Thought for the Day- God’s Good Day

We do not have the power to make God’s good day bad. We can tarnish ourselves, but not all the beautiful creation that surrounds us.

And for this reason, whatever else is going on, whatever the depth of our personal unworthiness, we can still take a step back and bask in God’s goodness.

For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good
Matthew 5:45

Perpetrator and Victim: Part Three

Despair of Self)

But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.- Alma 36:12-13

Yesterday I spoke about perpetrators of abuse who try to avoid any questions about the state of their soul. Deep down they know that they have done wrong, but they go to incredible length to avoid giving an answer for their behavior because they know all the answers condemn them. Obviously, a person in this state is living apart from reality, and will never be able to achieve real change until they stop running from the truth.

But it is not as if these people are only living at one extreme. They only work so hard to avoid introspection because at their core they are already convinced that they are irredeemably evil. If they weren’t already convinced of that, they wouldn’t need to dodge conversations about it. Thus, they are divided against themselves, utterly loathing themselves even while maintaining that they are totally blameless.

This is an exhausting way to live, and now and again a perpetrator will give up on this divided self-perception. Typically they have first tried to give up on guilt, to say they just don’t care what they do, but the heart refuses to comply. Their conscience betrays them, and refuses to be beat into submission. So eventually they go the other way and wholeheartedly confess that they are bad and guilty.

The reason we put off this confession for as long as we can is that we instinctively know it will bring with it all manner of anguish and torment. Truly owning one’s serious mistakes can invoke the most pronounced and painful suffering we will ever know. We can become lost in a labyrinth of despair, with many paths leading to a variety of unfortunate ends, especially when we discover that not even making our confession is necessarily enough for us to stop doing evil.

Convinced of the Evil, But Continuing in It)

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.- Romans 7:15

There is a portion of addicts who discover that making confession unlocks their previously-uncontrollable behavior. Just by brining their secret shame into the light it loses its power over them. They are able to live with a freedom that they never knew before.

But this only a portion of the addicts. Many others find that making their confession does help, but the problem still isn’t entirely removed. They continue to slip, continue to do the very thing that they confess is wrong. Thus they are still divided against themselves, truthfully admitting to what is right, but deceiving themselves with their actions.

Having taken this step and still not finding relief often brings a second crushing realization. The addict realizes that he is incapable of redeeming himself. Even if he could atone for all his past wrongs, which frankly he probably can’t do, it wouldn’t matter, because he’s going to keep doing new wrong things. All along there has been a secret desire that he would be able to pull himself up by his bootstraps and come into a way of life where conviction and behavior were one and the same. But now he realizes that he is irredeemable, at least by his own power.

If the addict didn’t give up before, he certainly might now. He has realized that he is not just guilty, he is fundamentally broken. He knew that he was bad, but now he realizes that he can never be good. Trial has been held and he has been convicted and condemned. This is what it means to be damned. This is what it means to be in hell.

True, but Incomplete)

Unlike when the perpetrator was in denial of even doing wrong, this appraisal of his life is completely valid. The abuser has finally centered himself on a foundation of truth, but it has come too late.

While he has come to a truth, though, it is not the only truth. It is true that man cannot redeem himself, but it is also true that man does not only have to rely upon himself to be redeemed. There is a God, there is a Savior, and there is a redemption.

Before the perpetrator can have access to the redemptive power of Christ, though, he typically has to first reach this place of appreciating his own damnation. This low point is a necessary prerequisite before true healing can commence.

So this despair is a good place to come to, but it needs to not be the end of the journey. It must only be a checkpoint along the way. The perpetrator must pivot his self-perception twice. First to shift from self-justification to accepting the reality of his crimes, then again to shift from self-condemnation to seeing himself as a son of God. Core paradigm shifts like these do not come easily. There is a reason this is a process, not an event.

But difficult as the perpetrator’s journey is, so too is that of the victim. Tomorrow we will begin examining those that have been on the receiving end of abuse, and the various disconnects from reality that they can experience as well. I’ll see you there.

Perpetrator and Victim: Part Two

Fundamentally Detached from Life)

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

Matthew 7:24-27

At the end of yesterday’s post I made the case that when addicts deny or avoid the harm that we have done we are living a life that is divorced from the truth. Sweeping bad news under the rug does not change the underlying reality one bit, but it does detach ourselves from reality. And then trying to live a meaningful, purposeful life while keeping a blind eye to our sins is a vain endeavor. If you want your life to flourish, you have to align yourself with the truth of that life, both the good and the bad. This is just one of those fundamental truths, so basic and atomic that it defies explanation.

Confession, at its core, is therefore all about aligning ourselves to that truth. It brings our secret deeds into the light, acknowledging our problems as they really are, creating an image of ourselves that is harmonious with reality. Even though that reality is one that we are ashamed of, accepting it makes our world more right and whole even so. Everyone, perpetrator and victim alike, need to reconnect themselves to this truth if they ever want to really live again.

Because yes, this step of fully embracing the truth is a requirement for victim and perpetrator alike. Today and tomorrow we will be considering the ways that the perpetrator hides from the truth, and afterwards we will look at how the victim does as well.

Why the Perpetrator Hides)

The fact that the perpetrator tends to run from his crimes should be something we can all agree on. Each of us has seen many others, publicly and privately, who staunchly deny the reality of their moral perversions. We think it is cowardly of them to not face their well-deserved judgment, particularly when we are among those that they have harmed. Yet even as we recognize this behavior in others, we struggle to see how it is true for ourselves as well. We all have our blind spots, whether willful or ignorant. We know it isn’t right for anyone else to makes excuses for their behavior, but when it comes to us, of course, all of our excuses are totally valid!

Why do we live in this denial? Why do we overlook our obvious hypocrisy?

Well, for one we probably want to avoid punishment from others. We also don’t want to lose the things we have. Depending on the nature of our addiction, we might even be afraid of legal repercussions! But aside from any of those reasons, there is another and more immediate cause for our self-deception. We simply don’t want to face our dark reality, because doing so brings up some hard questions that we don’t want to answer. Questions like:

  • What does your hurtful behavior say about you?
  • What sort of person does bad things?
  • What do you deserve for what you have done?

In our minds, we have two clearly-divided groupings of people: those that are good and those that are bad, and the first person that all of us sort into the good camp is our own self. It is the natural instinct of all of us to see ourselves as being the prototype for all that is right and good in the world. We might admit to some flaws, but we immediately follow that up with affirmations that our heart is really in the right place, that we are genuinely trying to do our best, that our good clearly outweighs our bad, that our situation is complicated, and that we’re nothing like all those other truly bad people!

But why then did you hurt someone that you loved?

Any time you bring the introspection back to this sort of targeted, direct question, you’ll catch yourself writhing and wriggling to escape! It’s like seeing a cave-dwelling creature scurrying to get out of the light! We writhe and we wriggle because deep down, one of the most fundamental fears that we all have is that we’re actually not one of the good people. We all dread the possibility that we’ve been the villain, not the hero, all along. Stating that we have so much as a doubt about the state of our soul feels like it is going to kill us. We would rather tell a thousand lies and curse everything that we touch than to say, “I have done serious wrong for which there is no excuse. I have hurt the people I love. I am deserving of death and hell.”

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; -Romans 3:23
For the wages of sin is death -Romans 6:23

These are difficult verses to apply to ourselves, but they really are the truth. Accepting this truth feels like it will break us, but, paradoxically, this truth is the key to our rebirth. As we are told elsewhere in the bible:

The truth shall make you free. -John 8:32

This promise really is true, impossible as it may seem. Later in this series we will see why.

How to Get the Praise You Deserve: Part Seven

Seeking the Approval of God)

Thus far in this series I have discussed our need for approval and validation in our lives, how we can accomplish some of this through self-care, and how these needs are only completely satisfied when they come from God. We’ve since moved on to considering ways that we can feel that approval of God in our lives.

I have looked at how we receive God’s approval by keeping His commandments, and this is important, but gospel living is meant to be more proactive than simply avoiding forbidden fruits. In my experience, the place where I feel God’s pleasure the most is when I go beyond merely following commandments and actually start trying to put good into the world.

A Glorious Purpose)

A key plot point in the film Chariots of Fire is Eric Liddell’s desire to be useful to God, while also pursuing a running career. He and his sister have committed themselves to a life of ministry and missionary work, and she is concerned that he is starting to lose his spiritual conviction, being seduced by the pull of fame and worldly praise.

Eric reassures his sister that this is not the case at all. He tells her “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” With this frame of mind, Eric trains for and ultimately wins gold at the 1924 Olympics. Along the way, his convictions to God are tested, but Eric remains faithful. The press highlights this drama in the papers, spreading abroad the story of the athlete who is first and foremost a man of God. After the Olympics, Eric does become a missionary, and the experiences he shared while running help him to give glory to God wherever he goes.

Eric’s sister’s concerns are understandable. Athletic prowess is a way that people can become self-centered and pursue their own glory, but as Eric attested, for him running was the way that he felt the pleasure of God. It was a special bond that they shared, a tool to further the kingdom. Given these facts, it was not only permissible for Eric to run, it was imperative!

Hidden Talents)

In Matthew 25, Jesus recounts the parable of the talents. In the story, a ruler leaves to a far country, and before he goes, he distributes his wealth to three servants. One receives five measures of money (called talents), another two, and another one.

The servants that received five and two talents put the money to work, and by the time the ruler has returned they have doubled his investment. He praises them and then calls upon the servant who received only one. That servant revealed that he has hidden the money away, burying it in the earth, and has no profit to show for what he was given. He is declared to be an evil servant by the master.

The moral of the story is that God gives to each of us opportunities and abilities, and we are actually expected to do something with them all. Frankly, it isn’t enough to only keep from evil and enjoy the beauties of this earth. We are also expected to actively put more good back into the world. God’s sun rises, his wind blows, his water runs, and all of it brings glory and beauty to the world. We are also His creation, and there is just as much expectation for us to also be functional and beautiful. And when we are a vibrant, active in the talents God has given us, then we also bring glory and beauty to the world, and we are sure to “feel His pleasure.”

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; - Doctrine and Covenants 58:27

My Calling)

An interesting effect I have seen in those living a life of addiction recovery is that they often start taking the “talents” they have received from God and seeking to do more with them. After being saved from their vices many of them have gone back to school, changed their careers, and leapt into the work that they feel called to do. Several have become therapists and counselors, helping others as they were once helped. Some have begun podcasts, sharing the stories of addiction recovery with the world. Others have become public speakers, using their hard-earned experience to motivate audiences around the world.

I, too, have felt called to a work. It was early on in my recovery that I recognized God had given me creativity and writing as a way to bring glory to Him and to “feel His pleasure.” As a result, I started writing a story blog, this spiritual blog, and a novel. Sometimes I’ve lapsed in this work, but when I commit to it with a pure heart, I really do feel His approval and validation. I feel that I am making Him pleased with me, because I am doing my part to shine a light into the world.

Remember what Jesus told to his disciples. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This is more than a suggestion it is a requirement if we are ever to have that sense of self-satisfaction that we all crave. If you find yourself longing for the world to shine a spotlight on you, it’s time to start considering instead how you can start shining your light into the world!

How to Get the Praise You Deserve: Part Four

I have been examining our need for approval and validation in our lives, and how we can seek it from other sources than the people around us. Thus far I have discussed the practice of giving approval and validation to our own selves, and this certainly an important practice, but it isn’t the end of the story.

Today we will start to examine another source of approval and validation, one that is higher than any other. We will start by looking at the most perfect example of a man living with this sort of higher approval in his life.

Divine Approval)

The Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. - John 8:29

And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
And I knew that thou hearest me always. - John 11:41-42

And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. - Matthew 3:17

We often speak of the pain that Jesus endured, but he also must have had moments of wonderful rapture as well. Can you imagine knowing with the same surety that he did that God loved you, saw you, and appreciated everything that you did? Can you imagine hearing God’s voice literally speaking out loud to say that He was pleased with you?

Forget about the validation of other people, what further approval would you need if you were regularly having experiences like this?! I believe each of us knows, deep down, that somehow this is the sort of the validation that we were made for!

If we are the children of God, then we are wired to need His approval. Children need to know that their father sees and appreciates them. We speak so much of our need to be obedient to Him, but that’s only half of the story. We need to be obedient to Him so that we may feel His approval. You cannot get away from this need, it is part of your identity as His son or daughter.

And that is why saying “I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be happy” is misguided. Or rather, it is misguided when it is applied to more than just the human race. Each of us has inside of us a hole that only God can fill, and so long as we keep trying to fill it with the approval of other people, or deny that the hole exists at all, we are going to be left agitated, incomplete, and perpetually frustrated.

Most of the time, we don’t even consider the absence of God’s approval when we try to make sense of this frustration inside of us. We might even ask Him to bless us with the approval from others, and then wonder why He didn’t answer that prayer! He doesn’t, because in His wisdom He knows that isn’t what we really need.

In conclusion, the world doesn’t meet the need for acknowledgement and approval that we need, nor indeed can it. This need for praise is based in our relationship as children of a Heavenly Father, and His is the only approval that can satiate our souls.

Which is all well and good to understand…but now how do we get to hear those sorts of messages from Him? We’ll take a look at that with tomorrow’s post.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 20:6

6 And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.

Obviously we should all do our utmost to preserve good and prevent evil. This verse gives an important reminder that God will be championing these same causes as well, independent of us. Things were looking like they might have gone a bad way for Abimelech, Sarah, and Abraham, but God intervened and did not let that happen.

I have had times in my own life where God has intervened to prevent me from evil, He has even saved me from my own willful foolishness. I have also had times where I wanted to help another, but had no way to do so, and God assured me that He also wanted that person to be helped, in fact He wanted it even more than I did, and He would take care of it.

So yes, we should do what every good thing that we can, but the good that we cannot do we should surrender to God, trusting that He is capable of bringing good and preventing evil all by Himself.