep people from godliness (or a specific heaven, as some might say). Such conditions, requiring WORKS and FAITH are what protect godliness, or a specific heaven. Godliness isn’t for everyone. It is only for those that choose it. And, to get such great glory and power requires—through grace—FAITH and WORKS.

So, if you’re good at works. It’s time to buckle down and get better at charity and the weightier matters of the law, which requires prayer, faith, and hope—stuff that’s hard to measure. If you’re good at charity and forgiveness, it’s time to buckle down and get better at keeping laws, ordinances, and covenants. You can’t forever be of two opinions. “If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). Don’t sit around and “answer not a word.” There is no middle ground. There are only two coaches.

At some point you either have to choose the BECOMING GODLY team or the NOT BECOMING GODLY team. As for me and my house, we choose the BECOMING GODLY team (Joshua 24:15).

BT

Doctrine: God’s plan is small, simple, and plain. It is based on small and simple doctrines and principles. Satan can’t frustrate God’s plan and so he focuses on frustrating us by distracting us with complexities that steal away peace and faith. Life is hard. It will always be hard. But, by embracing the small and simple principles, ordinances, and covenants God offers us (Christ’s yoke) it can be easier, more full of peace, and will ultimately lead us where we want to go.

Simple is a word frequently misinterpreted and under-defined.  We often use the terms simple and easy synonymously, but they do not have the same meaning; they are not the same.  The word easy means requiring no great labor or effort.  In other words, if something is easy then it comes to us without doing much of anything.  Many things start out difficult and then as we do them, they become easy.  But easy is not the same as simple.

The word simple means understandable; not complex or elaborate; not compound; free of deceit. Therefore simple does not necessarily mean easy to do because many simple things require great labor and effort.  As well, many things that are easy are not necessarily simple.  Therefore, when something is simple, it means that it is something that is within our ability to comprehend.  Things that are simple are not designed to be above us or to be evasive.  Things that are simple are also not designed to deceive; they are specifically designed to help, teach and support.

The word ‘small’ is often used synonymously with words defining size and importance, such as short, tiny, unimportant, irrelevant, trivial, or minor.  All of these synonyms, while often used interchangeably with the word small, are really very different in definition.  They indicate a lack of substance.  The word, small, however, while referring to a limited size, has greater meaning outside of that context.  It is actually a perfect partner for the word simple, because small means narrow, not great in amount, degree, extent or duration; small means humble, modest and unpretentious.

Small and simple principles are plain. Small and simple principles are within comprehension and are not too large hard for us to understand. Small and simple principles, then, are not principles that are limited in size. They are principles that have been made understandable while still maintaining importance and substance.

So, how does Satan combat the small and simple principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, his objective is to complicate the simplicity of the gospel and render us miserable in the obsession and distraction of complicated and confusing minutia. He spends all his time trying to get us to complicate what is quite clear and simple and plain.Complicated - Simple signpost with sky background

  • Simple doctrine: The purpose of life is to become like God.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us a perfect plan whereby we can accomplish this.
  • Simple doctrine: He has provided the Atonement by which we access grace to aid us in the godly learning process. We can make mistakes. We can sin. We can learn from these mistakes and sins. Then, we can be made clean again. We can then be sanctified as we meet the conditions for repentance and become godly.
  • Simple doctrine: We have been given agency which means we can hurt and we can be hurt by others. We can get sick. We can get injured. We can even die. But, then, God can give us back our lives, perfect our bodies from any loss or damage, and make us immortal.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us His simple gospel plan, with proper priesthood authority, saving ordinances and covenants, and guidance, comfort and hope through the Gift of the Holy Ghost to aid us in achieving the purpose of the plan—to become like and to live with Him forever (i.e. eternal life).

This is the plan. It is simple. It is small. It is plain. God gives us, in addition to simple doctrines, simple principles with which apply these doctrines. They come in the form of commandments (do’s and do not’s). They are short and sweet. For example: Learn of me. Listen to my words. Walk in the meekness of my Spirit and you shall have peace in me (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23). Then, there’s the B-attitudes. There’s the ten, specified, commandments. There’s examples and witnesses in the scriptures for us to apply and learn from. All are given simply and clearly.

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord god doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Alma 37:6-7

So, how does Satan complicate this simple plan, it’s simple doctrines and principles?

Satan encourages us to ignore the Atonement and complain about the unfairness and inconsistencies in life. He tempts us to find happiness in more complex ways that require dishonesty, pride, selfishness, and entitlement. He encourages us to ignore the value and power of faith based on witnesses from the Holy Ghost (a member of the godhead) and instead place our trust in cold hard facts that we can see…though those facts are human-delivered and change from year-to-year, decade-to-decade, and century-to-century. He leads us to believe false, complicated doctrines with a hint of truth. He encourages dissent, contention, nit-picking at the flaws of others, and disbelief. “It can’t be that simple,” he will say. He ever and always leads us down more complex roads with arduous journeys and dead ends.

Satan’s tactics work simply by their ability to distract us from the simple straight and narrow path. They work because we do get tired. We do get offended. We do get discouraged. We desire answers. We want revenge or justice, etc. Satan’s uses our desires to fuel his tactics to distract and complicate our way.

  1. Are there imperfect people in the world and God’s church? Yes.
  2. Does God care? Yes.
  3. Will God force others to be how we want them to be? No. Agency is paramount that personal accountability and justice might be preserved, mercy met, and the plan upheld.
  4. Will God still sanction His gospel, His organized church, and the small and simple plan it preaches and teaches despite the imperfection of its people? Yes. His church is His church because it has the fullness of His plan not because it’s people are perfect. It’s a boat that leads us to a destination. It’s that simple.
  5. Does God expect us to apply simple doctrines and principles in the face of great offenses, deep hurts, unfair treatment, and the like? Yes. (see Doctrine and Covenants 122:8)

There is no path in life that is not hard. But, we can be tossed to and fro on the minutia and struggles of life and the imperfections of people if we focus on those to the loss of the straight and narrow path.

Live. Love. Forgive. Repent. Serve. Be better each day. Keep the commandments as poorly or as well as you can each day and let grace carry what you can’t give, but desire to give. Seek and find. Knock and receive blessings. Get your ordinances. Make your covenants. Pray always. Endure to the end.

I have had my share of trials. I have had my share of offenses. I know more trial and problems will come. Life is guaranteed with nearly constant opposition. These things are not fun. I have struggled to get through most of them. Some, I managed to pass through with a bit more gracefulness. Some, I have eked through by the skin of my teeth. When such issues are present they seem to absorb all of our mental functioning. They make the small and simple truths of the gospel plan seem ineffective and uncomforting, at times. But, when endured, I have looked back and realized that nothing more than the simple instruction I received would have been helpful in enduring and coming out better on the other side. There was never a complicated solution to what was only a need of simple time, faith, and endurance.

I have read my share of excellent arguments against God, His people, His church, and religion in general. Some were quite compelling. Some were ridiculous. Some were well-researched. Some were full of well-hidden fallacies. Some attempted to be unbiased and simply ask questions. Others were horrifically biased. But, they all left my mind spinning with distracting minutia that when placed against the small and simple plan of God were shown to be nothing more than that—a distraction.

And, when I looked at those who were succumbing to such trials and being caught by those excellent arguments I saw them get obsessed with busy, overwhelming, depressing minutia. They focused on some detail or argument to the exclusion of everything small and simple, and true (which is always in greater amounts). And, I have not yet seen these obsessions with minutia bring peace or joy to any who so struggled. Some are doing better than others. But none of them are “settled.” None of them are truly at peace.

Simplicity concept.
Illustration depicting a green roadsign with a simplicity concept. White background.

Life is hard. People can be really messed up sometimes. But there is no substitute for the small, simple, and plain plan God has provided for His children. It makes up for all the weakness, struggle, opposition, unfairness, sickness, loss, and death. It’s all covered.

So, we can choose to get caught up in minutia. We can panic, fear, or resent. We can obsess over things we don’t understand or the imperfections of even the supposed elect of God. But, none of that is going to make us happy. None of that is going to get us to our goal of eternal joy. And that’s exactly what Satan wants. It has ever been his design to frustrate the plan of God. But, he can’t frustrate God’s plan which is really frustrating to him. So, at this point, he can only frustrate us.

The UN-MAN

I highly recommend reading C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. It’s not science fiction at all…not really. It’s religious philosophy beautifully couched within a fantasy/science fiction story. In the second book, Perelandra, there is a character called the “un-man.” If you’re brave enough to read this series, you will come to an understanding of how Satan tries to complicate simple, plain truths better than ever before. You will see how he works by studying the “un-man.” I could also recommend the Screwtape Letters.

[note: C.S. Lewis was a truly inspired man. He was raised Catholic. Became an atheist. Then, through pondering, some philosophizing, and other experiences found his way right back to God. He was a man who understood the tactics of Satan.]

Satan will use intellect, education, current scientific facts for as long as we will listen to them. He will use flattery and persuasion as long as we will listen to them. He will mix truths with half-truths for as long as we will entertain them. He will incite selfishness over a slow course of time and convince you that you are always acting for the benefit of others for as long as you will fall for it. And, when at last intellect and reason fail, he will resort to ridiculous, childish tactics that distract and wear us down.

On the other hand, God “doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness…” (2 Nephi 26:33). God wants us back. He wants to give us all we have. That’s why He keeps it small and simple. We can choose to get distracted…but that choice is ours.

Now, this doesn’t mean that questions or struggles or concerns are bad. But, as we’ve been counseled by God’s servants. We are to doubt our doubts and hold on to the faith and testimony we have (Jeffrey R. Holland, Lord I Believe, April 2013). We are to seek, study, ask, knock, and keep the gospel simple, not getting caught up in unnecessary and ridiculous complexity (Uchtdorf, It Works Wonderfully!, October 2015). We are to endure until the answers come, line upon line, precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenant 50:24). These are simple doctrines and principles that require patience and endurance. Two more simple principles.

Yes, it’s hard to be patient; but seeking out complexities doesn’t ease our anxiety. It only complicates and increases it. So, if we are finding something complicated, distracting, and troublesome and it causes us to fear and doubt, then it doesn’t come from God. That is NOT how He works.

Yet, God certainly doesn’t make everything in life clear. For example, He doesn’t tell you why you get one trial or struggle and someone else doesn’t. He won’t tell you why your child was allowed to die and He decided to save another. He doesn’t step in and explain all of His ways. And, even if He did, we do not have the capacity to understand them all because He is an all-knowing, omniscient being who can see past, present, and future before Him at all times (Isaiah 55:8-9). He knows what is best for each of us whether we understand it or not. We are mortal, finite beings. It is arrogant to think we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge when we can’t handle it all. And, what knowledge He does dispense He gives line upon line, precept upon precept as we are willing to accept it, act on it, and honor it (Alma 12:9-11). His knowledge isn’t for those who doubt, unless they are willing to press forward in faith.

Jacob 4:8 teaches: Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him…

Then, building upon that thought; in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, Aslan (a type of Christ) constantly tells Shasta and Aravis (when they ask questions about the paths and journeys of others; the whys and why nots) that he tells each person their own story and no one else’s. We can easily become distracted by the whys and why nots and minutia of other people’s paths and problems. We can take offense for what we do not understand and what God will not reveal to us since it is not our revelation to get. If we are excited by such troubles of others to serve and strengthen them, this is good. But if we become obsessed with the minutia of other people’s lives, it is a waste. God is not going to tell us about anyone’s path but our own.Keep It Simple

Keep it Simple

So, it’s a hard thing to ask, but I hope all of you will accept the small and simple plan God has given us. I encourage you to focus on the small and simple doctrines it has which explain the majority of the whys and why nots (which I find are “because it helps us become like God,” or “because it doesn’t help us become like God”). Then, use the small and simple gospel commandments and principles to press forward and receive the immortality and eternal life God is spending all His eternity trying to give you (Moses 1:39).

So, I said small and simple. I never said any of this was easy. But God did! (see Matthew 11:30).

How is God’s small and simple plan clear and easy? Life is hard. But, it’s harder without God and without the fullness of Christ’s grace and Atonement. So, God has said His plan, and our life, is easier as we embrace the Atonement and grace Christ offers through His ordinances and covenants (His yoke). His ordinances and covenants are how God dispenses His power and blessings (see previous blog “God’s Power is NOT Absolute”). Under His simple yoke, our burdens will indeed become easier and lighter (Matthew 11:30) because we are avoiding distractions and Satan’s tempting complexities and a path of Satan’s that will wind and twist and take us further and further away from what we truly want.

BT

Doctrine: our bodies our not ours, they belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We can’t reject this purchase of our bodies. We accepted Christ’s purchase long before being born. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33; Abraham 3:26-28). Our bodies are vessels or temples for the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are free from sin, through covenant, but also bound to serve the lord (1 Corinthians 7:23). The goal of being healthy enough to serve the Lord and our fellow men will bring us more motivation to exercise and eat right, more joy in life, more peace in who we are—externally, and result in less despair, depression, and guilt for minor lapses.

Today as I was working out on an elliptical machine, my mind revisited the process of pondering I went through years ago as to WHY I should workout and eat balanced and healthy (far beyond the basics of the Word of Wisdom). It was a long process, drawn out over years. It began with my natural inclination to play sports in school. I hated getting in shape, but after doing so, I always enjoyed the sports seasons. Then, after graduating, it became a means of staying in shape and not putting on a lot of extra weight. I had been conditioned to fear the college freshman “twenty pounds.” Then, in my early twenties it became the means I used to try to get the body I wanted, or that I thought I needed, to be acceptable, attractive, and sexy…

None of these reasons, or motivations, however, were compelling enough, long-term, to help me maintain a healthy lifestyle. I would falter, you see. I’d gain ten to twenty pounds. Then, I’d feel bad about myself for gaining that “freshman twenty.” Then, I’d feel ashamed that I wasn’t as attractive or sexy as I thought I should be, or that others wanted me to be. This would lead to an increasing drop in self-esteem (even though I knew I was worth a lot as an individual—a daughter of God), somehow that knowledge didn’t touch my feelings about my outer self AT ALL. This drop in self-esteem usually led to an upward swing in eating right and a rigorous workout routine with rigid rules and requirements that always had me feeling guilty if I slacked off even one minute. Sure, I’d drop ten to twenty pounds. But, then the level of imbalance would soon wear on me, and over a course of months I’d revert.

It was during this time that I put on probably about forty extra pounds. I carried that weight for a year or two until a work health-screening revealed that I had “borderline” cholesterol levels. This freaked me out because I’d had grandparents who had died of heart disease and congenital heart failure. Most had also had moderate to severe diabetes. My own father struggled with moderate diabetes, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and was on medication. This was it, I thought. This was the scare I needed to be better—forever.

It lasted…for four years. I dropped forty pounds and swore off several of my favorite foods. I wasn’t perfect. But, I maintained a healthy eating and exercise lifestyle that was sufficiently rigorous and successful enough. I was never truly happy with my appearance, but I wasn’t totally miserable, either. So, I figured I’d arrived, at last.

Then, significant events in my life led me in the wrong direction. I dropped even more weight. I didn’t feel like eating. I was partially—though not completely—obsessed with having the body I thought I needed to feel happy and to finally have peace in who I was—externally. Food was not as enjoyable as it had always been in years past, because food was the enemy. I was a master at counting calories. Exercise was the cure.

Then, together, these two false beliefs came to a head.

I was at the gym one day on an elliptical machine. I was doing my 45-minute aerobics prior to lifting weights. I was looking around the gym, from time-to-time, at other women. These women were—in my opinion—skinnier, cuter, sexier, prettier, and more attractive. They were smaller, built differently, taller, smaller boned, broader shoulders, etc. And, I finally felt a sense of horrific despair. I realized that no matter how much I turned away food and exercised, I couldn’t turn my body into their bodies. I couldn’t change what I fundamentally and genetically was. And, I couldn’t keep using that as my motivation to eat right and exercise. It wasn’t bringing me any peace, satisfaction, or long-term happiness and joy.

I could have sunk deeper at this point. But, instead, I asked myself, “And why should I? Why should any of us ever exercise restraint in eating or self-discipline in caring for our bodies and minds? Why should we say “no” to anything? Why should we ever say “yes” to hard work and exercise? What is the doctrine behind all of this? Is there a doctrine?”

As I pondered these questions, I looked around again. All these women had two legs and two arms and all the same body parts as me. We were all fundamentally the same. In fact, we were far more alike than we were different. And, the differences I was focusing on were minute, genetic, and virtually unchangeable. Why then was I trying to use my agency to make changes in things that could not be changed? And, what had led me to believe that it was necessary to make such impossible changes?

I knew that eating right and exercising were fundamentally good. But, the WHYs I was using to fuel my actions had at last become completely insufficient. I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t care and struggle and count calories and exercise for these shallow reasons.

Group of women working out at a gymThen I thought about the opposite spectrum of caring for our bodies: the do-nots. I thought about the WHYs of not getting tattoos or multiple piercings. Why not get them? Sure, some people get them for the wrong reasons, but certainly many people got them for okay reasons. Some people even got tattoos for sentimental and memory reasons. Why not use drugs, alcohol, etc.? WHY?

Then I thought, “So, what is the reason we all use to justify any action or inaction we take with, for, or against our bodies?” The answer was clear: IT’S MY BODY I can do what I want with it. That’s what everyone says to justify doing what they want (good or bad) with their bodies.

So, I had to ask, “Is it my body? Can, or should, I do want I want? (Which at that point was to sit on the couch and do nothing…) And, if our bodies are not ours, whose are they? And, what are we supposed to do with them, and WHY?”

It was then that a particular list of scriptures came to mind. These came in pieces and fragments to my mind, of course, but I will list the full scriptures here.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

1 Corinthians 7:23

For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.

Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.

Leviticus 19:28

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:33

For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given to him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.

Now aside from the Word of Wisdom, which is a law of health, setting apart from the world, and extremely helpful in personal revelation, there is a clear doctrine about WHY we should take care of our bodies. What is that doctrine?

OUR BODIES OUR NOT OURS (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Whether we believe in God or not, the fact remains that our body was created by someone other than ourselves. We didn’t give ourselves life or form. So, whether you credit your biological parents or God, YOUR BODY WAS A GIFT. You didn’t create it or bring it to life. It was simply given to you out of love.

So, if it was given to you, you can do what you want with it, right? The answer is yes. Sure, you can do what you want with it as far as mortal choices are concerned. But, what you can do with your body is also limited. Whatever you do with your body, whether you live healthy or tear it to pieces with riotous living, it will still eventually die. So, even though your body was a gift and you can choose to do with this gift as you please, YOUR BODY WILL DIE. You can’t keep it from dying. You can’t transcend death. You can’t resurrect yourself. You can’t perfect your body and make it immortal.

It was because of this certain death of our physical bodies that Christ not only suffered for sins in Gethsemane, but His atonement was also partly the resurrection. By taking up His body from the grave and perfecting it (because He did have the power to do so) through a grand vicarious ordinance, Christ ensured that our bodies will also be resurrected and perfected one day. It was this vicarious ordinance that “bought our bodies.” The price was Christ giving His own body up to death and taking it up again.

WE CAN’T REJECT THIS PURCHASE OF OUR BODIES. WE ACCEPTED IT LONG BEFORE BEING BORN. (Doctrine and Covenant 88:33; Abraham 3:26-28)

So, unfortunately, we can’t reject the resurrection. We can’t say, “We don’t want you to purchase our immortality. We’d rather just become dust for eternity” (note, the resurrection didn’t purchase “eternal life,” it only purchased immortality—or living forever with perfected bodies. Eternal life is God’s life and requires sanctification…). Why? Because the resurrection was a gift for us keeping our first estate (Abraham 3:26-28); where we chose to follow Christ and come to earth and take part in the plan of salvation. It’s a gift we accepted or “received” before ever being born, physically.

So, our bodies were gifts initially. Then, to ensure their return to life and perfection, God, who gave them to us initially, spent the blood and mortal life of His Only Begotten to buy them back. He bought them from us even though we didn’t even pay to get them. Talk about a good deal.

OUR BODIES ARE VESSELS OR TEMPLES FOR THE HOLY GHOST (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). WE ARE FREE FROM SIN BUT BOUND TO SERVE THE LORD (1 Corinthians 7:23).

Then, when we are baptized, we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Another gift! Through this ordinance, God’s gift of grace for our sins (another gift) makes us free from spiritual death but also is accompanied by a covenant that we will become servants of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:23). So, our bodies, which God owns, become vessels which can house the  heavenly influence of the Holy Ghost so that He can sanctify us and turn our service to God into the power to make us godly. The conditions for receiving this Gift of the Holy Ghost are to keep God’s commandments, to serve God by serving our fellow men by bringing them to Christ, and to glorify God with our bodies. So, we are free in Christ, but we are also then made servants (1 Corinthians 7:23).People in gym warming up stretching

So, as I came to the end of this strain of reasoning (on an elliptical machine—what a place for revelation, eh?), I realized that the motivations I had been using to force myself to take care of myself were shallow and powerless. They worked, at times, but they never brought me true joy physically or spiritually. They also never produced long-term motivation or results. I wasn’t “becoming” anything by these motivations. I was only putting forth vain efforts and receiving minimal to no rewards.

So, my motivation had to change.

  • Why do I try to exercise regularly and eat a healthy, balanced diet?
  • Why do I avoid dangerous addictive substances, body piercings, and tattoos?
  • Why do I try to treat my body and dress it in a way that glorifies God and not myself?

Because my body is God’s. He bought it with the Atonement. It is meant to be used to serve my family, God, and my fellow men. It is meant to be used to bring others to Christ. It is meant to be used in such a way that the Gift of the Holy Ghost can be housed there to guide and influence me in my journey to become like God.

As well, any other motivations for health, fitness, losing weight, etc. don’t bring lasting joy. As I have used the correct doctrines for motivation to live healthy, they have given me a higher self-esteem, a more eternal perspective, and most certainly greater peace and joy in my body.

This, for me, was doctrine and results I could sink my teeth into.

I wish to say that despite my more doctrinal motivation and understanding, I still have times where I exercise less and eat less balanced. And yet, I find that guilt, misery, and despair do not accompany these short lapses. And they are almost always short (a matter of days, or perhaps a week). This is because my goals are eternal goals and not temporary ones. I don’t have to despair over not losing a certain amount of weight by a certain time. I don’t have to panic about not having access to exercise facilities when I travel. I don’t have to beat myself up for doing only 20-30 minutes of an aerobic workout when my goal was 45. Or, skipping my sit-ups because family duties took precedence. I do what I can. And a softer goal (of doing anything at all, no matter how long or short) with a more eternal purpose (to be healthy enough to serve the Lord) means I don’t ever feel an inclination to give up. I accept what I can do on any given day, whatever it is. I don’t have to despair over not being a supermodel.

As long as I am able to serve the Lord in my family and in my church callings I am on the right track.

[Obviously some health conditions come to us despite our efforts to be healthy. Some are genetic. Some are merely a part of mortality. They just happen. But, I believe if we do the best we can with what has been given to us, then these doctrines and principles apply even within these limited circumstances.]

BT