Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is a process by which the atonement of Christ allows us to reenter God’s presence.

Growing up I had a particularly difficult time coming to church because I was often bullied by my peers (for being a fat, sensitive nerd, not for being gay). To add insult to injury, I usually felt unprotected by my teachers and leaders who didn’t want to drive away those youth. While I had a strong testimony of the gospel, I dreaded going to church because I felt unwelcome, unimportant, and unneeded. My friends also bore the brunt of this treatment, and unfortunately some of them have left the church admittedly because of it.



Time, however, has a tendency to heal wounds and add perspective. I’ve come to understand that many of those bullies had their own problems that they were dealing with, and above all else, we had the ignorance of youth against us. Teenagers are dumb. Through the atonement of Christ, I was able to forgive them and move on with my life. In order to do this, I had to humble myself considerably. I’ve come to know that one of my biggest vices is bitterness, and this susceptibility has been a challenge for most of my life and could be something I always struggle with. I think sometimes holding a grudge makes us feel like we have some control or that those hard feelings somehow avenge us, but in reality the failure to forgive is analogous to drinking poison and expecting our enemy to become sick. Many of my friends, and I can easily think of a dozen, have walked away from their covenants due to the seductively instinctual reaction of bitterness.

Unfortunately, we all know people who have, for whatever reason, fallen away from the Church. When I was an AP on my mission (just kidding – I wasn’t an assistant, I just want to make fun of that phrase) but seriously missionaries tend to seek out less active members frequently. And as a missionary or ministering sister or brother, you come to know that many of these individuals still have strong testimonies of the restored gospel of Christ. Elder Bednar has met with hundreds of such individuals and a recurring reason for their absence from church was due to being offended by someone in their congregation.

He would say, “Let me make sure I understand what has happened to you. Because someone at church offended you, you have not been blessed by the ordinance of the sacrament. You have withdrawn yourself from the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Because someone at church offended you, you have cut yourself off from priesthood ordinances and the holy temple. You have discontinued your opportunity to serve others and to learn and grow. And you are leaving barriers that will impede the spiritual progress of your children, your children’s children, and the generations that will follow.” Many times people would think for a moment and then respond: “I have never thought about it that way.”

Activity in the Church is not the perfect barometer for our spiritual health in this regard. Those of us who come to Church every Sunday can still harbor ill will and bitterness which drives away the Spirit and builds barriers between us. We’ve all been hurt at some point or another, and each one of us has been the cause of offense to others. We’re all subject to the temptations and frailties of this fallen world.

And we can’t forget that the Savior never told us not to feel. He never condemned sadness or the need to process our emotions in response to harm at the hands of another. He himself was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief, who wept and was betrayed. We shouldn’t feel shame for these responses and we shouldn’t invalidate the feelings of others. Our emotions give us feedback, showing us where we need to heal, what judgments we’re holding onto regarding ourselves and others. They help us recognize if we’re stuck in the past or paralyzed by the uncertainty of the future. Emotions are certainly worthy of paying attention to as they inform us of what aspects of our lives could benefit from change and remind us of how necessary it is for us to take advantage of the atonement of Christ.



Christ admonishes us to “live together in love” with “no disputations among you,” warning that “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me.” If feeding the hungry and clothing the naked are reflections of how we serve the Savior, when we withhold forgiveness from our brothers and sisters, we have done it unto Him!

“If ye … desire to come unto me,” He said to the Nephites, “and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—
“Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to [him], and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.”

In the latest conference, Elder Holland said that “Surely each of us could cite an endless array of old scars and sorrows and painful memories that this very moment still corrode the peace in someone’s heart or family or neighborhood. Whether we have caused that pain or been the recipient of the pain, those wounds need to be healed so that life can be as rewarding as God intended it to be. Those old grievances have long since exceeded their expiration date. Please don’t give precious space in your soul to them any longer.”

The Savior taught: “Ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:9–10).

Of the miracles of Christ, my favorite recorded in scripture occurred when He healed the ear of the high priest's servant who was coming to arrest Jesus and deliver Him to be crucified. Christ forgave and served without a second thought!

When we refuse to forgive, we forget that the Lord understands each of His children's hearts and circumstances perfectly and that judgment belongs to Him alone. As He is the righteous judge, we can rest assured that He will deal perfect justice and mercy to those who sin against others as well as those harmed.

Like His other commandments, the Lord's requirement of forgiveness brings peace and joy as we choose to receive healing through His atonement by setting aside our grudges. Then we learn for ourselves that the Savior’s grace is not only for those who need to repent, but for those who need to forgive.



In regards to forgiving others, the Lord doesn’t expect us to reenter toxic relationships or abusive and destructive circumstances. I’m sure that if an individual’s ultimatum was to go to a different ward or not go to church at all, the Lord would obviously prefer that individual to take the sacrament as opposed to isolating and denying themselves those blessings. And while the burden of worthiness and commitment to the gospel is the sole responsibility of each of God’s children, respectively, members of the Church have covenanted with God to be ambassadors for Christ in the ministry of reconciliation. We have to live our faith as best we can. We all fall short and have our hypocrisies, that’s only to be expected from imperfect mortals. As King Benjamin rhetorically asked, are we not all beggars? However, as we pursue the path of the peacemaker, we can provide a nurturing environment headed by the ultimate healer, Jesus Christ, who is the antidote to every malady.

I have experienced the relieving balm of Gilead through Christ's power as it enabled me to forgive those who hurt me in my youth, including my sexual abuser, and even helped me to have pity for them. People often act from places of hurt or ignorance, and although that doesn't justify what they do, it grants us patience when we accept that truth.

I realized after many years that I had conjured up a bully in my mind, embodying the teasing and pain I had received from real people. This imaginary entity would laugh at me when I failed, or looked in the mirror, or considered trying again, which constantly wore against my self-esteem and desire to keep going. Once I recognized this, I knew that by harboring those negative feelings toward people who probably didn't even remember or realize that they had hurt me, I was allowing the subconscious bully to win. When I let go, the snickering of that voice in my head died out. We forgive, not necessarily because our adversaries deserve it, but because we don't deserve to be hurt by them anymore.

In conclusion, I hope that we all recognize that we can’t afford to let anyone or any offense to come between us and an ideal relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ, who forgave freely - even those who crucified Him. If we have hurt others, Christ wants us to do our part to reconcile with them. If we are harboring resentment and its unnecessary pain, the Lord commands us to forgive. No grudge is worth its cost. We each need to humble ourselves in one degree or another in order to repent and reconcile ourselves with our Heavenly Father through the atonement of Jesus Christ. So remove the knives from your back and leave them to rust as you seek the Healer, rather than use them to perpetuate the pain you've endured.

May we start this new year with hearts free from the burden of animosity. I testify that the Lord can restore peace to our souls and allow us to forgive those whom we never thought we could. I know it.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

7 Devils

Paul's explanation to Timothy,"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind," has frankly unsettled me for years.

Having fought with anxiety since I was a little boy, it often feels like its interwoven with my every thought, biologically, as if God created me this way. Am I a screw up because of how my brain works? Does God not care about me because He lets me be preoccupied by fear? Where is the power and sound mind I so desperately yearn for?

Of the women from whom Christ cast out devils, the Bible only names one: Mary called Magdalene. The fact that she is mentioned at all is significant, as anyone who's read the Bible knows that female figures are scarce. She seems to play a supporting role in the Gospels, ministering unto Christ of her substance (Luke 8), but there is a deeply moving lesson we can learn from her life.



Why did Mary have seven devils within her, and what does that even mean? Was she demonically possessed like the self-harming man housing "Legion"? From how understand it, such possessions can only occur when the host extends an invitation, and I seem to recall James E. Talmage discussing that this was not the case with Mary in his book Jesus the Christ.

I think it is reasonable to consider that her demons were of a more metaphorical kind. Perhaps she was haunted by the shame of her sins or past mistakes. Maybe she was troubled by mental or physical illness. Was loneliness and a lack of a sense of purpose holding her down? Perhaps she failed to meet societal expectations such as marriage and childbearing.


Whatever the case may be, when Jesus entered her life, these burdens were made light and she was freed. Unlike the ungrateful lepers, Mary became a faithful follower of Christ like His apostles, proving to be more loyal than even they at the time of His crucifixion. It was she who expressed her devotion and great mourning for the loss of her friend and savior by traveling to the tomb to dress Him before His corpse was sealed up.


She never got the chance, for which she was immediately heartbroken. At the sight of the empty tomb, she believed she had lost her opportunity to say goodbye and that her Lord's body had been desecrated. Even the voices of the angels failed to console her in her agony and grief.




But she heard her name called, perhaps remembering the first time that voice had formed her name as it drew her from the depths of her devils, and she knew it was the Master.

The Lord, as far as we know, presented Himself first to this virtuous woman, a woman whom others likely looked down upon at some point for the devils she once fought. The Lord had ordained apostles, leaders who held His priesthood and would bear His name throughout the known world, but the Lord first appeared to someone who met Him while in darkness. Someone who had learned through the pains of her own Gethsemane. A woman who never forsook her Savior.




I often hesitate to share my experiences with mental illness and suicidal ideation. The stigma around mental disorders is rough enough to deal with as it is. To build upon that, the world tells me every day that not seeking romance with other men is the cause of such struggles. I know that members of the Church as well as other religious sects feel that if they admit to having emotional challenges that they are also admitting that their faith isn't strong enough. The Plan of Happiness is supposed to make you happy, right?

Tragedy hits us all. We're all subject to the pains of this fallen world. Many of God's children have to fight every day against their own brains to stay alive. Acting in faith and holding fast to the hope we have in Christ's grace will grant us greater power than we can recognize with our mortal eyes, but to expect happiness every day is ludicrous. There is tension that comes with self-restraint, but fighting the good fight and conquering the natural man is why we're here.

The legendary apostle Paul owned up to the thorn in his flesh, a struggle that he begged the Lord repeatedly to remove. We as followers of Christ shouldn't be ashamed of what sadness or anxiety or weaknesses we endure. It doesn't mean that we don't have testimonies, and it certainly doesn't mean that the Church isn't true. The mockery of the world will use anything it can to chip away at our faith, and our "devils" provide the world with gratifying ammunition.

We should remember Paul's following sentence to Timothy, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;" When we are loyal to Him, God empowers us to bear His name and testify of Him. 

Was Mary embraced by others when she was possessed with her devils? When she was freed? When she dedicated her life to Christ? We don't know, but what we do know is that she was cherished and remembered by Christ. No matter what our personal demons are, we can rest assured that towards us, He feels the same.