To Live Freely: Part Seventeen
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.
How to Get the Praise You Deserve: Summary
I’ve spent more than a week discussing how we desire approval and validation in our lives. It’s a common and basic longing, but there was a lot to unpack on the subject. Let’s review some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Our Need for Validation and Approval)
It might seem vain for us to need constant validation and approval, and we might have spent quite some time trying to squash those emotions because we viewed them as being beneath us. But this is the same as trying to deny any of our other basic needs. Just as we need food and rest for our bodies, we also have requirements for our emotional health, including these. If you didn’t need some sense of validation in your life, then your heart wouldn’t keep longing for it.
And just as how we can satiate our physical hunger with food that is bad for us, so too we can seek out unhealthy forms of validation. Acknowledging that our hearts need validation is not the same as saying that all validation is worthy. Demanding fame and attention are perhaps the most detrimental ways of dealing with this need, but there are other mistaken ways to deal with it as well. Perhaps the most common of these is tying our peace and happiness to the responses of those in our immediate vicinity. Allowing ourselves to be miserable unless one, specific person gives us a kind word puts us in their power in a way that we never should.
During this study we considered the two kinds of validation and approval that are actually a good thing to pursue, and fortunately each is entirely within our power to obtain.
Approval of Self)
The first method we discussed was to approve and validate your very own self. This means taking the time out of our day to look yourself in the mirror, verbalize all the good things that you have seen yourself do, and express appreciation to yourself for how you are helping your own life and the life of others.
Self-validation also means recognizing our behaviors that we do not approve of and overcoming them. Paul recognized this reality of people betraying their own conscience when he said, “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). So long as we are disappointed with our own behavior then we are never going to feel fully approved or validated, no matter what affirmation we might hear from others.
Of course, overcoming our evil nature not only brings a sense of self-approval, it also invites the one other kind of approval that is healthy to pursue.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. - Galatians 1:10
In this verse Paul denounces the idea of seeking man’s approval, but he does promote seeking the approval of God. And what a relief, as this is actually the far more straightforward target to hit. Playing for the applause of the world means constantly altering one’s behavior to the ever-shifting demands of society. The way to satisfy God, however, has always remained the same. We must keep his commandments.
However, as we discussed earlier, obeying the commandments as they are written is not all that we must do. They provide an essential foundation and will bring a sense of validity in and of themselves, but upon that base we are supposed to actively build. We must put good into the world, taking our talents and using them to shine a light to others. It is in this combination of obedience and righteous productivity that I have felt the greatest sense of validation and approval in my life by far.
I also took some time to discuss that we can cultivate our ability to hear God’s approval of us. It may be that He has been trying to express His appreciation for some time, but He has been speaking in a language that you haven’t recognized. I suggested getting into the habit of seeing all that is beautiful in this world as a way of God telling you directly that He sees you, that He loves you, and that He appreciates what you are doing. If you come across something that seems to uniquely bring you joy, something that touches your heart more than the hearts of others, then consider it a gift from a Father who knows you perfectly and give gratitude for it. The more you give gratitude for these moments, the more you’ll start seeing these “love notes” placed all around you.
Like many things, validation and approval represent a two-edged sword. On the one hand we can become obsessed with shallow counterfeits, chasing never-obtainable ideals. And even if we did achieve the constant attention of loved ones and the highest fame of the world, we would find ourselves still dissatisfied even so.
But on the other hand, there is such a thing as real validation and real approval. It is when we receive these gifts from our own selves and from God. It is here that genuine satisfaction occurs, that our anxieties are stilled, and we finally repose in peace. This is what it means to live life richly and with contentment, a richness and contentment that the world can never take from us, for the world never gave it to us to begin with.
Our desire for validation and approval were given to us for a reason. Not to be a source of perpetual frustration, but to lead us to eternal glory. Hopefully the principles we’ve discussed here can be helpful for you in your journey. They’ve certainly been helpful to me.
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!
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
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.
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 8:13-18
13 And it came to pass in the six hundredth and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth: and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dried. 15 And God spake unto Noah, saying, 16 Go forth of the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee. 17 Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, of all flesh, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth. 18 And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him:
We often speak of Adam and Eve as the beginning of our race, and of the Garden of Eden as being humanity’s original home. And all this is true, but we also have another origin point in Noah disembarking after the flood. In fact God even repeats His original commandment for the animal life to be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth.
The slate had been washed clean, it was a new world. And into upon this virgin soil Noah and his family and the animals must have seemed like aliens from another world. An old and dead world.
This is, of course, a symbolism of baptism, of death and resurrection, of giving up the old carnal way of life and being spiritually awakened. Yes, the occupants of the ark were remnants of the prior, evil world, but they were plucked off so that they would no longer be a branch of that world, but the trunk of a new one. So, too, when we are spiritually awakened we wash away the sin, but save the best parts that were already within us, and set them upon a new foundation.
Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:14-16
14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
It amuses me how casual the wording is in these verses when describing the creation of worlds without number! You know, God just put some lights in the sky, simple as a parent painting stars on the bedroom ceiling, right? The phrase “he made the stars also” doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone, each of them an entire world or star, each meticulously suspended by a complex web of gravity. And all of it described as little more than set dressing to the other work of creation that was happening down on Earth, a garnish to the main course.
And perhaps there is some truth to that, for as incredible as massive bodies of rock and gas in infinite space might be, they are surpassed by the wonder and intricacy of plants, animals, and people. When we turn from looking to the heavens above to the world around us we find the careful balance of nature, the micro-universes of cells and proteins, and the inexplicable miracle called “life” which animates it all. God’s crowning achievement of creation is not to be found in the vastness of space, but within us smaller things.
Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 1:2
2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Here we see the natural state of this world: without form, void, darkness upon the face of the deep. It wasn’t for millennia after this passage was written that science became aware of entropy, the phenomenon that suggests the entire universe, if left to its natural devices, will dissolve itself into a evenly distributed, stagnant void. Everything will be made uniform until there remains no variety, and with in no variety there is also no catalyst or process. That fits the description of this verse remarkably well, doesn’t it?
Life and individuality can only occur as God moves upon the face of this world. He doesn’t just make our existence good, He makes it possible.
Optimism in a Falling World- Ether 12:4, 6, 12
Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.
Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works
Today I am considering the role of faith in remaining committed to our fallen world. And the first point I want to make is what we have to found our faith in. It is not a trust in humanity that these verses call “an anchor” to our souls, it is a belief in God. Throughout this study I have been speaking about maintaining our hope and faith in the world, but now I realize that those are secondary things, symptoms that come from first being rooted in our trust for God. See how this verse lays out the order of things as “believe in God” and then have a “surety of hope for a better world.”
Thus if you find it impossible to view the world optimistically, perhaps stop trying to do so. Instead cultivate your trust in God and the rest will follow. We will stop being motivated not by a shaky trust in the triumph of man, but in a sure trust in the triumph of God.
Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
If there be no faith God can do no miracle; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.
And if, when we view the world, we see nothing to convince us that it can be saved, so be it. For faith is things that are hoped for and not seen. We would not say that we had faith in the reclamation of mankind if we could already see the path by which it would be accomplished. The whole point of faith is that we can invest ourselves towards the saving of humanity, with our minds unable to fathom how good will come out of it, but with our hearts believing that it will. That is working by faith, and as this verse explains that is the prerequisite to the miracle.
Optimism in a Falling World- Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-11, 2 Nephi 9:41
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.
O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive
The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there
I’ve discussed the desire some have to see the world burn, to see the wicked made accountable for all that they have done wrong. To this sentiment come the verses I have quoted above. God will see to the matters of judgment and forgiveness on His own. We are governed by His law, judged by His eye, and doled out mercy or retribution at His discretion.
He employs no servant in the matter of gatekeeping. He doesn’t need or want our help in deciding who is worthy of heaven. Will some be saved and others damned? Surely. Does it matter to us one bit which they will be? Not at all.
Ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother remaineth in the greater sin
But of you it is required to forgive all men
The question of this study is how to not despair as the world embraces evil. It is about how we keep our faith in humanity and work with our brothers and sisters, rather than leave them to their fates. And I believe part of the answer is how we deal with the sins that humanity commits against us. Each of us is affected by the growth of evil in the world, each of us is hurt by the collective abuse of human selfishness.
And our faithlessness in humanity often stems from that initial hurt we received from society, that time when some worldly darkness first broke our innocence. We might know that we need to forgive individuals, but as recorded in these verses what about the requirement “to forgive all men?” If we’re ever to get our faith in humanity back we have to make our peace with the world at large. We have to forgive society first before we can help it.