Sunday, September 15, 2013

As I Have Loved You...

I had the opportunity to speak in church today.  And because this is my blog I get to share it here :)

When Brother Willis called me last week and said, “I don’t know why, but the Lord won’t let this go… you’re supposed to give this talk,” I knew exactly why.  This lesson is one I have been fortunate enough to really learn over the last year.  This talk was, in fact, 33 years in making.  I have had a lot of time and multiple opportunities to learn these things.  And it has made all the difference in my life.

In Mosiah chapter 4 we read:

And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God…  And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.  And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.  And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness. But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery…

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.  And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order. (Mosiah 4:11-17, 19-21, 26-27)

I love that last bit.  Heavenly Father is a God of order.  Of all these things this scripture just asked us to do, the Lord knows we cannot give what we do not have.  How can we “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39) if we have not first learned to love ourselves?

Elder Robert D. Hales said, “The purpose of both temporal and spiritual self-reliance is to get ourselves on higher ground so that we can lift other in need.,”  Again, we cannot give what we do not have.

In a Conference address entitled Of Things that Matter Most, President Dieter F Uchtdorf stated that our relationship with ourselves was one of these things that matter most.  One of those things that can keep us grounded in unsettling times.  He said, “It may seem odd to think of having a relationship with ourselves, but we do.  Some people can’t get along with themselves.  They criticize and belittle themselves all day long until they begin to hate themselves.  May I suggest that you reduce the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better.  Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God’s creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally.  Learn to see yourself as Heavenly Father sees you—as His precious daughter or son with divine potential.”

It has been my experience in learning to love myself that only two steps are necessary: First, to acknowledge, understand and accept my true identity and second, to believe Christ.

In our premortal life there were two plans, God’s and Lucifer’s.  And as I have pondered these things I found myself wondering if Lucifer had done these two things, if he had accepted who he was and if he had believed Christ, would he have had reason to rebel at all?  If he had done these two things, surely he would have realized that the power and glory he was fighting to take for himself, were the same things that we were being promised anyway.  After all, isn’t that the promise?  To have all that our Father hath?

Is it possible that Satan was the first of us to doubt our true identity and nature, the first to experience shame?  I don’t know.  I can only speculate and either way, he has made his choices and is reaping what he sowed.  I am certain though that he was the author of shame in this life.  He introduced it first by beguiling Eve, tempting her with those things she understood that she was lacking to partake of the fruit.  Later he spoke shame to Adam and Eve when he encouraged them to hide, convincing them it was dangerous and undesirable to be so exposed, because somehow now they were less than worthy to be seen of the Lord.  Satan even used shame to initiate the first secret combination on the earth, goading Cain with his jealousy of Abel, pinpointing Cain’s lack of self-confidence and self-worth and using it to incite a quest for power.

President Heber C. Kimball in his address The Potter and The Clay stated: “There are many vessels that are destroyed after they have been molded and shaped [by the Master Potter].  Why?  Because they are not contented with the shape the potter has given them, but straightaway put themselves into a shape to please themselves [and others]; therefore they are beyond understanding what God designs, and they destroy themselves by the power of their own agency, for it is given to every man and woman, to do just as they please…”

The problem is Satan tricks us into believing those negative images of self are of our own making.

A social worker and the foremost researcher on shame, Brene Brown defines shame as follows:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.  Shame creates feelings of fear, blame and disconnection.”

I would add that this disconnection is from our true selves, as well as from God and from those closest to us. Shame fuels anger, creates judgments and jealousy, it is the birthplace of enmity.  Furthermore, shame, once harbored and allowed to fester, turns to pride and power seeking.

Brene Brown explains this power seeking as “power-over” behavior.  In her words, power-over is “I will define who you are and then I’ll make you believe that it is your own definition.”  Does that not sound like Satan’s plan?  I find it interesting that Satan’s tactics are so prevalent that they are quantifiable.  They are tangible, researchable, and measurable. The devil has shame down to an art, down to a science. And yet, often times we don’t see it.

How then do we break free?  “The only way to free ourselves from power-over is to reclaim our real power—the power to create and live by our own definitions.” (Brene Brown)  In short, we must use our agency and choose to act for ourselves.  Just as the scriptures teach us, we are created to “act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:26)

Our first course of action, then in this quest of learning to love ourselves, is to acknowledge, understand and accept who we truly are.

In Romans 8:16 we read: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”  We know who we are; we just need to remember.

I’d like to share with you excerpts from a devotional address Knowing Who You Are and Who You’ve Always Been by Sheri L Dew, former second counselor of the General Relief Society presidency. 

As a people, we talk and sing constantly about who we are.  Three-year olds know the words to “I Am a Child of God.”  The Proclamation on the Family declares that we each have a divine destiny.  And yet, with all our taking, do we really believe?  Do we really understand?  Have this transcendent doctrine about who we are—meaning who we have always been and, therefore, who we may become—permeated our hearts? 

Our Spirits long for us to remember the truth about who we are, because the way we see ourselves, our sense of identity, affects everything we do.  It affects the way we behave the way we respond to uncertainty, the way we see others, the way we feel about ourselves, and the way we make choices.  It affects the very way we live our lives.  So today, I invite you to ponder in a new way not just who you are but who you have always been.

We know that we were there, in the heavenly councils before the foundations of this earth were laid.  We were there when our Father presented His plan, and we saw the Savior chosen and appointed, and we sanctioned it.  We were there among the heavenly host who sang and shouted for joy (Job 38:7).  And when Satan unleashed his fury against the Father and the Son and was cast out of heaven, we were there, fighting on the side of truth.  In fact, President George Q. Cannon said that “we stood loyally by God and by Jesus, and… did not flinch.  We believed.  We followed.  And when we fought for truth in the most bitter of all confrontations, we did not flinch.

We are among the elect whom the Lord has called during his “eleventh hour” to labor in His vineyard.  President Cannon said, “God…reserved spirits for this dispensation who [would] have the courage and the determination to face the world, and all the powers of the evil one,” and who would “build up the Zion of our God, fearless of all consequences.”

Can you imagine that God, who knew us perfectly, reserved us to come now, when the stakes would be higher and the opposition more intense than ever?  When He would need women [and men] who would help raise and lead a chosen generation in the most lethal spiritual environment?  Can you imagine that He chose us because He knew we would be fearless in building Zion?

The Lord told Abraham that he was among the “noble and great ones” chosen for his earthly mission before he was born (Abraham 3:22-23).  And President Joseph F. Smith saw in vision that many-many-choice spirits reserved to come forth in this dispensation were also “among the noble and great” (D&C 138:53,55).  Said Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “A host of might men and equally glorious women comprised that group of ‘noble and great ones’…

So, what about us?  What about you and me?  Is it possible that we were among the noble and great?

 I have to tell you, I believe it is more than possible.  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “every man [and every woman] who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose… before this world was.”

Noble and great. Courageous and determined. Faithful and fearless.  That is who you are, and that is who you have always been.  Understanding that truth can change your life, because this knowledge carries a confidence that cannot be duplicated any other way.

Satan, of course, knows how spiritually potent the knowledge of our divine identity is.  He hates [men and] women of the noble birthright.  He hates us because he is almost out of time, while we are en route to everlasting glory.  He hates us because of the influence we have on [spouses] and children, family and friends, the Church and even the world.  It is no secret to him that we are the Lord’s secret weapons.

Clearly, Satan wants us to see ourselves as the world sees us, not as the Lord sees us, because the world’s mirror, like a circus mirror which can make a 5’10” woman appear two feet tall, distorts and minimizes us.  Satan tells us we’re not good enough.  Not smart enough.  Not thin enough.  Not cute enough.  [Not handsome enough.  Not rich enough.] Not clever enough. Not anything enough.  And that is a big, fat, devilish lie.  He wants us to believe that there is no status in being a mother [or a father].  That is a lie, an evil lie.  He wants us to believe that [our] influence is inherently inferior.  And that is a lie.

Yet we often buy into Satan’s superficialities.

Remember the way out of it?  By defining ourselves and refusing his definition.  Also remember that our spirits long to remember who we are and that The Spirit will “bring all things to our remembrance” (John 14:26) If we will but pray to know, fast, spend time listening, God will speak to us the truthfulness of our divinity.  As Sister Dew put it, “I can think of nothing more deserving of our energy than learning to better hear the voice of the Spirit.  Because the Holy Ghost ‘will show unto us all things” (2 Nephi 32:5), including who we are.  I know this to be true.”

And once we know who we truly are, then what?  Are we perfect? No.  Not yet. Not for a long while. There is much to learn still, many bad habits to overcome, much growing to do.  That’s where believing Christ comes in.  We must believe His promises… and that they apply to us.  In learning to love myself, I must learn that Christ’s grace is sufficient for a sinner like me.

Marvin J Ashton once said, “How rewarding it is to know that Jesus believed that man is greater than all of his sins.  Is it any wonder he was referred to as the ‘Good Shepherd’?  He loves all of his sheep whither they are strays, hungry, helpless, cold or lost.”

Consider these excerpts from Brother Brad Wilcox’s devotional address, His Grace is Sufficient:

Jesus doesn’t make up the difference.  Jesus makes all the difference.  Grace is not about fill gaps.  It is about filling us.

Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short.  Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal.  He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own requirements (see 3 Nephi 28:35).

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child.  Mom pays the piano teacher.  How many know what I’m talking about?  Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something.  What is it?  Practice!  Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher?  No.  Does the child’s practice repay Mom? No.  Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift.  It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level.  Mom’s joy is found not in being repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve.  And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange for his paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character.”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment.  Its purpose is change.” Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment.  Its purpose is change.

I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”

I say, “No, we are not earning heaven.  We are learning heaven.  We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7).  We are practicing for it.”

This is something I have come to learn and appreciate.  Yes, we are commanded to ‘be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect’ (see Matthew 5:48) and yet, God knows that it isn’t possible for us to obtain perfection here in this life.  He calls for practice, practice, practice.  He gives us a multitude of opportunities to practice becoming like our Savior and to perfect our imperfections.

Brother Wilcox goes on to say:

In [every] case there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up.  When learning to play the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting?  No.  Growth and development take time.  Learning takes time.  When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives.  When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9).  When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).

So grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted.  Rather, it is our constant energy source.  It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel.  Grace is not achieve somewhere down the road.  It is received right here and right now.  It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch (see Hebrews 12:2).

When we understand that Christ’s grace is sufficient to “redeem and to justify” (see I Stand All Amazed) we can let go of our imperfections and flaws.  As Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it: “To those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short… This feeling of inadequacy is… normal.  There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance… This is a gospel of grand expectations, but God’s grace is sufficient for each of us.”

If we can but acknowledge, understand and accept our divine identity and believe Christ, trust His grace is sufficient, we can learn that we are worthy of the love we often withhold from ourselves.  For, “are we not all beggars?  Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have…?” (Mosiah 4:19)  And once we can learn to love ourselves, it will naturally follow that we can turn to our neighbors and love them.  We can be more forgiving when we allow ourselves to be forgiven.  We can give what we will finally have.

“And now if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.” (Mosiah 4:21)

I know that God sees you.  I know that He loves you, because He sees you.  He sees the divinity inside of you.  For He created you, you are His child.  He yearns to have you with Him.  You are worthy of that yearning.  You are loveable.  God sees it.  Christ sees it and I promise you that if you seek to, you will see it too.  You will learn to love yourself and then you will be free to "love thy neighbor as thyself"(Matthew 22:39).