A Personal Interview with Artist James Christensen
I arrived at Jim’s home on a gray and overcast day. He was characteristically gracious and welcomed me in. Looking at the beautiful paintings that covered the walls I was transported back more than twenty years to the first time I saw a James Christensen painting. Greenwich Workshop has just released a new print entitled, Lawrence Pretended Not to Notice That a Bear Had Become Attached to His Coattails. I remember chuckling as I read James’ explanation:
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
“This is one of those paintings that most people can relate to. I think everyone occasionally ignores problems in hopes they will go away. We each have our own ‘bears’ we try to ignore. I remember talking with a class of third graders and I asked them what they thought Lawrence was about. One little girl said, ‘You shouldn’t take pets home without asking your mom.'”
From then until now, James Christensen has delighted all of us as we follow him on a journey of his imagination. From forests filled with fairies and fishes to islands inhabited by Shakespeare himself, Jim has transported us to worlds where the fantastical seems wonderfully commonplace. My interview would prove to be no different. By the time we finished I was waiting for a fish to come meandering through the room on its way to nowhere.
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY?
As a kid whenever I heard sirens I would run to my mom and we would jump on the bike to go “find the fire.” It was just a fun thing to do and she had a little seat for me to sit on. Well, one day all of these sirens started going off and I thought, “Man, this is a big fire!”
So I went up to the front porch and yelled to my mom. She came out and said, “That’s not a fire. Those are air raid sirens. Japan has surrendered and the war is over. ”
That was 1945. I was three years old.
WERE YOUR PARENTS ARTISTIC?
My mother was artistic, but not a fine artist. My father was not artistic at all. He was always a hard worker. He worked as a butcher for a time and owned his own meat locker, then he did glazing and installed windows. He eventually became a welder for Douglas Aircraft making bombers during the war. When I was nine our next-door neighbor, who worked at a Savings and Loan, said to my dad, “You’re a bright young guy and you’ve got a lot of ambition. Would you like to come and learn how to be an appraiser?”
My father agreed and twenty-five years later he was the President of the Savings and Loan. He was a pretty amazing guy. He took night classes and ended up teaching himself.
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BE AN ARTIST?
I’m not sure I always wanted to be an artist, but it was certainly there from the beginning. I remember two experiences in particular. The first came when I was quite young. They had a TV show called Disneyland and occasionally they would show this room full of old guys sitting around a table working on the next movie. One would say something like, “Now what if we had him eat a bar of soap and then he hiccups and then the bubbles came out his ears.”
When I saw that I said, “That’s what I want to do. I want to be one of those guys that make magic so I’m going to go to work for Disney and be an animator.”
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
While I was a senior in high school they had a class called Senior Problems and one of the assignments was to pick a job and then find someone in that line of work and interview them. My old babysitter was an inker for MGM and she said, “I know Irving Spence, one of the head animators on Tom & Jerry. He can talk to you about what it takes to be an animator.”
So I went and spent an hour with him. He said, “I don’t know what you’re envisioning, but animation it’s not what you think. First, the creative team (those guys around the table) decides what will happen. Something like, “Start him here and then have him run to there.” The animator takes that direction and then draws the first frame and the last frame. An assistant animator does a couple of other frames in the middle and then the ‘inbetweener’ does all of the other frames – 24 per second. For the first five years you are the “inbetweener.” Then the second five years you are the Assistant Animator and another five as the Head Animator. If you last that long you eventually get to be one of the guys at the table.”
That interview threw me back out into the surf and made me stop and think about what I was going to do. I knew I didn’t want to wait that long to be one of the guys at the table and so I decided then and there I was not going to be an animator at Disney.
(To see James Christensen’s latest release, click here)
The second experience I had with art as a young person came in 1956 when the church held an open house at the Los Angeles temple.
Our family went and I remember being mesmerized at the murals. I had a feeling, even then as a thirteen-year-old boy, that this was the pinnacle of art – to paint a temple.I decided that I wanted to paint a mural for the temple someday.
I wasn’t sure that that meant, but I knew I was willing to work for that.
So yeah, I guess I always assumed I would be an artist I just didn’t see back then how it would all turn out.
WHERE DID YOU GO AFTER HIGH SCHOOL?
I went to one year at Santa Monica State College before I left on my mission to Uruguay. Then I came back and went to BYU. I didn’t go straight through because I was pursuing this young lady that I wanted to marry. She was at UCLA and so I went down there in a summer program. I was there on and off over the next couple of years until we finally married and I came back up to BYU to finish my degree.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
After my undergraduate the Y offered me a really nice deal. They offered me classes to teach if I stayed on for a graduate program. I stayed and got my Masters in Art. I didn’t get a Masters in Fine Art, that was a new degree back then and a couple of my professors said that the MFA was a “sissy” degree because you didn’t have to write a theses, you just painted. Of course now an MFA is the terminal degree.
WHERE DID YOU GO AFTER COLLEGE?
I was hired to teach art at a Junior High School in California. I tried interviewing at several colleges but I had a terrible portfolio and I really wasn’t prepared to teach at a college level. I remember one college I interviewed with asked me if I had slides I could leave. “Are you kidding?” I said, “Slides are expensive. I only have one set and I have to keep them.”
Looking back I really didn’t have anyone to mentor me. There was no one to say, “This is how you put a portfolio together and this is what you have to do to go out and compete.”
I loved my teachers. They were amazing men who shaped my philosophy, my work ethic, all of that, but they were ivory tower teachers. In fact, I remember one of my teachers whom I adored – I don’t think he sold five paintings in his lifetime. He built shelves to store them in the basement they were like his children and he wouldn’t let them go.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
And so while I wanted to teach college I was not prepared. Carole was pretty clear that she wanted to live in California where it was warm and we would be close to the beach and so I applied to colleges there. Only applying in California was sort of like saying I want the bridal suite or I don’t want to stay at this hotel. Everyone wanted to teach in California and as a new guy starting out I was not going to get a college job there.
Every day I would go to the employment center at BYU to look at new job postings. This woman who saw me come in each day said, “Hey, these guys are coming from Santa Maria. It’s a Junior High School. Why don’t you go interview?”
I told her, “I don’t think so. I don’t have a teacher credential, I haven’t takes any education classes…”
Then she looked at me and said, “Well, what the hell do you have to lose? You’re not getting any younger.”
At BYU you never heard language like that and certainly not coming from a wonderful little ol’ grandma – but that was just the kick I needed and so I went and talked to Mr. Milo. After fifteen minutes he said, “We want you.”
I told him that was the nicest thing I had heard in a month, but I didn’t have a teaching credential and I was not certified. He said, “I can make that work. In California, if you have a Masters you can teach in your topic while you get certified.”
When I got home I told Carole about the offer and then said, “This is not where I wanted my life to go.”
I wanted to teach at BYU. In fact, by the time I had finished my graduate work I knew that I wanted to there. I loved the atmosphere, I loved the values, and I loved the people. We had been praying for some time about teaching at the Y, but that just wasn’t an option at that time. So here we were praying about a job in Santa Maria to teach art to Junior High students. It felt like this would take me away from what I really wanted. Little did I know what lie ahead.
The next morning we woke up and I turned to Carole and said, “I don’t get it.”
She said, “Yeah, I know. You’re going to take that job in California aren’t you?”
And so we went to California… and had a wonderful experience. In Santa Maria there was a huge ward, geographically, with about twenty percent activity. As home teachers we had almost ten families. I don’t know what it is like where you live, but when we came back to Utah they told me, “As soon as someone in the High Priests dies you’ll get a family.”
So in the space of five years I had the opportunity to teach Sunday School, work in the Young Mens Organization, Elders Quorum, and be in a Bishopric. It was those years in Santa Maria that taught me how the Church works and gave me a foundation for the rest of my life.
There was a point when I had been called as the Elders Quorum President and just I felt like I couldn’t do it. I was teaching all day, trying to paint, teaching evening classes at the college to make a little extra money, and then on top of it all do my church work.
So I decided that I needed to explain to these guys that my calling was to be an artist and I couldn’t do all the other stuff they wanted me to do… that lasted for about two hours.
I remembered a blessing I had received where I was promised if I would put the church before everything else, except family, then everything I wanted would come to pass.
So I made a decision to put the kingdom first and from that day forward the church was the priority and I gave it my best efforts.
In turn, I have watched the Lord fulfill His promises in ways I could never have imagined. He was guiding us all along the way and, while I didn’t realize it in the moment, I now see that the Lord was in it all.
WHY DID YOU STOP TEACHING JUNIOR HIGH?
I loved teaching Junior High but I could tell I was burning out.I would talk to some of the teachers that had been there for twenty years and they would say, “I teach for three reasons: June, July, and August.”
I didn’t want to get to that point. I realized that I was either going to be a mediocre Junior High teacher and a struggling artist, or I was going to be a great Junior High teacher and not an artist at all. So I quit. I was still teaching at the community college and painting like crazy. I would get the kids down, finish church stuff, and then paint from 10:00 until 1:00 in the morning. Every night. I had a few shows, but I was all over the map.
If I went to see Van Gogh I was squeezing out the paint and glopping it on. If I went to see Andrew Wyeth I was getting out the egg tempera and doing a landscape. I didn’t have any direction. I thought if I painted a little for everything then there would be something for everyone. So at the shows there were three portraits, three landscapes, three westerns, and three “poofy guys.” That didn’t work out too well.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
I had been applying at BYU every year since I graduated. I would send in slides (I was springing for the slides by then), but a Junior High teacher without an exhibition record to speak of was just not going to get much attention. So for that whole five years no one wanted take a look at me. I prayed about it all the time and asked the Lord to make it happen, but I still wasn’t getting anywhere.
I have told my students that you have to put in the time if you want the Lord to open you the doors. I read a book a little while ago called, Outliers, and in the book the author makes the assertion that it takes 10,000 hours to truly master a skill. I figured it out one day and by the time we left Santa Maria I had put in those 10,000 hours.
The Sunday School President in my ward came to me at that time and said, “My brother-in-law is the art director of the New Era magazine. Maybe you should talk to him.”
So when we came up to Utah for Thanksgiving I brought my portfolio and I went in to see Ralph Reynolds at the New Era. I asked him if he would consider sending some free lance work my way. I got a call back that night from the editor, Brian Kelly, who said, “We’re looking for a designer and you are the answer to our prayers. Would you consider coming on full-time?”
“I’m not qualified for the job. I have never had a commercial art class and I don’t know what I am supposed to do,” I told him.
“I can teach anybody the mechanics of design, but you have imagination. I look at your portfolio and you are all over the place and that is what we are looking for. I don’t want a guy that only does one thing.”
Carole and I prayed about it and got a very strong confirmation that we should take the job. So reluctantly, we left California in January and arrived in Utah in the middle of a blizzard. I ended up working as an illustrator and designer for the New Era for the next several years. It was there that I learned graphic design.
WHEN DID YOU START TEACHING AT BYU?
The third summer in Utah I decided that I was going to stop praying about teaching at BYU. I remember saying, “Lord, I have been praying for eight years to teach at BYU. You know what I want, but if that is not to be or if you have a different path for me then I am willing to accept it. I haven’t changed my mind, but I am going to leave this in your hands.”
Up to that point I had been telling God what He ought to be doing. I wasn’t angry with God or anything, I just didn’t have the big picture yet. It was that same summer when Carole went into labor with Peter. I received a call from Bob Marshall, who told me there had been a change and he was the new Chairman of the Art Department at BYU and there was an opening to teach graphic design.He asked if I wanted to come down and interview.
Carole had the baby and in those days you stayed in the hospital for three or four days, so while she was recovering I ran down to Provo to interview. I didn’t tell her about it because I didn’t want to get her hopes up, but after the interview they offered me the job.
It was only then that I started to see the big picture. If I had kept applying to BYU as a painter I could have been another ten years before I was hired. The Lord knew that I needed time to mature, that I needed a spiritual grounding that came with church service, that I needed an expertise in graphic design, and that I needed to learn to trust Him and rely on Him.He had been working the entire time to help me get what I asked for even though I couldn’t see it.
WHEN DID YOU BECOME A FANTASY ARTIST?
I had always dabbled in my sketchbooks with the fantastical, but I was not ready to be a full-time fantasy artist.
I remember painting an Indian with a rifle from a black and white photograph I got at the Church. On the picture were two rings that connected the rifle to a strap. I painted them brass because I liked how it looked against the steel of the barrel.
The picture ended up in an ad in Southwest Art.
A few days later I received a letter from a man, which read something like, “That model of rifle was a Remington 700 something or other and the rings were iron not brass. You are an embarrassment to the community. Do your homework next time.”
That was when I realized that I was not really interested in becoming and expert in western history. I just didn’t care that much about it.
Shortly after that my dear friend, Bob Marshall, came to me and said, “Why don’t you paint the stuff in your sketch books?”
“Well, nobody would like it. There is nothing out there like that.”
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
Then it hit me. Duh. Now this is an oversimplification, but I kind of decided then and there that if I painted from my imagination I could make it up any way I wanted to and I would be the only guy that could tell you if it was right or not. And so I came back to Carole and said, “We need to live on my BYU salary alone because I am never going to paint what I love if I am always working on someone else’s thing.”
I think it took awhile to get to that point because I had to overcome what I call the Protestant work ethic. That feeling that if you are doing something fun it must not be work, because work isn’t fun. Work is work.
So if I was working on something I enjoyed I felt guilty. In fact, the paintings I did between assignments I called my “guilty pleasure” paintings. It was in that period of time that I realized that it was ok to follow your bliss and that is when I became a full-time “fantasy” artist and never looked back.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO FINE ART PRINTS?
In the early 1980’s I had an agent who took my stuff around New York and I started getting jobs from Art Directors wanting my fantasy images for book covers. I was in hog heaven and busy.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
Then I got a call from Time Life Books. They were doing a new series called The Enchanted World and they wanted me to participate.
So I sent some slides back and I got a call to do the cover of the first book, Wizards and Witches. They went on to use that cover in their publicity and ads so I received tremendous exposure. I did several paintings for the series and at the time of the tenth volume it was the most popular Time Life set after the Vietnam War series.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
I received a call from Dave Usher, the president of Greenwich Workshop. Dave had been speaking with Ian Ballantine, the President of Ballantine Books, who told him about my work. I went back and met with Dave and he liked my stuff.
They did a Christmas print each year and Dave said, “I saw your cover for Wizards and Witches and if you can draw a wizard with a long white beard then why not Santa?”
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
So I decided to send something back, but I wanted to do something a little different. I thought about my favorite part of Christmas – giving my wife a gift. So I did a painting called, A Gift for Mrs. Claus, which showed Santa working on a figurine for his wife. Well, Dave loved it and printed it that year.
(To see James Christensen’s latest release, click here)
We were then faced with what to do next. We finally settled on Your Plaice of Mine? And then Jonah after that. Being with Greenwich Workshop worked because Dave was willing to take chances and he trusted me. I think it took three years before I broke even for them.Today I would never get a printer to take me and run in the red like that, but that was a different time and Dave was a different kind of guy.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
After the initial three years my stuff started to catch on. I think it took awhile because no one knew where to put me. I wasn’t contemporary and I wasn’t classical, I was something altogether new and different. You have to remember back then fantasy wasn’t its own genre.
If you went to the bookstore and looked in the fantasy section you would find Conan the Barbarian and Narnia. It was half a shelf of Frazetta covers and that was it. Today, it takes up several aisles.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW IT WAS GOING TO WORK?
I think it was the first piece I sold out – Oldest Angel. I remember getting the letter that they had just sold the last print. I was now a sell out artist… well, once.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
Then came Widow’s Mite. That piece was so hard for Dave to print. He struggled with that decision. It was your grandmother, Sharon Swindle, who talked Dave into it. I think she agreed to buy half of the edition if he would print it. She did and he did. It sold out immediately.
Like Dave, Sharon was willing to take risks and she believed in me. The best part of Sharon was her willingness to get out there and pitch it.
She got behind us. I remember she wanted to do a show with me at the store in University Mall and told her, “I can’t show my originals in the mall. How would that look? Stop by and see James Christensen at the end of the mall next to Mervyns’. And so Sharon, who already wanted to get into fine art originals, opened the gallery in Park City. She was just like that – always willing to take a chance.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
HOW HAS GETTTING OLDER CHANGED YOU?
I think you go through experiences as you age that soften and refine you. When we built our house we put an apartment in the basement for our married children to live here while they were going to school, but none of my kids ever lived in that apartment. We had just finished the house in March and in April Carole’s parents came up and lived with us. They were suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia and while there were certainly struggles. Watching them grow old gave taught me about love and the enduring and eternal nature of love. Though they could remember little else, until the very end their concern was always towards each other.
I painted Twilight as a love story on many different levels. It is rich in symbols suggesting the close of a chapter, the twilight hour of day, the final phase of the moon, the turning leaves on an autumn tree and the checkerboard road that comes to an end. Even though this couple needs help in just getting around, they seem unconcerned. Despite the limitations of old age they are supported by loved ones, surrounded by a lifetime of favorite things, and they had each other. The carnation is the symbol of love’s eternal power to seal us together.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
As you get older you also have to deal with health issues and in 2002, I was diagnosed with cancer. When someone looks at you at tells you that you have cancer it is awful. It sobers you and the idea that you are starring death in the face becomes a reality in about thirty seconds. You realize at that point all of the stuff doesn’t matter. I painted Death in the Mirror. Death is not necessarily the horrible skeleton, but rather a beautiful woman holding up the mirror to a woman who is dying. All of her clothes, jewelry, and possessions are not visible in the mirror – only who she has become.
Only her soul, if you will, because that is all that matters when you ultimately face death.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
I had a couple of surgeries and treatments and it “went away.” Then it came back and we were faced with some difficult choices. Through prayer and fasting we made some decisions that we felt were right. We had a couple of miracles in a row and some tremendous blessings and I remember clearly the day the oncologist called and said, “You were right and there is no sign of the cancer.”
That experience changed me. I started to lighten up in the studio and work a little less, and I started to think about painting only what really mattered.Then about two years ago, I had a retina detach in my right eye. In fact, it happened while we were seeing Avatar in 3D and I remember thinking, “This 3D thing stinks. It’s all cloudy and you can hardly see it.”
Once I figured out it wasn’t the 3D, we went in to the eye doctor and he immediately took me into surgery. It was Doctor Carver, interesting name for a surgeon… although so is Swindle for an art dealer. Who knew?
Anyway, he saved most of the vision in my right eye and I was just getting back and hitting my stride when got up one night and passed out and hit my head.They put me back together with a bunch of staples and sent me home. A couple of weeks later I went to the doctor and told him, “I’m going nuts. I have headaches and get nauseous, I can’t focus, what’s going on?”
“Welcome to the world of concussions,” he said.
“C’mon it’s been three weeks. I’ve seen 24. Jack Bower gets hit on the head with a bat and then ten minutes later he jumps up, shakes it off, tears out the IV and is shooting from a helicopter.”
My doctor looked at me and then said, “Jim… that’s television. In real life the effects of a concussion can last up to six months. Rest is the best thing.”
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here.So I went back home and got to work on the new book, Lehi’s dream, but it just wasn’t getting better. Carole and I would go out walking and she would say, “You’re dragging your foot and you keep veering to the left.
My wife, who was my angel, decided it was time to get an MRI. She just knew something was wrong. So she took me in and they found that I was bleeding on the brain. The doctor said, “It’s a good thing you came in. You are about two weeks away from a stroke.”
They drilled through my skull and put in two tubes to drain the blood. Because I had a bleed on each side I looked like a bug with these antennas dangling there.
DID IT SCARE YOU?
Did it scare me? No, but that is because I had received a blessing telling me I would be healed and I really believe in blessings.
So, while I was uncomfortable I wasn’t scared. Now I’m getting after it and feeling good, perhaps not as spunky as I was, but I’m back.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LATEST RELEASE?
Hold to the Rod just came out in paper. I painted the picture in 2007. The painting is of this guy who is caught in a predicament. He has become so burdened with the belongings and items he has amassed that, while he longingly eyes the Iron Rod, he cannot reach up to hold it for fear of losing some of his possessions.
(To see James C. Christensen’s latest release, click here)
Greenwich Workshop did a canvas of the image several years ago and it sold out immediately. Some of the prints have been sold on the secondary market for as high as $4,000. I was as surprised as anyone by its popularity, and so when Scott Usher, the President of Greenwich Workshop, called and asked how I felt about turning out the image in paper I was excited. Not only because I’m glad to know that people who didn’t have the chance to get the canvas will now will have the chance to own the image on paper, but also I wanted to finish the story.
The question the painting asks is simple: How prepared are you to let go of those things you think you need to keep yourself safe and secure in order to follow your beliefs? Success has many forms and faith is its own reward. At times we have to choose between the two, and it doesn’t always feel like an easy decision. I have been asked time and time again, “How does it turn out? What does he do?”
The print gave me the chance to do a little hand-painted remarque Choosing the Right that gives the rest of the story (click here to see).
YOU SAID GOD HAS GUIDED YOUR LIFE, WHAT IS HE GUIDING YOU TOWARDS NOW?
You know, that is the trick. You never get to know ahead of time. Let me give you an example. One day while I was at BYU, I got a call from Peter Johnson. He was over the video department for the Church and asked if I would come and do a project with him working on the films for the temple. Then he said, “What we are doing here is painting the murals for all of the temples.”
When he said that I just came unglued. I thought back to that day in the L.A. temple as a thirteen-year-old boy and I said to the Lord, “You remembered.”
I felt like I was one of those guys around the table I had seen on TV all those years ago who got to create magic. Then the icing on the cake came when I was asked, a decade later, to work with a great team of artists on the Nauvoo Temple murals.
We don’t usually know while we are walking through life just where the Lord is taking us. But when we look back it becomes clear. I look at my life and I see that the Lord has directed and shaped my path. He has heard the desires of my heart even sometimes my silly wants and has, in love, guided my decisions and circumstances so that those things I wanted as a child and young man have come to pass.I’ll turn seventy this year and I am no more sure of the future now than I was as a boy in California sixty years go. But I have come to trust that the Lord knows the way and as long as He will allow me walk with Him to the end I will be grateful for each day that is left.
To see more of James Christensen’s images or to read the stories behind the images in this article,
A Church Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand
Apparently there are two types of us Mormons — literal and liberal. Who knew? Well, actually I have for quite a while now — at least since I’ve been hanging out on the Internet over these past few years. I mean, I’m very familiar with the acronym TBM (true blue Mormon or true believing Mormon) referring to what the liberal Mormons consider the either apathetic, unknowing, naive, and/or less intellectual members of the LDS Church, a.k.a. literal Mormons. I say “us” because I have it on pretty good authority that I am categorized as a TBM. And I imagine most of the readers of this website are, too. After all, I am a strong advocate for traditional marriage, as are the majority of you.
You see, the legalization of gay marriage seems to be one of the divisive issues upon which you can differentiate between a liberal and literal Mormon. And yes, I’m very serious.
There are many other terms to distinguish between these so-called liberal and literal Mormons, such as “Chapel Mormons” and “Internet Mormons”. Internet Mormons tending to be more educated, prideful, rebellious, knowledgeable, oppositional to many Church policies and leaders, etc… Then we have your generic Chapel Mormons, who sit in Church on Sundays with the “all is well in Zion” approach to their membership, who know the Church is true, confident in their Exaltation — also known as “clueless” to the Internet/liberal Mormon who knows the “real truth”. Ugh.
I know I’m coming across a bit cynical right now, and I kind of mean to, but not really. What I mean, is that I’m genuinely saddened to know that there are active LDS members among us who truly feel that because of differences in thought about various doctrines, teachings, church history, etc… of Mormonism, that they must categorize themselves as different from the main fold — and then turn around and categorize those whom they determine to be the main fold.
I am going to let you in on a little secret. There was a time when I, too, felt that I didn’t fit in with the main flock. I’ve moved beyond that trial of my faith, which I will confess was very painful. My testimony of Jesus Christ and the truthfulness of the gospel have always been unwavering. Where I got thrown off guard was in the imperfections of “men”. But that’s a story for another time. I am grateful now for my new perspective and the compassion that I feel for others who may feel like misfits — for one reason or another.
But lets get past the name calling, shall we? I only bring up my own experience of having felt on the outside, because I know what it feels like — and let me just say, it’s not good. And because I know how lonely it can be to feel like a misfit amongst people who often describe their relationship with each other as “family”, well… this whole division of what kind of Mormon a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, is pretty disturbing. I just don’t believe that this is what Jesus Christ had in mind for the members of His Church.
Here’s the deal… we ARE all different. Even though there are many things about our membership in the LDS Church that unify us, and rightfully so, there are going to be things about each one of us that are different from YOU! Generally, we choose our friends and those we associate with by our commonalities. It works, and it makes us all very comfortable to be with like-minded individuals. But even within the Church we should not be surprised to find those that don’t quite see or do everything the way that we do. We should expect this, and even welcome it — and certainly not be threatened by it.
I found peace when I finally came to the conclusion that a ward, or our church congregation, is pretty much like our individual families. In the LDS Church, we don’t get to pick which ward we will attend, or who the Bishop is, etc… We have to learn to love everyone regardless of quirks, differences, weaknesses, challenges and so on. I don’t know about your own family, but mine is whack! Nonetheless, they are mine!
I can honestly say, that through all of the challenges of being married for almost 34 years, having raised my five children and having gone through drama upon drama in doing all of these things — that I wouldn’t trade one of them for anything! In fact, I couldn’t even begin to share with you my love for each and everyone of them — which has come through learning how to love each one individually and most importantly, unconditionally! Being a part of a family is the greatest blessing we are given here in this life — with hopes of a continuation. Families of all kinds are intended to stretch our capacity to love. That is the great test that each one of us has on this earth — to ultimately learn to love as He loves us.
Can you think of a better way for us to extend our opportunity to learn how to love as He loves, than through the many differences in people that we find among the body of the saints? I sure can’t! So lets all try to get along and love a little bit better. And for heaven’s sake — “literally”, can we just lose the labels!
Consider the words of Abraham Lincoln when he said, “that a house divided against itself cannot stand”. LDS members who find themselves either feeling on the outside or thinking that another member is on the outside, cannot seriously believe that they could possibly be considered ONE.
And it was Jesus Christ, Himself, that said — “if ye are not one, ye are not mine.”
Kathryn Skaggs has a very specific goal in everything and everywhere that she can be found on the Internet — which is “to DO MORE good”. She enjoys promoting and creating credible information and content for those who are seeking to learn more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When she’s not writing she can be found spending time with her husband of 33 years and enjoying their nine grandchildren. You might also know her as LDSNana on Twitter.
Kathryn Skaggs is passionate about her beliefs. You can find her at A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman where she regularly shares her thoughts about her religion, family and traditional marriage.
Down and Derby
It didn’t come in last.
It’s taken us three derbies to finally relax a bit and “just have fun with it” per our den leader’s instructions. Three years to treat it like any other pack meeting and not the heated hotbed of competition it really is.
But let’s face it: by the end of the night, there are winners and there are losers and winning is more fun, plain and simple. For many of the dads involved, the derby is a chance for vindication. Redemption. Finally, they are allowed to use power tools without supervision! What time does Home Depot close?
Fueled by something visceral and instinctive, parents pore themselves into the derby. Must…win…pinewood…derby! (Maybe I’m drawing unfair conclusions here, but if I am, then I am very, very impressed by the craftsmanship of some of these nine year olds.)
My son and husband have been known to emerge from our two-car garage caked in sawdust and dramatically backlit by a dangling 60 watt bulb, brimming with confidence. With fresh varnish fumes still stinging their eyes, they’ve declared in hushed, reverent tones that the 5oz. creation in their hands is not only the culmination of blood, sweat, tears and hours of research on the Internet, but that surely this car will go down in the books as the fastest thing on four wheels ever to grace our pack’s track. This is the one, they’ve assured us. This is our year!
Only to come in dead last at the pack meeting.
So what made us switch from graphite lubricant zealots to “just have fun with it” spectators? Was it because this year, we just didn’t have the time to be zealous? Between my husband’s traveling for work and my son’s sports, music lessons, and homework, and what with me with a new baby at home, that pinewood derby car package didn’t even get opened until the night before the big race. (Never mind the fact that I had to hide the box again and again since the younger children were convinced it was a box of cookies no matter how many times I explained to them that it contained nothing more than one block of wood and four teeny tiny little wheels that must not get lost!! Then I forgot where I hid it.)
Or perhaps it was the fact that we didn’t have the bitter taste of defeat still in our mouths, having tasted victory at the “Raingutter Rigatta” this past summer. (One word: catamaran. It smoked all the other boats. Smoked ’em! Not that we care about things like that…) The point is, we didn’t have as much to prove this year. Let’s let others have a chance to win. Easy come, easy go.
Whatever the reason, it was a great way to spend our son’s last pinewood derby–calm, cool and happy with whatever the results happened to be:
Not last! Yes!!
Read more at www.jamsandpickles.wordpress.com
Online Etiquette and the Cloak of Invisibility
Many of our online communications are far different than they would be in person. Typing away at a computer keyboard, facing a computer screen instead of an actual person, we don’t have the inhibitions and filters in place that limit the content and tone of our words.
When my husband Thom and I were getting acquainted, he was in Hawaii and I was in Florida. Because we had met on-line, we first got to know one another through e-mails. At first our e-mail content consisted of two widowed people comparing notes on the difficulties of single parenting, and some of the well-meaning but unhelpful things that people say and do.
Soon we were sharing stories about our children and experiences that were a little more personal. I looked forward to seeing his e-mail address in my in-box. It wasn’t long before we progressed to the immediacy of chatting via instant messaging. Eventually we had our first telephone conversation. Before we ever met, I already felt I had begun to fall in love with this man, and it scared me to death. What if we didn’t click in person? What if there was no chemistry? What if one or the other of us found the other hideously unattractive?
Several months later when we met in person, we realized that our in-person comfort and intimacy level was far less than our on-line comfort level. I wondered why I had told this perfect stranger about all my childhood insecurities. I would never have told a guy on a date, someone I was trying to impress, about my junior-high cat-eye glasses or my lifetime membership to Weight Watchers. And he had warned me that there was something special about his ears.
As we sat on a bench in the little park we had chosen as a meeting place, he noticed my occasional surreptitious glances at the protuberances on either side of his head.
“You’re looking at my ears.”
“Okay, you caught me.” Somewhat relieved, I continued. “I don’t see anything wrong with your ears.”
With a sly smile, he wiggled his ears for me. Normal-looking ears, check. Warped sense of humor. Check.
After a week spent together, we began to feel more comfortable. We discussed how in cyberspace it is easier to be open and unselfconscious about the things we share. We just celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary, so suffice it to say, things worked out, but the process was rather daunting.
This brings me to my next point. Sometimes when I read an article online and scroll down through the comments, I notice that people are often very vitriolic in the opinions they share, not only in their response to the article, but also in response to the comments of others. They don’t limit their commentary to the content of the article but often make biting personal attacks on the author or other commenters. Hiding behind the anonymity of a screen name, without the inhibitions of a face-to-face meeting, people seem to forget their manners. Profanity, name-calling and just general rudeness regularly seem to be the order of the day.
Even people who don’t resort to being blatantly unkind can still find themselves being more blunt than they normally would be. In person, if you hurt someone’s feelings, you can see the stricken look on their face and perhaps realize that an apology is due, but when you send your words out anonymously into cyberspace, you don’t have to see the effect they have on others.
Sometimes I’m tempted to respond to an e-mail and say, “Please, please, please stop sending me inane time-wasting e-mails that tell me that if I forward it to ten people something special will happen to me. I don’t believe in that stuff. I thought you were intelligent enough not to believe in it.” Instead I shake my head and hit the “delete” button. With computers, it is easier to say things that are better left as thoughts.
Ghost of del Refugio
There is a funny movie called “Once Upon a Scoundrel” starring Zero Mostel as Senior Carlos del Refugio, a cruel Mexican landowner, hated by all in his community. After he unfairly jails the fianc of a woman he desires, the citizens of his town plot against him. They ply him with liquor one evening until he passes out. They hold a mock funeral procession, carrying his flower- laden body through the village, they lay him to rest in a grave, each throwing a handful of dirt on him as they pass “mournfully” by.
In the morning when he awakes from his drunken stupor and finds himself laid out and six-feet-under, he spits out a mouthful of dirt and claws his way out of the grave only to discover that apparently no one can see him. By agreement, the townspeople have decided that when he reappears, they are to ignore him and treat him as if he is invisible, to see if they can convince him that he has truly died and is with them in spirit only. It doesn’t take him long to realize that this is a situation he should take full advantage of, and he embarks on all kinds of mischief, believing that no one can see him.
When we sit behind a computer screen firing off caustic remarks with only “fancynancy” or “tacoma007” to identify us, we are no different.
Assignment: Be Kind
When I was a sophomore in high school, an aspiring writer, I submitted a few poems to our high school literary magazine. My older brother, Joe, a senior, was the poetry editor, so I had my “in.” My inside contact didn’t work out quite the way I had envisioned. They accepted one haiku for publication, a measly seventeen syllables. Joe explained to me how the process worked, that they sent the submissions around the creative writing class, without the name of the contributor, and all the class members wrote comments on the back of the works, giving a score from 1 to 5 points. He kindly offered to retrieve my submissions so I could benefit from the feedback. (As an author, I still struggle at times with this process.) I suppose I should thank my brother for helping to toughen my hide early on, but gratitude was not my first response. I was devastated. Many of the comments were so unkind that I took all my writings and stuffed them in a drawer and didn’t write anything for about a year.
The kindest thing anyone wrote was “If she wasn’t so hung up on making everything rhyme, she would be just about good.” Eventually I started writing again. I even tried writing things that didn’t rhyme. Feedback can be a good thing, but if it is delivered in an unkind, offensive way, it is not likely to bring about change or growth.
A couple of years later as a senior, I took the creative writing class. My best friend, Julie, was the editor of the literary magazine and I was the poetry editor, following in the illustrious footsteps of my big brother, something I had been doing since I was old enough to toddle admiringly after him. As our class began the process of determining which submissions to include in our literary magazine, I read the caustic comments left by many in the class. Even though I knew the authors would never see them, I could not help but wonder if there wasn’t some way to combat this problem.
Julie and I talked it over and approached our teacher with a plan. We headed to the library to do our research, finding obscure poems by famous authors. We typed several of them up and added them to the submission pile. One of them was an eloquent tribute to postmen, the winged Mercuries of our streets. A few days later, our teacher sorted them out and stood before the class.
“Ray, you just told Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to take a postman and shove it where the sun don’t shine.”
She then proceeded to tell us that we were a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears high school students not world-class literary critics. She told the class to clean it up and keep our commentary kind and that our criticism was to be limited to the writing content and style and reflect the things we had learned in class. She also mandated that from then on we were to sign all our comments rather than just initial them, letting us know that our remarks on the back of the submissions would affect our grade for the class.
We were further challenged by the fact that immediately afterwords, some poor soul submitted a ton of poems, each of them worse than the last, all handwritten in the same recognizable handwriting. It was just my luck that poems that could have inspired some witty commentary and snarky comments from my poison pen came along just as I had climbed up on my high horse. I can still remember a line from one of the love poems.
“Love is a special thing that has its own ting-ling-ling.”
In addition, our teacher gave me and Julie the task of finding something out of all his submissions that we could put in our magazine. He had submitted over forty poems, and she said it would be too unkind not to accept at least one of his submissions. We picked a haiku. I hope having that haiku published inspired him to go on to greater heights, to write a sappy love poem that he used to propose to his wife and that years later they could take out and make fun of. Or something. At least he never had to get back copies of his poems with written evaluations of how bad they were, especially during the high school years when insecurities run rampant.
Or maybe he turned out to be fellow Meridian columnist, Larry Barkdull. Okay, just kidding. I can never figure out how to end a column.
Here is something to keep in mind.
When leaving comments please be kind.
It really is the nicest thing to do.
Someone’s feelings could be hurt by you.
If an awful poem gets this point across,
And the message is not lost,
The world will be a kinder place,
If you respond as if you were face to face.
Wow! It is good to know that after all these years, I’ve still got it!
Susan’s new e-book “A Beacon Light” has just been released, a collection of her Meridian columns, soon to be followed by “Running the River of Life,” a second volume of memorable columns. It is available on Nook and Kindle.
Lesson 6 “Free To Choose Liberty and Eternal Life” -2 Nephi 1-2
2 Nephi is the second book written by Nephi, son of Lehi. Besides Mormon, Nephi is the only author of the Book of Mormon who wrote more than one book.
The fact the Nephi wrote two books suggest that he had two main points to make to his reader. In 1 Nephi, Nephi’s thesis was stated in 1 Nephi 1:20: “I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” A careful search of 1 Nephi will reveal more than thirty examples supporting this theme.
In his second book, Nephi follows up his first thesis with this important assertion: we are free to choose deliverance and eternal life or to choose captivity, death and eternal destruction.Nephi chose the words of his father, Lehi, to express this theme. Said Lehi to his sons:
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;
And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom (2 Nephi 2:27-29).
“The Lord Hath Redeemed My Soul“
These oft-quoted verses were made by Lehi as part of his final admonition to his family just days before he died (see 2 Ne. 1:1 through 4:12). Sometime after he and his family had arrived in the Promised Land, Lehi knew that his mortal probation was drawing to an end. He also knew by revelation that he had successfully past the tests of mortality qualifying him to receive the full effects of the Atonement.
To his sons, Lehi said:
Hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth. But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love (2 Ne. 1:14-15; emphasis added).
Knowing that one’s soul has been redeemed from hell is scripturally referred to as having one’s “calling and election” made sure (see 2 Peter 1:10). [i] In General Conference, Elder Marion G. Romney noted:
To [receive] this one must receive a divine witness that he will inherit eternal life. [ii]
This witness or testimony comes after one has chosen to believe in God, be baptized, and live a life faithful in keeping God’s commandments. Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
Those who press forward in righteousness, living by every word of revealed truth, have power to make their calling and election sure. They receive the more sure word of prophecy and know by revelation and the authority of the priesthood that they are sealed up unto eternal life. [iii]
Further, this witness comes only after one has been thoroughly tested by the Lord. Joseph Smith taught:
After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure. [iv]
As made clear by Joseph Smith, when the doctrine of calling and election made sure is properly understood, it should motivate every member of the Church to make the choice to lose themselves in the service of the Kingdom – devoting themselves entirely to the work of the Lord. Only through such selfless devotion can this blessing be achieved. In other words, members of the Church do not try to make their calling election sure by doing things. Rather, when they become so devoted to God that they lose themselves in the building God’s kingdom, they will find their calling and election made sure. Such exercise of agency is the most important choice one can make. Only this choice brings the blessing of eternal life. Lehi made this choice and hoped all his children would follow his course.
“Awake … and be men”
But all was not well with Lehi’s family; some of his children were not following his example! In particular, Laman and Lemuel had continually demonstrated a rebellious nature against God – they were no better than the Jews of Jerusalem who had been destroyed. Lehi feared for them. Likewise, certain of Ishmael’s family were equally hard-hearted. On the other hand, other of Lehi’s children, such as Nephi, had proven themselves righteous and devoted to the Lord.
Concerned for the welfare of his rebellious sons, Lehi pled:
O that ye would awake, awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe (2 Ne. 1:13).
The “eternal gulf of misery and woe” recalls the river of filthy waters that Lehi saw in the dream. Lehi had seen in the dream that Laman and Lemuel “would not come unto [the tree] and partake of the fruit” (1 Ne. 8:18; cf with 1 Ne. 12:18).
“Awake! and arise from the dust,” Lehi urged, “My heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time, for I have feared, lest for the hardness of your hearts the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of his wrath upon you, that ye be cut off and destroyed forever” (2 Ne.
By their own choices, Laman and Lemuel were choosing an eternal destiny of wretchedness and misery. Lehi knew what destiny their choices would bring. But Laman and Lemuel continually refused to see it! Frantically, Lehi urged, “Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust” (2 Ne. 1:23). Obscurity means “lacking light; dim; dark; murky; not easily perceived.” [v]
By their own actions, Laman and Lemuel had become spiritually dead. They were even dead as to the light of Christ the source of man’s conscience! There actions had so darkened their mind that they could not see the eternal light of Christ – even when it beamed directly in their face!
Earlier, Nephi had observed this condition in Laman and Lemuel. Note these chilling words uttered by an indignant Nephi to his rebellious brothers:
Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.
And ye also know that by the power of his almighty word he can cause the earth that it shall pass away; yea, and ye know that by his word he can cause the rough places to be made smooth, and smooth places shall be broken up.
O, then, why is it, that ye can be so hard in your hearts? Behold, my soul is rent with anguish because of you, and my heart is pained; I fear lest ye shall be cast off forever (1 Ne. 17:45-47; emphasis added).
Worried that they would be “cast off forever,” Lehi warned his sons that their destiny of misery was their own choice – but a destiny they could change by choosing a different path. “O my sons,” Lehi exhorted, “that these things might not come upon you, but that ye might be a choice and a favored people of the Lord.”
The key to such a destiny, Lehi taught, is obedience to the will of God:
But behold, his will be done; for his ways are righteousness forever. And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence (2 Ne. 2:19-20).
The earnestness of Lehi for his sons can be seen in his next statement:
And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity; that ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body (2 Ne. 1:21-22; emphasis added).
“Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men“!! What did Lehi mean? “A man is but a beast as he lives from day to day, eating and drinking, breathing and sleeping. It is only when he raises himself, and concerns himself with the immortal spirit within him, that he becomes in [very] truth a man.” [vi]
To the end that Laman and Lemuel would “come forth out of obscurity” and “be men,” Lehi urged: “Rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise; for were it not for him, we must have perished with hunger in the wilderness; nevertheless, ye sought to take away his life; yea, and he hath suffered much sorrow because of you.”
Speaking further to the whole family, Lehi continued: “And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael, behold, if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish” (2 Ne. 1:28; emphasis added).
The Difference a Choice Makes!
Nephi had passed through what Laman and Lemuel had experienced – leaving his home and land of inheritance, the family wealth, the city he grew up in, the hardship of ancient travel – yet, he came out ennobled rather than bitter. How? The answer lies within a choice Nephi made.
After Lehi and his family left Jerusalem – and all their wealth, possessions, and friends – and camped along the river Laman in the valley of Lemuel, Laman and Lemuel began to murmur against their father and the command of the Lord to leave Jerusalem (1 Ne. 2:11-12). The choice of Laman and Lemuel to murmur was born of their hard hearts. Yet, Nephi also had a hard heart! He likewise was bothered by the same situation.
But rather than choosing to murmur, he approached the Lord in prayer, pleading for understanding. Nephi records: And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me.” Further, Nephi said, the Lord “did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers” (1 Ne. 2:16; emphasis added).
The outcome of the choice made by Laman and Lemuel to murmur and the choice Nephi made to come unto God through prayer is remarkable.
Laman and Lemuel became bitter. Their minds became darkened. Their lives were full of misery, hate, and unhappiness – never satisfied and always ill-content. On the other hand, Nephi found great joy and happiness. He continued to call upon God who blessed his efforts with great enlightenment through glorious visions and revelations. Nephi found satisfaction in obedience and love in his heart.
The difference a choice makes!
The Necessity of Opposites
Lehi taught his sons that both experiencing and choosing between opposites is a major reason why we are here in mortality. This he did by speaking directly to Jacob, yet in the hearing of the other brothers (see 2 Ne. 2).
Why Jacob? Apparently, Jacob was troubled by the number of trials he had experienced in his short life. He had been born during the wilderness journey from the valley of Lemuel to the land of Bountiful. His life had been full of trial and hardship made worse by the rebelliousness of Laman and Lemuel.
To this very young boy, the old and well-experienced Lehi observed: “And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my first?born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.” Then Lehi declaring the thesis of his thoughts, Lehi said: “Nevertheless, Jacob, my first?born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (2 Ne. 2:1-2; emphasis added).
How are afflictions consecrated for our gain? The power of the Atonement. In verses 3-10 of 2 Nephi, Lehi discussed various aspects of the Atonement. Then at the end of verse 10, he interrupted his discussion of the Atonement explaining that the Christ’s atonement was necessary because of the Creation and the Fall.
The Atonement was made necessary because of the Fall of Adam. The Fall of Adam initiated the purpose of the Creation. The Creation was necessary to provide a place where man could experience and choose between opposites. The Atonement, therefore, necessarily followed Creation and the Fall to free man from the consequences of opposites experienced in this world.
Lehi explained this to Jacob using the following reasoning. “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things,” Lehi revealed (2 Ne. 2:11; emphasis added). The small word “an” in this verse is important. This verse is often mis-quoted and mis-used.
Commenting on difficult experiences, I have often heard members of the Church say, “there must be opposition in all things,” suggesting that everything has is its resistance, or hinderment, or opponent. Though that is often true, that is not what Lehi meant. Rather, he observed, “there is an opposition in all things.” In this context, Lehi was using the root meaning of the word of opposition which is opposite or antithesis. In other words, Lehi said, “everything has its opposite.”
Continuing his thought, Lehi cited a series of opposites:
If not so, my first?born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.” Then he said: “Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility (2 Ne. 2:11; emphasis added).
What did he mean by compound in one? Opposites are essential in order to have genuine and accurate knowledge. [vii] When we look at others, we can discern them for they are a combination of opposites – light and dark. Without the combination of light and dark, a person would be a “compound in one” with the background for he could not be distinguished from the background. That is, if all there were was darkness, we could not differentiate a person from the background for both are dark.
It is the opposites of light and dark that bring discerning knowledge. The Lord said it this way, “if [men] never should have bitter they could not know the sweet” (D&C 29:39). If all we ever had was sweet, sweetness would have no meaning to us. It is bitter that gives sweetness definition to our senses. Therefore, only through experiencing opposites can we comprehend.
Lehi taught Jacob the purpose of the creation of this earth was to provide a place where opposites not only exist but are experienced. Indeed, he explained that if opposites did not exist in this world, the earth would “have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation” (2 Nephi 2:12). With no opposites there could be “no joy” for there would be “no misery” (2 Nephi 2:23).
The earth was created, therefore, that man “might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25) and joy can only come by experiencing misery. Brigham Young taught this very principle when he observed: “Facts are made apparent to the human mind by their opposites. We find ourselves surrounded in this mortality by an almost endless combination of opposites, through which we must pass to gain experience and information to fit us for an eternal progression.” [viii]
The Fall of Adam
In the eternal plan, God provided mortality as the condition by which man could experience a multitude of opposites. These opposites are experienced through the instrumentality of the mortal body. Brigham Young explained that God has sent His children into this existence “to be clothed with flesh, and to be subject, with their tabernacles, to the ills that afflict fallen humanity. When they have proved themselves faithful in all things, and worthy before Him, they can then have the privilege of returning again to his presence, with their bodies, to dwell in the abodes of the blessed. If man could have been made perfect, in his double capacity of body and spirit, without passing through the ordeals of mortality, there would have been no necessity of our coming into this state of trial and suffering. Could the Lord have glorified his children in spirit, without a body like his own, he no doubt would have done so.” [ix]
The Fall of Adam was the means of initiating the mortal experience. Speaking to all his sons, Lehi began teaching them of the Fall. “And now, my sons,” Lehi stated, “I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon” (2 Ne.
2:14). God’s children were placed in this world not to be acted upon but to act!
But man can only act if he has agency. Agency exists when four conditions are met: (1) there must be choices; (2) the choices must be opposite; (3) there must be a knowledge of the consequences of both choices; and (4) both choices must be enticing. [x] Knowing this, Lehi said, “to bring about [God’s] eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter” (2 Ne. 2:15).
Thus, Adam and Eve had a choices and those choices were opposite. We know from Moses 3:16-17 that Adam was told the consequences of eating the fruit of both trees. Further, Lehi told his sons, “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” How would Adam and Eve be enticed to do eat the forbidden fruit?
Lehi explained that Satan enticed Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit:
And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God. And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil (2 Ne. 2:16-18).
As a result of the Fall, opposites became a part of man’s experience in the mortal world through the knowledge of good and evil; a phrase that simply refers to opposites. In old English, evil did not always refer to sin, but often simply meant something considered undesirable or disagreeable. In this sense, sin as well as sickness or any other affliction or hardship would have been considered evil. Such evils were opposite to good or things considered agreeable.
Positive Consequences of the Fall
Many are bothered by what appears to be conflicting commandments given by God to Adam and Eve. Curiously enough, the conflict of opposing commandments is never an issue of concern in the scriptures. It is just a matter-of-fact. This is the case because the Fall is the mechanism by which mortality was introduced in such a way that God is not held responsible for the consequences of Adam’s actions yet Adam was free to exercise his agency.
Man came to multiply and fill the earth and at the same time to experience opposites. And Adam chose to do both things. As a result, any negative consequences of the Fall are not the responsibility of God. Therefore God is free to implement the plan of redemption. An understanding of both the positive and negative consequences of the Fall is essential to this.
Lehi described the positive results of eating the fruit as twofold. First, the Fall made it possible for Adam and Eve to have children. As a result, God’s children could continue their progression by coming to mortality (2 Nephi 2:20-25). Second, because of the mortal experience, Adam, Eve, and their posterity could “be as God, knowing good and evil” (2 Nephi 2:18).
As a result of the positive consequences, Lehi explained: “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:24-25). The positive results are confirmed in the Book of Moses where Eve declared, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil” (Moses 5:11).
Acquiring a knowledge of good and evil is vital for God’s children. Without it they could not become as he is. Elder James E. Talmage wrote:
A knowledge of good and evil is essential to the advancement that God has made possible for His children to achieve; and this knowledge can be best gained by actual experience, with the contrasts of good and its opposite plainly discernible. [xi]
Mortality is necessary to the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil.
Elder Talmage said, A knowledge of good and evil is essential to progress, and the school of experience in mortality has been provided for the acquirement of such knowledge.” [xii]
President George Q. Cannon declared:
It is for this purpose that we are here. God has given unto us this probation for the express purpose of obtaining a knowledge of good and evil – of understanding evil and being able to overcome the evil – and by overcoming it receive the exaltation and glory that He has in store for us. [xiii]
In light of this, at the beginning of World War I, the First Presidency gave the following instruction to the Church:
God, doubtless, could avert war, prevent crime, destroy poverty, chase away darkness, overcome error, and make all things bright, beautiful and joyful. But this would involve the destruction of a vital and fundamental attribute in man – the right of agency.
It is for the benefit of His sons and daughters that they become acquainted with evil as well as good, with darkness as well as light, with error as well as truth, and with the results of the infraction of eternal laws. Therefore he has permitted the evils which have been brought about by the acts of His creatures, but will control their ultimate results for His own glory and the progress and exaltation of His sons and daughters, when they have learned obedience by the things they suffer.
The contrasts experienced in this world of mingled sorrow and joy are educational in their nature, and will be the means of raising humanity to a full appreciation of all that is right and true and good. [xiv]
The Negative Consequences of the Fall
The Curse of Adam. The negative side of all this is that the acquisition of knowledge of good and evil brings dire consequences both in mortality and in eternity. The Book of Mormon reveals that the Fall of Adam brought upon Adam, Eve, and “all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Alma 42:7,9; see also 2 Nephi 2:21; 9:6; Mosiah 16:3; Alma 12:22; 22:12; Helaman 14:16; Mormon 9:12). Together these two deaths comprise what the Book of Mormon calls the “first death” (2 Nephi 9:15; Alma 11:45; Helaman 14:16). Mormon also called it “the curse of Adam” (Moroni 8:8).
Why? In this fallen state, man to became “carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature” (Alma 42:10; see also D&C 20:20; Moses 5:13; 6:49). Abinadi explained that the condition man inherited by the Fall is the very means by which he experiences the knowledge of good and evil. He taught that Satan “did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil” (Mosiah 16:3).
Elder Talmage wrote:
From Father Adam we have inherited all the ills to which flesh is heir; but such are necessarily incident to a knowledge of good and evil, by the proper use of which knowledge man may become even as the Gods. [xv]
Because of this condition, man’s relationship with God changed. The brother of Jared described this relationship while pleading to the Lord for a blessing:
We know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures [i.e., physical bodies] are evil continually (Ether 3:2).
Further, King Benjamin stated that “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been since the fall of Adam” (Mosiah 3:19).
Beyond the mortal consequences, the Book of Mormon teaches that the Fall of Adam brought upon mankind eternal consequences. Jacob declared:
For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself (2 Nephi 9:8-9).
Elder Orson Pratt discussed why:
By one man came death – the death of the body. What becomes of the spirit when the body dies? Will it be perfectly happy? Would old father Adam’s spirit have gone back into the presence of God, and dwelt there eternally, enjoying all the felicities and glories of heaven, after his body had died? No; for the penalty of that transgression was not limited to the body alone.
He then explained:
When he sinned, it was with both the body and the spirit that he sinned: it was not only the body that eat of the fruit, but the spirit gave the will to eat; the spirit sinned therefore as well as the body; they were agreed in partaking of that fruit. Was not the spirit to suffer then as well as the body? Yes. How long? To all ages of eternity, without any end; while the body was to return back to its mother earth, and there slumber to all eternity.
He then taught that without the atonement of Christ, the effect of the fall would have brought “an eternal dissolution of the body and spirit–the one to lie mingling with its mother earth, to all ages of eternity, and the other to be subject, throughout all future duration, to the power that deceived him, and led them astray; to be completely miserable.” [xvi]
The Individual Fall
Beyond the eternal effects of the “curse of Adam,” each man’s personal transgression of the laws of God also results in eternal consequences. Alma taught his son that each law of God has “a punishment is affixed.” When a law is broken justice demands that the penalty must be paid, for “justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:22).
The penalty of a broken law is as “eternal as the life of the soul should be” (Alma 42:16). Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated:
According to eternal law, the consequences that follow from the justice of God are severe and permanent. When a commandment is broken, a commensurate penalty is imposed. This happens automatically. [xvii]
Lehi explained to his sons that since all men violate the laws of God through their own sinful acts, “by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever” (2 Nephi 2:5). “And thus we see,” said Alma, “that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence” (Alma 42:14).
Thus, through the Fall of Adam and man’s individual fall, mankind experiences both the blessing of bringing children into the world as well as the knowledge gained from contrasting opposites. Since He is not responsible for the negative consequences of both Adam’s transgression and each man’s individual fall, God is free to bring about the Atonement which is designed to free man from the eternal consequences of the Fall.
Lehi taught Jacob, “Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
(2 Ne. 2:6). The Atonement for the Fall of Adam redeems man from spiritual death in that they are brought back into the presence of God where they are to be judged. This Atonement is unconditional.
Though man is not responsible for Adam’s fall, they will be accountable for their own actions while in mortality. [xviii] Orson Pratt taught that the “universal redemption from the effects of original sin, has nothing to do with redemption from our personal sins; for the original sin of Adam, and the personal sins of his children, are two different things.” [xix]
Amulek declared that God’s judgment of mankind will be at a personal level (see Alma 11:44). The Atonement for the Fall of Adam will not save each man from his personal sins. An individual atonement is required! Thus a modern revelation states that the mission of Christ was to redeem “mankind from the fall, and from individual sins” (D&C 138:19).
The Atonement for individual sins satisfies the demands of justice and establishes a “plan of mercy” that makes possible the salvation of each man from their individual fallen condition. Alma said: “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15).
The Book of Mormon emphasizes the necessity of repentance to appease the demands of justice. Because Christ suffered the eternal consequences of our sins, repentance will release man from the grips of justice. Alma explained: “according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men … for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice” (Alma 42:13).
Thus, Lehi taught Jacob, “redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah, behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Nephi 2:6-7).
Lehi explained that as part of the plan of salvation, it became necessary that “the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened” (2 Nephi 2:21; see also Alma 12:24; 42:4,10,13). That is to say, the eternal consequences of sin are temporarily postponed giving mankind an opportunity to repent of their sins.
In such a way, those who have gained a knowledge of good and evil by experiencing opposites, can become free from the eternal consequences of their choices.
This is affirmed by the Lord himself in latter-day revelation:
But, behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son.
And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the day of his probation-that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe;
and they that believe not unto eternal damnation; for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not; for they love darkness rather than light, and their deeds are evil, and they receive their wages of whom they list to obey” (D&C 29:42-44).
Free To Choose
But if men do not repent, the postponed consequences will return at the day of judgment. The probationary period is made possible only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Because of the Atonement, men are free to choose to obey God and receive the consequences of obedience, or they can choose to become forever subject to the negative consequences of their fallen condition.
The Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon [that is, by the eternal consequences while in mortality], save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given (2 Ne. 2:26; emphasis added).
He then taught that “men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man” (2 Ne. 2:27). That is to say, because they are enticed to do evil by the flesh, or mortal body, and enticed to do good by the light of Christ, which is given to all mankind, man has agency and is therefore free to choose between good and evil.
Lehi urged his sons to “choose eternal life, according to the will of [God’s] Holy Spirit [i.e., light of Christ]; and not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom” (2 Ne. 2:28-29).
Indeed, all mankind are given the same choice. We are free to act and not be acted upon. We are free to choose to follow the light of Christ and the greater influence of the Gift of the Holy Ghost and experience that happiness and peace that such choices bring. Or we can follow the enticings of the flesh and succumb to a life of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
In making these choices, we must always remember, as Elder Boyd K. Packer reminded us, that “In mortality men are free to choose, and each choice begets a consequence.” [xx] Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin further warned:
You are free to choose (see 2 Ne. 2:27) and are permitted to act (see 2 Ne. 10:23; Hel. 14:30), but you are not free to choose the consequences. With absolute certainty, choices of good and right lead to happiness and peace, while choices of sin and evil eventually lead to unhappiness, sorrow, and misery. [xxi]
Finally, as President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “You are free to choose – but you are not free to alter the results of those choices.
“ [xxii] It is my prayer that we make choices that will result in eternal happiness and avoid choices that will bring about an eternal unhappiness.
[i] . For proper, authoritative treatments of this doctrine see Marion G. Romney, “The Light of Christ,” Ensign, May 1977, pp. 43-45; Marion G. Romeny, “Calling and Election Made Sure,” Conference Report, October 1965, pp.20-23; Roy W. Doxey, “Accepted of the Lord: The Doctrine of Making Your Calling and Election Sure,” Ensign, July 1976, pp. 50-53.
[ii] . Conference Report, October 1965, p.20.
[iii] . Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith. 3 vols. (Edited by Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954?1956), 2:46.
[iv] . Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.150; emphasis added.
[v] . Webster’s New World Dictionary (1972).
[vi] . A. Conan Doyle, “The White Company,” in Works of A. Conan Doyle, New York: Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, 1988, pp. 58-59; emphasis added.
[vii] . See Kay P. Edwards, “Opposition,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4 Vols., ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 3:1031-1032.
[viii] . Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 11:42.
[ix] . Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 11:42?43.
[x] . For a discussion of these four attributes of agency, see Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Second Edition (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), p.26; Delbert L. Stapley, “Using Our Free Agency,” Ensign, May 1975, p. 21; L. Lionel Kendrick, “Our Moral Agency,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, p. 32.
[xi] . James E. Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith. 12th ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 54 ; emphasis added.
[xii] . James E. Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism (Boston: The Gorham Press, 1919), 46.
[xiii] . George Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 26:190-191.
[xiv] . Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1833-1951). 6 vols., ed. James R. Clark (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1975), 4:325-326.
[xv] . Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 70.
[xvi] . Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 1:284.
[xvii] . Dallin H. Oaks, “Sins, Crimes, and Atonement,” With Full Purpose of Heart (Deseret Book, 2002), pp. 113-131.
[xviii] . This is the meaning of the second Articles of Faith: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” See Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:49.
[xix] . Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 1:329.
[xx] . Boyd K. Packer, “Atonement, Agency, Accountability,” Ensign, May 1988, p. 71.
[xxi] . Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Running Your Marathon,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 75.
[xxii] . Ezra Taft Benson, “Think on Christ,” Ensign, Mar. 1989, pp. 2, 4.
New Bishops’ Central Storehouse Ready to Serve the Needy
A new state-of-the-art storage facility is helping The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) more efficiently serve the needs of people who are struggling to feed their families.
Latter-day Saints, through the organization of the Church, try to follow Christ’s teachings by providing food, shelter and comfort where and when they’re needed.A new state-of-the-art storage facility is helping The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) more efficiently serve the needs of people who are struggling to feed their families.
“The Church does not do this for financial gain. We do not have cash registers … in our storehouses, nor do we accept money for the goods we distribute,” said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. “We do not do it to be seen and to receive their praise. We do this because it is what the Savior commanded us to do.”
While the Church welfare program is to help those in need on a temporary basis, “the greater goal is to help people become self-reliant and provide for themselves,” added Don Johnson, director of product and distribution for Church Welfare Services.
To maintain and enhance its ability to help those in need, the Church recently completed a 570,391 square foot Bishops’ Central Storehouse at 5405 West 300 South in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Food and supplies stored at the Utah Bishops’ Central Storehouse are distributed to central storehouses in five other regions of the United States and Canada. From these storehouses, food and materials are sent to more than 200 smaller bishops’ storehouses in communities of those regions for distribution.
Ecclesiastical leaders (bishops) of congregations in those communities are able to call in food and supply orders for their members who they determine are in need. Those members, in turn, have an opportunity to give volunteer service to pay for the goods received so that they are, in essence, given a hand up, not a hand out.
The new storehouse is a fully equipped facility and stores 143 different food and sundry items. Among the food items are corn, beans, turkey and beef chunks, cheese, milk, cereals, butter, ice cream, peanut butter and a variety of produce, both fresh and canned. Also stocked are hand soap, shampoo, soap for washing dishes, toilet paper and other hygiene items.
Supplies are stacked on specially designed steel shelves using a system of rotating product to maintain freshness. The storehouse has ample room to keep thousands of items frozen in a large sub-degree freezer accessible to forklifts, and maintains dairy and produce in a chilly 38-degree refrigerator. A refrigerated staging dock also makes loading perishable items for shipment more efficient.
The facility houses a fleet of Deseret Transportation semi-trucks and trailers with 44 loading docks to move products and necessities to wherever they are needed. The trucks and their drivers travel approximately 3.7 million miles each year with a safety record second to none.
One of the unique features of the new storehouse is the fact that it was built under seismic guidelines to withstand a 7.0 earthquake and to stay in operation during an earthquake of that magnitude.
The main function of the new central storehouse is to administer to the poor and needy through the Church’s welfare system. On occasion, emergency equipment such as electrical generators, shovels, chain saws, picks, food and supplies are also dispatched to areas of the world where people have suffered the effects of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
Johnson said the employees and missionaries who keep the storehouse clean, stocked and ready to deliver food and supplies don’t see their roles as just workers. “They enjoy and have a passion for what they do because of their love to serve others.
Stories We Tell Ourselves: Creating Our Own Fictions
Co-authored with Barbara Keil
Life is a roller coaster of experiences pelting us with joys, pains, feelings, discoveries and surprises. How do we humans attempt to wrestle this muddle of experiences into something that makes sense? How do we give meaning to the events of our lives?
We create stories. We take all those experiences and we form them into narratives-our own interpretation of what has happened to us. Some stories are overflowing with joy-perhaps the story of how we fell in love with our spouses or the evolution of treasured family traditions. Some stories are packed with pain-perhaps how we were hurt by someone we trusted or a time when someone cheated us.
Our Perspective Determines the Story
Once we create our stories, we file them in our memories. They become the versions of events that we retell to ourselves and others until we consider them to be accurate and truthful representations of our life experiences. We forget that we have based our stories on our own interpretation of our experiences. And we fail to recognize that our interpretations determine both the content and the morals of our stories.
A friend of mine told a story about her father. He endured many challenges in his life. His mother abandoned him when he was two years old. As a result, he was raised in an orphanage. During his adult years he had many health problems. He lost his eyesight for a number of years until an operation was able to restore sight in one eye. He was diagnosed with cancer. His kidneys shut down and he had to undergo dialysis treatments each week. During one hospital stay, he contracted a rare virus that caused a persistent lung infection. Many nights he had to sleep upright in a chair in order to breathe.
And then he was diagnosed with another cancer in the one eye with sight. As he and his family drove home after learning he might again go blind, his discouraged daughter commented, “You just can’t seem to catch a break, can you?”
The next morning her father called her and said to her, “I wanted to let you know, I disagree with your assessment. I married a woman who has always been my best friend and have a family I love. I had a career that gave me opportunities I never imagined I would have. I have great friends. And I have enjoyed the journey every step of the way. I believe I am and always have been a very lucky man.”
While he could have written his life story as one that included a number of bad breaks and continuing challenges, his choice to focus upon the joys of his life caused him to genuinely perceive his life as a rewarding journey that surpassed his expectations. We can choose to see ourselves as victims of life, or we can chose a different theme for our life story such as the growth we have achieved in overcoming challenges, or the tender mercies we have been granted.
It isn’t our circumstances that determine the story we tell ourselves about our life-it’s our perspective.
Our Biases Distort the Story
There is another problem with the stories we create. Once we have written our stories, we typically consider them to be accurate and truthful history. But we forget that we have limited and biased perspectives as the authors of those stories. We place ourselves and our own feelings, needs and intentions at the center of the stories we create. We are woefully unaware of the actual feelings, needs and intentions of the other people who populate our stories-instead we insert our own perceptions and interpretations about them and their motives. Our biases create distortions of the people and circumstances in our stories. We frequently misunderstand and misrepresent the people and events in our lives-and we do it without being aware of it.
I once knew a couple that married in the temple, delighted that their family would be bound together for eternity. It seemed to everyone that they were deeply in love. She told everyone how happy she was.
Years later she announced to her husband that she no longer wanted to be married to him. She told him that as she looked back, she concluded she was never really happy. There hadn’t been any incidences of infidelity or abuse on his part-just the usual irritations and chafing that occurs in marriages. But she decided that she had never been satisfied in the relationship from the beginning. Now that she was “seeing more clearly” she felt she had no other option than leaving the marriage.
Perhaps she was a far better actress than any of us knew and the good relationship that we witnessed for many years wasn’t real. But I strongly suspect it is more likely that she has re-written her life story to excuse her desire to leave the marriage. Many times we will re-write and edit our memories to justify current feelings or behavior. We begin the process of deleting positive memories of family members, friends or fellow ward members from our mind and begin crafting evidence of their offenses, disappointments, and failures. Maybe we even turn them into villains-while we have no way of knowing their real thoughts or intentions, we decide based on our own bias that their offenses were deliberately hurtful or malicious.
What if that woman had edited her life story differently? What if she had gone back and remembered how they fell in love, the joyful times of their marriage and times when they had overcome challenges together? What if she had considered the story of their relationship with themes of compassion, forgiveness and commitment? Perhaps she might have remembered many reasons to stay. Perhaps their marriage might have been saved and even thrived.
Sometimes we get stuck in our stories. We re-live unhappy experiences over and over again. As we re-live those unhappy stories, we re-create and re-experience all the emotions of hurt and anger. We might become even more wounded or outraged. And in that renewed hurt and anger, we will be tempted to refine our stories to further enhance the reasons for our negative judgments. We know in some part of our souls that we must surrender our harsh assessments of the other people in our story. But we refuse. We become addicted to our version of events and our resentments. We justify our harsh stories rather than repent of our hard-heartedness.
God’s Remedy for Faulty Life Stories
All of this may seem like a gloomy assessment of our ability to objectively interpret life.
I see it differently. I think God has designed life with lofty purpose and perfect wisdom.He knew that we would make mistakes and be subjected to trials, thus becoming vulnerable to evaluating ourselves and our lives through the lens of negativity. He knew that each of us, wrapped up in our own perceptions, would be hopelessly disconnected from everyone else and tempted towards judging others. Unless we are willing to use the tools He has provided. Consider how God’s mandates helps remedy our misperceptions.
1. He commands that we have faith in Him: “Believe in God; . . . believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (Mosiah 4:9). After all, He is the One who uniquely has a “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 98:24). We must always remember how limited our knowledge and understanding are.
When we have faith in Him, we revise any life stories we have created that display a lack of faith in Him and His purposes. We do not tell ourselves that we are a victim of life’s circumstances and cannot be happy. We do not create stories that cause us to believe we cannot change for the better. We refuse to tell ourselves a story in which we have made too many mistakes and are beyond redemption.
And when we truly appreciate our own human limitations and His heavenly wisdom, we stop believing we have privileged access to objectivity about others. We gain humility, which is the great precondition that opens us to compassion towards others in our stories.
2. God repeatedly commands all men everywhere to repent. We must repent in order to grow towards God. When we respond to this commandment, we give up our addiction to stories that continue to fill us with feelings of hopelessness, irritation, hurt and judgment. We stop using our life stories to accuse God or His children.
“There is something in us, at least in too many of us, that particularly fails to forgive and forget earlier mistakes in life-either mistakes we ourselves have made or the mistakes of others. That is not good. It is not Christian. It stands in terrible opposition to the grandeur and majesty of the Atonement of Christ. To be tied to earlier mistakes-our own or other people’s-is the worst kind of wallowing in the past from which we are called to cease and desist.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Remember Lot’s Wife”, Brigham Young University Devotional, Jan. 13, 2009)
When we respond to the commandment to repent, we give up our addiction to stories that continue to fill us with feelings of hopelessness towards our own situation or judgment towards others. We stop looking backwards and press forward to the path God invites us towards (see Phillipians 3:13-14).
3. God commands that we love each other. He readily acknowledges that our fellow travelers are fallen and flawed. They do things that are undeserving of our love. But we, too, are fallen and flawed. We do not deserve His love based on our actions, yet He grants it unstintingly. If we are to transcend the mortal trap of self-centered and self-serving life stories, we must not use our stories to justify judging and condemning others. We must offer to reconsider our stories with a theme of compassion and charity. We graciously forgive as we are forgiven.
Intriguingly, these recommendations are strikingly parallel to the recommendations of the most respected psychotherapy today, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT invites people to realize that their perceptions are filled with errors and misjudgments and to open themselves to compassionate views of others.
Evaluating Our Own Stories
We may wonder what makes a good story. Is it that our story is truer (more objective and accurate) than other stories? Nope. Only He whose name is Truth has the big picture.
Is it because we convince the people around us that we are accurate authors? Is it public opinion and consensus that decides truth? Nope. We are all deceived. We may rally others in groupthink, but that does not make us right.
I think God has offered a measuring stick by which to assess our developing narratives. In D&C 50:23-24, He is essentially saying: Any story that doesn’t edify-that doesn’t lift your spirits causing you to praise God and love your fellowman-is not of me. Ultimately the life stories you create should enlarge your faith, generate greater efforts to be godly, and enrich your love. Any story that does not do that-any story that complains of life’s circumstances, surrenders to hopelessness, or accuses fellow travelers-is a mortal tragedy rather than a heavenly narrative.
God seems less worried about our accuracy than our charity. Or, said differently, God is far more interested in His kind of accuracy than the human kind of distortion. He wants us to adopt His view which is far more gracious than the usual earthly view. Research has consistently shown that healthy relationships are built on one specific type of bias: on the deliberate choice to privilege positive, loving, and kind perceptions of each other. God’s command to have charity seems to suggest the same thing, namely that we see each through the lens of “gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:41-42). This view of people will “greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:42). In other words, we should create narratives that don’t claim we are better than we are or that other people are worse than they are. We see everything with the light of God’s graciousness. We are lifted by hope, warmed by compassion, and renewed by His goodness.
The stories we choose to write about our lives either hold us hostage and make us miserable or move us forward and provide us meaning and purpose.
So think about the story of your life that you are creating. Is it filled with inexpressible awe for a Father who loves us perfectly? Is it punctuated with humble pleading for a renewed spirit and mighty change of heart? Is it packed with appreciation for both the good people and struggling people who have enriched your life? Does it display gratitude for both sought-joys and unexpected challenges that have created personal growth and deeper dependence upon God?
If so, then it’s a great story-one that will stand the test of time and endure into eternity–one that will become a part of His grand story of redemption.
You can find many of Brother Goddard’s past articles by going to www.DrWally.org
If you are interested in additional ideas for personal well-being, strong marriages, or effective parenting, you are invited to sign up for a free resource we have created at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Navigating Life’s Journey is a weekly e-mail series that offers helpful ideas based on research so you can trust they will work in real life. To sign up for any or all of these resources, go to Navigating Life’s Journey – Family Life.
The Battle in Our Brains
Several months ago I attended the Mormon Women Project Salon Event, at which I heard Tina Peterson speak. The title for her breakout session was, “Becoming a Deliberate Student of the Gospel.” Tina has a degree in Near Eastern Studies and has studied the Old and New Testament in their original languages from multiple sources including the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“That’s where you need to be,” I said to myself. So I chose her class. And by the end of the evening, it was Tina’s words that stayed with me most. They hung in my mind for weeks. She so revolutionized my study and thinking that, with her permission, I share what she taught here.
Tina first talked about the mechanics of effective scripture study. They were the standard “should-dos” until she got to #4.
1. Pray before you begin.
2. Read, cross-reference, immerse yourself in the texts.
3. Keep a notepad and pencil near you. Write down every impression that comes to you, without dismissing thoughts that may seem random or out of context.
4. Over time, look back at what you have written and search for patterns. Trends and themes will emerge. You will see what the Holy Ghost is trying to teach you.
Wow, I thought. I jot down notes, scribble in the margins, underline in various colors, but looking for patterns, themes, and messages over time? That hadn’t occurred to me.
Then Tina got serious, because we were short on time, and she said, “Now I’m going to tell you what I feel strongly you need to hear.” We were listening.
“The battle today, between Babylon and Zion, is happening between the synapses of our brains.”
(I’m no neurologist, but I’ve had enough physiology to know that synapses are how our brains process messages. They are crucial to the biological computation of perception and thought.)
Tina explained that in this information age when messages, images, and information are coming at us almost faster than we can receive them, our brains are creating new neural pathways to accommodate the input. The first time we see an image on a screen (we’re not talking about pornography here, although it does apply) – like a blog page, a news feed, texts, or Facebook – our brain creates a new neural pathway to process that image. It is the same with new sounds or any stimuli to the senses, but let’s use the visual image for this discussion.
Input always travels the path of least resistance. So the second time we see the new image, it will travel the same route. And before long, the new neural pathway has been stimulated enough to “desire” of itself continued activation. A habit is born.
After that, when the brain is not currently occupied, we long for that image. That is why we constantly check our phones or email. That is why, when we have a free moment, we click onto a favorite blog, check Facebook, and tweets, or any other source of input we frequent. Without realizing it, we have begun to crave these places of input, hunger for them, to the point where they can surreptitiously dominate our time.
Tina said the only way to counterbalance this is with ancient and modern scripture. We must expose our brains repeatedly to the image or sound of God’s words. Printed, glowing on the page, read aloud, or discussed with friends. That is where God’s Spirit lives. It is where His mind and will can rise out of the texts we read or the conversations we share, and filter into our lives, allowing revelation to move through us.
Satan knows the physiology of the brain. He knows if he can encourage overstimulation through an overload of mundane or technical information, he can increase the odds that we will not seek more spiritual sources for input, thus making scripture study tedious.
Recent studies have also shown that when our minds are over-stimulated, we begin to make decisions without considering the consequences. Much of the time, these quick decisions are not the best ones for us. An abundance of “information” prompts reactionary responses and elevates feelings of anxiety. All of this distracts us from the peace the Lord offers through His Word, and deprives us of much needed pondering time – time when our minds can reinforce more spiritual pathways.
Then Tina said this,
“Your time with the Word of the Lord is your personal Urim and Thummim. It is here that God will speak to you. Frequent the scriptures often enough that your brain craves that kind of input – that your day feels incomplete without it.”
Have you been there? That place of truly feasting on God’s word? I have. And I’m sure you have too. I love how Jeremiah describes it.
“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jeremia
I have also been in that place where I don’t crave the scriptures, because my reading is sporadic, even neglectful. And in retrospect, I can see I have filled my precious time with things that matter much less.
After hearing Tina talk, I realized I can’t afford to neglect my time in the scriptures.I can’t risk being a voice to my children, my friends, or the Relief Society sisters I teach, if I am not partaking regularly of God’s word. Time with the word of the Lord is its own system of checks and balances for me. It’s how the Lord rights me, keeps me on course.
Naturally, the sources of input mentioned here are not bad things. But Tina’s words have helped me make a conscious effort to open my scriptures each day before computer time, reading any other book, or another leisurely activity.
I have started recording impressions. And it is astounding the level of happy confidence I have felt. I am still working on the habit, but I’m getting better at hearing as I go. “The words of the Lord are pure words, said the Psalmist, and I am discovering that within them we can see things “as they really are and as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).
Catherine KeddingtonArveseth is a full-time mother of five, including two sets of twins. She contributes articles to Power of Moms, is part of Segullah’s prose editorial staff, and blogs at www.wildnprecious.com.
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Should Women Work Outside the Home?
If any topic on the planet is going to open a can of Mormon worms, today’s topic may be it. But first, Justin has a quick question regarding what (if anything) General Authorities have said about marrying outside the Church. Here’s what he has to say:
What GA(s) have said that marrying outside the Church to people of equal standards is okay?
Having felt like I was twice shown very distinctly that I was to marry someone, and that she would eventually join the Church and be sealed in the temple, I’m torn by the “what if” surrounding us being sealed eventually. In other words, she has her agency, and until now, is an incredibly Christ-like person and enjoys her own religion, but resists joining the Church at this time.
So Madame Kathy, do you know if church leaders who have said that good nonmembers would be good candidates to marriage?
Happy to oblige you, Justin. I of myself know nothing, but Meridian readers are the Google of Mormondom. Call them “Moogle.”
Okay, people, this is a very narrow question. We’ve already discussed what we think about marrying (or dating) outside the Church. Justin wants to know what, if anything, General Authorities of the Church have said about the subject. If you have any attributable quotes, please send them to me at [email protected]“>[email protected]. Put GA in the subject line so I can send your information along to a hopeful Justin.
Now for today’s can o’ worms.
I’d love to see a topic on women (especially younger mothers) working outside the home. Even though 90% of the women in our ward work (and several, myself included, own businesses) there seems to be a very “holier than thou” attitude from the few “stay at home” sisters. Although I know the Church encourages mothers to stay at home, but this is often impossible, especially in with younger couples.
A few years ago we actually had a sister speak on Father’s Day (of all days!) and berate the brethren who “forced” their wives to “abandon their children” to work. Several men were so disgusted that they actually got up and walked out of the meeting. My theory is that each family’s situation is different, and no one should be judged on what they feel they must do. I feel there are very few women who go to work each day for the sheer pleasure of an extra paycheck!
Okay, Mary, I am hiding under a rock (or I will be, once this question appears on Monday). The rest of you – what do you think? (I’m pretty sure I know what you think about somebody being so tacky as to berate fathers on a Father’s Day talk for “forcing” their wives to “abandon their children” by working, so let’s stick to the original question.) Do you believe it’s impossible for women to stay home these days, do you believe it’s always possible for a woman to stay home, or do you believe that God is smart enough to give different advice to different women? The floor is yours.
Remember, people, do not use the form on this page to reply to me, because your letters will more than likely get lost. Send an email to [email protected]“>[email protected], with an appropriate subject line to let me know your letter isn’t spam. Mary is looking forward to your answers.
Until next time — Kathy
“The phrase working mother’ is redundant.”
Whether you want to create your own personal history or would like Kathy Kidd to do it for you, Kathy’s blog has what you’re looking for. Go to www.planetkathy.com and click on “Writing a Personal History” to get more information.