If you lack anything that you love more than yourself
Then you lack any reason to reject your most selfish desires
Four months ago, I concluded my verse-by-verse study of the book of Genesis. At that time, I decided I wanted to share more of my personal story and how I have found healing through the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have since related a good deal about my addictions and path to recovery, as well as the principles that helped me along the way. I also shifted into my earlier format of picking a single gospel principle and studying it from every angle.
It has been a fruitful four months, and a much-needed change of perspective, but at this point I feel ready to shift back to other forms of study. To start things off, I have had ten little thoughts and mantras that occurred to me over the course of my most recent studies, and I’d like to share them with you, one each weekday for the next two weeks. After that, I would like to go back to my verse-by-verse Bible study. I will pick up where I left off, ready to begin the book of Exodus. The first of these verse-by-verse studies I expect to post on February 20th.
I’m sure that periodically I will have a spiritual experience that I feel is worth sharing here, at which point I will certainly interrupt my verse-by-verse study to relate it. In general, though, I’m excited to get back to examining the small details tucked away in the scriptures. I hope you’ll be able to find it fruitful as well!
Yesterday I discussed three different domains of truth: the truth of the physical world, the truth of society, and the truth of morality. I made my case for each being well-founded and constant, even if at times mysterious. I argued that they all originate from outside of our individual selves, yet are inseparably integrated in us as well. I also considered the strange paradox where we all believe in these realities to some degree, yet we try to violate their rules even so. Each one of us seems to believe in the truth, but also disbelieve it in part. And this uncertainty makes it very difficult, even impossible, for us to live in full harmony with these realities and achieve our greatest potential.
Having acknowledged the problem, I turn now to an important passage of scripture, some of the most quoted verses from the Bible.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. - John 1:1-3
Much has been said about the meaning of the word “Word” in this passage. It sounds a bit strange to our ears, because a “word” is a conceptual and impersonal thing, but here it is being used to describe a personified being, indeed the fundamental being. Of course, the passage isn’t just talking about a word, it is THE Word. It is the fundamental Word, the ultimate Word, the Word before all others. It is the Word that we are told made all other things, defined all other things, gave form to all other things. This Word is so fundamental and foundational that without it there was “not any thing made that was made.”
I have spent a great while talking about the systems and rules that we see in the created universe, from physics to society to morality. As I said before, these systems clearly originate from outside of us. They were present before we were, and they will exist after we are gone. These verses from John explicitly identify the Word as the author of these laws and systems of reality. And if this Word is the word that defines the laws and systems of reality, then that Word must necessarily be true. For if it were not true, then all of reality would not be true either, nor our very existence. In fact, not only must the Word be true, it must be THE Truth. The fundamental Truth, the ultimate Truth, the Truth from which all these other truths are derived.
The Word is the Truth, and the Truth is the author of all the other truths that we observe, infer, and feel. Any attempt to live outside of the created truths is therefore an attempt to live outside of the fundamental Truth, and any attempt to live outside the fundamental Truth is an attempt to live outside of created reality. To deny the Truth and live against it is to deny the entire fabric of the universe, our own selves included, and frustrate our very being. It is not that it is merely advisable to live in the Truth, it is that it is only possible to live living in the Truth. Any attempt to exist outside of the Truth is to begin to undo one’s own creation, to unravel oneself into nothingness, to vanish into outer darkness.
What a problem, then, that we violate the Truth every day!
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death - Romans 3:23, 6:23
It is a problem that we do not have the power to resolve either. As beings of the Truth, we cannot change the Truth. Nor can we change our own state back to being in harmony with the Truth after we have violated it, for the unmaking of ourselves is, in fact, instantaneous, only artificially prolonged by the grace of God.
And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time - Alma 42:4
Of course, this probationary period does us little good if left to our own devices. We, ourselves, have no way to rectify the fact that we are now fundamentally disconnected from the Truth of the universe. And this is where the rest of John 1 comes into play. For, after defining the Word’s external authorship of all the elements that make up our reality, John then proclaims:
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. He was in the world, and the world was made by him. - John 1:14, 10
The creating Word came to live within its own creation! No longer just an external force, the creating Word now became an internal being as well. “It was made flesh and dwelt among us.” At one level that obviously represents the man Jesus Christ walking and teaching in Israel, but the penetration of the Word actually went much deeper. Jesus, himself, taught that he would be in us individually!
My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. - John 14:23 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. - Mark 14:22 I in them, and thou in me - John 17:23
The Word is made our flesh, and it dwells inside of us!
Be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts - Ephesians 3:16-17 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. - 1 John 3:24
What does this mean? It means that the Word that made the Truth that all of our existence is predicated upon can also come into our hearts and make the same Truth in there as well.
Though we have violated the external Truth, we can be reconciled to it by having it remade internally. Thus, we cease to be damned by the uprooting of ourselves from the external reality, because we are now sustained by the same reality existing anew within us.
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life - John 4:14
To live at all we must live in the Truth. To live in the Truth, we must be reconciled from our sin. To be reconciled from our sin, we must have that fundamental Truth that lays at the foundation of all reality planted within our hearts. To have the Truth planted in our hearts, we must receive the creator of that Truth, the Word, even Jesus Christ.
Jesus does not just come to invite us to join him in outer heaven, he comes to put heaven inside of us! And I do not mean that figuratively. Though I do not begin to understand how, in some way, entirely literally, Christ comes to put the seed of all created reality within our own being. All of the cosmos is made anew within us!
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. - Revelation 21:1-7
This is what it means to live in Truth!
I began this study with a simple objective: to make the case that the only way to live was to live in truth. Right from the beginning I understood that this concept was so fundamental that it would defy definition. It is axiomatic, something that is most often just assumed to be true, unprovable by conventional methods. I tried to make my case even so, approaching the subject in all manner of different ways. It has been a fruitful, if eclectic, enterprise. Not only am I more convinced of the soundness of this principle, I better understand why it is such a difficult thing to prove objectively.
I will help illustrate this as I gave my final observations. Here is the first half of the conclusion to all that I have found.
Realms of Truth)
One of the key things I came to realize through this study was the various realms of truth that we encounter in life. I found myself debating around three separate categories of truth at different times. Each of these categories had different levels of tangibility and effect, yet I observed that each seemed to follow the same pattern. Let us consider them each, one at a time.
First, there is the physical truth. This is the truth of our perceivable, material world. Scientists have long understood that our world is composed of systems and procedures, each reliable and consistent. There are clear rules that govern physics, chemistry, and geology. These rules can be directly observed and measured; that is how we know that they exist. They are true, and they are always true. What is more, these physical truths exist separately from our individual selves. We interact with the physical world, we cause certain of its rules to play out, we harness its systems for our own benefit, but we do not define or override its rules. For all the self-will we possess, we can only employ it within the confines of its laws. The physical truths simply are what they are, and even if all of us ceased to exist and there was no one left to recognize these truths, we are certain that they would continue regardless.
Secondly, there is the truth of a society. This truth is the state that we social beings exist within. It is comprised of all our individual selves, and the relationships that exist between us. It is the sum total of all our thoughts, feelings, words and beliefs, both within ourselves and towards each other. We cannot examine this social state as directly as we can the physical world, but logically we know that it must exist and have a true definition. For we all know that we have our own, personal state of being, and so the amalgamation of all our states must be a real state as well. Our experiences also suggests that this super-state moves by certain patterns and rules. There seem to be certain laws about how individuals, relationships, and societies grow and evolve, and philosophers and psychologists have spent countless years gleaning what nuggets of truth they can from these systems. Interestingly, while these patterns must emerge from us directly, we remain individually ignorant of how we contribute to them. We are like the particles of dust that fall in the physical world, our movements seeming to be individual and arbitrary when examined up close, but when taken as a whole, we see that the mass is subject to forces that underpin the whole. Thus, as with the physical world, the truth of this realm seems to emerge from something greater than the individual. It belongs to the species as a whole, yet it is clearly enmeshed in us as well.
Finally, we have the moral truth. This truth is defined by the laws of how we should govern ourselves. It is the principles that we should hold to, the ways that we can direct our efforts and our attention to harmonize with the thing that we call “good.” This truth is the most mystifying of them all. We cannot see it or measure it. We cannot graph its movements. All of us try to obscure it with our own agendas and selfish desires. And yet, in spite of all this confusion and denial, there still remains the universal conviction that moral truth is a reality. Every civilization has always believed in some form of it. Though we cannot see it, we can feel it. Like the two other realms of truth, we sense that it originates from somewhere outside of ourselves, and we believe in it so concretely that we are sure what is right would remain right, even if there was no one left to practice it. Also, though the moral truth originates outside of ourselves, it is inseparably integrated inside of us as well. It pulls at us, we interact with it, and it even emerges from out of us.
The Need to Follow)
To some degree, we all perceive and accept each of these realms of truth. We all have a basic understanding of the laws of nature, the laws of society, and the laws of morality. We know that we should live in harmony with each of them. We know that there are certain things we just shouldn’t do, because they will cause physical pain, or social rejection, or be immoral. We know that there are other things that we should do, because they will increase our safety and be the most direct means to achieving what we desire. In the physical world, the positive benefits of conducting ourselves according to the laws of gravity can be explicitly observed. In the social world, the benefits of doing to others what we would like to have done to ourselves can be implicitly inferred. In the spiritual world, the benefits of sacrifice to our higher power are intuitively believed.
And yet, in spite of all this knowledge, and inference, and belief, we still try to violate these truths repeatedly! We risk injury just to save a few seconds of time, we try to fool others into giving us what we want, and we try to satiate our base desires when we think God isn’t looking. And even after we are hurt for our defiance of truth, we will still test its limits again and again. There is a part of us that is converted to the truth on a conceptual level, but somewhere between that part and the carrying out of our actions there is another part that is not converted, and it overrides our better senses.
We know the truth, but we are not, ourselves, entirely truthful. As mentioned above, these truths all emanate from outside of ourselves, and so they are foreign objects to us. But at the same time, they also are integrated in our individual existence, and so they are our very own selves as well. This is a strange paradox, and because of it, mankind has ever been a creature perplexed.
I have something to say about what I have learned of how this incongruity is resolved, but I’ve run out of time. I shall take it up tomorrow. See you then.
I’ve spent the last few weeks talking about the truth, and how our souls are designed to live in harmony with it. This exercise has been helpful for me to mull over my inner thoughts and feelings, bringing them into fuller, rational definition. I have explored, I have discovered, and I have gathered into one place. The only things I haven’t done is sort and refine. It might be worth it to take my raw discoveries and organize and develop them. I will begin that process by giving a summary and categorization of my study thus far. Any further work beyond that would probably be better taken offline.
For today I am going to step through all of my past posts, summarizing the key takeaways for each one. Then, starting tomorrow, I will give my overall conclusion on the matter.
I began this study by establishing my thesis: that only a life founded upon the truth was truly joyful and free. I began by considering which of all the people I know live in the truth most consistently. The group I settled on was addicts in recovery, and I noted the surprisingly joyful and meaningful lives that they lead.
Next I considered the importance of truth in other aspects of the world. First I looked at the physical truths necessary in aviation, and then the dangers of untruth in propositional logic. There may not be an obvious connection between these realms and that of our own personal behavior, at least not from our limited, mortal perspective, but the fact that truth is clearly essential in these other domains gives a strong suggestion that it would also be so in matters of self-governance.
I then moved on to arguing against putting untrue perspectives on other people. I said that it harmed them by separating them from reality and inadvertently reinforcing harmful messages. I explained that this complicated and frustrated individuals’ efforts to secure the basic good things that we all desire in life. I also pointed out that we put this harm on others due to incredible personal arrogance, and that the logic of deluding one another becomes untenable when scaled globally. I concluded that if it is demonstrably wrong to deceive others and cause them to live separately from the truth, then surely it is wrong for us to choose to live separate from the truth ourselves also.
Of course, it isn’t the case that we always know exactly how we’re deluding ourselves, though. I explained that we often need the help of another to see ourselves clearly, and that we block ourselves from the truth because we aren’t prepared to deal with it. Thus, even if we decide to live in the truth, it will take some special revelation to know what the requisite changes we then need to make are.
I also pointed out that even if we do recognize what our failings are, we might try to dismiss and minimize them, admitting what is true with our words, but hoping to get ahead through a little deception on the side. We have to learn to bring all of us into alignment with the truth, or our practice is only theoretical and basically useless.
I then related my own experiences with living in varying degrees of truthfulness. I described states of being oblivious to my falsehoods, and also of striving against them, and finally of periods of joyful congruity between with the truth. From my own experiences I sincerely believe that all of us can come to live in harmony with the truth, even while acknowledging that first we all struggle with being hypocrites and liars, myself included.
Finally, at one point I explained our need for an external truth. I made the case that we need the truth to be defined objectively and separately from any one person. It is essential that it is dictated by God, Himself, and given to us through divine words. This is the one truth that all of us must seek alignment to, and anything else that claims to be the truth is a counterfeit, and will not produce the full joy and freedom that we might otherwise have.
That is everything that I have explored thus far, tomorrow I will give the first half my final conclusion on the matter.
In my last post I shared how I have at times been oblivious to the inconsistencies and hypocrisy inside of me. I explained that I have moments where some external factor reveals to me that I am not living in harmony with the ideals and truths that I hold most dear. I also shared how at other times I know what my inconsistencies are, and I am genuinely striving against them, but I am unable to achieve total self-control. I am being truthful in my purposes, even if not in my outcomes. These two states represent my lower states of truthfulness, and today I will conclude by detailing the highest state that I have lived in as well.
Living in Truth)
Thankfully, not all of my experiences have been obliviously hypocritical or frustratingly impotent. I really have had some moments and some areas where I have been in harmony with the truth I feel inside. Having had these experiences in some areas of life is what gives me hope of ultimate victory in all the rest.
Perhaps the strongest of these experiences came nearly six years ago when I committed to an addiction recovery program. I overthrew the lies I had lived with by fearlessly confessing to the truth. The result was that my whole being came into alignment with the sort of person I wanted to be. I was honest, creative, healthy, and hopeful. Who I portrayed myself to be, who I wanted to be, and who I actually was were all the same person, or at least they the closest to being the same person than they had ever been before.
All the credit that I deserve for this state of life was that I was willing to finally reject falsehood. I demanded the truth of myself, and then grace seemed to come into my being and make all of my different parts work together. This was union through divine intervention, as any true union must always be.
Having lived the full gamut I can certainly say which levels of integrity are more happy and joyful. Being oblivious to my hypocrisy had a seductive bliss to it, but eventually the truth always revealed itself, and then I was in for a sharp awakening. Realizing my fundamental failing has been, at times, a crushing experience, for I often don’t have any clue how I am supposed to grow past it.
Trying, but slipping, is actually better than being oblivious. It is more constantly agitated than being oblivious, but it does have a hope to it. Even though I keep falling back to where I started, there is a hopefulness in my scrappy efforts. I’m trying because I think I can make it, and I find a sense of self-decency because I’m really trying to live what I preach.
Best of all, of course, is actually living in the truth. There is such a massive weight that is removed when I feel that I am genuinely being the person I was born to be. It truly does feel like a gift, though, not an accomplishment. Overwhelming gratitude, therefore, is my single, constant emotion.
Have defined these different states of my life, I must confess that the mode of transitioning from one to the is largely still a mystery to me. It is something that confounds and at times frustrates me, how to go from oblivion, to striving, to inner peace. It is a quest well worth the effort of a lifetime, though, and I will continue to seek my way no matter what comes.
This series has already gone on for longer than most of my others, and I think it has also been more disorganized and rambling as well. I’m sorry if its meandering manner has put you off. This blog is my place for me to mull over the very things that I’m grappling with personally. You’re reading the transcript of my thoughts as they are happening, and it doesn’t make for the tidiest structure. This topic in particular has been a real puzzler, because it has been a back-and-forth fight in my own life to fully orient myself to the truth. I am so weary of knowing better and doing worse and feeling guilty, so I am perplexed by this problem, and I believe this study has reflected that fact.
I understand if watching me grapple with these problems in such an unrefined way isn’t particularly useful for you, and no one should feel obligated to stick around if they’d be better served elsewhere. I think I’ve muddled around in this area for nearly long enough, though. I have one last topic I want to cover, then I will try to summarize what I’ve discovered in all this exploration.
I will spend this post and the next sharing the different degrees that I have oriented myself to the truth in my own life. I’ll cover my least and middling truthful states today, then progress to my most truthful mode tomorrow.
The most difficult flaws to remedy are the ones you never see. I have been guilty of attesting that I hold certain values most dear, while then suggesting otherwise in my actions. For example, I have maintained that my family is of utmost importance to me, and yet I have been detached and distracted from them by the most trivial of things. It is a sharp return to reality when my children ask me why I’ve been staring at my phone all day instead of playing with them.
It’s discouraging to realize that I’ve been a hypocrite, and even more shocking is that I wasn’t even aware of that hypocrisy until someone called me out on it. I’ve been so detached from the needs of others that I didn’t even realize I was neglecting them. The presence of my children’s father in their lives really matters, and if I say that I truly believe that to be true, then I ought to live like it.
I think I find myself in these moments of self-betrayal because I am tricked by my immediate desires. One of the key reasons why I am lost in my phone is because that is a low-energy activity, and I am feeling tired. But often I only feel tired because I didn’t get to bed at a good time the night before. Now when I stay up late, I don’t consciously think to myself “I am choosing personal entertainment now over being present with my children tomorrow,” but that’s ultimately how it turns out.
Another way that I am seduced by my immediate desires is that I have a thought pop into my head of something I want to look up, and I think that I can do it real quick and be back before anyone notices the absence of my attention. I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I’m trying to have my personal interests met while simultaneously creating the illusion of constant presence. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t work. Even if I did pull of the charade, and no one ever caught on, I would still be being dishonest.
Trying, but Slipping)
I also have areas where I fully recognize that I’m not living in harmony with what I know to be true, and I am genuinely trying as hard as I can to correct that. Or at least, I’m trying as hard as I can until I become frustrated by the fact that I’m still not changing, and I give up on the whole endeavor. I try to force myself into alignment with the truth, but it seems the harder I try, the more quickly I fail. How can I feel so passionate about the need to take care of my body, for example, and make such strong commitments to live differently, and then still break my diet again and again? Really, if I could have one wish, I would simply want to be able to live like the man I already want to be.
As I’ve spent time in therapy and twelve-step groups I think that my dramatic efforts to force myself into a particular way of life are getting in my own way. I need to be able to surrender control and let my Higher Power carry me. But then, I start wondering why I do so poorly at surrendering to God. I try to surrender “better,” and that just means I’ve taken it all right back to myself. Instead of trying to change myself by my own power, now I’m trying to earn grace by my own power, and that is a contradiction.
I will say, I do take some comfort in the fact that I do keep coming back to this place of trying, though. After I get burned out and discouraged and give up and walk away, I do always come back. I feel proud of the fact that I keep trying to orient myself to the truth, regardless of the frustration. That means I am being truthful in my intentions, if not in my results. I have hope that at some point I’ll be able to find the proper harmony if I keep trying again.
What is Truth?)
I have spent quite a while examining different reasons for why one should live in accordance with the truth, and I have been calling out the ways that we try to excuse ourselves from doing so. Hopefully each one of us will be convinced at some point that we must live in harmony with fundamental truth, aligning ourselves to the universal good.
But, even if we do come to this conviction, we may find a new question that takes its place. It is the same question that Pilate famously posed to Christ: “What is truth?” It seems that the answer to that should be obvious, but any serious examination on the matter will soon uncover a few issues. Most particularly, we will likely find it difficult to distinguish what is THE TRUTH from merely “my truth.”
Consider that many of us hold different principles inside of us that we identify with the truth. Two men confronted by the same injustice might be stirred by their conscience to two different actions. One of them might feel called to meekly endure the offense, remaining patient and longsuffering. On the other hand, the other man might feel compelled to stand up for what is right and challenge the oppressor. Frankly, neither of these reactions feels fundamentally wrong to me. Perhaps towards less severe injustices the passive response seems more fitting, and towards grievous injustices the bold response, but there is a great deal of overlap where either seem entirely appropriate, and I would not call any person wrong for behaving one way or the other. But at the same time, in a single person each response is mutually exclusive to the other. So which way is actually correct?
Furthermore, two men acting in sincere accordance with their conscience is one thing, but what about the issue of us misidentifying our wants with our conscience? I’m sure we can all call out social movements that claim to be based in truth and conscience, but which are clearly just justification for selfish and immoral practices. Making matters even more complicated, while sometimes we know in our hearts that we are being dishonest, most often we really do delude ourselves into thinking that our own personal wants just happen to align with what is cosmically right. How can I recognize what is actually true, and what is just me trying to get my own way?
A Point of Reference)
Both of the issues that I have presented are a result of defining the truth locally. If each person is let alone to define their “own truth,” then there will be as many distinct truths as there are people. We will probably each settle on some genuine pieces of conscience, but also much that is colored by personality or selfish desire. Aligning ourselves with “our truth” will therefore disappoint us, both on a personal and universal level. On the personal level, it will disappoint us because we will come out looking very much the same as who we already are. We will not have any sense of transcendence, of having been called up and made into something new and better. On the universal level, we will never have unity and common purpose. We will remain entrenched in embittered battles against one another, everyone convinced of their own rightness above all others.
If this enterprise of humanity is to move forward, then there absolutely has to be some underlying, fundamental truth established outside of all of us that we can each defer to. There has to be an external truth that is real and consistent, so that we may all come into union when we separately align ourselves to it. If the truth is defined by a person, or if it is shifting in its nature, then we will never find harmony with either conscience or community.
If, however, we do settle upon a universal truth that exists outside of us all, then both of the issues mentioned above are resolved. Now we have a standard that all other “self-truths” can be compared against. Selfish desires, misinterpreted as truth, are immediately recognized as such and discarded. Also, in the example of the two men choosing differently, but according to their genuine conscience, it is possible that the universal truth is broad enough to harmonize with both decisions. While the universal truth will certainly never contradict itself, it does seem reasonable to me that it could allow some range of individual, moral choice within its domain.
Is it any wonder, then, that the bedrock of every civilization has been religion? Be it the Bible, or the Quran, or the Torah, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the words of Buddha, each culture has composed itself around words that are said to have descended from on high. They might have come through the mouths of prophets and sages, but they are not interpreted as the words of those prophets and sages. They are understood to be the words of the external, of the divine, of God in some form or another.
Cultures that detach themselves from sacred truth do not remain cultures for long. As a society they break apart and become an anarchy. As individuals they become stunted and cease to improve their situation. They lag behind the rest of the world, both technologically and ethically, and they are soon destroyed by the whims of the world.
So, going back to our idea that only the life founded upon the truth is free, even after we accept this fact we still have to identify what the truth really is. And in order to do this, we’re going to have to find a source outside of ourselves, and outside of any other person. At some point we’re going to have to find God and discover THE TRUTH for ourselves. Choosing to found ourselves upon the truth is therefore no mere decision that we make once in our current place and then have the matter resolved. Choosing to be founded upon the truth means deciding to go on a great journey. It is a quest of exploration, discovery, and refinement, and it will last us the rest of our lives and then some!
There is a common saying: “do as I say, not as I do.” One typically gives it when exposed as not living what they preach. I must admit I feel a twinge of guilt every time I tell my children not to eat sweets before their dinner…but then I violate that rule myself all the time. It’s not that I don’t believe what I’m telling my kids, it’s just that I’m not as disciplined as I ought to be.
Of course, there is a great honesty in being able to admit that we aren’t living how we know we should. Being aware of this gap between our convictions and our behaviors is, in the conscientious person, the first step to closing that distance. One who is sincerely trying to rectify this inconsistency is acknowledging that they are not currently built upon the truth, but they are in the process of moving towards it.
If, on the other hand, we recognize the gap between our behavior and what is right, but we aren’t troubled enough by that difference to try and change, then we are living without integrity. We are pointing at the flaw in our foundation and saying, “I’m okay to live with that.” We are establishing for ourselves a hierarchy where the conscience is made inferior to our current level of comfort.
Which is, of course, is another character flaw. In fact, it is a more fundamental flaw than the one that we started with. As bad as any other shortcoming might be, even more damning than it is unwillingness to change. This is the one crack in our foundation that prevents all other cracks from being patched. One might notice a logical conundrum here: if one has the flaw of being unwilling to change, how can one change themself to stop being that way? Is their situation totally hopeless? Thankfully not! We have to remember that we are divine souls, not machines. Our flaws are not irreversibly programmed into us. We have the ability to choose the very things we have never been willing to choose before. Not only that, but we also have the capacity to be redeemed by divine intervention, having changes made in us by God that we did not have the power to make ourselves.
Progress, not Perfection)
Compare the mantra of “do as I say, not as I do,” to the oft-told story of Gandhi and sugar. It is said that a woman came to Gandhi, asking him to tell her son that he should cut sugar out of his diet. Gandhi agreed, but first asked the woman to leave with her son and come back a number of weeks later. The woman did so, and in the second meeting Gandhi gave the desired counsel to the son. The woman was grateful, but asked Gandhi why he couldn’t have just had the talk with her son when she came the first time. His response was that he could not tell the son to stop eating sugar, because at that time he was still eating sugar, too!
This story, whether true or not, illustrates the principle of choosing to change oneself rather than be a hypocrite. This isn’t to say that we must all be perfect before we can advocate for what is true, but at the very least it should be expected that we are actually, genuinely trying to do the things we counsel to others.
This is what we aspire to: genuine trying. As it says in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book: “No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles… We claim spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.” Those that sincerely try to live in accordance with their conscience will all fall short, but because their intentions are sincerely aligned with the truth, they are still in harmony with it. If we try to play our notes at our sincere best, even if we occasionally get some of them wrong we are still part of the music.
The Fearful Secret)
Yesterday I shared the story of the rich, young ruler and Jesus. It is an example of how our Maker is able to reveal to us exactly who we really are, all of the happy truths about ourselves, and all of the difficult truths as well. I suggested that sometimes we need that outside help to know what’s really going on inside of us, because there seems to be a subconscious part inside that frustrates our efforts to figure that out. I suggested that one reason why that inner part hides the truth might be because it believes we won’t take those issues on even if we know what they are. It would rather leave us dissatisfied, but blissfully ignorant, than to have us live in full exposure to our most basic flaws.
But this isn’t the only sort of deception that happens within ourselves. When I was living my pornography addiction, I knew full well what I was doing and why it was wrong. I was not deceived about myself, but I did deceive the world. I did everything in my power to conceal this secret shame. I hated to even be around when the topic of pornography was discussed, yet I would behave as though I was fervently committed in renouncing its evil. Why did I play this charade? Why did I feel like it would absolutely kill me to say “I do this behavior that I am ashamed of?” Why am I now able to discuss it openly and not feel such a terrible terror at being exposed?
I’ve given this some thought, and I’ve settled on what I think is a key difference between where I am now and where I was then. The reason I couldn’t talk about the hard realities of my life earlier was because I hadn’t yet been forgiven.
For someone who was terrified of ever talking about my addiction, I suddenly found myself doing it a very good deal all at once. As soon as I decided to come clean to my wife I realized that I also needed to speak with an ecclesiastical leader. Once I spoke with my ecclesiastical leader he told me that I needed to meet with a recommended therapist. After the first meeting with my therapist he convinced me to enroll in an addiction recovery program and have weekly meetings with a group of other men in recovery.
Over and over and over I was relating to people all that I had been secretly doing for years. Even in these safe places I felt very distressed about this. After I made my confessions I would wake up each day in absolute shock for what I had done. I felt like I was still asleep, stuck in a bad dream, hoping that I would yet wake up and realize I hadn’t done this terrible thing!
Again, I’d like to draw your attention to the story I shared yesterday of Jesus and the rich, young ruler. After Jesus exposed the man’s love for wealth we are told that the man went away “grieving” (Mark 10:22). He was emotionally distressed to have his weakness revealed, and that was exactly how I felt. Clearly I was a long way from my situation today, where I can speak candidly about my personal demons with complete strangers online in a blog post!
When I consider what experiences helped me to shift my feelings, I have two memories come to mind. One was the moment where I was accepted back into full fellowship with my church and was able to partake of its communion. The other was during a spiritual retreat in the mountains where I felt God express His love and approval of me on an extremely fundamental level. Together those two experiences represented my transition from being condemned by my sins to being forgiven of them.
After those experiences I could speak more freely and openly about my wrongs because…well…they just didn’t matter any more. Certainly I don’t make light of them, or minimize the harm that they caused, but frankly they just aren’t my burden to carry any longer. Christ took them from me, and now they are his to deal with.
Losing the Burden)
When we feel like we would rather die than reveal our worst secrets, that is an indication that we are still unforgiven. We feel the full weight of guilt, of unworthiness, of despair. We live a lie because we know that the truth will damn us. The rich, young ruler wasn’t ready to have his flaw resolved, so he remained damned by it, unforgiven, and he left Jesus in a state of grief. I don’t believe his story had to end that way, though. When we take the step of telling the truth and admitting that it damns us, we open the door to being saved from that destruction by the Savior. Instead of being consumed, we find ourselves forgiven. The rich, young ruler could have confessed that Jesus saw him rightly, and that this flaw would damn him, and then he could have asked for to be healed, just as the blind and the lame had done. I believe that Christ would have done it, and the man would have been made free. Then he wouldn’t have to sorrow, he would be able to tell of his experience and his transformation freely and with joy.