The Monster

I didn’t know there was a monster

Hiding inside of me

I didn’t know it was lurking there

Waiting to be set free

I didn’t realize that there was so much

Ugliness in my heart

I didn’t think I was angry at all

That rage played any part

Yet I have reacted and yelled and spat

A vicious diatribe

My face has gone red and stiff and cold

I’ve sunken to the dark side

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

All for justification

I have sunk far below civility

All for guilt allocation

Yet the monster never left me alive

My spirit always dead

It ate and devoured my peace and my joy

Puking up what I had said

Then it hid deep down within my heart

Awaiting another meal

It knows that eventually I’ll feed it

A dish of repress-ed zeal

 

It was yesterday that I caught this Thing

Feeding on my life

Holding tight and tearing into my soul

Bleeding and breeding strife

I was shocked and pained to find it inside

An actual part of me

I was embarrassed, ashamed, terrified

At all that I did see

I wanted control, and I wanted out

Of burdens, need, and stress

And I had been willing to get them all

By feeding that angry Mess

I wanted to avoid pain and some hurts

Annoyances and noise

Quite willing to obtain perceived com-fort

By sacrificing joys

 

Though I know there’s a monster inside me

I can’t seem to set it free

I keep trying to cage and kill it

This evil part of me

I’ve tried to stab it and wrestle it down

It’s a slippery fiend

It keeps yelling that it’s a piece of me

That it can-not be weaned

So last night I came before the dear Lord

Begging for His healing

Offering up my anger and my rage

To His al-tar of sealing

For only He can sacrifice this piece

Of my broken mess of soul

If I give it to Him with all my heart

That is indeed His goal

 

It’s His now…         I have given it away

The monster is now done

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

My angry monster is gone

What Does Your Angry Monster Look Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satanic is a powerful word. Let me elaborate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice what Satan does:

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

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

Portrait of screaming angry man on black background

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

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

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

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

Make a Comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not perfect.

Thank goodness for grace.

*A Quick Note About Justifiable Feelings*

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

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

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

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

Forgiveness and Apologies

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

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

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

Learn to Admit and Own Your Faults

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

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

Make a Plan

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

BT

I’m going out of my normal format on this post. It’s a poem…and a painting.

I have to be honest. I did not come up with this idea on my own. A lady, named Naomi, in a the ward I grew up in, through various circumstances, provided the title and the impetus. It was such a brilliant idea! The moment it was presented to me I felt immediately impressed to write the poem below after studying Lehi’s dream for an entire day. The inspiration and work for the painting followed last night and today. So, here’s a brief thought to preface it.

Lehi recounted a dream/vision he had to his children: Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, etc. We get Nephi’s summary of the dream in 1 Nephi 8, and the interpretation thereafter. I’m quite sure there was more to it. But, because Nephi was the mouthpiece, we are resigned to be happy with his particular perspective. Which, is an effective perspective.

However, did Lehi’s dream, in detail, include more information on what it looks like when we begin to feel the pull to come back? Does the original (which we don’t have) talk more about repentance and those who come back from the great and spacious building, or who manage to find their way back after wandering off and being lost?

When those of us who do falter for a while begin to feel the pull to come back, it can be a daunting view when we turn again to find that sweet white fruit. We are living “Lehi’s dream,” and it’s not the part of the dream that’s fun. That tree, which contains the fullness of God’s love (as available through His ordinances and covenants), seems awfully far away. It’s not a matter of simply grabbing back onto the iron rod after having taken a few steps away. It’s a matter of starting a journey full of peril and struggle simply to get back to the iron rod. Then, once we find the rod it’s another journey to get back to the tree.

I wrote this poem for my kids…all of them. My past seminary kids. My present YW. My step kids. My daughter (who is still a toddler).  I also wrote it for my family–all of them. I dedicate this to “those whom I love,” that they may know that when they decide to turn back to that sweet, white fruit, that they can make it. The Man-in-white will be there. Christ’s grace is sufficient.

Below, find the picture I painted and the poem I wrote, both titled, “Back to the Tree.” Any time you see a (…) it indicates a “pause for effect.”

BackToTheTree

Back to the Tree

By the Doctrine Lady

I’m standing on a balcony that’s way up in the sky

I sometimes can’t remember how I got up here so high

I look across a wilderness with shadows long and tall

Then chance a glance down toward the ground, it makes me feel so small

The balcony it trembles underneath my tired feet

Then suddenly I am pelted with dark rains and bitter sleet

I take a step back from the ledge to get out of the rain

And find that even inside there is emptiness and pain

I cast my eyes out to the field as backward I retreat

And see a small light flickering with continual repeat

It wakes a mem’ry in my mind, I know that tiny flare

It’s small white fruit that’s on a tree in the darkness way out there

 

My soul begins to rumble like the building that I’m in

I’m hungry for that fruit, but my head is in a spin

The cement beneath my feet begins to crack a little bit

I turn and run to find some stairs, then fall into a pit

The people all around me, I guess they’ve been there all along,

Take notice of my wretched fall but still won’t heed my song

“We cannot get you out—if we do you’ll run away.”

“You’re better off here, trust us—it has to be this way.”

I cast my eyes up to the sky, but the building blocks my view

I feel no hope, I’m in despair, I don’t know what to do

I bow my head, hand on my heart, yet not sure how to begin

Then the building shakes, the ceiling cracks, and a little light gets in

 

My courage grows, I open my mouth and call out to the Lord

Then the building falls into an abyss, and I’m left hanging by a single cord

I get cradled by a warm south wind and it carries me to the ground

My feet touch down onto the earth, I don’t even hear a sound

My hungering soul leads me forward—into a deep dark night

But my feet trudge through some dreary waste and I lose the small white light

I walk and walk for hours and collapse upon the dirt

And when I wake I find myself in red mud up to my shirt

Determined to press forward now that day at last has dawned

I cast my eyes fast forward where a dirty fountain spawns

I scarce can see a trace, of the white fruit through mist and trees

Unworthiness, it crushes me, and I sink back to my knees

 

And then, before I cast myself back on the filthy ground

I hear a glorious being say, “At last you have been found.”

“I have left the flock to seek you. Please rise and take my hand.”

“For I am here to lead you past the river and the sand.”

Before I can look up, I feel sore tears upon my face

Then the Man-in-white He wipes them with His robes and with His grace

He bids me take His hand, then pulls me up off of the sod

Then strangely now He places my hand on a rusty iron rod

I take the metal in my hand, but I don’t want to cling real tight

And after walking just a bit, the Man-in-white soon leaves my sight

I panic now and stop and look to see where He has gone

And I only see the iron rod, it’s extensive, it is long

 

Yet, it’s dark enough to see among the mists and all the fog

That seem to appear from nowhere, so I break into a jog

But in my haste, my hand breaks free from the solid metal rail

My feet twist up, I trip and fall, and muddy water hides my wail

I’m drowning now in a murky bog, it’s bottom binds my feet

And suddenly, the rain is back, as is the cold, dark sleet

My limbs go numb and I curse myself, for letting go the rod

Why couldn’t I have just slowed down and been satisfied to trod

Impatience was my downfall, and some carelessness, and fight

I was angry that I had been left by the Man I saw in white

Not ready yet to freeze to death I start paddling with my hands

I call for help, … and there He is, … to remove my selfish bands

 

“Hold to the rod, I promise you, it’s strong and bright and true.”

“Look past the rust and hold on tight, it’ll safely guide you through.”

I’m shivering now with cold, and I still feel a bit uptight

But I trembling stomp up to the rod while mumbling about my plight

Yet, casting my eyes forward I see through the mists a hole

And through that hole I see the fruit, it’s flickering warms my soul

Clinging a little tighter, I walk forward next to the rod

It’s sturdy, and it’s iron, and I trod and trod and trod

I’m tempted very often to keep my eyes cast down and back

But as I trip and stumble I notice my hand begins to slack

Remembering the filthy bog, I grab tight to the cold rail

I raise my eyes and find the fruit, I’m determined not to fail

 

The mists are cold, the darts are sharp, it would be so easy to let go

And the building in the air is back, it’s in the sun and all aglow

I see its people laughing, clinking glasses, and poking fun

They are pointing at me and my sodden clothes, and I suddenly want to be done

One hand pulls free from the iron rod, and for a moment I feel the warm

From the sun, and the building up in the sky, seep into that one arm

I start to cast off, to join the group, they beckon with hands to me …

Then I see the building shake a bit and my temptation is wrestled free

I remember how it crumbled and the treatment of its crowd

I remember how the Man-in-white heard my voice when I called out loud

I quickly grab back hold again of the rusty iron rod

But it looks a little more shiny to me, which I find a little bit odd

 

Hand-over-hand, I pull myself, with my eyes fixed upon the tree

The mists, they clear, and at last I see my fam’ly beckoning to me

A fire kindles in my soul and renewed hunger in my heart

I reach for their hands, and the offered fruit, and pull out a final dart

They pull me in, I feel ashamed, how had I forgotten they were here?

But they hold me tight and tend my wounds, and it’s suddenly all so clear

When finally fed and rightly healed, I feel a pounding in my head

It’s a mix of awe and gratitude and just a little dread

I turn my face toward the beautiful tree and see the Man-in-white

With arms outstretched, He calls to me, and I remember again my plight

I bow my head, in a mess of shame, as I think back on my past

Back then I didn’t quite understand what it meant to get off the path

 

Then feeling the pull of His powerful gaze, I slowly raise my eyes

He beckons to me, I swallow hard, wishing I’d prepared my weak replies

“I lost my way but I’ve come back. I never forgot the light.”

“I simply looked away too long, and doubt bedimmed my sight.”

“When mists of darkness hid the way I sought the building in the sky.”

“And then once there, I couldn’t recall, how I’d gotten up so high.”

“It wasn’t until I found the courage to look back the way I’d come.”

“Then, I saw the little light flickering, and I knew it was time to go home.”

… With measured steps, I close the space between His feet and mine

When barely there, … I fall to my knees, … and say, “My will is thine.”

The Man-in-white, He lifts me up, His hand beneath my chin

“Your will was all that I required so that I could cleanse your sin.”

 

BT

 

Doctrine: The Gospel will feel (and be) possible when we 1) think “progress, not perfection,” 2) willingly repent, and 3) get to know God better. That’s all it takes.

A couple of days ago I wrote a rather frank blog about my frustrations with people thinking the Gospel of Jesus Christ is impossible. It was a passionate entry for many good reasons. And, while everything I said I believe to be true, I realized yesterday that I hadn’t given any simple, clear steps to helping make the Gospel FEEL possible.

You see, the Gospel IS POSSIBLE whether we feel it is or not. However, Satan wants us to feel that the Gospel is impossible, because as long as we think/feel that, we won’t put forth any effort (which is, according to Satan’s plan, exactly what makes it impossible). So, if we don’t feel the Gospel is possible, it’s hard to change those feelings.

Let’s recap from my previous blog. We tend to feel the law of Christ is impossible based on:

  1. An incomplete or incorrect understanding of grace
  2. A half-hearted, surface, or cursory desire to become like God (i.e. have Eternal Life)
  3. An incomplete knowledge of and relationship with God
  4. A stronger knowledge/relationship, and/or a stronger preference for a false God
  5. An unwillingness to repent fully
  6. A selfish and lazy demand to have Eternal Life on our terms, not God’s

So, if those are many of the common reasons people feel the Gospel is impossible. Then, let me suggest three very simple things a person can do to make the Gospel feel possible—immediately.

Progress Not Perfection

The first thing all of us need to do is to update our understanding of grace as provided to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Yes, God has commanded us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 27:27). But, He has commanded us to do so “through Christ” by our sincere, imperfect efforts (Moroni 10:32).

This is critical! The command is to “Be perfect through/in Christ” NOT to “Be perfect to be perfect in Christ.”

Grace is what makes us perfect (over time) as we simply try to do God’s will. We don’t have to do God’s will perfectly. We just have to sincere desires behind our efforts (as per #’s 2, 5 & 6 above). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “We get credit for trying even if we don’t always succeed” (Tomorrow the Lord Will do Wonders Among You, April 2016 General Conference). Trying is what turns on the #gracefactor. Grace is like a fiery forge. By simply sincerely trying to do God’s will (imperfectly) we enter the fiery forge of grace. Thus, our pounding, hammering efforts bend us “through the power of grace.” Thus, we become perfect because of our imperfect efforts through grace.

So, if you really, truly and sincerely, want to become like God but you know you’ve got a long way to go. That’s okay! Make your motto, “Progress not Perfection” (@SavedbyGraceCo in IG). Change your expectations for your actions to, “I’m going to always try sincerely, even if my efforts aren’t perfect,” rather than the impossible which is, “I’m going to live perfectly.”

The Gospel will FEEL possible if you understand that you can’t mess up by sincerely trying. You can only mess up by not sincerely trying. And you know for yourself what sincerity (proceeding from genuine feelings) is for you.

Repent

The Gospel is impossible to us as long as we try to live it on our own terms, not God’s. As long as our desires and ways are contrary to His, we will feel the impossibility of it. And, if we are unwilling to submit our will to God’s and continue to try to have things or do things our way, then, the Gospel IS impossible. So, we have to repent and submit to God’s will until the day comes that our will and His will is the same (Mosiah 3:19).

Christ’s atonement (pertaining to salvation) is not for everyone. It is for those who repent and submit to God’s will. Grace doesn’t make our wrongs right. It pays justice for the debt we incur for committing wrongs and make it possible for us to obtain mercy. We can’t just say, “Sorry God, now just let me do things my way and don’t expect me to change.”

The only thing the atonement buys for everyone is a resurrected, immortal body (see references below). But salvation (entrance into the lowest level of God’s Celestial Kingdom) is only received by those who repent, are baptized, receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, TRY to keep God’s commandments, and endure to the end (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7; Alma 11:37, 40-44). Mercy cannot rob Justice. Therefore, mercy is only extended unto those who meet the conditions for it (Alma 42:24-25).

Life like God, i.e. Eternal Life, requires that we make more covenants (beyond baptism) and bind our will so closely to God’s that we become like Him by our sincere efforts (Note: I didn’t say “perfect efforts” I merely said “sincere efforts.”). Thus, by TRYING to keep these covenants (however imperfectly) we learn to sacrifice, forgive, change, consecrate, endure, etc., by these additional covenants. And, unless we enter into these covenants and sincerely TRY to keep them, we cannot have Eternal Life.

That’s why we take the sacrament every week. We take it to take inventory of our lives. We make note of what we’ve done pretty well. We make note of what we can do better. We ask God to grant us POWER TO KEEP TRYING. And, by sincerely partaking of this sacrament, God allows us to maintain the Gift and sanctifying, perfecting, comforting, incredible power of the Holy Ghost.

Many people go to the temple because they feel that they walk out with renewed power. The same blessings can come to us as we worthily and sincerely partake of the sacrament. It is an ordinance that when understood can send us out of a church building clothed with power. It is, in a way, a lesser temple experience just as the Aaronic priesthood is the lesser priesthood. The temples, then, provide a full experience because they are governed by the Melchizedek priesthood (the higher priesthood).

So, 1) think progress, not perfection, and 2) repent!

Get to Know God Better

A lot of people find the commandments difficult because they see them in the wrong light. They simply think, “This is something I’m supposed to do,” which in turn creates an incorrect expectation that simply doing it is going to move mountains in your life. If you go to church because you’re supposed to then when it fails to inspire you, change you, uplift you, or even comfort you—immediately—you are going to think, “Well, this is a load of crap.”

God has commanded us to go to church not to check off an item on some trivial spiritual checklist. He does so because there (at church) we have two critical and powerful opportunities. 1) We have the chance to learn more about Him (how He works, how He lives, how He loves, how He sacrifices, etc.), and 2) By partaking of the sacrament, we have the chance to be more open and prepared to receive promptings from the Holy Ghost.

So, yes, church can often be boring. But, if you’ve got a rough/poor teacher or speaker, you can say a silent prayer and ask, “What can I learn about Thee, God, from this experience?” and I guarantee you, with that kind of attitude (if it’s sincere), you will be taught simple, peaceful truths from on high. If you’re tired and feel your mind is fuzzy, you can still be assured that in God’s house you are less fuzzy when it comes to receiving promptings from the Holy Spirit. So, no matter what is going on (in sacrament meeting or your current class), get out your scriptures and read, or say a prayer, and things will be clearer there. Why clearer there? Because that’s where God has commanded you to be! So your conscience before Him is, in that moment, perfect. You could read and pray at home, too, but because you know, fundamentally, that God has asked you to be elsewhere (at church), then subconsciously (or consciously) you will have a less clear path to His throne because you know your life isn’t in even attempted alignment with His will.

If you read your scriptures because you expect to always be enveloped by pillars of light and receive earth-shattering, novel revelations; then when it fails to be all fireworks and singing choirs of angels, you are going to think, “Well, this is a load of crap.” This is because you’ve missed the point.

We have been commanded to read the scriptures for two reasons. 1) We have the chance to learn more about Him (how He works, how He lives, how He loves, how He sacrifices, etc.), and 2) We have the chance to be more open and prepared to receive promptings from the Holy Ghost.

So, it doesn’t matter how much you read. It doesn’t matter where you read. It only matters that you are reading with the sincere desire to learn more about God, about yourself, and to be more open to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

For example, if you’re seeking an answer to a prayer, open your scriptures. Either open it up randomly (this works for some people), seek out a specific topic, or read it chronologically. It doesn’t matter. Go read the scriptures with the sincere intent to receive answers to your prayers and I guarantee you, you will be better able to get answers and you will get them faster. We’re talking days to weeks, instead of months to years. Or, if complete answers don’t come, critical guidance, comfort, and peace will—the kind you can’t get anywhere else than from God.

The scriptures also include General Conference addresses. Watch church produced scripture videos and messages from apostles and prophets! Mormon Messages these days are a great beginning step. If you find other scripture more tedious, begin with modern scripture and work your way up to ancient scripture. We need all of it because all of it teaches us about God and how He works, and who He is. We can’t get it all from a video. But, start small.

Experiment upon the word (Alma 32). After every attempt at ingesting some scripture ask yourself, “How do I feel? What does this make me want to do/feel inspired to do? What did I learn about God?” Do this, and you will get out of scripture reading what God intended.

If you pray because you’re supposed to or because you think God needs to hear from you then you are going to have unrealistic expectations about your prayers. Prayer is all about us, not God. And, we don’t do it because we are supposed to (though we are supposed to). We don’t do it to inform God. He’s perfectly informed. So, if it’s all about us, and not for God, why do it?

When you imagine yourself addressing God, what happens to your language? What happens to your thoughts about yourself and your life?

When you think about what you want to say in your prayers, what happens to your thoughts? Your focus? Your gratitude? What things are you reminded of?

When you really want something, and it seems it will take a miracle to get it, who do you turn to? Why is it we/you only turn to God when something seems impossible? Why is it that we think by suddenly praying that there is a chance that it will become possible?

Morning, night, while you’re running, in your car, at school, at work, before an important life event, etc., when we take the time to talk to God it is because by coming before Him we focus our minds (which are powerful beyond our understanding) long enough in the right direction to be re-aligned, to feel something higher than our day-to-day logic and feelings, to submit, to ask for, to plead, to hope, etc. By simply taking that moment or two to do that we learn about us and our relationship with God.

When I get on my knees to pray, I find out what is most important to me by what I take the time to ask for. It teaches me about myself. God already knows these things. But, by commanding me to take this time a few times a day to talk to Him, He is facilitating my ability to learn about myself, understand myself, and make conscious efforts to align my fundamental and underlying desires to His.

So, when it comes to keeping the commandments. Change the reason for why you do them. Don’t do them to “be perfect.” Don’t do them because you’re supposed to. Don’t do them to fulfill some obscure expectation you think God has. Do them because you want to get to know God and yourself better so that you can begin now to close the gap in your relationship with Him and your understanding of Him and how He works.

So, 1) think progress, not perfection, 2) repent, and 3) get to know God better.

Conclusion

That’s it. If you do these three things, then the Gospel will feel possible. It will feel doable. It will increase your hope for your life. It may change the course your life takes. It will increase your love of others. It will increase your ability to withstand your own struggles and the complexities of life. It will give you courage and certitude (especially as you embrace God’s covenants and ordinances) that no matter what life throws at you, if you simply keep trying, keep making progress, keep repenting, and keep getting to know God better, that you cannot fail. And, that is because IF YOU ARE DOING THESE THREE THINGS YOU CANNOT FAIL (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7; 82:10). It would be impossible. 😉

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(s): #3) No matter how good we are, good choices don’t erase sin. Only true repentance does. #4) God’s plan for us is not about sailing through or avoiding consequences, it’s about using consequences to learn, repent, and become like Him.

This is continued from PART ONE and PART TWO.

Many people leave the church over political or media issues and concerns. They perceive an injustice by a person in the church or a church funded/sponsored organization and become afraid that the perceived injustice is contrary to how God would act in such a situation and therefore contrary to how the church funded/sponsored organization should act. They take offense at the person or organization and by consequence the church. They begin to fear that somehow they’ve been hoodwinked and that this issue is showing a side of the church they never imagined existed.

When this happens I am always surprised. But, I don’t leave the church over media issues because my first instinct is to ponder an issue and determine the purpose of God behind it. Instead of taking offense I seek to understand why the person or organization would take such an action. I ask, “What would Christ do or say in this modern instance? Or, how is this a part of God’s plan for us, these people, or this person?”

I asked myself two questions in the aftermath of a recent controversial event. First was, what would Christ have done? However, in all situations in the scriptures, Christ dealt with sinners differently—personally. So, I could quote an isolated example to make a point for either side of this recent controversy. One example would prove one side’s feelings and another example the other side. We can always find isolated evidence to support our views if we are determined to prove them. I didn’t want isolated evidence, I wanted an over-arching truth.

So, stepped back even further and looked for the over-arching principles that Christ used to judge. What did I find? I found a principle that is fundamental to the doctrine of grace. That principle is that no matter how many commandments we keep, our good choices don’t erase our bad ones. No matter the sin or the righteousness, Christ always invited people to progress, to go and sin no more if they were sinners, or He invited the righteous to sacrifice what they loved or wanted in order to become even more Christlike—more like Him. There was never a time where being good in one category erased the other categories where people needed to improve.

In Christ’s dealings with humankind there was never a right side or a wrong side, there was only God’s plan for them/us. Indeed, we keep commandments, or rules, or standards, to “become godly” not to balance the scales of justice or to right a previous wrong. Indeed, the atonement is what removes our spiritual debt for bad choices IF we repent (see previous blog on The Purpose of Grace). God doesn’t say, well, if you are nice to your Mom and help her around the house because she’s handicapped, or if you report the robbery that took place next door by a guy you sort of know, then I’ll forgive the fact that you are committing fornication twice a week with your boyfriend/girlfriend. God doesn’t say, well, if you give money to charity I’ll forgive the fact that you embezzled the money from your company.

We don’t have commandments that we keep in order to subtract sins from a spiritual account. The only thing that forgives sins is repentance: confessing and forsaking (i.e. changing). While God is bound to bless us for righteous acts (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10) He is not bound to forgive sins or waive the consequences of sins NOT repented of in light of other, unrelated righteous acts. As well, even repentance can’t remove (in this life) some of the consequences of sin. If we repent of substance abuse the addiction isn’t usually physically removed. If we repent of a prolonged anger habit we still have to work to create habits that help us avoid our anger moving forward. The consequences of the habit we formed don’t automatically disappear. Repentance is not about avoiding being caught, or avoiding consequences (worldly sorrow); it’s about being sorry about our offenses to God and following the path He sets for us to change and become more like Him (Godly sorrow). (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)

So, the second question I asked regarding this recent controversy with the viewpoint of God’s plan being paramount was, “Is this seemingly harsh consequence going to help this girl receive grace and help her move forward in God’s plan, to become more Christlike, even if it slows her down in her temporal goals?” The answer was resoundingly yes. People often think that this life is about doing all that we want to do and trying to become godly on the side, when we have time, or if it fits in with our “expectations” for our life. If there’s a hiccup to their desired path, they freak out and start thinking that everything is against them, and they claim they just don’t understand why this had to happen or why they have to go through something or suffer consequences for this or that.instagramquotes6

Consequences and suffering (from unwise or sinful actions) lead us to evaluate our lives and our actions and to repent and change and to become more godly. The purpose of this life isn’t for everything to be easy, to sail through mistakes and sins with little repercussion and consequences—to get mercy without meeting the conditions for it. The purpose of this life is to learn from mistakes and sins so that we can repent and understand how to become more like Christ. We’re here to do God’s will, not our own. It’s as simple as that.

To some people that seems unmerciful. But, it’s incredibly merciful. Tough love—true love—is what God has for us. Helping us face truth and have the opportunity to change is far more merciful than letting us run around deceived and deluded about where we are in the path back to God until some unknown point when He is finally willing to let us suffer the consequences for our actions, seek repentance, and finally find peace. By denying consequences He would effectively deny us the opportunity to learn and grow and find true joy. What God allows to happen, what He allows us to suffer, is always about us learning about Him, ourselves, and receiving all that He has for us. It’s about the road to true happiness and joy, not the road to temporary happiness.

C.S. Lewis said (Mere Christianity, Book1, Chapter 5, last paragraph), “I wish it was possible to say something more agreeable.  But I must say what I think true.  Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort.  But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use trying to go on to that comfort without first going through dismay.  In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it.  If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.  Most of us have got over the previous wishful thinking about international politics.  It is time we did the same about religion.”

Continue to PART FOUR