To Live Freely: Part Twelve

Integrity)

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.

To Live Freely: Part Eleven

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.

Coming Clean)

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.

To Live Freely: Part Ten

The Unnamed Delusion)

In my last post I spoke about how many of us believe that the right and proper way to live is in accordance with the truth, yet at the same time we lie to everyone, including ourselves, about all the wrongs that we do. We are each a person divided, feeling the truth in our heart, transgressing it in our bodies, and refusing to acknowledge the gap in our minds.

Quite frankly, we avoid the hard truths on such a regular basis that we typically don’t even notice that we do it. The fabrications we soothe ourselves with are so practiced and so regular that they don’t even register. Thus, we might examine the general state of our life and admit that something feels off, that it seems we must be living under some self-delusion, but genuinely have no idea what that delusion even is. How can we make a change if we cannot name what the change that we need to make is?

This idea of knowing the name of our hidden, inner truths has its roots in many ancient cultures. There has long been a notion that if you know the true name of an entity, then you could gain power over it. I have seen for myself that there really is something to this. Sometimes the entire battle has been simply to correctly label the problem that I’m struggling with. Other times, it is only the first battle in the war of a lifetime. In either case, it is always the first step towards overcoming that part of my self.

So how do we identify the real, sometimes unpleasant truths lurking inside?

In many cases we we are so close to the issues that we can’t see them clearly, and we need to be shown them from an outside perspective. That might mean having a deeply earnest conversation with a trusted family member or friend. It might mean soliciting the professional insights of a qualified therapist. Certainly it means getting on our knees and asking our Maker to reveal ourselves to us.

The Great Physician)

Let us never forget that this is one of Christ’s essential roles. During his sojourn on Earth he demonstrated his ability to diagnose the state of a person’s soul. He was able to reveal people to themselves, to cut straight to the heart and show them the truth plainly. Let us consider one example of this, the story of Christ and the rich, young ruler (Mark 10:17-22)

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

At first Jesus gives the man a general answer, listing out all the basic things that everyone is instructed to do. But the man is sincere and earnest and he wants more than this. He does all of these things already, he always has, still he questions what he must do to inherit eternal life.

We aren’t told explicitly the young man’s inner thoughts, but I cannot help but wonder if he was much like the sort of person I described above: knowing that something was off, but not knowing what. Perhaps he could tell in his heart that there was something lacking within him, some difficult truth about himself that he had not identified, and he needed the help of the Master to know what it was.

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

Jesus respects the man’s earnestness by finally giving him the real answer. The young man was indeed obedient and faithful, but Jesus reveals to him the fundamental flaw still at his core was his love of wealth. That dependency on the worldly things was what still stood between him and God. Clearly it was an accurate diagnosis, too, for the man made no attempt to dispute the matter, nor to correct his attitude. He had been seen–really seen–what was inside and he was distressed by what was revealed.

I do believe that one of the reasons we conceal our hard truths from ourselves is because we know that we won’t deal with the problem if we open the door to it. Part of us has decided that it is better to be forever agitated by “something” feeling off inside, but not knowing what it is, than to know what the problem is and be crushed by our inability or unwillingness to do anything about it.

The secret-keeper inside of us says, “Yes, you are a slave. But you’re not ready to risk everything for a rebellion, so why should I show you who your master is? Better that you just go home and try to forget everything about this.”

Optimism in a Falling World- Numbers 23:19, Isaiah 55:8-9

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

COMMENTARY

God is not a man, that he should lie; hath he said, and shall he not do it?
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. My ways are higher than your ways

Sometimes a friend might ask me to join a cause and I don’t have faith in it. Usually this is because I can see flaws in the design, or I question his motives, or because even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. We are imperfect humans, and many of the plans we conceive of are complete folly, unworthy of trust and faith from others.
And sometimes I think we take the skepticism we have for the plans of men, and we bring it into our view of God’s plans as well. We hear bold claims in the gospel like how Jesus came to save the entire world (John 3:16, John 12:46-47) and it sound incredible. We are invited to be a part of that work and are told that by small and simple things we may have a tremendous effect in this world (Alma 37:6-7) and it sounds impossible.
We hear such tremendous, sweeping claims and we struggle to believe in them because we are so acquainted with tremendous, sweeping claims ending in utter failure. It goes against all the ways of this world to trust in a plan that is so grand. But of course, when we hold this skepticism it means we are viewing God and His capabilities as being the same as that of man. And as today’s verses firmly attest “God is not a man.” The same limitations do not apply to Him, nor to us when we act in His cause.

A Surety of Truth- Colossians 3:23, Ecclesiastes 9:10

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

COMMENTARY

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might

We have discussed the inherent difficulty in being completely sure of our convictions. We all have our opinions of what we think is right, but we’re probably not 100% correct on the matter. But it would be wrong, because of that uncertainty, to paralyze ourselves into inaction. We do not have to understand all things perfectly before we begin to move forward. We can simply try our best, even if our best has some flaws right now.
Indeed, this is the pattern advocated for several times in the scriptures, including the two verses shared above. We are meant to act boldly and confidently, we are meant to live our convictions with a passion. Do the best that you know to do now. Do it wholeheartedly.
And then, during that, be open to learning an even better way later on. And when you receive that improvement, then do that wholeheartedly. Thus we are always moving forward, and doing so straighter and straighter the farther we go.

A Surety of Truth- Matthew 7:4, Proverbs 21:1, John 18:38

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?

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

COMMENTARY

How wilt thou say, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes
I examined in my previous study how each of us is biased and flawed in our own way. Each of us has our personal way of making mistakes. But though this shortcoming applies to us all, we often refuse to see ourselves this way. Most of us tend to see our perspective as being perfectly right, even after receiving evidence to the contrary.
The truth is that we inevitably have limitations and errors in both our observation and our reason. The truth is that we will inevitably misconstrue some things. But instead of accept this, we still assume that we see rightly, and then we warp reality to try and make sense of the insensible.

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?
Fortunately, we do not have to remain so deluded forever. Some are able to break out of their arrogance and admit their failings. For some of us this will only occur when our mistaken beliefs cause us serious harm, and we are forced to face the fact that we are blind guides, stumbling about in vain.
Having made this admission, we are somewhat enlightened. We are able to admit that we are biased, and unable to discern authentic truth on our own. But then there is a danger of entering another delusion. Like Pilate, we might then become cynical, doubting that there is any such thing as universal truth. If we cannot be entirely sure of what is perfectly right, it is tempting to soothe ourselves with the claim that there is no perfectly right.
Assuming that there is no truth is just as deluded as when we believed we had no fault. We have traded one extreme for another, and are still trying to project our own limited perspective on the rest of the world. There is still a better way.

Our Dual Nature- 2 Nephi 2:22-25

And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

COMMENTARY

Having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin
It is true that one cannot see in pitch darkness. But also one cannot see in blinding light. Vision only works by varying degrees of contrast between the two. Damnation can be living in a state of suffering, but it can also be living in a state of complete numbness. At its root damnation means simply to never progress, and one cannot progress if there do not exist both forces and opposite forces. It is only in the interplay of these contrasting forces that an entity is able to move, to turn, to reach a destination.

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy
All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things
If Adam fell to allow our existence, and our existence is to come to God and find everlasting joy, then Adam fell for our everlasting joy. This suggests that this world of good and evil was always part of the plan. Personally that brings me a great deal of comfort. It means that the path of humanity never wandered outside of God’s agenda.
It also means that my being born with flaws was not a flaw in the system. I was intended to be imperfect, so that I could grow from wrestling with those imperfections. It is a struggle, to be sure, but it is made a little bit lighter by knowing that it is supposed to be a struggle.