Friday, November 30, 2007

Of Faith, Failings, and Cosmic Anvils

Earlier this week I discovered an interesting characteristic about myself - I'm human.
Before you zone out because I am being "Master of the Obvious", hear me out.

I frequently make mistakes, I am not as discreet as I should be, at times I say things that I regret, on several occasions I do things I know I shouldn't, and most of the time I just plain screw up. (I know, I know - master of the obvious - blah, blah, blah...)

My issue with my frequent failings is that perfection is my goal and it is honestly and sincerely where I want to find myself eventually. Each time I fall I castigate myself for not being perfect and spend a lot of time and energy on the useless exercise of mental self flagellation. It is almost as though I believe that there is some enormous cosmic anvil that God is waiting to drop on me everytime I mess up.

This thinking is very dangerous, and gets in the way of my ultimate goal of perfection.

Of course God doesn't want to drop an anvil on me. That would defeat both His purposes and mine. He is my Heavenly Father, and His first inclination is to help me. He never hates me for being human, and the only time I have really failed in every sense of the word is when I stop striving for perfection.

In our life we are given weaknesses, not as stumbling blocks, but as stepping stones towards the ultimate perfection our Heavenly Father has in mind for us. In fact these weaknesses are a fundamental part of the Plan of Salvation. Lehi taught that there must be opposition in all things or there could be no progress. A seminary scripture we are all familiar with shows how this opposition helps us become more like Christ:

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27)

Our weaknesses are given to us so that we can learn to rely on our Savior. As we humble ourselves before him by acknowledging our weaknesses and relying on the "merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2 Nephi 2:8) we learn how to control ourselves when facing temptation, and are given extra help and strength to overcome these challenges each time we face them.

In 2 Nephi 31:20 Nephi invites us to follow the Savior, encourages us to be hopeful and helpful, gives us a key for facing our challenges, and points out our final destination.

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

By feasting on the words of Christ, we are given added strength and instruction in the way we need to face our challenges. Another side benefit of this exercise is found in the Doctrine and Covenants. If we let virtue garnish our thoughts (which is the natural consequence of feasting on the words of Christ) then our "confidence [will] wax strong in the presence of God". (D&C 121:45). We can live with hope for our future!

Which brings me around to my first observation about God and the whole cosmic anvil myth.
If I am continually striving for perfection and doing all in my power to become like my Redeemer, I can have confidence in God - even in my failings!

Now, knowing that I can have this confidence, what role does sorrow play in the perfecting process and how is my current "sorrow" counterproductive? After all, isn't remorse a part of the repentance process?

Not just any remorse will satisfy this crucial piece of the repentance process. In the scriptures the proper remorse is referred to as "Godly Sorrow". Godly sorrow is not self centered abasement. It is a genuine acknowledgement that we have not lived up to our Heavenly Father's standards and a recognition that this action has separated us from his presence. It is heartfelt mourning for our own spiritual separation from our Heavenly home and Parents. It is knowing that we have hurt the Person who loves us the most and, in many cases, other members of His family who we should also love and respect.

The problem with the shallow type of sorrow I have been splashing around in is that it is a sort of false humility. I am not mourning my separation from God, only the fact that I might be punished for my mistakes. And therein lies the danger. This self-centered and counterfeit sorrow acts like a spiritual novacaine. I think that my self imposed suffering is filling the requirement that only Godly Sorrow can satisfy. In the process I also abase myself and negate my worth as a son of God. Most importantly, until I experience real Godly sorrow there will be no change in my behavior, and I will continue to suffer needlesly. This deceit is a subtle snare that I am all-too-often caught in.

Godly sorrow is cleansing, uplifting, and full of hope. It doesn't demean my status as a son of God, it affirms my divine nature and puts me in touch with the One who loves me enough to have redeemed me.

God be thanked for the gift of adversity, the cleansing power of the Atonement, and the strengthening grace that helps bring us hope in the midst of our difficulties!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Veteran's Day

My favorite holidays have always been the patriotic ones (i.e. Independence Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Constitution Day, Veteran's Day) Each of these days gives us an opportunity to remember and be grateful for the wonderful freedoms and opportunities we enjoy, and to remember the sacrifices which have brought us to this point in our national history and the individuals who made those sacrifices. On Independence Day we celebrate our nation's birth and the brave patriots who answered the call of history and stepped into the battle lines that freed us. We remember the brilliant men who framed our government and pledged their "lives, fortune and sacred honor" to the concept that God has given us the right and the ability to govern ourselves. On Memorial Day we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that those ideals of self determination which we cherish can continually experience a "new birth of freedom." And on Veteran's Day we honor all of the men and women who have served our country in uniform. I love Veteran's Day! How appropriate is it to take a day each year to thank the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces. What I especially like about Veteran's Day is that we get to not only remember those who died for our freedom, but also those who served, survived, and have continued to contribute.

Each of these Veterans has given a part of themselves for us and deserves our undying gratitude. It is only fitting and proper that we take at least this one day to honor them. And in honoring them, let us never forget to honor and thank their families who also sacrificed for our freedoms in less visible ways.

God bless our Veterans and their families!