Posts Tagged ‘Repentance’
I apologize for the misleading title. This is not about Denver Snuffer. This is about my progress in reading and digesting what Denver Snuffer has written. If you’ll recall, about a month ago I ordered, received and wrote about Denver’s latest publications. I just finished reading volume one of Remembering the Covenant and want to share a few things I learned from that volume.
Remembering the Covenant is a reprint of Denver’s blog. Volume one covered approximately the first five months, from 1 February 2010 to 7 June 2010. It is about 435 printed pages. I took my time reading it because I had several other reading projects going on at the same time. I read each entry twice, highlighting with a different colored marker on each pass, pondering as I read.
This is still a solo project. Carol is not interested in what I am reading, although I do share a few quotes with her on occasion. She usually likes to point out that if the Lord wanted me to know what Denver had to say, the Brethren would have told us to read his books. Sigh. Carol’s not big on doctrine. The social aspects of the church are more important to her. We balance each other.
Careful, Ponderous and Solemn Thought
Many of the entries were familiar to me, having read them at one time or another on his blog. I was also impressed that a lot of content was shared here the first time in this volume and found full expression in his book, Passing the Heavenly Gift. It’s obvious the ideas found in PtHG were developed a long time before they were put together so powerfully in that controversial book.
My objective in the methodical and deep reading of Remembering the Covenant is obviously tied to my desire to obtain what Denver has written about in his first book, The Second Comforter. No, I have not yet obtained an audience with the Lord, but then, I’ve only been asking seriously for the last year or so. I started asking in earnest after my first reading of The Second Comforter.
Maybe my approach is all wrong, but what I’m trying to accomplish here is prove one way or another that a regular member of the church can have the same experience Denver Snuffer says we all can and should have – to receive a promise from the Lord of Eternal Life. And yes, that means a personal visit from the resurrected Lord, and to receive that promise from his own lips.
Why I Haven’t Received the Promise Yet
I found many helpful entries to explain why I haven’t had that sacred experience yet. One of them is found on page 261. You can read the entry on his blog dated 27 April 2010 – God is No Respecter of Persons. About halfway through the post he discusses what alienates us from the Lord. He makes an interesting point that it is not our sins per se, but the way we offend Christ.
Specifically he says, “He is offended when we are forgiven by Him, and then return to the same sin. This shows a lack of gratitude for His forgiveness.” Denver acknowledges that some struggle with addictions, compulsions and weaknesses for years, even decades. That’s me. He then offers what I found to be a sad commentary. It made me think that I must still have a long ways to go.
He writes, “When at last, because of age or infirmity, a troubling weakness is at last overcome, He will readily accept your repentance and let you move forward, clean, whole and forgiven.” This makes me sad because it causes me to feel that those who struggle with addiction will not be accepted by the Lord until the biological temptations of the body go away due to old age.”
I Sin Differently Than You
Perhaps you can help me out in my thinking here. Maybe some of you know what I am talking about. I’m going to be frank. They say confession is good for the soul. I’ve written about this before on my blog and got a lot of positive feedback from folks who said it helped them to be so open and honest about such a sensitive subject. You may think less of me after reading this.
Mental illness runs in my family. So does addiction. I’ll bet they go hand-in-hand. I recall a line used by President Uchtdorf in a recent General Conference address (April 2012). I believe he said it came from a bumper sticker. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” In my previous blog post on the subject I wrote I was exposed to Internet pornography in 1995.
However, that wasn’t my first exposure to pornography. It seems the adversary knew what my weakness was before I ever understood. I struggled with pornography from the time I was eight years old, long before the Internet. I find it interesting that this temptation came into my life right after I was baptized. It has been a constant battle with many ups and downs for nearly fifty years.
A Common but Serious Weakness
I have never confessed this in a public forum before. I am pleased to say that I am a recovered addict and have been clean for many years, but like an alcoholic, it can come back in a second. My state of mind is something about which I have to be constantly wary. I must always be careful about what I look at, what ads I see, what TV shows I watch, what web pages I visit.
This is not a secret from Carol. We have worked on this together over the years. I am amazed at how kind, patient, loving and accepting she has always been. This is an intimate part of our lives but human sexuality is a big part of the mortal experience so it has eternal ramifications. For me, the biggest part of this struggle has always been feelings of guilt and of disappointing the Lord.
The last time I tried to confess this sin to a bishop, I also tried to turn in my temple recommend. This was many years ago, early in my married life. He pushed the temple recommend back at me and said, “I want you to go to the temple more frequently and I want you to stop confessing this. This weakness is between you, your wife and the Lord. You work it out among yourselves.”
Broken Souls Are Loved by the Lord
I came away from reading Denver’s entry that God is No Respecter of Persons thinking that I will not be worthy or qualified for a visit from the Lord to obtain the promise of Eternal Life for many more years, probably just before I am ready to leave this life. Perhaps someone who struggles with an addiction is a special case, who can’t be trusted until they’re almost dead.
I found some consolation in reading his entry on Broken Souls on page 387 which can be found on his blog dated 25 May 2010. In it Denver describes his work with and love for those who find it difficult to associate with other members of the church because they struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression caused by addictions. I could immediately relate this to my life-long hurt.
He writes that he has close friends who struggle with addictions so haunting and so terrible a force in their lives that rising each day to face the coming fight takes greater courage than he could imagine. “They are acting in faith at every waking breath, as they fight against a foe that I do not comprehend and could not face.” Yep, that pretty much describes my daily walk in life.
Forgiveness for a Former Addict
Hope came as I read there, “I marveled at how very much these broken souls, these discouraged people … are the very ones with whom I feel the Lord’s presence and love as I have the honor of meeting and talking with them about the gospel. These are the ones He loves the most. These are the ones with whom he associated during His ministry. He associates there, still.” I like that.
I made a decision a long time ago to continue to follow the gospel path, to attend my meetings each week, to accept and faithfully serve in callings when asked, to attend the temple and to do all within my power to prove to the Lord that I loved Him and wanted His forgiveness. But I also accepted the fact that I would never really feel that I belonged, that I was not worthy of the Lord.
All this, because as a former addict, I did not feel I could be trusted. I could and would do all that we are supposed to do, including prayer and gospel study, but deep down, I knew my weakness and it terrified me that I was capable of such betrayal. I had known the Lord’s forgiveness early in my life, but my constant struggle over the years caused me to feel I had offended the Lord.
You Deserve Your Insecurities
On page 408, in the post entitled Developing Your Faith dated 30 May 2010, Denver writes, “Insecurities are a result of a lack of faith. You deserve them. You have not acquired knowledge yet. You have them as a gift, as a warning that you have not yet received what you need. Nor have you developed faith yet.” He then admonishes us to go and re-read Lectures on Faith Six.
Of course, that lecture is about offering sacrifice to obtain sufficient faith to be saved. In this lecture is found the famous quote that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” I have thought and pondered about this for at least twenty years. I have yet to figure out what more I can sacrifice.
According to Denver, it is my fears and insecurities that I must sacrifice. It is my lack of trust in myself that comes from years of being a former addict that I must sacrifice. I know the Lord has forgiven me. That’s a given. I have asked and know that He has forgiven me. There has never been a hesitation when I have asked for forgiveness. But does he trust me enough to visit me?
Timing for the Visit From the Lord
I suppose the real question is, “Do I trust myself enough to let the Lord visit me?” Of course, we do not set the timing of the Lord’s visit. So the mechanics of how this works puzzles me. Let’s say I finally figure out in my mind at last a way to give up that lack of trust that I put there so long ago as I began my recovery from my addiction. I give up the fear that I can’t be trusted.
Well, that’s nice. That is, it’s nice to be able to say to myself that the Lord trusts me, but unless I hear the Lord say it to me personally, perhaps it’s just self-deception. The Lord has commanded us to drop doubts and fears from our hearts. I am willing to do so. For non-addicts I assume it’s a simple thing. You simply say to yourself, “I trust myself that I will not participate in sin again.”
I’m sure I’m over-analyzing this and making it way more complicated than the Lord intended. The gospel is supposed to be so simple that even a child can understand it. We are supposed to become child-like in our trust and faith in the Lord. I know I can trust the Lord, but I am not certain I can trust myself, even after all these years. There simply are no guarantees, are there?
Invitation to Dialog
For any other Snuffer readers out there, what do you think? Am I going about this wrong? Denver reports on page 421 in “Be Still and Know That I Am God” (2 June 2010), “Study what I’ve written carefully and anyone will find it is all there. Several people have done so, and have received the promised results.” That’s nice to know. I believe Denver and am happy for them.
I’m still pondering the approach I need to take to accomplish this work that only I can do for myself. One approach is to hang onto the belief that because I am a former addict who has offended Christ by returning to my sins after having been forgiven, that I must wait patiently until my life is nearly over before the Lord will visit me to proclaim I have Eternal Life.
The other approach is to give up all doubts and fears left over from years of sin, trust the Lord implicitly that He is willing to come to me now and ask all the more sincerely for that blessing. Perhaps I have missed something in The Second Comforter and need to go back and re-read it yet one more time, asking the Lord to show me what steps I missed the first few times I read it.
The Great Competition is the ninth of Denver Snuffer’s Ten Parables. It is short, one of the shorter parables in the book, at only seven pages. Yet it is the one I have pondered the most over the past year. I have shared it with Carol, offered my opinion, asked hers. We are not in agreement. I have not seen much discussion of the parable on the Internet. I don’t think it has been widely read or discussed.
When I wrote about this before, I was rather orthodox in my interpretation. I offer it here for comparison, but this is no longer how I view this parable. If you haven’t read the original parable, you really must purchase the book and do so. It begins, “There was a King who loved his people. He also loved the competition of games.” It’s $12.99 at Amazon - $5 Kindle edition.
An Early Interpretation of the Parable
Here’s what I wrote last year after the first reading: “This one is about the plan of salvation, told from a very long-range view, including the great battle at the end of the world between the forces of good and evil. Denver has drawn some profound implications of what happens at that great event because those who chose not to come to compete were invited to the great feast at the end.
“The focus is on loyalty. Who would remain true to the king in spite of the seeming unfairness of the competition designed to cause a great division among the people? I would love to share this one in a Sacrament talk or Sunday school lesson, but of course, you and I know that one cannot quote from unorthodox sources in church.” Like the parable, my analysis was short and sweet.
When Good Men Are Excommunicated
A lot has happened to me in the past year, mainly through my study of the gospel, my writings and the responses of many of you to my essays. One particularly eventful episode was my interview and subsequent report on what happened to Mel Fish, a man who searched deeply for truth, believed he found it and was excommunicated when he tried to share it with others.
Mel’s excommunication affected me deeply. I confess I was incensed. As I wrote before, I only know one side of the story and will never know the other side. What happened to Mel caused me to deeply rethink my understanding of the purpose of life, the purpose of what we do in this church and the purpose of tests – the kind of tests that, if we’re not careful, tear a family apart.
Denver Snuffer Disciplinary Action
For those who don’t know, Denver Snuffer is going through the same process in our church. He is being investigated for disciplinary action. This is no secret. He has made it clear through the writings of his own blog. Like many of you, I have plenty of contacts at Church Headquarters. I am not privy to any inside information. But I do know his investigation is soon coming to a head.
In the church we’re taught that disciplinary action for apostasy is only taken when one has been openly or deliberately disobedient to direction from priesthood leaders to cease from teaching certain things they find offensive or to be, in effect, false doctrine. Once you have published a book, or written an essay on a blog, how can you take back what you have caused to be written?
Stand Up for What you Believe
I suppose you could simply write something new, disavowing all the things you have previously written, but that seems so disingenuous, as if you are just doing that to stave off inevitable action. To each man, there comes a time when he must stand by what he has studied and thought about, prayed about and decided to be true. Else what is the purpose of intellectual pursuit?
If you can’t be true to what you feel the Lord has led you to understand, then of what use are you to the Lord? Either stand up for what you feel the Lord gave you to share, then share it and teach it, especially if you know it can benefit and bless those who believe. The Lord gives passion to men for a reason – so that others will pay attention when they proclaim something is important.
We are in the Great Competition Now
In the parable of the Great Competition, we learn that not all were blessed with the same gifts or talents. Some would never be able to compete in the area of physical strength, musical talent, intellectual or academic excellence, patience or a myriad of other virtues to improve the health and vigor of the people. We could all watch and could all compete as we felt endowed to do so.
Some refused to compete and left the playing field in anger. They claimed the competition was not fair and said they would do all they could to disrupt the games. And they did. They offered no support of those trying to excel. In fact, they discouraged them, whispering in their ears that the competition was unfair, unwise and a waste of time and effort. They were well organized.
Evil Spirits Who Followed Lucifer
So far, I’m confident nobody could miss the implications of this parable. Those who opposed the competition were those who followed Lucifer. They did not believe it possible to succeed. They believed Satan who said the competition wasn’t fair. They did not listen closely when the King explained the competition was designed to test loyalty as well as improve the lives of the people.
“After the days of the competition ended, a great feast was called. For the feast, the King invited not only those citizens who participated in the games, but also those who had fled the city rather than participate. Those who had remained loyal and participated in the games were troubled by this. … Many of those who participated resented the presence of those who had fled.” (Page 87)
All Are Invited to the Feast
And that is what I would like to focus on for just a moment. I don’t know if the feast Denver has presented here in this parable is the same as the wedding feast found in Matthew 22. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the animosity felt by some that others were invited who they considered unworthy or unacceptable. The great feast turned into a great argument over who was worthy.
In the end, those who opposed the king’s decision were cast out. Only those who remained were able to live in peace. The fairness or unfairness of what they may have encountered in life did not bother them. They were at peace. They were loyal to the King and his plan. It did not bother them that some had not participated in the competition as they had. The King loved and accepted those who opposed him at first just as he had loved and accepted those who were loyal all along.
The Doctrine of Repentance
I want to now apply this to current events in my life. I have recently found at least three sources or individuals who teach a doctrine that I have always disagreed with because of the fairness principle involved. It has to do with forgiveness of those who rebelled against the Lord at the beginning. I suspect that teaching of this doctrine may be grounds for excommunication. I am not teaching it. I am simply explaining it as I have come to understand it. You decide its truth.
Here is the doctrine: Some evil spirits can repent. Some evil spirits can change sides. Some evil spirits can choose to do good things with their agency. Therefore, some evil spirits have not yet forfeited their agency. By definition, they are no longer evil spirits but simply spirits who have never been and never will have a mortal experience. These are not the same as unclean spirits.
How False Doctrine Comes About
Of course one must ask, “Why would evil spirits have any desire to turn from promoting Satan and his works to encouraging others to follow the Savior and his teachings? What benefit could they possibly derive from such a course of action, assuming it was even possible? And of course the second but possibly more important question: “Is it really possible for evil spirits to change?”
One theologian posted in clear and unmistakable terms that there is neither the desire nor the ability of evil spirits to repent. He proposed that the idea is a foolish thought. He rejected the notion that a fallen, rebellious spirit would have any desire to pursue salvation, especially when none is offered. The sin against the Holy Ghost is unpardonable. Rebellious spirits would have nothing to gain by turning from darkness to light. Therefore there is no reason to do so.
An Example From Real Life
And yet, read this from Mel Fish, then tell me if you think he was deceived. Mel is not the first to have shared something like this, but this example is one of the most profound I have discovered. It is found in his book, Healing the Inner Self, pages 121 through 123. My wife and I also heard him tell this story and have it recorded. It is a powerful story with a real teaching moment.
—– Beginning of Quote —–
One day a woman came to me. She had been attacked by a legion of devils. She was in intense pain and paralyzed on one side of her body. As I worked with this woman, I had several others with me, helping me. I sought help because there were so many of those spirits present. We needed all the power and faith that we as a group could exert.
As we worked with these spirits, teaching and commanding, they left one or two at a time. After two hours of struggle, there were only two spirits left. At that time these spirits took control of this woman and began speaking to us through her voice.
“Go away and leave us alone,” they said. “We are far too powerful for you to control. You could never send us away.”
“What makes you think you are so powerful?”
“In Satan’s kingdom there are many levels of authority and power. The two of us stand next to him in authority, and therefore there is no one more powerful than we are, except for Satan himself.”
At this point I said a silent prayer, asking the Lord what I should do. The answer came into my mind very clearly, “Send them to the Light.”
I argued with the Lord saying, “I can’t send them to the light. They are the wicked ones that are to be cast out into outer darkness at the time of the final judgment.”
“No, send them to the Light.” The answer came again. “I still love them.”
I spent the next hour trying to teach these two spirits and convince them that it was possible for them to go to the Light. They argued and insisted that they were too wicked and evil, and that there was no way that the Lord would accept them.
Finally, I asked, “How long have you been fighting against Christ?”
“For millions of years.”
“What has been your goal in all of that struggle?”
“To lead people away from Christ into the fold of Satan, and we have been very successful.”
“You know that there is opposition in all things. If one can leave Christ and embrace Satan, you can leave Satan and embrace Christ.” Just look up. He is there with outstretched arms waiting for you.”
Suddenly this woman fell to the floor and contorted in a way that I have never before witnessed. The expression on her face and her body language communicated the greatest degree of sadness I have ever witnessed. At this point the spirits began to weep saying, “He lied. He lied. He told us that if we would follow him he would force us to do good, and we would automatically go to the highest heavens. All he has done is force us to do evil and we hate it. He has us trapped. We have to do everything he says or he will punish us.”
“Your day of deliverance has come,” I said. “Turn to Christ. Give your burdens to him. He will forgive you. He will take all your darkness and replace it with light. He will then take you into a world of light where you can finish the healing process and resume your eternal progression.”
“If we did that, we would lose our great power.”
“What you perceive to be great power is only the power to destroy. Anyone can destroy. Real power is the power to create. Your only hope of getting that real power is to embrace the Light, accept the healing that comes from Christ, and allow him to take you to that realm of light.”
At this point, this woman relaxed. Calmness spread throughout her body and throughout the entire room. It was evident that they were gone. This wonderful woman was completely recovered from her paralysis.
—– End of Quote ——
Well, that’s enough to illustrate the point. I can provide many other examples but will refrain. My purpose is not sensationalism, but discussion of doctrine. Who is correct – the well-published theologian or the humble, but now excommunicated man, Mel Fish, who has helped hundreds, if not thousands of people, rid themselves of the influence of evil and unclean spirits? Teach me.
Difference Between Evil and Unclean Spirits
Remember, there is a difference between evil spirits and unclean spirits. Evil spirits have never been born into this mortal existence. Unclean spirits have been born and died but have not gone to the light. They still hang around, bound by the pull of the flesh – an addiction or some other mortal temptation that they continue to seek by momentarily inhabiting the body of another.
And just to wrap this up into the parable offered by Denver Snuffer, is it possible that these evil spirits represent those who will be invited to the great feast at the end of the competition? In fact, aren’t all invited and aren’t all welcome at the King’s table, both those who have been mortal and those who not only didn’t participate but discouraged others from doing so successfully?
Only a Theological Exercise
But then, it’s just a parable – food for thought. What do you think? Can evil spirits repent? Or is Mel Fish simply trying to say that God will do with them as he sees fit. Perhaps he is not really teaching that they can repent, only that they can choose to go to the light if they have a reason. If you invite an evil spirit to go to the light and you think they have gone, have you been deceived?
Disclaimer: Please don’t accuse me of teaching false doctrine. This is only a theological exercise. If this sort of writing offends you or causes you concern, please don’t read it or give it a second thought. And please don’t complain to the Strengthening Church Members Committee that Brother Malone needs to be talked to by his Stake President. This is just a blog in which I review books.
Note 1: If you want to read more of this kind of stuff online: Go to Unclean Spirits Blog. I don’t know the author. I have communicated with him by email but he wishes to remain anonymous.
Note 2: I have added a link to a three-page PDF of the full copy of the theological argument against evil spirits having any desire or motivation to repent. Let me know if think you know the author. I would like to give him credit. It is quoted in Doug Mendenhall’s book: Conquering Spiritual Evil.
Paul said, “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” I’ve thought often about this statement and wondered why Paul suggested it. Perhaps it’s because he knew we all need to be encouraged from time to time.
Do you ever get discouraged? I do. I’m older than some of you and younger than others but I’ve had enough experience in life to discover there’s not always someone there to cheer you up or help you on your way when things get tough.
Or is there? I’ll address that in a little bit.
Sources of Help
I learned very early in life that my parents didn’t have all the answers when it came to dealing with difficulties. I saw them struggle sometimes just like I did. I watched them make mistakes, lose their patience or give bad advice to others.
It was a little disconcerting at first, especially since I loved them so much and wanted them to be perfect. I’m grateful that over time, the Lord helped me to see my parents as good people trying to do their best but occasionally, no, often, failing. This realization only increased my love for them.
There comes a time in most of our lives, especially when we are young, when we turn to friends for guidance and direction. Maybe we don’t specifically ask them in words like “Hey, can you help me figure this out?” but we nonetheless look to them for help in dealing with things that concern us.
Unfortunately, friends can disappoint. Even though they may be well-meaning, they can sometimes be less than encouraging, mainly because they have no clue themselves what to do in our situation. It’s good to have friends, especially those who are patient and kind, but friends with good answers are rare.
We’re all Sinners
So what do you do when you get discouraged? You’re a good person, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But you make mistakes. We all do. I do. The scripture usually cited to back this up is 1 John 1:8 – “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Don’t be upset if this is the first time you’ve been called a sinner. We’re all sinners. If I were to pause right now and ask everyone here to think about some sin or weakness that is bothering you, everyone here would be able to bring something to mind, even if it’s the mistaken thought that you have no sins.
In fact, I think I will. I’m going to pause for just a few seconds. I promise you the Holy Ghost will help you think of something that bothers you, something you can improve or something that you know is displeasing to the Lord.
OK, that’s long enough. The thought or image that came to your mind was probably not very pleasant, was it? The memory of my weakness causes me to feel like a failure. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life. I’m not going to tell you what it is and I don’t want to know what your weakness is.
Hope and Gratitude
Now I want to talk about hope. For me, hope is tied closely to gratitude. I’m grateful I’ve been taught all my life that we can overcome our weaknesses. It gives me hope to remember the reason I’m here on earth is to learn from my mistakes. That means I will make mistakes when I try to accomplish good things in life.
Just remembering that thought is very comforting to me. One of the biggest results of discouragement is that we stop trying to do new things or stop trying to do better in ways we know we should. For example, I know I should study the gospel more and read the scriptures every day. I don’t do as well as I should.
Every time I come to church and hear someone share something they discovered in their gospel study, I am encouraged and filled with hope. I then feel I can and will do better myself in my efforts to study the gospel during the week. I am especially encouraged by good teachers who are prepared to lead our classes.
God Gives Us Weaknesses
I just finished reading the Book of Mormon again. As I came to the twelfth chapter of Ether, I once again read these words with joy, “… if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble … if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
I have decided I will confess my weakness unto you after all. In James 5:16, we read, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” I ask for your prayers in my behalf. Even though I’ve already been talking about it, to be very specific, my fault, my weakness is discouragement.
Now you may say, “Discouragement is no sin. We all experience it.” Yes, I know, but it can be debilitating, especially when it’s used by the adversary. When I get discouraged, I have a hard time remembering all the good things the Lord has done for me. I forget promises I have made about doing better each day.
I have made every effort to come unto the Lord as he has asked us to do in the scriptures. The Lord has not only shown me my weaknesses, he has also shown me how the adversary uses them as stumbling blocks to keep me from reaching my full potential in this life. Discouragement causes me to feel overwhelmed.
When I get overwhelmed, I tend to shut down. I refuse to take on new tasks or try new things. Do you ever get that way? When I get overwhelmed, I have a hard time deciding what among all the good things before me I should do with the limited amount of time I have been given. So I do nothing. That’s not good. Or worse, I waste my time with things that are not worthy of me.
Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths
I want that promise in Ether to be fulfilled. I want my weak things to be made strong. I also remember that the Lord gave me my weaknesses. Since my weakness is discouragement, can I accept that the Lord gave me that weakness? I can, especially because I know he wants to help me turn that into a strength.
Gratefully, this scripture teaches the secret to have our weak things turned into strengths. It is to humble ourselves before the Lord and to have faith in Him. In other words, we need to believe His promises and act upon them. He promises to help us become strong. I believe Him. That gives me hope.
I don’t know exactly how he does it. At this point in my progression, it’s still a miracle to me, something I don’t fully understand. I accept it on faith. I know that the Lord loves me and I know that he wants to help me. He has proven that to me many times in the past. I’m encouraged by the hope this scripture brings.
Working a Plan
So I pray unto the Lord, and even though I know He already knows, I tell Him I’m discouraged. I tell Him I’m overwhelmed. I tell Him I don’t know which of all the demands on my time I should address first. I tell him I’m tempted to do nothing for fear of masking a mistake or wasting my time.
Because He loves me, He doesn’t always tell me what to do. In fact, He is rarely specific. But He does remind me I have agency, encourages me to make a decision on a course of action and then present it to Him for confirmation. So I make a list, order the tasks in the way I think they should be done and then return to him in prayer with my list and a few ideas on how to accomplish them.
Invariably, the Lord says, “OK, sounds good. Go ahead. Looks like you’ve thought it out. Let’s see where that takes you.” Never have I heard, “No, that’s not a good idea. That would be a waste of your time.” The Lord always honors my agency and encourages me to try things to see what results I get. Occasionally, He even shows me the results in my mind’s eye in advance so I can plan better.
Doing the Work
Sometimes I discover after starting on my task that it did not produce the results for which I was hoping. That’s OK. At least I tried it. I then go on to the next item on my list and the next until I can return to the Lord and report I have tried everything I could think of to fix the problem. I know that pleases Him.
In the process I discover I have accomplished a lot of good things I might not have done had I not been trying to solve this problem, to fix this weakness, to overcome this sin or this temptation. People compliment me on how organized and efficient I am or that I get a lot done. Trust me, it’s only because I’m trying to do everything in my power to eliminate stress from my life.
In the end I know I can’t fix myself anyway, only the Lord can do that. I keep asking and keep pleading to be healed, but know that it will be on his timetable after I have learned whatever it is I am supposed to learn from the process of overcoming. Perhaps what I am learning most is patience with myself.
Thorn in the Side
I feel like Paul when he said that he had asked the Lord three times to remove a thorn in his side. We may never know in this life what he was talking about. Many scholars have assumed it was some sort of physical weakness or frailty. I don’t view it that way. Paul called it a messenger of Satan. I think it was temptation of some sort. He said it kept him from being overly exalted.
He also said he received an abundance of revelations. I’m not going to make a claim like Paul’s, but I will say I have felt the Lord give me answers to prayers and guide me in my thoughts as I turn to him for help in solving my problems. I have no doubt the Lord knows me and is willing to help me through this life. I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost that seems to grow stronger each day.
As a people, I think we tend to be overly hard on ourselves. We’re prone to expect perfection sooner than we are ready for it. The word perfect has interesting connotations. In one sense, it means complete. We remind ourselves that in this life we cannot be perfect, but in the same breath, we say we must be perfect because we are commanded to be so. I think the Lord was simply telling us to finish the race, to endure to the end and to pass though all we are supposed to before we die.
Finish the Race
In other words, don’t quit, don’t give up before our days are through. I think most of know someone who has fought cancer or some other illness that, in the end, took the life of our friend or family member. I am constantly amazed by the faith of those passing through such illnesses. They believe they are going to get better. Their courage is a source of inspiration to all those around them.
But then they die. All of us must die. We don’t like to think about it. Sometimes we act like mortality will go on forever, especially when we’re young. “I have time to finish that self-improvement project,” we say to ourselves. When I graduate from college, once I get married, when the kids are grown, when I retire. The list goes on and on. But today is the day to do the work we are here to do.
Alma 34:34 – “Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.”
In other words, our eternity is what we make of it here. How can we become something we are not? The purpose of this life is to prepare for eternity, to be the person we want to be in the life to come. If we are happy when we depart this life, we will be happy when we enter the spirit world and when we’re resurrected.
I’m not teaching anything new here. This is all standard doctrine found in the scriptures. What I am trying to do is to help us step back and take another look at the big picture just for a moment. In the context of encouraging us to do those things that we know are hard to do, remember that this life is short and the whole purpose is to do those hard things, not to relax, take it easy or be entertained.
At the beginning of this talk I said that there’s not always someone there to cheer you up with you get discouraged. But then I questioned that statement. I’d like to clarify. If there’s one thing of which I am a witness, meaning I know from personal, first-hand experience, it’s that we are not alone. We are never alone. We have been given the promise of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion.
I read a lot about this idea, even from General Authorities, who teach that there are times when we will be left alone to work things out on our own. While I agree with them in principle, I still feel that we have the right to ask the Lord to send his spirit to help us through our trials and difficulties. When we are in agony, we can do as the Savior did and pray even more earnestly.
We are taught that in the end, the Savior was left on his own while on the cross to be able to claim the full power of the atonement as His. I can understand and do support that teaching. Like I’m sure you have, I have passed through some terrible moments when I fell entirely alone. I knew I was being tested to see how I would respond. I have prayed with great earnestness that perhaps my cup, my trial could be taken from me. I also prayed that the will of the Father be done.
Help from Angels
Even when I have felt that nobody could take the pain or sorrow from me, I have always felt that the Lord has constantly been there and very much aware of what and how I’m doing. When I have felt anger at having to suffer, or despair at the loss I knew I was about to experience, still, I knew the Lord or His Angels were watching me. Even when I did not have the comfort of the Holy Ghost, I felt the presence of someone watching over me. Always. All my life. Every day.
I don’t think I’m special or any different from any of you. I am tempted and tried. I make mistakes. I fail. I commit sins. I often do less than my best. But as far as I know, I have not had to pass through the feeling of being left totally alone that the Savior suffered in those last few moments on the cross. I am so grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Light of Christ and the presence of angels to watch over me and bear me up. Because of this, I know my Father in Heaven loves me.
He wants me to do better. He wants me to succeed. He wants me to be happy. He wants me to overcome and master the flesh. He understands that I am weak but continues to encourage me to be strong, get up and try again. If there’s anything I can say to help anyone here today who is discouraged, it would be just that. Get up, try again. God knows your struggle. He is cheering you on. I am too.
I wrote an essay several years ago on my old blog that still gets a lot of hits even though I retired that blog and transferred everything over here. I’m glad I kept the old blog up because occasionally I get a comment there that inspires me to write something profound. Well, I think it’s at least inspired and uplifting. I felt impressed to share it here. It starts with the comment from Samantha:
I recently started meeting with my Bishop to repent for other sins that I had committed. I was almost ready to get my Temple Recommend when Satan came at me with full-force. I began to engage in watching pornography and masturbation.
My Bishop is a wonderful man, but I am far too scared to tell him of the addiction that I am faced with. It is not a daily habit, but it is still a problem. I have prayed, and I have come to realize I cannot overcome this on my own.
I feel so awful and depressed after engaging in these behaviors. I want to be clean; I want to go to the temple.
Is there anything else that I can do that would be sufficient for the repentance process? I don’t want to tell my bishop, at all. I do want to overcome this addiction immediately though. Or at least be able to refrain from such atrocities.
And my response:
Much love your way. Thanks for reading and adding your comment. I commend you for your desire to increase your self-mastery. That’s a big deal. Some people are not bothered by viewing porn or masturbating. “It’s normal,” they say. In fact, we’re looked upon as being weird because we want to adhere to a higher moral standard commanded by the Lord and his servants.
I recommend visiting the sites I linked to at the end of the original essay. There is a lot of good advice to be found in those pages. Most of the comments I have added here over the years are intended to give hope and encouragement. I want to continue that in responding to your plea for help. I think I wrote this previously but I’ll share it again. This trial can bring you to the Lord.
I feel impressed to share something that may or may not be applicable to you. Perhaps it will be helpful to future readers. It has to do with responsibility and accountability. Going to the temple is a big deal. The temple is a place of revelation. When I go there I always come away knowing more about myself, what I really want out of life and what I want to do with my free time.
I’ll bet like most people who have written me about this problem, you’re fine as long as you keep yourself busy. If you’ve got a regular schedule of work or school or both, you do well in that structure. The difficulty usually comes when there are no pressing demands on your time and nobody waiting for you to do something for them – a teacher, a co-worker or a family member.
That’s usually when your thoughts turn to yourself and what you want. Those are the defining moments of life. Satan knows that, which is why temptation seems to strike hardest when you are pondering something like going to the temple. We grow and advance in our lives when we go to the temple. We come closer to fulfilling our purpose in life as we attend the temple regularly.
The best advice I can offer is to partake of the sacrament and ponder the promises found in the sacramental prayers. The key phrases are “always remember him” and “have his spirit to be with them.” I know you’ve probably heard this in every public prayer and perhaps you offer it your own private prayers – to have his spirit. But do we focus as much on “always remember him?”
There’s something special and wonderful in the Sacrament that even after more than fifty years I still don’t fully understand. No, it’s not magic. We don’t believe in that. But it is powerful and it is real. I feel hopeful after partaking of the sacrament with real intent. I want it to work in my life and because I want that, believe that it can, it does. My power is strengthened by the Sacrament.
At the end of every Sabbath day I feel empowered, partly through offering service but mostly because I have partaken of the sacrament and have pondered how I can better remember the Savior during the week. I think ahead to the moments when I know I will have down time and think what I can do to show the Lord that I do remember him and want his spirit to be with me.
For me, there is something of a miracle that takes place in those quiet moments. Because I have asked, the Lord reveals to me what I will be doing during those quiet moments during the week. I can see myself working on some writing project or some other activity that will be helpful to me and to others. No, it’s not guaranteed that I will do exactly that, but it’s clear that it can be so.
My desire to do good things and be good is strengthened. I am in a partnership with the Lord to make something special out of my life. It is in the quiet moments that my life really develops. But it doesn’t work unless I make the effort to remember the Lord. Every time I do, he gives me special sacred feelings that encourage me and help me feel like I can do all I’m asked to do.
I hope this helps. There is no easy answer. It’s not like you can turn off a switch. Sorry. You’ve got hormones and that’s a good thing. Without them you’ve have no drive or ambition in life. Well, I’m speaking from a man’s point of view. For a woman I suppose that without hormones you would have no desire to nurture and strengthen relationships. I thank God for the sex drive.
Please don’t be so hard on yourself. I have a theory about why we feel depressed or hopeless when participating in pornography or masturbation. I’ve shared it elsewhere. It has to do with the influence of unclean spirits – those who have no hope or light of Christ in their lives. It’s just a natural result of allowing them to use you, even for just a moment. You feel what they feel.
Of course if you don’t believe in the existence of evil or unclean spirits you’re going to think this is crazy. That’s OK. As I wrote at the beginning of my essay, I’m not writing this to those who are unbelievers. My experience in life has settled the question for me. They are real and I know of their existence through experiences too sacred to share. But let’s not dwell on that aspect.
Focus on the Savior. Focus on building hope. Believe that you can eventually master yourself. Be happy that you even want to. God bless you in your efforts. Nobody can do this for you. In the temple we learn all ordinances are personal, performed one at a time for each individual. No answer fits everyone, but I have found this plan has met with success time after time in others.
Good luck and God bless. You can do it.
On this Pioneer day, I decided to answer all the personal questions that you are asked when you fill out the profile on Mormon.org. There are a whole lot more under the FAQ section (about 80) but that will have to wait for another day when I have more time. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of answering these questions and felt like I was being interviewed, thus the title of this blog post.
01. Please explain the part prayer plays in your life?
Having grown up with daily prayer, I can’t imagine a day go by in which I don’t communicate with my Heavenly Father in prayer. We start the day in prayer as a family asking for the Lord’s blessing upon us as we work. We end the day in prayer the same way, usually kneeling by the bed, reporting our activities to God and thanking him for his help. We give thanks for the food we eat at mealtimes and participate in public prayers in our weekly worship service. It is through prayer and reading scriptures that I feel close to God and directed in my life.
02. Which of the Savior’s teachings have influenced you in your life?
The most powerful admonition of the Lord that has helped me find happiness in this life is his commandment that we love one another. I remember this whenever I feel that I have been misunderstood or hurt by someone else, either intentionally or not. It is so easy to take offense in this world but the end result is that we only hurt ourselves when we do that. To love others is to trust in the Lord that he will help make everything all right, even if it doesn’t appear that way at first. He also requires us to forgive others since we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. We show our love by forgiving.
03. Please share your feelings/testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel.
Even though I grew up hearing the Joseph Smith story I am still amazed as an adult to realize just how powerful his history really is. Think about it! Angels, gold plates, visits from God, Jesus Christ and ancient apostles and prophets – these are all miraculous events that we just don’t hear about everyday. It is truly a marvelous thing to learn all that the Lord did through Joseph Smith, the Prophet of God. I am especially grateful for revealed doctrines that clarified and corrected the errors of man in the many religions of the world.
04. Please share your feelings/testimony of Joseph Smith.
I have read at least a dozen biographies of the life of Joseph Smith, and continue to be amazed that the Lord was able to accomplish so much through this one man. He was a prophet in every sense of the word in that the Lord revealed his will for us through him and continues to do so through the prophets that have followed. But it was Joseph who paid so dearly with his life even though he did what the Lord told him to do in bringing forth the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I hold Joseph Smith in high regard and look forward to meeting him in the world to come. I want to thank him for his faithfulness in translating the Book of Mormon.
05. Why do Mormons go on missions?
I went on a mission because I watched a video of the prophet asking all worthy young men to serve the Lord as missionaries. As he shared his vision of how the gospel would go to all the world, I deeply felt a desire stirring within my soul to be a part of that great army of missionaries. It was a major sacrifice for me to leave my studies and spend two years in Central America seeking out those who would respond to the Lord’s invitation to come unto him through baptism. I loved my mission experience and found joy in testifying to the world that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. We go on missions because we are commanded to share the gospel and feel the desire to seek out and bring the message of the truth to all who will receive it.
06. Why do Mormons do family history or genealogy work?
Besides being a commandment to seek out our ancestors, we do family history research because we feel a desire to know and appreciate the story of those to whom we are indebted for our very lives. I am a product of all those who came before me. My parents were influenced by their parents and they were who they were because of their parents and so on back as far as we can discover. Once we have the basic facts of their lives such as names and dates, we are privileged to go to the temple and perform proxy ordinances for them so that they too may meet the commandments of the Lord to be baptized and enter into covenants of exaltation. We do family history work so we can be saviors on Mt Zion (Obadiah 1:21).
07. How has attending Church services helped you?
One of the highlights of my week is to attend church services each Sunday. I serve in a leadership capacity in my church, and attend a few more meetings besides the regular three-hour block of Sacrament, Sunday school and Priesthood meetings. I love the interaction with others who believe as I do and feel as I do about trying to follow the teachings of the Savior. I say try because nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes each week. That’s another reason why I love to go to church each Sunday – I get to renew my baptism covenants by taking the Sacrament each week. I learn more of the gospel of Jesus Christ in these church services and feel a unity with God and with my fellow saints as we worship God and Jesus Christ together.
08. What has helped develop greater harmony in your home?
Like everyone else, I have experienced moments of argument and disharmony in my home which leave me feeling frustrated, resentful, hurt or angry. I do not like such feelings, especially in my home where I want to relax and feel happy, safe and secure. So over the years, I have made a greater effort each day to promote harmony and unity by not arguing and not finding fault with my family members. I was not very good at this as a youth and so I appreciate the blessings that have come to me as an adult as I try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ to love others, especially members of my own family, who need and deserve my love the most. We can have a harmonious home by practicing kindness and forgiveness.
09. What have you done successfully to shield your family from unwanted influences?
Of all the teachings of the church about family, this idea of keeping out the world has been the most difficult but the most rewarding. Television and the Internet are two of the most challenging types of media to monitor and control. We believe in freedom so we encourage each other to seek after virtuous and uplifting material. So the shield we put into place is not anything controlling such as “thou shalt not!” It is more of making sure that we understand the differences that certain material, music or entertainment can produce, compared to the results of worthy content. We seek out and support worthy entertainment and uplifting media content and pray constantly that we will each desire such material over the worldly offerings.
10. Could you talk about your baptism?
I was eight years old when I was baptized and for me, that is a long time ago. My father, who was a recent convert, had to work the evening of my baptism, so he was unable to perform the ordinance. I was baptized by a young man who was preparing to serve a mission. My father was able to confirm me a member of the church the next day and I remember the special feelings that came to me as he conferred upon me the gift of the Holy Ghost. I remember my primary teacher was there and gave me a picture of the Savior mounted on a small piece of wood. I still treasure that memento and the words of encouragement that she penned on the back. I’m sure I did not understand all the implications of the covenants I was making at eight years old, but I have come to appreciate the blessings of this ordinance more and more each Sunday as I take the Sacrament and remember what the Savior miraculously did for me in taking upon himself the effects of my sins upon conditions of repentance. It is baptism that makes my repentance possible.
11. Why/How do you share the gospel with your friends?
I am not a very outgoing person so I believe that the best way I can share the gospel with others is through providing a good example of following the teachings of the Savior. I have been amazed over the years as I see the influence that my behavior has on others. I feel it brings respect and a kind of trust that can come in no other way. I am sometimes surprised that people, including co-workers, will unsolicited confide in me details of problems they are working out and seek my advice and opinion. I am then able to share my beliefs that following the teachings of Jesus Christ can and does help me deal with problems and that it can help them too. Because I am shy, I find great comfort in sharing my feelings about the gospel online and am an active LDS blogger. I also use modern technology like Facebook and Twitter to share my life. The gospel comes up in the natural course of sharing things online and results in online dialogs in non-threatening and informative way.
12. How does making right choices help us make more right choices?
When we choose the right even when it is hard to do, we strengthen our character and develop integrity. Deciding to do the right thing one time makes it easier to do the right thing the next time. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the added advantage of the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift helps us understand what the right thing to do is in difficult situations. When we decide to follow the impressions of the Holy Ghost in making life’s choices, we show God that we value and appreciate this gift. The impressions of the spirit will then become stronger or easier to recognize and we can grow in always making right choices. Of course, being mortal, we will all make mistakes. The Holy Ghost can also help us repent and make better choices in the future.
13. In what ways have your prayers been answered?
There are so many countless examples over the years that it is hard to share just one or two. Perhaps the most dramatic for me was on the day that I proposed to my wife. After I returned home from my mission, I had been praying for quite some time to find a woman who believed as I did and with whom I could be happy. I was dating my wife’s best friend but the chemistry was just not there. One day my wife invited me to a ball game and I told her about my troubles getting her friend to like me. I could see that her feelings were hurt. The next day I visited her in her home and had a long conversation about life and marriage and family. I had some very powerful spiritual feelings as I was talking to her that I knew were an answer to my prayers. I proposed on the spot and we were married a few months later. The Lord helped me with one of the most important decisions of my life.
14. What are you doing to help strengthen your family and make it successful?
My role in the family is to provide security and stability – both financial and spiritual. I enjoy my responsibility to work and earn the money that we need to have a home, food, clothing and other necessities of life. But more importantly, I enjoy my responsibility to provide spiritual direction for my family. We are strengthened by attending church together, by praying and reading the scriptures together and by pursuing worthwhile family goals. For example, my wife and I take classes at the local community college in the evenings in an effort to improve ourselves and keep our minds active. We are strengthened as we work together as a family to accomplish good things with our lives and to provide service in our church and our community. The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us in this endeavor.
15. How has your knowledge of the Plan of Happiness changed/benefited your life?
Sometimes this life can be a drag on the spirit because of all the disappointments and setbacks that come as a natural part of living in this world. Understanding the Plan of Happiness helps me to realize that such setbacks are temporary. I remain convinced that the Lord is very involved in my life and wants to help me through my journey until I am ready to return to his presence in the life to come. Knowing that I lived before I came to this world to experience mortality helps me to have a bigger picture of things. Knowing that I will live in the world to come and that I will someday be resurrected with a glorious and eternal body give me hope that goes beyond the drudgery and dullness that this life can sometimes be. The Plan of Happiness is just that – a plan for me to find and achieve happiness through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance and enduring to the end of mortality true to what I know.
16. What is hope and what do you hope for?
Hope is the belief and conviction that there is purpose and meaning to this life. Hope is the understanding that even though we pass through trials and troubles, we can have the assurance that our experiences are for our good and will cause us to grow. I hope for a glorious resurrection. I know that this is dependant upon my personal righteousness and my works of faith in this life. Yes, the resurrection is a free gift to all men, but we believe that the quality of our lives in the hereafter is very much dependant on our actions here. This life is a time of testing and proving and we can hope that our efforts in struggling against opposition in this world will be rewarded by a just and merciful God who wants to bless and help us through it.
17. How has the Book of Mormon helped you understand the purpose of life?
In the Book of Mormon we read that “men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). I can’t think of any more concise and explicit scriptural reference that helps us understand the purpose of life. Of course, the Book of Mormon provides a lot more insight into how we go about finding that joy and even helps us to understand what true joy is. One of my favorite stories in the Book of Mormon is the prophet Lehi’s dream about the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8). In his dream he partakes of the fruit of the tree which is desirable to make one happy and is sweet above all that he had ever before tasted. Eating of the fruit fills our soul with exceedingly great joy. The fruit of course is the love of God and we obtain it by holding fast to the Word of God that is represented by the Rod of Iron in Lehi’s dream. What a great story!
18. How has the Holy Ghost helped you?
I consider the Gift of the Holy Ghost one of the greatest blessings in my life. There have been so many instances in which I have been helped by the Holy Ghost that it is hard to imagine getting through this life without this wonderful gift. The Holy Ghost inspires me and encourages me to do things that are hard to do but that result in happiness for me and for others in my life. The Holy Ghost has warned me of danger many times, prompting me to stay away from certain things and places. The Holy Ghost has helped me by prompting me to a certain course of action that I otherwise might not have considered. The Holy Ghost has been my constant companion in my work, helping me to remember things that, if forgotten, could have been the cause of much distress or pain. The Holy Ghost has comforted me in times of sorrow and distress, helping me to feel the love of my Heavenly Father and my Savior even when I do not feel worthy of their love.
19. What blessings have come through your faith in Jesus Christ?
It is because of my faith in Jesus Christ that I am able to get through some of the more difficult aspects of my life. For example, it is hard for me to do things in a public setting. But I have been taught and believe that it will be for my good. The Lord has promised me through the scriptures that he will help me through these difficult circumstances as I exercise faith in him. And like everyone in this world, I am no stranger to making mistakes and poor choices, even when I know better. It is through my faith in Jesus Christ that I put into practice one of my favorite little sayings that helps me keep going: “Success is not in never falling, but in getting up each and every time we fall.” I know that I can be a better person than my fallen human nature would dictate, and it is through faith in Jesus Christ that I am willing to make greater effort each day to be the man that I know he would have me be.
20. How can we develop greater harmony in our homes?
One of the best ways I know of to live in harmony as a family is to do all within our power to avoid criticism, cutting remarks or any attempt to make another family member feel less than loved. We do this by sharing the same ideals and goals – to seek happiness in living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Where some family members may not have fully accepted the vision of the gospel, we can provide an example of tolerance and patience with them, just as our Heavenly Father and our Savior do with us. Fighting, arguing, bickering and contemptuous behavior toward any family member is not the way to have peace and harmony in our homes. Thus, we pray each day that such undesirable activities are mitigated by expressing love and kindness in all that we do. We are each at differing levels of maturity in our understanding of this concept, so it is up to those who do, to live it better each day.
21. Can you think of a specific challenge in your family that Gospel Principles helped overcome?
Like most families, we have experienced our share of challenges that have tested our faith and caused us to lean deeply on our understanding of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ to overcome. For example, my wife and I have both lost parents to death, have had our share of serious health problems, including cancer, and have suffered through multiple seasons of financial stress due to unexpected unemployment. In addition, we have been pained as not all family members have accepted our faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. But it is because of the teachings of Christ that we are encouraged to be patient, that we are comforted when discouraged, that we are inspired when distressed and that we are given strength when we feel weak. We go on and we press forward, believing that it will all work out for our good, either in this life or in the life to come. We meet those challenges with strength knowing that we are not alone and that God has promised to help us through them if we will but exercise our faith in Jesus Christ and remain true and faithful to him.
22. How can your talents and gifts bless others?
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that God gives gifts to each member for the purpose of blessing and supporting each other in this life. Some of those gifts and talents are more obvious, such as singing, musical ability, acting, performing or even a talent to be able to speak with confidence in front of the congregation (trust me, not all members have this talent). But the scriptures teach that God gives some gift or talent to every member. Perhaps one is blessed with the ability to be a good listener, another to share heart-felt testimony of how they know the church to be true, others with the gift of teaching children or even just the talent of being able to live peacefully among their neighbors. When we share our talents and gifts with others, God blesses us and we are “magnified” or made more effective so that others can receive the same benefits that we enjoy.
23. Think about your everyday activities. What are things you act upon each day where you cannot see the end results? How does faith move you to action?
A very simple everyday activity for me that is an act of faith is prayer. I have never seen an angel or heard a voice in response to my prayers, but I continue to pray each day, believing that God does hear and answer my prayers. And indeed he has – by sending the comforting feelings of the Holy Ghost to bless and confirm to me that he loves me and wants me to know the truth for myself. My faith in God and my trust in the words of his prophets as found in the scriptures causes me to continue to pray both as an individual, with my family, in my congregation and in the homes of other members of the church that I visit. The end results of my prayers are not always evident right way but are just as certain as if I had seen the effects at the time of the prayer. I am confident; yes I can say that I know, that God hears and answers our prayers that are offered in faith and with real intent.
24. How has the Book of Mormon brought you closer to God?
I first read the Book of Mormon when I was very young – probably 5 or 6 years old. I read it out loud with my mother, who was a schoolteacher. Our family had recently joined the Mormon Church so this was also my mother’s first time reading the Book of Mormon. I remember the special feelings I had as we read it together. I felt a warm and comforting spirit as I read. I have read the Book of Mormon many times in the many years since I first read it. In fact, there is not a year that goes by in which we do not read from it either individually or as a family. No matter how many times we read the same passages, we always seem to learn something new or have our faith in the truthfulness of the book reaffirmed. The same warm feelings always return. But it is by following the principles of the gospel that are written in the Book of Mormon that we draw closer to God. It is in the pages of the Book of Mormon that we learn more about the purpose of life and God’s plan of happiness for us. The Book of Mormon teaches us to study things out and to pray about them that we may know of their truthfulness for ourselves.
25. Can you talk about the missions of the Church and your participation in them?
Up until recently, we as members of church recited the mission of the church as follows: to preach the gospel, redeem the dead and to perfect the saints. Within the past year, a fourth mission has been added: to care for the poor and the needy. We now call these four areas of focus simply the purposes of the church. In my life, I have participated in each of these areas by serving a mission and continuing to share the gospel, by doing family history or genealogy work and by magnifying my callings to serve in the church as a teacher, leader or whatever I’m asked to do. I’m grateful to be able to assist in caring for the poor and the needy by contributing money to the fast offering funds of the church and by volunteering to serve food at the local homeless shelter on a regular basis. These missions or purposes of the church help me as an individual member focus on what is really important to our Heavenly Father – to save his children, both temporally and spiritually.
As created by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter, the character of Hester Prynne is a powerful woman. She interacts impressively with those around her in the epoch that the story takes place – Puritan America of the 1640’s. If she had lived in the days of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864) it is certain that she would also be looked upon as an influential woman of that time. In fact, if she had lived in our day, there is no doubt that she would be a leader among women in our society.
The source of Hester’s power is her moral integrity. Now, that may be a fantastic claim for the main character of a novel that addresses adultery. But I am confident that you will at least understand the thesis, if not agree with it, once the evidence is presented and considered.
We will first review the social structure that prevailed in Puritan America, including the roles of men and women. We will observe how Hester related to the male hierarchy and especially how she dealt with the austere consequences of her choice that were thrust upon her. The strength of Hester’s moral character will become apparent as she remains true to promises made to other key characters in the story. Her power will clearly be made manifest in a few final scenes in which it is obvious that she is the real pillar of the most important relationships in her life.
Hester Prynne rises above the events that mold her life, and demonstrates how embracing her identity and especially her sexuality allow her to be a powerful influence for good among all those who know her. Through Hester, Hawthorne helps us see the personal power of a woman, in this case a woman of deep passion who is forced by a cold society to subdue and master that passion, which is so evident in her youth, beauty and spirit.
Hester Makes Her Appearance
We are introduced to Hester as she comes out of the jail where she had been incarcerated ostensibly for adultery and presumably where she gave birth to her daughter, Pearl a few months previously. She had come to this land ahead of a husband, who was apparently lost at sea. We are not certain if she is a member of the Puritan faith, but it is certain that she now lives among their society. Looking for direction in her time of recent loss, she seeks guidance and comfort from the local minister. Comfort turns to passion and the result is now borne in her arms.
She emerges to “a people amongst whom religion and law are almost identical” (Hawthorne, 45). The crime of adultery could have been punished by death or by public flogging, but in this case, Hester is required to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her bosom as a sign to all of her crime. Being good with the needle, she has made it into a beautiful emblem, and embroidered it with a gold thread.
Some of the people are surprised, but show no sympathy. “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead,” (Hawthorne 47), proclaims one of the women in the market-place where Hester is brought forth for public ridicule. “This woman has brought shame upon us all and ought to die. Is there not a law for it? Truly there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book” (Hawthorne 47).
The magistrates of the community are no more compassionate than the gaggle of gossiping women as they interrogate her publically and once again ask her to reveal the father of the child. They even have the Reverend Dimmesdale implore her with passionate speech to name her lover. Looking directly into his eyes, she refuses and expresses the desire that she “might endure his agony, as well as mine” (Hawthorne 63). This is a clear indication of the moral strength of this woman. She knows what it will do to the minister if she names him. But she is willing to sacrifice herself that he might continue on in his office. That is impressive! But he cannot hide from the torment of his own guilt and shame.
The Long-Lost Husband Appears
A major character in the story makes his appearance in the market place and witnesses what is taking place without revealing who he really is – Hester’s long lost husband who had been delayed by both shipwreck and falling among savages. Hester had recognized him but they did not speak until later when he comes to visit her and the child in the jail. He is a scholar and a chemist and treats the distraught pair that they may be at peace. A conversation ensues in which we come to know that theirs was a loveless marriage. He also asks her to name her lover but she continues to refuse.
He then swears her to secrecy regarding his identity. “I will keep thy secret, as I have his,” (Hawthorne 71) said Hester. And she took the oath. Once again, we see that Hester is a woman of moral integrity as she never reveals who he is until much later in the story and only then after getting his permission. She wonders what his purpose is at the time but it becomes obvious later that he is out for revenge. He promises that he will discover her lover and destroy him, which he proceeds to do by becoming close to him over time.
Hester Learns From Her Punishment
Hester accepts her punishment, wears the scarlet “A,” becomes an outcast from society and yet finds a way to provide for herself and Pearl by her skills with the needle as a seamstress. At one point, hearing talk that the magistrates are considering her fitness as a mother, she goes to the governor to deliver a pair of gloves and to discuss with him the welfare of the child. She is told that she may not see his worship now. “Nevertheless, I will enter,” (Hawthorne 96) she answered as she pushes past the servant and makes her way into the house to find the governor. By this one simple action we sense the dignity and power of this woman. She cannot be deterred when she has a mission to perform.
She has heard aright, they have been considering the child’s welfare and ask her mother what she can do for her. “I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this,” (Hawthorne 102) and lays her finger on the scarlet letter. She has obviously already become a wiser woman as she emphasizes the lessons are for Pearl’s good. They address Pearl directly and ask her who made her, hoping to determine if she has learned from her mother some basic Christian doctrine. Pearl replies that she has been plucked by her mother off the wild rose bushes that grew by the prison door.
Hester Defends Herself With Passion
It doesn’t look good for Hester but she passionately defends herself by proclaiming, “God gave me the child! He gave her in requital of all things else which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness—she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me, too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a millionfold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not take her! I will die first!” (Hawthorne 104) Wow! What passion!
She then turns to Reverend Dimmesdale and says, “Speak thou for me! Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for me! Thou knowest—for thou hast sympathies which these men lack—thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother’s rights, and how much the stronger they are when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!” (Hawthorne 105)
She knows what she is doing. Here is the father and she knows that he must defend her rights as the mother or risk exposure himself. Once again, the moral courage of Hester shines forth as she courageously defends herself by virtue of her position as a woman and mother, in spite of the control of the male-dominated system. Her influence upon Dimmesdale is obviously very powerful as he is able to convince the governor that Pearl should remain with Hester, for both their sakes. The mission for which Pearl was born has not yet been fulfilled.
Hester gets Permission to Break Her Oath
Space does not permit numerous other examples that demonstrate the power of this woman so we will consider the two most obvious. Let us skip forward to the forest scene where the Reverend Dimmsdale is returning from a visit to a friend. It is Hester’s intention to reveal to her lover the true identity of the man who is seeking to destroy him. As was noted earlier, she obtained permission to break her oath after confronting her husband and demanding that he release her from her bond.
She can no longer stand what her husband has been doing to her lover with his slow torture, both emotional and probably chemical. She convinces the old man with her eloquent and passionate speech that the Reverend needs to know the truth. Relenting to her persuasion, he says “It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may! Now, go thy ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder man” (Hawthorne 163).
The Famous Forest Encounter
She waits for the Reverend on the forest path. She calls his name and they begin their first private conversation in seven years since the night of their passion. His pain is almost palpable to Hester. He is so miserable because of the lie he has been living for so long. She reveals the true identity of the doctor; that he was once her husband and that he has been taking his revenge out on the Reverend for all these years. She begs his forgiveness. He refuses.
“Oh, Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame!—the indelicacy!—the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it! Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this!—I cannot forgive thee!” (Hawthorne 183) And then, with the power that only a woman has, and in what is arguably the best scene in the book,
…with sudden and desperate tenderness she threw her arms around him, and pressed his head against her bosom, little caring though his cheek rested on the scarlet letter. He would have released himself, but strove in vain to do so. Hester would not set him free, lest he should look her sternly in the face. All the world had frowned on her—for seven long years had it frowned upon this lonely woman—and still she bore it all, nor ever once turned away her firm, sad eyes. Heaven, likewise, had frowned upon her, and she had not died. But the frown of this pale, weak, sinful, and sorrow-stricken man was what Hester could not bear, and live! (Hawthorne 183)
The Power of a Passionate Woman
He cannot resist the power of this passionate embrace and so forgives her and asks God to forgive them both. Now for only a brief moment in the forest, we are privileged to witness once again the awesome power of this woman as they make plans to leave and go away together to England. “If this be the path to a better life, as Hester would persuade me, I surely give up no fairer prospect by pursuing it! Neither can I any longer live without her companionship; so powerful is she to sustain—so tender to soothe!” (Hawthorne 190) Hester then
undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter, and, taking it from her bosom, threw it to a distance among the withered leaves. The mystic token alighted on the hither verge of the stream … The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit. O exquisite relief! She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom! By another impulse, she took off the formal cap that confined her hair, and down it fell upon her shoulders, dark and rich, with at once a shadow and a light in its abundance, and imparting the charm of softness to her features. There played around her mouth, and beamed out of her eyes, a radiant and tender smile, that seemed gushing from the very heart of womanhood. A crimson flush was glowing on her cheek, that had been long so pale. Her sex, her youth, and the whole richness of her beauty, came back from what men call the irrevocable past, and clustered themselves with her maiden hope, and a happiness before unknown, within the magic circle of this hour (Hawthorne 191).
This scene is so powerful because it illustrates the influence of one woman upon a man whom she loves. Such was “the bliss of these two spirits! Love, whether newly-born, or aroused from a death-like slumber, must always create a sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world. Had the forest still kept its gloom, it would have been bright in Hester’s eyes, and bright in Arthur Dimmesdale’s!” (Hawthorne 192) Trite as it may seem, and overused as the phrase may be, Hester’s personal power was the power of love – a love that heals and that binds two souls together. And Hester was blessed with an overabundance of this powerful gift.
We must conclude this essay demonstrating the power of this woman by considering the last scene. After delivering an emotional election-day speech, the minister comes forth from the church and goes to where Hester and Pearl have been waiting for him at the scaffold, the same place where she was publically ridiculed for her crime seven years earlier. He has resolved that he is too sick to live much longer and decides that running away is not the best thing to do. He extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter.
“Hester Prynne … in the name of Him, so terrible and so merciful, who gives me grace, at this last moment, to do what—for my own heavy sin and miserable agony—I withheld myself from doing seven years ago, come hither now, and twine thy strength about me! Thy strength, Hester; but let it be guided by the will which God hath granted me! … Come, Hester—come! Support me up yonder scaffold” (Hawthorne 237).
Drawing obvious strength from Hester as she supports him with her arm about him, he makes public confession of his part in the crime of passion that brought forth little Pearl. Speaking in the third person, “He bids you look again at Hester’s scarlet letter! He tells you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart! (Hawthorne 240) Baring his breast, he shows the multitude the he too bears the mark of his sin, even though it is not described in detail.
“Then, down he sank upon the scaffold! Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her bosom.” (Hawthorne 240). He acknowledges Pearl as his child and she kisses him. She has been waiting for this day for so long. At last, her earthly father has acknowledged her as his. “A spell was broken … Towards her mother, too, Pearl’s errand as a messenger of anguish was fulfilled” (Hawthorne 240). The minister dies after his confession, now believing that his soul is saved and attributing it to the torture of Hester’s husband and the ignominy of his confession before the people of his crime and in hiding his sin all those years.
Although it seems such a sad and unfulfilling ending, think about what has just happened, all because Hester Prynne endured her punishment with courage and strength of character. She did not give up. She loved Pearl and raised her as best she could. She turned a deplorable and unfair situation into a triumph because of her determination to see that things were set right in the end. She suffered public humiliation and ignominy for seven years while it appeared that the man who was her partner in crime got away, adored by others.
And yet, because of her love for this man, she was able to cause him to confess his crime, acknowledge his child and perhaps, even help to redeem his soul. “Shall we not spend our immortal life together? Surely, surely, we have ransomed one another, with all this woe!” (Hawthorne 241) Nathaniel Hawthorne left us with the dying words of the Reverend expressing doubt that he and Hester could ever be together in the hereafter. “I fear! It may be, that, when we forgot our God—when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul—it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion” (Hawthorne 241).
But love knows no bounds, including time and space. Who is to say, if these were real characters, that they couldn’t be together in the world to come, bound by the power of the love demonstrated by Hester Prynne? Hester lived on, quietly, and became something of a legend in the community of Boston. The scarlet letter made her what she became, and, in the end, she grew stronger and more at peace because of her suffering. She continued to wear the scarlet letter to the end of her days, but she wore it as a symbol of her power. This is a power that no man could ever wield. Such a power belonged only to a woman with the courage and strength of moral character like that of Hester Prynne.
Source: Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. 1850.
New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.
This is going to be a little difficult to write because it is both a sacred and a sensitive subject. It is sacred because it involves personal revelation that is intended to be just that – personal. It is sensitive because I know from many years of experience and dialog with other members of the church that not everyone feels the same way or has had the same experiences I have had with the Holy Ghost and in particular, the feeling of the burning of the bosom that I have experienced.
You asked if I thought if everyone can experience or feel the burning of the bosom. I like what Elder Oaks had to say about that: “What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.”
Burning of the bosom
Elder S. Dilworth Young said, “It is a feeling which cannot be described, but the nearest word we have is ‘burn’ or ‘burning.’ Accompanying this always is a feeling of peace, a further witness that what one heard is right. Once one recognizes this burning, this feeling, this peace, one need never be drawn astray in his daily life or in the guidance he may receive.” Elder Romney taught this many times – that we can make life’s decisions correctly using instructions in D&C 9:8-9.
Elder Packer taught, “This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.” Another apostle said, “As I have traveled throughout the Church, I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the bosom. In fact, I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time.”
Some do feel the burning
So, from both personal experience and from what we have been taught by Apostles and Prophets, yes, we can and many do feel the burning of the bosom at various times in their lives. But for many faithful members, and perhaps most, the burning of the bosom is either very rare or non-existent. I guess it all depends on how you describe it or what you expect. If Elder Oaks can say that he has never felt caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion then I accept that.
I guess I am the exception and can say without a doubt that I do often feel a warm sensation in the area of my chest when I am engaged in something that I know pleases the Lord. In contrast, I have felt a cold feeling or absence of warmth in that same general region of my chest many times in my life when I have engaged in actions or even thoughts that offended the spirit. For me it is a very real and discernable sensation that has blessed me throughout my life since I was a youth.
You asked about my experience at Ricks College in regards to receiving an answer to prayer. This was not my first experience with revelation, nor was it the last, but it was one of the most powerful and tangible up to that point in my life. It has also been one of the most memorable and influential spiritual experiences to come upon me even though it occurred over 35 years ago. As I noted, it is sacred, but I do feel it is appropriate to share with you since you have asked.
I was 17 years old at the time. It was in the Fall of 1974. My family joined the Church in 1962 when I was five so I feel that I grew up as a member, attending Primary, Sunday School, MIA and Seminary. However, during my Senior year of High School, there was about a six to eight month period of time that I hung with the wrong kind of friends and did not attend church. In short, I had some repenting to do and felt a strong desire to know my standing before the Lord.
Early in the Fall of 1974, I attended an assembly at Ricks College, now BYU Idaho, in which I distinctly remember President Eyring introducing Elder LeGrand Richards as our devotional speaker. I had heard Elder Richards speak in General Conference before but I had never been in the same meeting with him in which I could feel his spirit and sense his enthusiasm for the gospel. Something in me caused me to sit still and pay careful attention to what he was saying.
As he taught the gospel and bore fervent testimony of the work of the Lord I remember thinking to myself how much I would like to be able to speak with the power, confidence and enthusiasm that he had. A distinct impression came over me, and I attribute this to the whisperings of the spirit, that I could have that same witness that Elder Richards had and that I could teach like that someday if I would pay the price of study, devotion, obedience and especially of intense prayer.
Led by the Lord
As I left the devotional assembly I pondered the message I had felt from the spirit long and hard. Like Joseph said, I reflected upon it again and again. Never had anything penetrated my heart so deeply. I felt drawn to the possibility that I could know what Elder Richards knew and that I could receive it in the way he testified – through humble prayer and revelation from the Lord. I wanted to know what the Lord thought of my efforts to repent thus far in leaving my sins behind.
On Friday, I determined that I was going to put the promise to the test. My roommate was gone for the evening to a dance so I knew I would have a few hours alone to talk to the Lord in prayer. I felt filled with desire as I began my efforts and was impressed that the words flowed so easily. It was clear to me that the spirit was directing my thoughts and helping me to express myself. I am confident that I went on for a solid hour reviewing my life with the Lord as I prayed aloud.
The second hour was not so easy. In fact, it became very difficult to confess my sins of the year that had passed and to have revealed to me the effects my actions had upon myself and on others. Tears flowed as I saw how I had hurt myself and others and again, the spirit impressed me how the Lord felt about my sadness and the misery through which I had passed. I felt no judgment or condemnation, only that the Lord was pained because of my pain and that he wanted to heal me.
Finally, in the third hour, I was in agony as I pled with the Lord to forgive me and to restore to me the innocence and happiness I had once felt before the days of my rebellion. I asked again and again for relief. I wanted to know that I had been forgiven and that I would yet be able to make something of my life in spite of the sin and disobedience of earlier days. I pleaded and begged for a witness or a manifestation of the Lord’s love for me and that I had been forgiven.
Opposition is real
It was towards the end of the third hour that I saw clearly in my mind’s eye the reality of the existence of unclean and evil spirits. As I recalled moments of my sinful behavior, the Lord showed to me that I was not alone, that there were beings from the unseen world participating with me in my sin. I was appalled at the scenes I was recalling and abhorred the fact that the adversary had used me during those moments. My pain was real and I was suffering terribly.
Just as I was about to give up in despair that I would receive no relief from my torment and just as I had about decided that my emotional outpouring of grief and despair were in vain, I realized that something unusual was happening about and within me. I began to sit very still and to pay close attention to what I was feeling or rather sensing. A tangible feeling of peace came over me and a feeling of happiness, almost euphoria entered into my heart and mind. It was powerful!
Warmth filled my being almost from head to toe. I did not see, but I sensed light all around and within me. Now this is the most difficult and personal part to describe of what I experienced. I did not see anything with my eyes. I did not hear anything with my ears. But I knew that I was not alone at that moment. I began to hear words, no, full sentences in my mind and saw myself at some future time in my life, participating in sacred and powerful events related to the gospel.
I cannot adequately describe what I saw in my mind’s eye and heard in my heart, but I will tell you that I sat transfixed for what seemed like another hour as scene after potential scene of my life was revealed to me. I both saw and heard myself speaking and teaching the gospel with the same kind of confidence that I had seen in Elder Richards earlier in that week. I knew as I was seeing this that it was not guaranteed, but was conditional upon my willingness to prepare for it.
That’s why I say that from then on, everything changed. I knew that I would soon be going on a mission. I knew I would marry in the temple. I knew that I would accept and serve faithfully in many callings over the years. I knew I would serve in a leadership capacity in my local ward and stake. I saw myself doing all these things and especially saw myself teaching and speaking from the pulpit, hearing specific things that I would be saying and teaching. It was amazing to me.
Now, as I said this is personal and sacred. One who is not familiar with the revelatory process could describe this as the frenzies of a deranged mind, brought on by emotional distress over the imagined need to repent for what I considered sins. Anyone can say what they like, but it was real to me and nobody will ever be able to take away this experience that I still hold sacred. The feelings that accompanied this revelatory experience are indescribable but filled me with joy.
Summary and conclusion
Yes, what I experienced that night at Ricks College so long ago was much more than a burning of the bosom. It was a tangible immersion in the spirit. I felt like I was baptized by fire and yet I knew at the same time that I had so much more to do to qualify for a real born again experience. It was the beginning of a long path to realize the dream of being able to teach and speak like I had seen demonstrated to me by an Apostle of the Lord. I still have a long, long ways to go.
Thanks for asking me to share this with you. I think I would like to post it on my blog. I haven’t felt inspired to write much there lately but this experience might do some good for someone else. I hope I have answered your questions about the burning of the bosom and about the reality of the revelatory process. I am a personal witness that it is real. The Lord answers prayer and will give to us what we ask for in faith, if it is something that we need and will be for our good.
Kurt was cool. He said his dad would let us dig holes at his house so I and other neighborhood boys started hanging out with him. Kurt was a little older than me and so I looked up to him just like an older brother. He was a major influence in my life for the next ten years, or until at least 1974 when I went away to college.
The influence of friends
My dad didn’t like Kurt at all. Looking back now I can’t say that I blame him but I didn’t understand it at the time. Kurt had long hair and he looked sideways at you because he had one bad eye. He seemed to have a general disrespect for authority figures in society. That showed openly in the way he interacted with other people.
Kurt was a rebel from the word go. He wore a denim jacket with “The Mighty Quinn” embroidered on the back. I had no idea what that meant. I think it may have had something to do with the underground drug culture that had spilled down from the Bay area to Southern California in the late sixties and early seventies.
Kurt’s parents seemed very easy-going and laid-back. Mine were very strict and were often uptight, or at least I thought my mother was. Kurt’s mom worked at a bank and my mother taught at a local elementary school. I didn’t interact much with Kurt’s dad but he seemed very permissive and gave Kurt a lot of things.
I don’t know why kids compare parenting styles but I guess we all do. We usually don’t realize how much our parents do for us until we get older. For the longest time I wanted my parents to be more like Kurt’s. They gave him cool stuff and he would share it with us. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t stuff that my parents liked.
Introduction to vices
For example, one day a bunch of us were hanging out behind the local department store. There was a little spot between the school and the store where they kept the trash bins. We used to sit on the high brick wall around it from which we had a good view of all the kids in the schoolyard. It was our cool place to sit and talk.
One day Kurt popped out a hard pack of Marlboro cigarettes and lit one up. We all watched in amazement. He did it so nonchalantly like he had done it many times. OK, we were all impressed, including me. Remember, I looked up to Kurt like an older brother. I wanted to be just like him. What he did, I did. That was the rule.
The cultural influence
I can’t tell you how many times my parents banned me from hanging with Kurt. Apparently, every time I got sassy with my folks it was after I had been with him. I didn’t get the connection then, but it was very obvious to them. Without doing anything, Kurt was blamed for a lot of my teenage rebelliousness growing up.
You see, Kurt was a product of the sixties. He was just doing that which came naturally as a result of growing up in a society that promoted cultural dissent. We were on the tail-end of the Hippie movement. Hippies criticized the middle-class values that my parents exemplified and rejected established institutions we upheld.
The Hippie movement
Hippies embraced Eastern religions, championed sexual liberation and promoted the use of psychedelic drugs and psychedelic rock. They opposed nuclear weapons and war, and even nuclear power in general. They opposed political and social orthodoxy and rejected doctrinal ideology while seeking new meaning and value.
They favored peace, love, and personal freedom, perceiving the dominant culture as a corrupt, monolithic entity that exercised undue power over their lives. For hippies, it was “whatever” and “anything goes” as long as you don’t hurt anybody else. My friend Kurt epitomized this culture and I absorbed it from his influence.
Sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll
Kurt introduced me to music that I had never heard before. I was so sheltered that I didn’t even have a TV or radio in my home growing up. Now I was listening to groups like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Electric Light Orchestra, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd and Yes.
You can argue that these bands made some great music and I won’t disagree. But what went along with that music was the promotion of illicit sex and drugs. I think you can also call it the great American party scene. It was prevalent when I was in high school and it still is today, but most powerfully expressed in the rock concert.
Great and spacious building
If there is anything that helps me visualize the great and spacious building as it was described by Nephi in the vision shown him by the angel, it is the rock concert. Of course, not all bands or songs at a rock concert fall into this category. But from my experience, the large crowds and abundant drug use constitutes vain imaginations.
In my case, I discovered it firsthand on April 6, 1974, the date of the California Jam and the last rock concert I ever attended. If you think about the date, you would be right in pointing out that it was the Saturday that we sustained President Kimball as the Lord’s prophet. Yes, I should have been somewhere else that day.
A lost generation
As I wandered around the festival that day I was overwhelmed with the number of young people that I saw wasted on drugs and so totally out of it. I had an awakening there and slowly came to realize that I no longer wanted to be a part of this great and spacious building. My eyes were being opened and it was not a pleasant sight.
I saw so many young people burned out and losing their ability to focus because of the drugs. So many lost their virtue and with it their desire to create things that are good or lasting. They went on to be has-beens and dropouts. Some made it into mainstream society as they got older but the glory days of their youth were gone.
Turning away from the world
The ideals and idealism of the hippie movement had never been realized and never would be. It was all a big lie, perpetuated by the biggest liar of them all. That was the feeling I had as I left this group and entered into the world of living the gospel and preparing for my mission, temple marriage and a life of service in the church.
My repentance was not easy. I had only been away from the church for less than a year but it felt like forever. I had to work for years to overcome the effects of that world. I still bear some of those scars today. Some of the music from those days brings back painful memories that I don’t want to relive. I had been badly burned.
Deception of the adversary
In the great and spacious building are found many people who are in the attitude of mocking those who have partaken of the fruit. I’m sure you have seen this attitude firsthand. I know I have. When I left that building and found my way back to the iron rod, the attitude of mocking became more visible and much easier to discern.
While some are very direct in their mocking, labeling believers in God and Christ as fools or worse, it has been my experience that most are just going along with the crowd. The entire hippie cultural movement of the late sixties and early seventies was nothing more than another attempt by the adversary to deceive God’s children.
Summary and conclusion
I know this isn’t a particularly uplifting or inspiring essay but I’ve wanted to write it for a long time. I was greatly influenced by the American pop cultural of the late sixties and especially the early seventies, when I was in high school. The hippie movement simply did not deliver the promised enlightenment that so many sought.
Unfortunately, the influence of those days has been integrated into our culture and society. It is hard to be in the world and yet not of it when so much of our world has been corrupted by the false values of the hippie movement. The attitude of mocking followers of God is just one of the more blatant results of that movement.
I have not taken the sacrament over the last few weeks. Each Sunday I was out of town visiting my dad who is in the hospital. I missed taking the sacrament and felt the difference during the week. No, the sacrament isn’t some magic potion that cures all ills, but it is a powerful way to pull down the blessings of heaven upon us.
This morning in bishopric meeting I was asked to share the spiritual thought so I pulled out my file of papers I have collected over the years on the subject of the sacrament. It has always been one of my favorite subjects to address and often came up over the years while I served on the High Council. It is a sacred subject.
An intensely personal experience
I read, and we discussed just one of my favorite quotes on the sacrament. It is from a church news article on the subject dated 25 May 1991. The title is, “An intensely personal experience,” and it is taken from a General Conference address by Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy delivered in April of 1989 to all church members.
Perhaps a few additional excerpts and teachings from the article will be helpful before I present the one quote that I would like to focus on as the subject of this essay. The question I would like to address is “What does it mean to be worthy to partake of the sacrament?” We teach that we should not partake of it unworthily.
The sacrament in scripture
“The Lord instituted the sacrament, as we know it today, during what we commonly call the Last Supper. In one sense, it was the last supper, but in another, it was the first supper – the beginning of many spiritual feasts,” said Elder Groberg. We can read of the Last Supper in Matt 26:20-29, Mark 14:22-25 and Luke 22:14-23.
In those recorded accounts the Savior instructed His apostles that the broken bread symbolized His body and the wine His blood. The Book of Mormon gives further information pertaining to the sacrament, which the resurrected Lord then instituted among the Nephites. Jesus clearly taught how the sacrament is to be administered.
The bread and the water
“Behold, there shall be one ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it…and this shall ye do in remembrance of my body…and if ye do always remember me ye shall have my spirit to be with you. This can be found in 3 Nephi 18:5-7. You can also read more in D&C 20:75-77.
The Savior then instructed His disciples to take of the wine (we use water today) “in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. Read more in 3 Nephi 18:11 or D&C 20:78-79.
The doctrine of Christ
The blessings of this ordinance are available to us again today. But we must do as they did and follow the doctrine of Christ, which is to believe in Jesus, to rely on Him, repent of our sins, take his name upon us by being baptized in His Church, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and faithfully follow Christ all of our lives.”
The Savior knows how much we need help to follow Him. He knows that we will make mistakes, even repeated mistakes. He knows about people who struggle with addiction. That’s why he instituted the ordinance of the sacrament to be repeated each week. That is a key part of this ordinance that is easy to gloss over lightly.
Take the sacrament regularly
This invitation of the Savior to come unto Him is issued regularly and is universal. Everyone is included – men, women and children. Young and old alike participate. None are barred except by themselves. And that is the point I would like to address. Elder Groberg answered that question in a manner that has helped me immensely.
He said, “If we desire to improve (which is to repent) and are not under priesthood restriction, then, in my opinion, we are worthy…the very purpose of the sacrament is to act as a catalyst for personal repentance and improvement.” I am of the same opinion as Elder Groberg and believe that we should partake of the sacrament often.
Be in church each Sunday
In fact, we should partake of it as often as possible – every week if we can. That has been my policy over the years. Obviously there are times when we are unable to do so because of General Conference, Stake Conference or other occasions in which we cannot be where the sacrament is administered regularly to members of the church.
It is a sad fact that many members of the church do not understand the purpose of the sacrament and do not feel the need to be in church each Sunday to renew their covenants with the Lord by partaking of the sacrament. To take the sacrament is the primary purpose of our sacrament meetings. Everything else is secondary to that.
Even for recovering addicts
That is why I counsel people struggling with addictions to make every effort to take the sacrament regularly. Some ask if it isn’t mockery to partake of the sacrament by those with addictions who still have not mastered them. I submit to you that we are all addicts to some sort of sin that keeps us from perfection each and every week.
Recovering addicts that I know do not intend to fall prey to their particular sin each time they partake of the sacrament. It is their intention to be free of the addiction and to do all within their power to leave it behind forever. They need the sacrament to witness this to the Lord. I believe the sacrament is definitely meant for addicts.
The desires of our hearts
If we have no desire to improve, if we have no intention of following the guidance of the Spirit, if we refuse to repent and have no plans to remember the Savior during the week or to keep His commandments, then yes, it would be making a mockery of the sacrament to take it under those conditions and with that spirit within our souls.
For most sincere followers of Jesus Christ, addicts included, the exact opposite is true. The desire to improve is strong, as is the intention to follow the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord. We want to keep the commandments and to remember the Savior always. Taking the sacrament is essential to making that commitment solid.
Summary and conclusion
The sacrament is an intensely personal experience, and we and the Lord are the only ones who know if we are worthy to partake or not. Unless the Bishop has instructed you not to partake of the sacrament until he deems you ready, I see no reason not to partake of the sacrament each week. This especially applies to recovering addicts.
There is a real power in the sacrament. It is not magic. It is not a positive thinking sort of thing. It is the power of Jesus Christ – the power of the atonement. Coupled with our repentance and desire to change, we can be strengthened in our resolve and determination to live the gospel and overcome the flesh, in spite of mortal weakness.
A long time ago a good friend saved my life. No, my physical life was not in danger, although I have no doubt he would have jumped in to save me if I were drowning or otherwise threatened. I was in danger of slipping away from church because of life’s circumstances. Gratefully, my friend stepped in to save me.
When I returned from my mission, I immersed myself in getting an education. I chose a vocational path and became a computer programmer. Anxious to get out into the world, I jumped at a couple of opportunities to practice my trade just as soon as I completed enough computer programming classes to make a living.
While going to school, I worked two part-time jobs as a computer operator at two different local businesses. When I graduated, I took on yet another part-time job as a computer programmer at one of the companies. So for the better part of a year, I worked three part-time jobs that left me little time for socializing or anything else.
Life forces us to make decisions
So there’s the situation – I’m busy during the week putting my new computer programming skills to work and then working the weekend graveyard shift as a computer operator. The weekend shift was twelve hours at a time. I did not get home until 7am Sunday morning and had to leave for work again at 5pm that night.
Can you see the problem? This was the year the new three-hour block schedule started and our ward met at 11am. I just couldn’t see a way to get the rest I felt I needed, get to church for my meetings and then get back to work all within twelve hours. So I chose to sleep as soon as I got home from work on Sunday morning.
When I woke up in the early afternoon, church was over and I had just a couple of hours to do anything else I needed to do before leaving again for work. I never felt good about my decision, but rationalized it by telling myself that I was saving up money to get married, buy a home and start a family – all desirable goals, right?
It’s so easy to go inactive
Right about this time, I moved out of my parent’s home and into an apartment with another returned missionary. He helped me keep in touch with friends in church and did everything in his power to get me to go out with him to ward Young Adult social activities. Because I worked so many hours, I was tired and often declined.
As long as I worked that extra weekend shift Mike was patient and understanding. Later that year I dropped all three part-time jobs to take on a new career in retail computer sales. I became the store manager for one of the newest Apple Computer stores in Southern California. Mike was then all over me to come back to church.
I now had no excuse but found it so difficult to go back. You see, I had gotten out of the habit. Not only did I not attend church, I also did not read the scriptures or pray on a regular basis. It was so easy to say to myself that I was too busy. As you can imagine I also did not pay my tithing, and let my temple recommend expire.
Results of church inactivity
In less than two years after having been a fired-up zone leader while serving as a missionary in Central America, I was now an inactive member of the church. How quickly things can change without intending them to do so. I did not plan on going inactive. I did not wake up one day and say, “That’s it – no more church for me.”
Carol has an analogy that she used while on her mission to teach investigators and new members about the importance of regular church attendance. When a hot coal is in the midst of a fire, surrounded by other live coals, it is on fire. If it gets moved onto the hearth and sits by itself, it soon grows cold and develops a film of ash.
Likewise, when we are actively involved in the church, attending our meetings and accepting callings, we have a tendency to remain fired up in the gospel. It is easier to keep a testimony strong while bearing it to others at church. Our desire to pray and to obey the commandments is strengthened while associating with the saints.
The call to repentance
Mike would not take no for an answer. I wrote in my journal about an occasion where we were talking after he returned from a trip to Utah to attend General Conference. He was excitedly telling me all about what he had seen and heard when he suddenly became very quiet and still. He then did something wonderful.
In a way that only two priesthood bearers who have spent two years of their lives testifying to the truths of the gospel can do, he looked me in the eye and bore his witness to me that the Lord needed me to serve in His church. What’s more, he reached into my heart and testified that I needed to return to church that Sunday.
I could not resist the power of that testimony. The spirit came into my heart and I expressed back to him that I knew he had spoken the truth and that he did it as a servant of the Lord. He had called me to repentance. My heart was softened and tears were shed. I told him that I would be in church that next Sunday and I was.
The hard road back to church
Mike must have planned something with the bishop because as soon as I showed up in church that Sunday, a counselor in the Bishopric called me into his office and asked me to serve as the assistant to Mike as the ward young adult representative. I started to attend planning meetings for the Young Adult activities for our ward.
It was not easy to return to full activity. I had been gone for almost a year. I still did not make it back to church every Sunday. In fact, you couldn’t say I was a fully active member again until almost a year later when I had received my temple recommend and accepted a new calling to teach the Elder’s quorum each Sunday.
Paying tithing became a habit again as did scripture reading, prayer, regular fasting and full participation in the temple. I found myself smiling and happy again and did not even realize that I had been gone. I felt like my old self and was excited to start dating LDS girls again just as my bride to be returned from her own mission.
Summary and conclusion
I will be forever grateful to my friend Mike who later became the best man at my wedding. He did something for me that changed my life and saved my soul. He called me to repentance. He acted on behalf of the Lord and helped me feel the spirit of the Holy Ghost again in great abundance, which I hadn’t felt in awhile.
You might say I was lucky. Not everyone has a friend like I had who was willing to reach out in love and speak on behalf of the Lord to my soul. It wasn’t luck. It was evidence to me of the tender mercies of the Lord. I would hope and pray that anyone who has left the church has someone come after them to bring them back.
Of course the Lord will not force anyone to rejoin his kingdom on the earth. He will always honor our agency. He does not love us any less if we choose to remain outside the fire, alone and cold on the hearth. But I shudder to think of what I would have missed had I not come in from the cold when invited in love to do so.