To Live Freely: Part Five

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In my last post I started considering whether it was a viable strategy to help someone live a richer, happier life by causing them to believe a falsehood. The idea was that if we can discredit this approach, then what remains is to live a life founded on the truth.

We discussed the example of a husband concealing an affair from his wife, in order to spare her the pain of it. The conclusion was that this sets her up to do things that actively work against her, undermining her own stability in life as she extends her dependence on a tenuous marriage. A key takeaway was that this foundation of a lie leaves the wife in a reality that is increasingly detached from the truth, resulting in horrible pain when, and if, she suddenly falls back to the real world.

Today I wanted to consider a new example, though, one where the parents of an adopted child lead him to believe that he is their biological son. The issue of a painful return to reality certainly applies to this case as well, we have all heard the stories of a child who only learns in their adulthood that they were adopted, and how that revelation was a terrible shock to them.

But this particular example also brings to mind another inherent danger in setting another person on a foundation of mistruth, one that must not go overlooked.

Covering a Lie With a Lie)

What is the reason why the parents wants their child to be believe he is their biological son? In virtually every case it is genuinely meant as a kindness. They want their child to feel that he is no less than any other, that he is just as valid and real a part of their family as he possibly could be. In their hearts he is the same as a biological son, so they want him to live as if that were the case.

But why does the child need to feel that he is a biological son to feel equal to one? What harm is there if he knows that he is adopted? It is because the parents know that there are those in the world that view adopted children as lesser. They know that some people would hold that fact against him and make him feel shamed for it. They want to protect him from such unkindness.

But here is the moment where the twisting of the truth turns back to bite those who would wrest it. The parents are actually perpetuating the very stigma that they refute. There is a cycle here where parents hide the adoption from the child because the world would use it against them, but one of the chief reasons why the world thinks there is something wrong with being adopted is because it is treated so secretively by parents. If the child does uncover the fact that he is adopted at some point, what does his parents’ concealing of that fact suggest to him? It implies that his adoption really was shameful, that it was a nasty, secret thing that had to be hidden. If his origin really was just as valid any other, then why was there a need to conceal it? There is nothing that marks something as an object of shame more than trying to hide it.

I do realize that parents may not want to fight that battle against society with their own child. Let someone else challenge that stigma and pave the way for accepting all children as equal. But the fact still remains that by not challenging the problem directly, they are only making it worse. So yes, the parents were entirely well-meaning, but as I have mentioned before, well-meaning intentions do not necessarily equate to moral behavior.

If the parents really feel that there is no difference between a biological child and an adopted one, then they ought to be able to openly talk about the truth of the situation and reinforce in their child that there is no need to feel ashamed about that truth. And if parents secretly do feel that there is a difference, but they don’t want to admit to that, then once again they are trying to extract happiness and meaningfulness out of a lie. They need to consider what is real and what is true, or at least what their best understanding of it is, and then they should live in accordance with it.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 31:22-25

22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.

23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.

24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.

25 Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.

We were told that when Jacob was looking for more independence he moved his family three days’ journey away from Laban, and given that Laban heard about the family’s departure on the third day, it seems likely that there was some servant or neighbor who saw what Jacob had done and immediately set off to tell Laban about it.

But even with a three-day head-start, Laban and his men were able to catch up to them after only a week. No doubt he was aided by the fact that he knew exactly where Jacob would be headed, and also that Jacob was slowed down by all the cattle and children. Fortunately, God intervened, warning Laban upon his arrival that Jacob was under His protection.

As I read all this, I saw a pattern that will reappear many years later when the Israelites flee from Pharaoh and are pursued by his armies. They too will be slowed by their young, and they will also rely upon an intervention from God. Surely Jacob and the Israelites would have preferred that God had caused their pursuers to never come upon them, that He had kept trouble as far away as possible, but He didn’t. In each case He protected His flock but did it in His own way.

Often, we wish that God wouldn’t let trouble overtake us either, but we can take comfort from stories like these, which show that when God commands a retreat, He will guard the rear, no matter how near the danger looms.

Influence and Persuasion- Alma 17:8, 19, 21-22, 25; 18:21-22

And thus they departed into the wilderness with their numbers which they had selected, to go up to the land of Nephi, to preach the word of God unto the Lamanites.
And Ammon went to the land of Ishmael, the land being called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites.
And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael; and his name was Lamoni; and he was a descendant of Ishmael.
And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

And now, if thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee; and if it were needed, I would guard thee with my armies; but I know that thou art more powerful than all they; nevertheless, whatsoever thou desirest of me I will grant it unto thee.
Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.

COMMENTARY

Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni.
I previously shared an example from the Book of Mormon where a missionary named Ammon defended himself a king and later his brother taught the gospel to him. There is a somewhat similar story just a few chapters before, where that same Ammon taught another king and I find his approach very interesting.
When he first has an audience with the king he does not immediately launch into proselyting. Rather he asks to be commissioned as a servant and to care for the king’s domain. He is put over the sheep and he faithfully watches over them. Shortly thereafter a band of thieves comes to steal the sheep, and Ammon manages to protect both the flock and the other servants against great odds. The fame of this battle is soon brought before the king.

If thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee.
Wilt thou hearken unto my words? This is the thing that I desire of thee.

And so the king calls Ammon to him and inquires how he possessed the power to stand against so many assailants. He even asks Ammon whether he is a god himself!
At this point the king is coming to Ammon of his own volition and asking to know more. Ammon’s audience is ready now, even actively seeking. And so it is here that Ammon finally delivers the gospel message that he has come to give.
I believe there is a great wisdom in this approach. On my mission I learned that most people really didn’t care about what I had to share…until they first knew that I cared about them and would sincerely serve them. In my experience, cutting overgrown grass, repairing fences, and erecting houses were better than sermons.

Dealing With Failure- Psalm 82:3-4, Matthew 18:10

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

COMMENTARY

Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones
These verses have an obvious literal interpretation: to protect and defend the helpless and the young. But also, as I considered the topic of this study, I thought of a figurative interpretation for them also.
The fact is, when I do something that I know is wrong, something that causes harm to my heart, I have a sense like that of a child crying inside. There is a youthful and needy soul within me, delicate and sensitive, and it has to be protected.
Indeed, every wrong action is an act of self-harm in some way, for we are fundamentally composed of a divine spirit, that cannot help but be wounded at the presence of vice. Self-correction, therefore, ought to be considered an act of self-protecting love.

Commandments and Personal Revelation- Proverbs 6:23, 19:16; Doctrine and Covenants 61: 13

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.

He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul.

And now, behold, for your good I gave unto you a commandment concerning these things.

COMMENTARY

For your good I gave unto you a commandment
Yesterday we examined how the commandments are given to us by God because He loves us. The question that the worldly view raises is “why would He restrict us if He loves us?”
This view of commandments as restricting is a rather strange perspective, given that it is not at all the same one we hold for any other natural laws. Is the law of gravity restricting, or does it keep us safe from floating into empty space?
And imagine if tomorrow there were to be discovered a new law of physics, something as fundamental as the Newtonian principles. Would that news be received begrudgingly, seen as a limiting rule to tie us down? No, it would be the greatest cause of excitement! It would allow us to better understand our world, the natural order of things, and empower us to greater accomplishments.
When we launch our shuttles into space, we do not do so by defying the laws of physics, we do so by strictly adhering to them, utilizing them, and by so doing are empowered to propel man beyond the confines of this temporal world. It is the same with God’s commandments.

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light
We need to let go of the notion that things are bad because God told us not to do them. Rather God told us not to do them because they are bad. Some things are just fundamentally wrong.
All of us who have told lies know that with them comes a certain anxiety, a fear of being discovered in our deceit. Then, if we are discovered, there is inevitable hurt to the party that was lied to. Make no mistake, these feelings of anxiety, fear, and hurt are not punishments from God. These are simply the natural consequences of a fundamentally wrong action. These are the experiences God was lovingly providing commandments to try and protect us from.

He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul.
The commandments are not a set of arbitrary rules. They are instruction on how to navigate a set of natural laws that are as fundamental to the universe as “an object at rest will remain at rest.”

  1. An object in motion will remain in motion…so get out of the way of a moving train!
  2. The soul includes a spirit, which like the body requires nourishment to thrive…so remember the sabbath day to keep it holy!

Keeping the commandments is really one of the most self-interested things you can do! Keep the commandments and you are keeping yourself.