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.

You said I Do, so that Means, You Do What I Say

Something has been on my mind as of late. The memory is from about 8 years ago. I was on the phone with a client and feeling a little insecure for not having wrapped up an assignment. My wife happened to be in the room, so I motioned to her to retrieve the client’s file from my drawer, as I continued the conversation. My phone beeped letting me know the battery was low. I indicated to my wife to hurry but she didn’t understand my gestures or read my mind. The phone beeped again and I thought it had died for good. I unleashed. I felt like she, being my wife, was an extension to me and as such should be in tune with my needs, my wants, my mind, whether I expressed myself or not. Then I realized the phone was still on and my client heard every word. I tried to recover, but it was too late. Someone from the outside saw behind the curtains.

What had changed in my relationship with her? At one point in time I strived to earn her respect and love, and I returned the sentiments. And if anyone else spoke to her that way, I’d have their hide. So why was I entitled to do so?

I’ve treated my children the same way, like extensions of myself. For some reason, believing that the relation gave me license to treat them in ways I wouldn’t dare treat another that wasn’t related.

I’ve worked a lot with youth and I think I’m pretty good at it.  When teaching a youth a skill, I’m patient; I explain myself, I teach, I’m kind and friendly, and loving. But when teaching my child the same, I use words like, “Cause I told you so” and “Don’t question me” and “Just do as your told.” Why?

A few years ago we were able to adopt a young man, one of those youth I had worked with. I noticed the discrepancy of how I treated him versus my natural born children and I started to question my parenting methods.

I’ve spent the last couple years trying to repent and change. I’ve taken a hard look at all my familiar relationships. Those that I’ve treated the worst are family; those that have treated me the worst are family. The only physical altercations I had growing up were with family. The worst names I’ve been called were by family, a sister in particular. Maybe it’s because my family knows who I really am and the rest is a show? No. I have genuine relationships with many others that know all about me, and I don’t feel the need to disrespect, control, or manipulate them.

I used to think that that’s just how it goes. I can treat someone close to me that way because I care so much.

good samaritanBut what gives a child the right to verbally degrade her father? What gives a husband the right to disrespect his wife? What gives a wife the right to demean and belittle her husband or her children?

Christ taught, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I interpreted the Good Samaritan parable as loving people of different beliefs, origins, cultures as myself. I’ve done this. But why would that exclude those closest to me?

An hymn written by H. R. Palmer states this beautifully.

Angry words! oh, let them never
From the tongue unbridled slip;
May the heart’s best impulse ever
Check them ere they soil the lip.

Love is much too pure and holy,
Friendship is too sacred far,
For a moment’s reckless folly
Thus to desolate and mar.

Angry words are lightly spoken;
Bitt’rest tho’ts are rashly stirred—
Brightest links of life are broken,
By a single angry word.

I’ve noticed that the times that I’ve degraded or belittled anyone, particularly my family, is when I hate something about myself and I’ve taken it out on them (extensions of me). It’s not right. Just because two people said “I do” doesn’t give free license to disrespect, control, manipulate, degrade, shame, or belittle in any relationship that formed because of those vows.

I’ve realized that those in my family aren’t extensions of me and have no obligation to do my bidding. They, like everyone is entitled to respect, kindness, courteousness, and gentleness. My adopted son helped me see this and I’m a better dad and husband because of it.

I Hope You Fail

I remember looking at the red dirt as I walked up a small hill—an oddity in Northern Argentina where everything is flat. I remember the feeling I had for my companion; at the time I might have called it justified disdain, now I realize it was hate.

I remember my companion stopping at the top of that hill and calling me out for my poor attitude. I was embarrassed, because deep down I knew I was out of line. But I was also angry that he dared point that out, so I laid into him verbally, hitting him with everything I could think of.

I’ve felt those same monstrous feelings many times in my life. It’s more than dislike, or intolerance. It’s more than frustration or annoyance. The feeling brings with it the darkness, greater than resentment and disdain. I can call it hate, but that doesn’t quite explain it. Its more than, “I hate you,” it’s more like “I hope you fail.”

Through the Atonement of Christ, I had a change of heart, and by the end of that month we were close friends, and continue to be today. I often reflect on that moment, and have learned many gospel lessons from my weakness.

I spent a lot of my life, treating this existence like a race. The analogy almost fits. There’s a start and a finish, there are lanes (bounds) that we run in, we have coaches and fans cheering us on, and we’ve got to put forth some effort to advance down the track.

But the more I think about it, life is nothing like a race.

In a race, if the guy next to me trips, I have a better shot at winning. His loss is my gain. No, life is nothing like a race.

Christ said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

Our invitation into heaven has nothing to do with the choices of others. We will be held accountable for our own sins, and it is through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind can be saved. Our qualifying for the saving grace is dependent on our obedience to the principles and participation in the ordinances of the gospel, particularly faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the holy spirit.

If the guy next to me trips—struggles in this existence, it doesn’t increase my chances of making it to one of those mansions. In fact, if I don’t stop and help the guy up, I could find myself in need of repentance for any number of transgressions. We are commanded to love one another. As disciples of Christ we have covenanted to bear up one another’s burdens, and mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort.

josephHoping someone fails is more than not helping a neighbor, it’s pushing him down. To root for someone’s failure, exposure, or downfall is obviously unchristian; I think they are similar feelings to those Cain had for Abel, Rueben for Joseph, Saul for David, and so on. Isn’t this feeling the very drive of evil? Doesn’t Satan desire God to fail?

phelpsAnd yet contrast these feelings with those lessons of the righteous like Joseph who after being sold into Egypt, incarcerated, and enslaved, openly forgave his brothers, loved them, and tried to help them out. Joseph Smith had many that hoped for his failure, some of those closest to him, such as W. W. Phelps who he responded in love, “Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first, are friends again at last.”

As true Disciples of Christ we ought instead root for the success of others. Rather than push a fellow down, let us pick him up and help him along. Love should be our tool, not envy, charity, not pride, forgiveness, not resentment. I have wronged a good many people in my life. I hope that they are kinder to me than I have been to others.

Dnews 20.CESUchtdorf.0113.chnPresident Uchtdorf stated, “My beloved fellow disciples of the gentle Christ…we must realize that all of God’s children wear the same jersey. Our team is the brotherhood of man. This mortal life is our playing field. Our goal is to learn to love God and to extend that same love toward our fellowman. We are here to live according to His law and establish the kingdom of God. We are here to build, uplift, treat fairly, and encourage all of Heavenly Father’s children.”

If we take a step back and look at God’s plan, we see that at one point in time we were all on the same side. All of us here in this existence that have kept their first estate, waged war against Satan and his followers. In the pre-mortal life we rooted for each other, we helped each other out.

CU040423-006hrI believe that many of us chose to come to this existence, having hope that the Atonement of Christ could save us from physical and spiritual death. Also having faith in Christ that he would fulfill his promise and that through his sacrifice we could be made whole and receive eternal life. And also having charity, love for those around us. Perhaps in that Great War we persuaded those that struggled with the prospect of leaving Father’s presence, dying physically and spiritually, to not worry, because all of us up there would be down here, and we could bind together in families and wards, and communities, and nations, and help one another to keep our second estate.

Life is not a race. We are all on the same team. Please help me to succeed. I hope you succeed.

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.

cry

 

I decided to get a Divorce

Last night, I helped my son prepare a talk for church who was asked to speak on Elder Scott’s address from this past conference; one I can’t say I really remember hearing.

Richard-G-Scott-GC-Oct-2013Elder Scott spoke of the covenant made by King Lamoni, his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi and their people, to not take up arms against others. They buried their weapons (not so they couldn’t use them, but so the weapons would remain spotless and stand as a testimony that they had kept their covenant).

They gave their lives to keep that covenant.

helamanYears later Helaman, son of Alma, good friend to Ammon who taught King Lamoni the gospel, reminded the people of Ammon of their covenant not to take up arms. He, their former priesthood leader, pled with the people not to break their covenant, but instead send their sons, boys and young men to fight.

The talk brought to mind an experience I had just over a year ago. I was sitting in the spare bedroom in the basement, a pit in my stomach, wide-awake in the middle of the night. I had been living in the spare room for a couple months.

My parents had also been living in separate rooms for some time and the word divorce could be heard more and more often.

When I was sixteen, I lived a summer with my grandparents who at that time had a similar sleeping arrangement, up until they divorced a year or two later.

That night in the spare room, I came to a conclusion. I wasn’t going to wait forty years to end a toxic marriage. I wasn’t going to prolong the inevitable. I decided to get a divorce.

I had been going to counseling for about a year and felt that I had been given many tools to help my relationship with my wife, and all that was missing was for her to fall in line and do her part. I had built a severe case against her; I accused her, diagnosed her, labeled her and judged her. I jumped at every opportunity to point out her faults and mistakes and to remind her of past failures. I told myself that by doing so I was helping her out, providing leadership. After all who doesn’t love to be told over and over and over again that they’re wrong. Moreover, I felt that I would somehow be held accountable if I didn’t point out her problems.

Elder Scott said that the people of Ammon’s “wise priesthood leader, Helaman, knew that breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified. He offered an inspired alternative,” to send their sons that hadn’t made the covenant.

This passage struck me particularly hard. “Breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified.”

A couple weeks ago I exchanged emails with someone that suggested God would under the right circumstances tell someone to get a divorce and break the covenant they had made over an altar of the temple before God, angels and witnesses. This person stated it was similar to God commanding, “Thou shalt not kill,” but then commanding Abraham to kill his son and Nephi to kill Laban. I suppose the point was that there are always exceptions.

Before I continue with this thought, let me clarify that I do believe that God cares about us and our wants and desires, and that there certainly are circumstances that would justify a divorce. Additionally, the covenant made in a temple marriage and sealing involves more than one party in addition to God.

abraham isaacBack to Nephi and Abraham. As I pondered this thought and read the passages of scripture where Nephi was commanded to take Laban’s life I realized that according to the Law of Moses and the doctrine given to Nephi, he was not commanded to do anything that was contrary to the Law of Moses or the law of the land.  Nor was Abraham commanded to do anything contrary to the gospel. God used the experience to teach Abraham the true reason for living the law of sacrifice they had been given. Abraham nor Nephi were asked to break a covenant they had made.

As I further pondered, I could not think of any moment in scripture where God commanded anyone to break a covenant they had made. The story of the people of Ammon came to mind and I felt that God honored and supported our covenants and that even though the people of Ammon would have been justified in taking up arms, they were counseled not to because they had made a covenant.

Breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified. Elder Scott’s counsel came as an answer to prayer and my studying of the topic.

When I told my priesthood leader I was considering a divorce, he encouraged me to try and keep the sacred covenant that I had made in the temple. He invited me to continue to go to counseling, and invited my wife to go separately.

In our discussion, he helped me see that I was ever ready to bend over backwards for others, unconditionally love anyone, willingly forgive associates for great offenses but somehow I wasn’t able or willing to do those things for the person that at one time was the closest and dearest to me. I considered myself to be my brother’s keeper, but I was not that of my spouse.

I prayed and studied, pondered and prayed some more and I realized that I could not justify breaking that covenant. It didn’t happen right away, but my heart began to soften and change. The Lord in his goodness showed me the louse I had been and helped me see how to become something better. He helped me to see the need I had to check boxes rather than live the gospel as I discussed in a previous post. He guided me to develop unconditional love for my bride. As I repented and softened my heart, I felt happiness, true happiness.

Up until that time I had been miserable. I tried to hide it from the world; I blamed it on those around me, or things outside my control. I found some reprieve by badmouthing my wife, building the case, and reinforcing my judgments, but deep down I knew I was wrong, no matter how justified I felt, I was a hypocrite.

I professed to be a Christian. Christ didn’t look for opportunities to point out mistakes, condemn those that had sinned, cast out the unworthy, withdraw his love from even those that betrayed him. Quite the opposite. Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved. My actions were not at all Christlike.

I didn’t necessarily care about solutions; I was more interested in not being blamed. Building the case helped me to feel justified in my hypocritical actions.

Looking back at the years, I realize that it was difficult for the Atonement of Christ to take effect in my life because of my pride, more than my sins. Sins won’t necessarily keep us out of heaven, not repenting of them will. How could my heart be mended if it was broken, or my spirit touched if it wasn’t contrite?

Once the healing power of the Atonement took effect and the peace came, it was easy to let go of the case I had built against my wife. Unlike the parable of the debtors, I had been forgiven of a great many things, who was I to not forgive the minor offense?

15 yearsSo it’s been over a year and we have kept and recommitted to the covenant we made December 19, 1998. This past year has been the funnest, happiest, greatest year of my life.

I feel like King Lamoni when he said, “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.”

Checking Boxes

Crest Before
In a cabin in pine, above the fireplace, hangs what was once a beautiful piece of art.

It’s a family crest, or was when first hung there many years ago. It’s made of solid wood, shaped like a shield, with a banner once reading “Sanders”. The crest was composed of small, individually cut and added wood pieces, each with differing color and texture. Together, they formed a beautiful complicated piece of art representing the Sanders Family. There was a large bull at the top, posturing to all that Sanders were stout, tall, proud, and passionate people. I particularly loved the fleur de lis in the middle, representing to me my family’s involvement in scouting.

Crest AfterOver the years, the crest fell apart. It seemed every time I’d visit the cabin another piece had fallen from its position, victim to the heat of the fireplace. What the family used to comfort our stay actually destroyed the crest. As the fire’s smoke and heat rose through the chimney the glue, securing the wood pieces softened then melted.

I sat, recently, in front of that fireplace, under that very crest. I asked myself what could have been done different.

I was thinking about the crest, but more intently thinking about my family, my parents and eight siblings. At the time, my father had moved out of the house, and soon after, my mother filed for divorce. As I stared at the crest above the flickering fire, I thought of the countless lessons my parents taught me, though now they seemed to have less tack.

At the age of seventeen, my parents sat down with us children and discussed that my grandfather, a man respected in the community, a former Bishop and member of the Stake Presidency, along with my grandmother after 40 years of marriage and twelve children, decided to call it quits. Of course this terrified many of my siblings, but my parents assured us that they had their act together, they loved each other and they would never split up.

My recent conversation with my children was a little different.

My parents bragged that for some thirty years, maybe more, that they read the scriptures everyday except for one night back in ’78, maybe it was ’79? Even when they were living apart, they still read scriptures. I was raised to believe that scripture reading was an ingredient for a successful marriage. I doubt it hurt, but I’m learning that a successful marriage isn’t achieved by checking boxes.

That may actually be a large factor in my family’s current situation. If we believe that God will judge us on our works, that it is only through strict adherence to the laws, that qualifies us for heaven, we might adopt a practice of checking boxes. Reading scriptures, going to church, saying prayers, paying tithing, all great things, if done out of fear of condemnation, don’t seem to harvest the blessings that foster happiness. If we check the boxes with hopes of not being punished, its difficult to enjoy the moment, or recognize the blessings that are predicated upon those laws. And what of the atonement, forgiveness, and mercy?

The devil would have us think that our efforts aren’t good enough, that we don’t deserve grace because we haven’t done “all we can do.” The story of our existence changes when we realize that the greatest of us, the only deserving, able of inciting damnation, came not to condemn but to save.

As a box checker, I often found myself looking at others around me, seemingly free from the daunting tasks of righteousness, wondering why they appeared so happy, free. I judged them, I condemned. I thought that by checking the boxes, I would someday find myself, after having endured to the end, struggling through this existence, carrying the crosses I’d been asked to bare, at the Savior’s feet, where he would say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

I’ve since had a change of heart. I realize now that enduring to the end is the fun part, the great part, because now I have the knowledge of who I am; I have been forgiven and shown mercy. Now I can enjoy the blessings of the atonement and the gospel and be happy.

That was difficult to see through my judgmental eyes. My insecurities and fear drove me to criticize those around me, passing condemnation onto the lot, as I sought to find fault with others, in the name of righteousness. In truth I was living way beneath my privilege, making this existence harder for myself and those around me. In reality, the scene I often visualized of describing to the Lord the boxes I had checked, complaining about the crosses I had born and the sacrifices I had made would have merited the words, “I never knew thee.

As box checkers, we bend over backwards to serve those around us, to offer a ride, make a pie, donate countless hours to others and worthwhile causes. This usually merits kind recognition, appreciation from those served. It might even allow us to dream of our mansions above and with that, maybe we already have our reward. To our family, those not in the lime light, where action isn’t seen by the world (except through Facebook), it’s difficult to find time and the only boxes requiring checks have little to do with being a good parent. There’s a world of difference between reading versus of scripture, and teaching children the Gospel. And “no success can compensate for failure in the home.”

Heat will come; there is opposition in all things. I think the answer to avoiding separation is stronger bonds. As I’ve abandoned the ways of checking boxes, I’ve learned how to live in the moment, finding joy in everyday situations with my family. I’m more grateful for my life, and I recognize the multitude of blessings that come from, not checking boxes, but making righteous choices.

The greatest bond comes through the healing power of the atonement. The atonement not only has the ability to heal the offender but also the offended.

I use to believe that my day was made up of right or wrong choices, black or white decisions. If I was in tune with the Spirit, I would be told the right choices to make in everything I did, down to which road to take to work. I was essentially asking God for more boxes to check. Then I learned that the Spirit doesn’t work that way. God gave us a mind in which to ponder, and free will to choose, not between black and white, but purple, orange, red, and blue, and hundreds of thousands more.  The Spirit isn’t going to tell us anything contrary to God’s plan of happiness. God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be. The Spirit cares about what’s important to me, and doesn’t seem eager to give me boxes to check.

Another bond is each other. At one point all of us were on the same side. If Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, who are we to not forgive all men.

Family Photo

Even though the crest is looking pretty pathetic, it wouldn’t take much to restore it to its former majesty. A little love and forgiveness could go a long way.