Dealing With Failure- Personal Example #1

I want to explain a little more of my personal experiences, and the two conundrums that inspired this particular topic of study. The first of these deals with the steps of repentance I was taught to follow as a child.

I understood that to repent I must sincerely feel sorrow for what I had done wrong, confess my wrongs to God and anyone else I had harmed, make restitution as possible, and then not do that behavior anymore.

Now I actually think this description for repentance is fine, when understood as a process, and not a singular event, particularly in regards to that last step. I do believe that there are times that you can swear off a certain behavior forever, but far more common is that even when I feel genuine sorrow for my wrongs and wish to never do them again…I probably will at some point.

Thus there were times that I was told I needed to repent of a misdeed, and if I did it again, was asked why I hadn’t really repented, as I was still showing the same wrong behavior. And this was quite disheartening, and eroded my confidence in my ability to repent and become a better person.

Yes, at times, I needed to be more sincere in my efforts to improve, but also there were times when I actually was improving, I simply had not attained perfection yet. In those moments I believe I would have been greatly helped by an understanding that sometimes repentance means not repeating the wrong behavior…eventually. It means we try again and again, recommitting after each slip, doing the wrong thing less and less, soldiering on through the process of letting God change our hearts, until finally we no longer are subject to that sin.

Our Own Reality- Summary

One of the reasons this study occurred to me was the deep conflict of opinions I have seen in the world recently. People has always found it simpler to vilify those that embrace a different reality from their own, rather than accept that “the other side” might have legitimate reasons for the reality that they perceive.

In my experience, though, the first step to improving world problems is to consider one’s own failings in that regard. Before I can try to bridge the gap between other peoples’ realities, I have to be able to understand my own reality, the reasons why I hold it, and whether it is valid. Because yes, some of my perspectives have been detached from truth, and I’ll never be the one to judge right from wrong until I have taken any beams out of my own eye first.

In this study I considered ways to recognize truth from error, how to correct my flaws, and how to know when I stand on truer ground. Here are a few of the principles I learned along the way.

Reality is Personal

The first thing I have come to realize is that the reality I perceive is far from objective. It is extremely biased. In fact I tend to view the world with the same lens as the one I view myself with. Thus the entire world becomes a place of deceit and suspicion when I am hiding personal shame, and the entire world becomes a place of potential and grace when I am forthcoming.
But of course coming to this realization is a tricky thing to do. Most often we deny that there is any bias to our perspective whatsoever. Our perspective, we maintain, is one based on common sense, the natural truth that anyone can see for themselves if they would just look. And anyone that disagrees with it must therefore be delusional or a liar, for they are denying fundamental truth.
Taken to the most extreme, we feel a deeply personal attack whenever another disagrees with our perspective, and then there is no greater cause than to get them to understand just how very, very wrong they are.
Matthew 7:4- Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Proverbs 21:2- Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

A More True Personal Truth

Fortunately, there is a way to live other than in this war of isolated realities. Because the way we view the external world is based on how we view our inner self, we can cultivate a truer perspective by first cultivating a truer inner self. In fact, putting our focus on the self first is the only way we’ll ever achieve a proper view of the world.
So if I want to see reality in a way that is objectively true, I need to cease living as a contradiction. Not only a contradiction in how what I do differs from what I say, but also in how what I do and say differs from what I think and feel. In short, I need to live with integrity.
The more aligned I become with that spark of divinity God put in me, the more I am living in harmony with my conscience, the more I am consistent in every facet of life, the more I will start to see the world in a way that is actually true. I will start to see the world the same way that God sees it.
Matthew 7:5- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Psalm 24:3-4- Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

Reality as a Choice

And so the reality we hold is ultimately a matter of choice, not of chance. It is a matter of choice in that the environment we choose, the sources we listen to, and the patterns we implement will all bleed into how we view the world. Whether we choose those thoughtfully or not, still we are choosing. And if we don’t make a conscious choice of it, then we are making an unconscious choice, one that is heavily influenced, and influenced by others that do not necessarily have our best interests at heart.
But also there is another way in which we choose our reality, too. For while our perspectives are usually altered slowly and imperceptibly, there are also key moments where we make a dramatic and conscious decision for what reality we will pursue.
These might come after our daily practices have softened our hearts to the point that we can accept a reality we had previously been averse to. It might come when we encounter a testimony that moves us powerfully, and makes us reconsider other long-held beliefs. These are critical junctures in life, and though we might make up all manner of reasons in them to not follow our conscience, we must be true to our better nature or else our growth will come to a stop.
Acts 26:27-28- King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

Alma 18:24, 33- And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

Our Own Reality- Proverbs 13:20, 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV)

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

COMMENTARY

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
Some of us believe that the company we keep won’t affect who we are, neither the media we consume, nor the interests we pursue. We believe that we can give an ear to corrupt minds, yet still retain our pure convictions. We believe that we can take mixed entertainment, yet look past the depravity that comes with it. After all, Jesus was a companion of sinners, wasn’t he? And he still retained all of his morals, didn’t he?
That is true…but also Jesus never succumbed to temptation, a feat that none of us can claim. Also there is quite a difference between lifting those in the world versus being a part of that world.
The simple truth is that we are far less impervious to our surroundings than we might imagine. For better and worse, the environment we dwell in does become a part of us. You might not be paranoid now, but spend your time researching conspiracy theories, and sooner or later you’ll start to believe them. You might not feel very spiritual now, but spend your time among the devout, and sooner or later you’ll start seeing the hand of God around you.
Thus a thin man might eat a fatty meal one day and look himself in the mirror and say “I am still thin…clearly fatty food has no effect on me.” Or an obese man might eat a lean meal and also see no effect. But if they continue with it over time, gradually the fat will become the first man and the lean will become the second. For reality becomes our repeated experience.

Our Own Reality- Isaiah 28:9-10, 2 Nephi 26:22

Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, forever.

COMMENTARY

Precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
And he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords
Though they are opposite in their intentions, both God and the Devil have learned the art of subtlety. God knows that milk must come before meat in conversion to the gospel, and Satan knows that small indiscretions must precede serious sin when damning a soul.
The gradual change that is effected by each is to transform our perceived reality. They entice us to small actions that make us grow more tender or more callous in our perspective, make us shift our priorities, make us live a different lifestyle.
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that our lens of reality is unchanging. But it is not. It changes, it just does so very slowly. We have all had friends and families who were once a certain way, but then transformed to the opposite. Our friends and family might say that we have done the same. Perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse. But in either case, that change most often comes slowly, almost imperceptibly.
Thus we are very wise and forward-thinking if we not only ask ourselves what our beliefs are now, but also consider how our small, seemingly inconsequential behaviors today will change those beliefs over time. Thus the thoughtful cynic can choose practices which will slowly give him a more hopeful heart, while the thoughtless optimist might be duped into adopting practices which slowly give him a jaded outlook.

Our Own Reality- Moses 1:9-10, John 4:9

Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

COMMENTARY

How is it that thou askest drink of me? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans
The woman at the well had an understood reality: that Jews hated the Samaritans, and would have nothing to do with them. Thus her confusion when that reality was disrupted by Christ’s willingness to converse with her.
However this was just the beginning of the new realities that she was about to become acquainted with. For as we see in the next verse, Jesus then began to open her mind to the notion of living water. This is a reality that she struggles with initially, confusing it with a literal water, and not a spiritual nourishment. Bit-by-bit Jesus has to guide her through the first steps into this strange new world.

Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed
After his encounter with the Lord, Moses found his reality disrupted as well. Each of us is by default well acquainted with the reality of earth life, in which man is the highest form of existence. And while the reality of earth life is real, it is not the only reality that is real. There is also a heaven, a God, and in that broader reality man is a very small thing indeed.
Like the woman at the well, stepping into the greater reality might be awkward at first. Like Moses, we might find that doing so requires accepting uncomfortable facts, such as our own nothingness. But the greater reality is real and it is greater. It is only to our own benefit that we make the transition.

The Doing Muscle- Judges 7:2-5

And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.
Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.
And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.

COMMENTARY

And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands
And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many
In the story of Gideon’s army, we learn how the Lord filtered his forces down, then filtered them down again. The first cut, in which all the soldiers with any fear were sent home, was not enough, there was more purifying that needed to follow.
In my own life I have also found that I am purified by degrees. For today there are certain practices that I must strive for, and if I accomplish them then that is well for today. But tomorrow…it is time to be purified even further.
There is a temptation when we have achieved our goals to not set new ones that extend further. It is all too easy to say that now we are “good enough” and this half our progress. The problem with this is that complacency is soon followed by deterioration. Rather than let a milestone be the end of our journey, it is better to let it be a signpost pointing still onward.

For Our Own Good- Matthew 13:44-46

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

COMMENTARY

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure in a field
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant seeking goodly pearls

I concluded my last post with a casual reference to the parable of the pearl of great price. The more I think about it, the more that parable is really quite fitting for this topic of dealing with commandments that we don’t understand.
The merchant finding the pearl of great price is us discovering the true value of the gospel. It is the moment where it really clicks in us, where ideas like grace and healing go from just being words to being very real hopes and needs.

Which when a man hath found, he selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it
And when that message does click in our hearts, then suddenly we will surrender every other ideology or philosophy we held previous to that moment, if it means that we can obtain the promises of the gospel.
Perhaps we had certain ideas of the way the world worked, ideas that were not compatible with the principles of the gospel. We let them go, it just doesn’t matter. Perhaps we scoffed at certain commandments, perhaps we still don’t understand them in their entirety. We adopt them anyway, it just doesn’t matter.
Because like the man buying the field and the merchant purchasing the pearl, once we feel that need for God in our lives, we’ll do whatever it takes to be near Him.

For Our Own Good- Exodus 3:16-17, 4:10

Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:
And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanite, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.

COMMENTARY

Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The Lord God will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanite
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue
Yesterday we spoke of how each of us requires a “mighty change of heart” in our lives. I believe that many would say they agree with that statement, but then specify that for them it is a cosmetic change only, not a structural one. Meaning we most often feel that the underlying desires of our heart are already perfect, and we just need to follow them better. We see our actions as flawed, but our paradigms as perfect,
However, as we see in this scripture, that wasn’t the case with Moses. He was already a good and honest man whom the Lord was willing to reveal Himself to, yet Moses still needed to change his image of what was right in order to keep the commandment that God was giving to him.
Similarly, Sariah was a good and faithful woman whose heart wasn’t ready to receive a child, and Abraham’s heart wasn’t ready to receive the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Peter needed an intervention to consider the Gentiles as worthy of receiving the gospel. Jonah wanted the city of Nineveh to be burned, contrary to the Lord’s will. These were all good people, yet people who still needed to change.
God does not only intend to change the hearts of the wicked and sinful, but even of the righteous. His intention is not to make us into the best people that we can imagine, but even into people that we have never before considered.

For Our Own Good- Alma 5:12-13, Jeremiah 31:33

And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.
And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

COMMENTARY

According to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart
After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts
I do believe that most of us try to follow our conscience and live as best we know how. We may all be at different stages of how well we adhere to that pricking of our heart, but we are at least trying to follow it to some degree. And I believe most of us would like to take that guide in our hearts, and ever strive to improve on that, and that alone.
Yet the scriptures speak of a different experience. They speak of “mighty changes of heart.” They speak of people who thought they knew what they were supposed to do, and then discovered that they ought do something else instead. Saul’s problem was not that he needed to follow his convictions more firmly, it was that he needed to throw them out and replace them with entirely new ones!
Our hearts are good and our consciences are wonderful. We will do very well just by adhering to them alone. But we are also somewhat flawed and misaligned, and if we are ever to find our true potential we have to accept that there are convictions of ours that have to be released, and convictions that aren’t ours which have to be adopted. A mighty change of heart is necessary for us all.

For Our Own Good- 1 Timothy 1:9-10, 12-13

Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

COMMENTARY

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief
Yesterday we discussed that the proper attitude towards the commandments requires one to sincerely want to change who they are. Until then, our pride will prevent us from taking the gospel’s advice at face value.
When I came to admit my own failing, when I felt the guilt of my wrongs, when I genuinely wanted to change…I found that I didn’t know, by myself, what the right way forward was. That isn’t to say that I didn’t have opinions for how to “fix” myself, but I just didn’t trust my perspectives anymore. I didn’t want to follow the advice of an addict like myself, I wanted to be guided by someone who had a clear mind and a pure heart.
And so I started giving the gospel and the lifestyle it teaches the benefit of the doubt. Some things I still didn’t understand the immediate importance of, but it was coming from a source that I trusted, so I would try it. Like Paul, I felt that Jesus was enabling me, that following his principles were changing me from what I was before.