I never thought I would ever want to give up chocolate (regular chocolate that is). Now, some people may not like it, but I believe, on the whole, most people like some form of chocolate. Myself, I prefer dark chocolate.

When I met my husband, the first thing he warned me was that if I hooked up with him I would lose all desire for regular, store-bought chocolate. Why? Because he makes his own chocolate. He sources the beans, he roasts them, cracks them, turns them into chocolate liquor, adds a few (very few) ingredients, and then grinds the whole thing into the absolute best chocolate I have ever eaten.

It’s hard to describe my husband’s chocolate to most other people. And this is simply because they’ve never had anything like it. So, when I say, “It’s really good. It’s way better than other chocolate.” They simply smile and nod—humoring me, of course. I know what they’re thinking because it’s the same thing I thought when my husband told me the desire for all other chocolate would die after having his chocolate.

Arrogant? No. Boastful? Maybe. True? Yes.

And, so it must be for other people. If they wish to have the “best chocolate” they must be willing to let the desire for the “regular stuff” die. And the same goes for love. There’s regular, over-processed, homogenized (made to taste all the same every time you eat it) chocolate, which is great comparison for “being in love.” Then, there’s the bean-to-bar chocolate, which is a great comparison for “true love.” The former always leaves you wanting more and never is enough because it’s pleasures just can’t seem to last. The latter, however, is so “real” that it provides something lasting.

Being “in love” is not all it’s cracked up to be because it is not “true”

For all relationships, there’s a sort of “in love” period. I fall in love with my four-year-old every day. She’ll do something absolutely adorable or amazing or intelligent beyond her years and I simply swoon. Best friends (plutonic) have beginning moments where they find they have so much in common and trust in each other gets reinforced, and it’s very like a type of “in love” feeling. BFF necklaces are exchanged and they can’t spend enough time together. Then, especially romantic relationships start with infatuation and transition (often quickly) to being “in love.”

But, in every relationship, this “in love” feeling always eventually gets challenged by what I like to call “reality.” My four-year-old succumbs to an irrational fit. A best friend finds an interest apart from us, or fails to be there when we need them. And, especially, in a romantic relationship, the infatuation begins to wear off when the person holding our romantic interest does something that goes against our expectations or some of their negative traits begin to show up more frequently. Basically, we get hurt. All relationships hurt us, then the walls of “in love” come crashing down.

And this is when being in love suddenly becomes a problem. Because it is a drug of sorts; a euphoric haze that has us living in an idealistic cloud world. It’s awesome. There’s no denying it. But, the higher we jump the harder we fall. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t jump high. But I am merely indicating that the capacity for hurt increases in proportion to the bliss.

The bliss, we signed up for. The hurt, not so much. And this is where a very critical relationship death must take place in order for us to move beyond being “in love” to a very special thing called “true love.”

In other words, being “in love” cannot be our main goal. If it is, we will consistently settle for mediocre chocolate instead of graduating to the “real stuff.” And, let me tell you, mediocre chocolate never satisfies. We always go back for more and more, often binging on what is a very good treat. But in binging we end up sick, and very likely overweight. In a literal way, when we binge on the idea of being “in love” we end up with continual disappointment and the heavy weight of emotional issues. We focus all our efforts on producing the ideals (in ourselves or another) that created our in-love feelings to begin with. Losing weight, new clothes, more time together, more expensive dates, more expensive jewelry, and yet…it just doesn’t seem to last.

Perhaps the worst thing about “being in love” is that it can never be “true love.” It can only lead to true love. It is, as nearly as I can figure, a necessary beginning to true love—because it leads us to make promises and commitments—but it can never be, in and of itself, true love. Being in love puts us in a haze so that we will make covenants, commitments, and bind ourselves to other people. Then, when the haze of “in love” wears thin, or off completely, we are bound by the promises we’ve made when “in love” even though we no longer feel in love. It is from this point, this death of “being in love” that we have at last placed ourselves within the range to progress toward true love.

True love requires the death of being in love

Now that I have had amazing chocolate, I can tell you from experience that the depth of taste, flavor, and nutrition of high quality chocolate (true chocolate) is such that I am satisfied after a 1 ounce bar. And I can bask in the glow of the experience easily rather than running back to the bowl for another fix. How? Because I am not attempting to recreate a feeling that has long past. The effects of it are still with me.

True love is the same. Because true love proceeds from a depth of understanding, a deliberate use free will, and personal character development it provides an ongoing security and satisfaction that being “in love” can simply never match. It stays with us. It doesn’t fade as long as we deliberately choose it.

True love is a result that comes from depth of understanding about people. People who find true love understand that no person, no matter how wonderful, can be perfect. No person can satisfy all of another person’s needs and should not be expected to. No person can be exactly what he or she has always dreamed of and expected him/her to be.

True love is also a result that comes from a depth of understand about self. People who find true love understand that they, themselves, can’t be perfect either. They understand that they can’t be another person’s all any more than the reverse; and that no amount of perfection on their part makes them more or less worth being loved by another.

Now, this understanding doesn’t mean that individuals don’t need to try to be their best selves. But, that it something that is individual, and not controllable (ultimately) by the other individual. And, no successful relationship can exist when one or the other individual presupposes that any amount of perfection on his/her part (or manipulation or coercion) will produce the ideal in the other. This is why it is so key to be careful who we fall in love with. A commitment is not lessened because we allowed ourselves to fall in love with someone who is not the kind of person we can live with. It only makes the commitment more difficult. We can control who we fall in love, or at least minimally who we make commitments with.

[For more commentary on being careful who we establish relationships with, please listen to my podcast The Stuff You Should Know About Relationships]

True love results from you, or I—once understanding our own and other’s imperfections—deliberating choosing to love anyway. We see an imperfect individual—once beyond the haze of being “in love”—and we choose to love them anyway. We choose to love someone even though they don’t meet all of our needs. We choose to love someone anyway even though they have the potential to hurt us as times—and often do.

Why would we choose to love when faced with reality instead of going back to finding another “in love” experience? Because learning to love as an act of our own deliberate will rather than because a mere feeling compels us to do so results in something that has the power to last. We can’t make any “in love” experience last. But, we can make our own love last forever. And, such a deliberate choice to love allows us to experience a fundamental and godly change in our very natures and internal character.

When we learn to love because we want to be a loving person, and because we genuinely want to influence others to be their best no matter what we receive in return, we experience a depth of peace and strength in our personal character that can’t be undone. True love becomes about us in an unselfish way because it is no longer dependent upon the actions of others. True love is freeing! We also begin to become godly and our power to influence others for good increases exponentially because our love can’t be wiped away simply by a change of feeling.

Haven’t you ever wondered how God can be so loving and so powerful at the same time?

Let me quote some C.S. Lewis here to make my point (reference in footnote):

But what, it may be asked, is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love? There are several sound social reasons… But there is also another reason of which I am very sure, though I find it a little hard to explain.

It is hard to explain because so many people cannot be brought to realize that when B is better than C, A may be even better than B. They like thinking in terms of good and bad, not of good, better, and best, or bad, worse, and worst…

What we call ‘being in love’ is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his senses would deny that being is love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centeredness. But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.’ Being in love is a good thing. But it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married’, then it says what probably never was no ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, and your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.

Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’—is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

People get the idea from [media] that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change—not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last… The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this really mean it would be better not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. …if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more, it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. …the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.

This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying a good thing will not really live until it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned [person] for the rest of your life.

Death is not the end, it is the beginning

In gospel of Jesus Christ, the ultimate belief is that Christ’s death brought about the reality of eternal life. Death brought about life. The atonement of Jesus Christ (which encompasses His suffering for and paying Justice for our sins as well as His resurrection which vicariously allows us to be resurrected someday) is about sacrificing something to gain our greatest desire—life. And since God’s love is that which, by His will, brought about the death and resurrection of Christ (John 3:16); and God is love, then it would naturally follow that true love of any kind (paternal, friendship, or romantic/marriage) must follow the same pattern: the death and sacrifice of being ‘in love’ puts us in a position to progress toward real love, or love that is true.

Whether it is a child, sibling, friend, relative, or a current/future spouse, no love can be true until we are willing to stop pursuing the ‘in love’ feeling. If we do all that we do, in relationships, to seek that ‘in love’ feeling, we will consistently find ourselves disappointed. We will find that we are manipulative, selfishly motivated, easily offended and hurt, and possibly abusive (in many ways).

If we wish to save any relationship we must begin by first divorcing ourselves from our ‘in love’ ideals; that other people will meet our expectations or eventually act the way we wish. Or that somehow continually to re-invent and re-imagine ourselves (superficially) will return to us, or recreate, all of the sentimental in-love experiences we remember from the past. We must learn to love truly. We must learn to love because we wish to be loving, not because we are trying to manufacture a certain type of relationship or a certain feeling within that relationship.

True love is, and always will be, independent of our feelings. And only when we let the ‘in love’ feeling die will we at last open ourselves up to the ability to experience love in more powerful, and ultimately more exciting and lasting ways.

So, it’s about time to let go of your “store-bought” chocolate (i.e. love) and open yourself up to the idea that while some things are worse than regular chocolate (going without, I suppose), that does not make it great and most certainly not the best that there is available. Let your desire for only being ‘in love’ die and begin the process of seeking for the kind of love that builds, sustains, secures, heals, and nourishes forever.

BT


[1] The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics ©2002 by C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. | Mere Christianity ©1952, C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed ©1980 C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., Christian Behaviour, Christian Marriage, pp. 92-94.

Is there only one perfect person out there for you? Is there such a thing as soul mates?

Well, when I met my first husband, at the old age of 19, I was certain he was “the one.” After all, he was a return missionary, he was tall, he played sports, he was super fun to be around, he had a killer smile, was charismatic, and I’ll never forget the first time I heard him bear his testimony. I felt strongly that, “this man knows the Lord.” And I know he did. And, I suspect he still does.

In fact, though I nurtured a crush on him, it wasn’t until my first husband bore his testimony that I fell in love with him. After that, I didn’t really worry about it. I felt he was “the one.”

And, even after our 11-year marriage ended, it wasn’t because I had decided he wasn’t the one. It was because he decided that I wasn’t right for him. And, all things considered, perhaps I wasn’t. But, it didn’t mean it couldn’t have worked out. In fact, it could have. He could have remained the right one. But, I didn’t understand that at the time.

So, once that marriage failed I had to ask myself a lot of questions I had never asked before. And, as a Latter-day Saint woman, these were highly significant questions. Questions like:

  1. Why did God let me marry him if it wasn’t going to work out in the long run?
  2. Did I misinterpret the peace, the answer I thought I got to marry him?
  3. If I did, does that mean personal revelation is bogus?
  4. Could I have done something to save the marriage that I hadn’t already done?
  5. Did the marriage fail because I wasn’t good enough? Pretty enough? Etc.
  6. Were my eternal marriage covenants still valid for me? Or did the other party screw it up for me?
  7. Did I want to ever get remarried?
  8. Would I ever get remarried?
  9. Did I need to get remarried to receive all the blessings God had promised me during the covenant ordinance?
  10. Was there only one right person for me, and if so, had I lost all chances for happiness?

The list of questions was a lot longer than this, but these were the general strain of thought I went down.

It’s very easy when at a crossroads like this to question the foundation of our beliefs, especially as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e. Mormons). When all that we have bargained on is directly tied to personal revelation we feel that we have received, our first instinct is to question the revelation, God, and in consequence our beliefs.

The Atonement Helps Us Find True Love

Just as it is in every lesson, talk, and scripture, the Atonement of Jesus Christ is always preached as the answer to everything. Sin, use the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Hurt, sorrow, emotional pain, use the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Grace, grace, grace…

Well, as I wondered down this path of questioning, it was not my first instinct to curse God for letting me enter a marriage that would fail. I certainly was upset that it had failed. But, it was not my natural inclination to blame Him. Sadly, my natural inclination was to blame ME. I tore myself apart and, of course, was shown quite clearly how I might have been better in some aspects. God didn’t hide truth from me. But, He also taught me two very important truths that I had been unable to consider prior to, and up until this point after the divorce.

First, the divorce wasn’t about me. It was about covenants. God taught me that though I’d been “let go,” that it was actually He who had been divorced from the other party. The covenant we had made with Him together was what mattered. The covenant was what had made the love true.

When the covenant was abandoned by my spouse, God had been abandoned. God had been abandoned before me, and in place of me…in a sense. And when God was abandoned the love ceased to be true.

Second, that because I had been willing to keep my covenant, though extremely imperfect and certainly not faultless, my connection to God had not been severed. The covenant I kept held me to Him. Therefore, only one party had removed themselves from the marriage. It was both God and I who had been divorced.

Third, the thing that allowed me to still hope for true love was the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

You see, Christ’s Atonement and it’s power (grace) can fix anything. But, it would be rendered pointless if there was only one person in life we could find eternal happiness with. Missing out on a relationship that has the potential to be eternal is just like all other aspects of life. We can miss such relationships. We can mess up. We can let people go we should have stuck with. People can let us go when they should have stayed. It’s still a mess up. And, if we could not repent from, heal from, or recover from such an unwise mishap in our lives, then what would be the point of life? What would be the point of grace? There would not be one.

Thus, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the principle of grace that we apply to sin, suffering, sorrow, and so many other things, is also the very thing that preaches to us that there being only one true love in the whole wide world for us is a false doctrine.

We can’t miss out on true love if we understand that it doesn’t reside in a person. True love resides in God and in His covenants. So, when we think about trying to find the right one, what we are really looking for is someone who will remain true to their covenants with God, no matter what. If they will stay true to God then they will stay true to us. If they will stay true to their covenants with God in sickness, health, poorness or wealth, etc. then they will stay true to us.

I’ll say it again, true love resides in the covenant of marriage, not in the person you make it with.

How to Find Your One True Love

Dallin H. Oaks talked about the doctrine of good, better, and best (Ensign, November 2007). President Gordon B. Hinckley also often referred to this principle: that there are many options available to us to choose from but that some are good, some are better, and some are best.

The principle works like this. On any given day there are several things we can choose to do. Most of the activities we engage in are not evil. But, at any given moment there are good things we can do, better things we can do, and best things.

For example, we can get up and eat a donut for breakfast. That’s a good thing. Delicious! But, it’s even better to get a little exercise first and then eat something a little healthier. We’ll feel better. And we’ll have a delicious day by avoiding the guilt and physical after effects of that donut. But, it’s best if we first get down on our knees and offer a meaningful morning prayer, ponder a verse of scripture, then get a little exercise, and then eat a healthy breakfast.

Just like on any given day we can choose any number of good, better, or best choices. I believe strongly that at any given time in our life there are also good, better, and best choices of relationships for us. God can take any choice we make—and IF both parties are willing—lift it up and turn it into a best relationship. But, there is always a best choice for us and we can’t miss it if we own the choice. We have to own the responsibility for making that best choice.

Let me explain.

What is the False Doctrine in Having Only One True Love?

Believing that there is only one person meant for you takes all the responsibility for the relationship and the marriage covenant off of you and places it on the person you think you’re seeking. It places the responsibility on God, or someone else’s advice. When we do this, we ultimately make the decision for true love about getting lucky enough to meet a certain person. Since we can’t control anything in life, not really. This is a stupid way to view love. And a false one.

Albeit, this is a romantic view. But, it’s a temporary, untrustworthy, and unkind view. I have found from experience that it is quite a bit more romantic to trust in God than in people. And with God, true love is about faith, repentance, sacrifice, service, humility, persuasion, long-suffering, and so on. Even the sexual chemistry we feel toward others must transcend the physical and dig deeper into the spiritual and intellectual. It must reach God’s view.

God’s view is the correct view. And, it is hard. It’s nigh upon Abrahamic (meaning as hard as being asked to sacrifice your son). But, it’s also the ONLY view that can bring us—you, me, everyone—the love that their heart truly desires: true love. A love that lasts must bind people together. And the only thing on this earth and in heaven that binds is covenant (Doctrine & Covenants 82:10).

The Answer At Last

So, how do you find your one true love? There are only two steps.

  1. Become a covenant keeper.
  2. Find a covenant keeper.

Christ’s love is true and can’t be severed from us because His love has been bound by sacrifice and covenant (Romans 8:35, 39).

Conclusion

After my first marriage ended and I discovered the doctrine behind “true love” I went looking for a covenant keeper. And, then I stopped looking (actively) though when approached for dates this was my most critical requirement. Then, at the age of 35, God finagled a way to get my current husband into my life.

The man I met is not perfect. But, he is a covenant keeper. He keeps his covenants daily. He tries to make better and best choices, daily. And because he is a covenant keeper he has my adoration, my trust, my love, my long-suffering, my forgiveness, my patience, my honesty, and my heart.

We can all find the best person for us (our true love) or take our current relationship and make it best by loving God first, and by so doing becoming faithful covenant keepers. It begins and ends with our decision to keep covenants and to find another who does the same.

BT

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

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

True Love and How to Get It: Part Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on.

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

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

Moroni 7:13-14 instructs us very clearly:

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

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

Doctrine and Covenants 132:5, 13-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s there-far up in the mountains.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The account continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was a mistake?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The account continues:

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

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

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

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

“Michael is mine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is there any hope for her, Sir?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The saying is almost too hard for us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BT

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

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

Thinketh no evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how do we avoid thinking evil?

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

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

For example:

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejoicing in goodness and not enticed by iniquity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facts about ALL sin

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

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

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

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

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

Green transporation sign with true love wording and direction on

Willing to bear all things/Endures all things

Bear = carry, support, endure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believing and Hopeful

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing remarks on Charity

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

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

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

BT

Doctrine: 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