Free to Choose?

You could say that I had a choice; I could always choose to do the right thing or choose to do the wrong thing and receive the consequence of being grounded for the rest of my natural life.

movieOnce when I was 18, I went to a movie with some friends, The Net. I sat right behind my stake president and his wife. My mom was furious that I had seen a PG-13 movie. I didn’t let her know that I had seen many others and even a couple Rated-R films that I wasn’t proud of.

She organized a family night lesson where she berated me in front of the family, shaming me and my decision, stating that the Stake President was disappointed in me for seeing me there and that my actions damaged her image because she was on a stake council and she often preached that it was a sin to watch PG-13 movies, so I, her oldest son needed to set an example, especially for my younger siblings, instead of undermining her.

My mom went around the family, pointing one at a time at each of the nine children, asking that we commit to never watching a PG-13 movie. I wouldn’t do it. She continued, threatening a barrage of consequences and finally saying that we would stay in family night session until I committed. “Sure,” I lied.

Until a few years ago, I raised my kids the same way, telling them that they have a choice between this awful thing or this wonderful thing, while shaming them if they chose anything other than what I thought was best. Through personal experience and study I’ve learned that this type of parenting is less effective. It pushes away the child and ultimately reinforces the idea that choosing is a bad thing. As an adult I would find myself creating scenarios where I “had” to do something, believing that I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

I felt that I “had” to go to church and I “had” to pay tithing and I “had” to do family history and I “had” to read the scriptures. I ended up resenting it. What should have brought me peace and joy brought me contempt and anxiety. When I realized that I did have a choice I began to feel the blessings of those choices where before, when I “had” to do it, I don’t think I was fully participating in the blessings that come from doing good.

I have friends that have left the church because they didn’t see the joy in it and now that they are “out” they seem happier and more at peace. I think that this has something to do with what we’ve been discussing. Rather than a culture of rules, restrictions, and limitations, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a series of opportunities to experience joy and love and hope.

I get that young children often need a decision phrased out as a choice between something good and something bad; it helps them learn and be accountable. But when a child is no longer a child they acquire abstract thought. They can comprehend that life really isn’t about a series of right or wrong choices, but a wide array of choice integrated into human dynamics and emotions, fostered by passions and desires. The world I live in, isn’t as simple as a choice between right and wrong.

I seldom wake up in the morning wanting to do something bad. I don’t want to steal or murder or hurt another person. I typically want to be happy and help others. The most difficult decisions that I make aren’t to do something wrong or do something right but are to deciding which right thing to devote my time and energy too—a decision between right and right. (Not even Good, Better, and Best.) I’ve experienced choices that I have felt that whatever I chose, God would sustain.

I believe that God doesn’t only sustain our good choices but that he also celebrates them. I believe that our righteous choices (and I’m not necessarily referring to our righteous actions) are a source of joy and rejoicing of God.

praySeveral years ago my son had such a choice to make. He asked me for advice. Of course I had an opinion on the matter but something caused me pause. I remembered when I left home to serve a mission for my church. I had an extremely difficult time knowing what it was that God wanted me to do. Usually in such a situation I would seek out my mom and ask her opinion. She would give it. I would do what she said whether I wanted to or not because God commanded that we respect our mothers and our fathers, so in a sense, even if her advice was wrong, I couldn’t be held accountable for my inappropriate choice because I honored my mother. (That was some pretty messed up thinking).

So back to my son, I told him that the choice was his to make and that prayer might help.

He returned moments later from praying. I asked him if he got an answer. His reply surprised me and taught me an extremely valuable lesson.

“He said it was my choice.”

Why would God not give direction where direction was requested? My entire life up until that point believed in a myth that there was a right and a wrong to ever question. That is what the hymn says right? No. It states, “There’s the right and the wrong to every question.” Not a right and a wrong. It follows up with, “Be safe thru inspiration’s power.”

I take that to mean that to every question, there is a right side and a wrong side. The wrong side of my son’s question would have been for Heavenly Father to dictate what it was that my son should do rather than reaffirm one of the greatest gifts that God has given to man—choice.

“What are you going to do?” I asked my son. He thought about it and chose the one that he wanted. I encouraged him to return to prayer and let Heavenly Father know what he chose. He did and received the burning confirmation that his choice was accepted.

Since that time, my relationship with God has changed. Most often my conversations go something like this.

Me:      I really like this idea and I’m thinking I’d like to pursue it.

God:    Great.

Me:      Can you help me recognize what I need to do to succeed?

God:    Of course.

or

Me:      I’m confused here. I’ve got to make a decision, this way or that way.

God:    Okay.

Me:      Do you have an opinion on the matter?

God:    No. What do you want to do?

Me:      I’m leaning toward…

God:    I think that would be great.

About a year ago I had one conversation that went like this. (I say conversation but this happened over about a month).

Me:      I’m thinking of moving to Utah.

God:   …

Me:      I think I might have more opportunity there. It might be easier to do my job.

God:   …

Me:      Maybe I’m just excited for a change. Maybe I’m trying to escape from something.

God:    Your parents divorce?

Me:      Yeah. I’m so sick of the drama. In Utah, I’d be removed from it all.

God:    I see, but is that the best thing for you and your family?

Me:      I don’t know. Is it?

God:    Think through it some more. You have a senior in high school that moved around a lot when he was a kid and finally has been able to experience some stability.

Me:      You’re right. So maybe after he graduates?”

I was then given some very specific information about a series of opportunities that Heavenly Father has been preparing me for, and that by moving to Utah, I would miss out on certain experiences that are divinely designed to help my family and myself.

Me:      I’m going to stay in Arizona.

God:    Good.

The following is my interpretation of a conversation between God (or Christ) and the Brother of Jared:

BoJ:     We’ve got some problems with the boats.

God:    Yes?

BoJ:     We can’t breath, we can’t steer, and we can’t see.

God:    Don’t go punching holes in the boats. You don’t have to steer because I control the waves and the winds and I’ll get you where I want you to go. Have faith and trust me.

As for air, cut a hole in top and a hole in the bottom and make lids for each. If you pull a lid out and water comes in, cover it back up because you’re probably under the ocean.

As for light, what do you want to do?

It’s interesting here that the direction was very specific for something that could be detrimental to the operation. Light, however, wasn’t a matter of life or death.

Brother-of-JaredWhat if the Brother of Jared was explicitly directed to solve the light problem? Would he have grown? I don’t believe that the idea of making glass stones would have been the solution that God would have come up with. I mean, maybe he would have offered a flashlight or the clapper.

Would the Brother of Jared have had the experience of seeing Christ and being shown everything if a solution would have been given to him to solve the light problem? I don’t think so.

I believe that the Brother of Jared’s efforts brought a smile to God’s face. I think He is pleased with his children when they magnify their gift of choice. When we plan things out in the mind and heart that he gave us and when we cease the opportunity to create.

Additionally, I don’t think it mattered how the Brother of Jared solved his problem. I don’t think that if he had asked God to recreate something like the burning bush on Mount Sinai, or whatever else he came up with, that his experience would have been any different.

Lately, I’ve tried not to dictate my children’s lives, instead offer them the opportunity to discover God and develop a relationship with him.

And a mistake isn’t the end of all things. God allowed Adam and Eve to transgress even though it brought them pain. In fact, it was by His design. The greater lesson learned from the Garden is that God’s purposes are the exaltation of man, not his condemnation. Why would God have protected the tree of life? It wasn’t a punishment; it was a blessing.

God has said, “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

If I recall, there was another that wanted to command in all things so that the glory would be his. I think that he is still about this purpose today, striving to relieve man of his ability to choose through the devices of addiction, shame, manipulation, and control.

So let us teach our children correct principles and then really let them govern themselves. Let’s refrain from shaming them into righteousness, denying them of the blessings of a righteous choice, taking the glory unto ourselves. Instead, Let us show them the true way of happiness and joy through embracing one of the greatest gifts of existence—choice.

The Perfect Addiction

disproveA few years ago, my son tried a newly acquired ninja move in his sister’s bedroom. As he mounted his foot, the drywall gave way. I found him dangling by a leg, his foot embedded in the wall. If such a thing were to happen today, I’d laugh and probably snap a photo to memorialize the hilarity. Not so in my earlier years. I took ample time to yell at him for not thinking through his actions. I dragged him all over the house, showing him every hole and mark he’d left from his past ventures, reminding him once again of all his prior mistakes.

In my ignorance, I believed that this tool was most effective in rearing a child in the way he should go. I now know that Shame has long-lasting consequences that are not only damaging to the child, but to those future relationships the he or she may develop and to the countless generations to come. Shame is learned and passed on.

In our pre-mortal existence, we know that Lucifer (Satan) proposed that Heavenly Father send him, rather than Jesus to redeem all mankind and not one would be lost. I’ve wondered how this would have come about. I believe that he intended to take away our choices, forcing us, controlling us to do his will. This of course was completely contrary to God’s plan in which we would be given agency so that we could think and act for ourselves and not be acted upon.

Using Shame in parenting is abuse. It’s a form of brainwashing or conditioning the child to behave a particular way, removing agency from the equation as Lucifer intended. We use it to show disproval and disagreement. It’s a way to train a child not to act, but to react as they are acted upon. I have no doubt that this system of parenting was developed by Lucifer himself.

In College I was watching television with a close friend in the basement of her home. Her dad appeared for a second then returned upstairs. My friend became visibly anxious and excused herself from the group. Later I found her in tears. She told me that her dad was mad that we had hijacked his television time. I saw nothing from her father that indicated that he was upset and asked how she knew. She just did. I think she had become conditioned. Whatever look he gave my friend caused in her a reaction that had been conditioned over her lifetime.

The raw effect of parenting by shame is that it causes children to believe that love is conditional. They are only deserving of love if they make good choices.

Style: "Porcelain pastel"Let’s pursue that thought. What does a Shaming Parent do when the child obeys? Do they let the love flow in great abundance? No. It’s still conditional. I used to find myself saying, “That’s great but…” A Shaming Parent can always find a reason to withdraw and withhold love. Showing love is showing weakness; it undermines the control. Heaven forbid they start to think and act on their own.

The result is a child that is conditioned to aim for perfection and nothing less; because only through perfection might they reach that dangling carrot. And when they fall short time after time (as is the design of this existence), they begin to feel that they will never be good enough; nothing they do is worth the effort, they are broken, useless and unwanted. Their world is seen as black and white, right and wrong.

Some counter these feelings by creating alternate realities, convincing themselves and others that they are perfect and therefore able to be loved and happy. But the truth is they aren’t perfect, no one is; deep down they know this and so they don’t feel allowed to find joy and peace.

They turn to comparing themselves to others. Judging others’ shortcomings distracts from their own and dodges any opportunity to accept personal responsibility, reaffirming the false reality that they are perfect.

I have a theory that our perception of God is based on our perceptions of our parents. For much of my life I believed that I could only feel God’s love if I were perfect. I had a fundamental belief that I did not deserve the Atonement unless I did nothing wrong (wherein I would have no need for it).

Shaming our children can have a powerful impact on their relationship with God and understanding the Spirit and feeling the healing effects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Black and white thinking can be devastating to relationships and to the person’s well being as they battle with hypocrisies and fallout from their mistakes unable to apologize or even accept the possibility of doing anything wrong.

examIt’s like a test. We black and white thinkers only have one shot at this exam and there are only two outcomes, pass and fail. To pass we need a perfect score, 100%. If we get one problem wrong, dropping our score to 99.8%, we were something other than perfect and so we’ve failed. It’d be no different if we got an F. To some this might seem absurd. But to those that have been conditioned by shame, they will understand, and possibly even agree with the analysis.

The need to be perfect is an addiction and permeates every aspect of our lives. We live for praise. Some fall prey to emotional affairs. Others neglect their family while reaping praise from serving the world. We judge and criticize those around us, and mostly those closest to us. We create a paradigm where we can do no wrong. Such a world will eventually become unmanageable because it is not founded on principles of the Gospel like forgiveness and repentance. After a lifetime of perceived perfection we abandon sacred truths, break sacred covenants, and continue to point the finger elsewhere.

Like battling any addiction, the 12-step program, particularly the Addiction Recovery Program developed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints can help.

The first step for me was the hardest.

Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.

ARP“Rarely do people caught in addictive behaviors admit to being addicted. To deny the seriousness of our condition and to avoid detection and the consequences of our choices, we tried to minimize or hide our behaviors. We did not realize that by deceiving others and ourselves, we slipped deeper into our addictions. As our powerlessness over addiction increased, many of us found fault with family, friends, Church leaders, and even God.” – ARP Manual, Step 1

The Perfect Addiction may be more subtle, less noticeable than say drugs or pornography, but just as damaging to our souls. Sins do not necessarily keep us out of heaven, not repenting of them will. The Perfect Addiction brings with it pride, resentment, unwillingness to forgive, and selfishness.

If any of this has hit home, or if you have found it offensive, hard to hear, please take some time to soul search. Take courage and look in the mirror. It was extremely difficult for me, but I’ll tell you that on the other side, life is wonderful and happy. Through daily repentance and the Atonement, I can over come the effects of shame in my own life and refrain from passing this addiction onto future generations.

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