The following is an excerpt from the book, Falling to Heaven: The Surprising Path to Happiness, by James L. Ferrell. We will share one chapter or excerpt, with permission, each week.
To see the previous chapter, click here.
If the doctrine of up-ness is a barrier both to happiness and to exaltation, as I believe it is, it is important to root any allegiance we might have to it from our hearts. Beginning in this chapter and continuing through chapter 18, I would like to explore with you some of the signs of up-ness that can caress our egos and bind our souls. Most of these symptoms are things I recognize because I have suffered with them myself to one degree or another. I’d like to begin with a symptom of up-ness that sets us up for many of the othersa shallow kind of gospel focus that blinds us
to our own sins and makes it more likely that we will stumble over the sins of others.
With our first child, I remember how I went overboard trying to get him to progress and learn quickly: I hung a basketball hoop in his crib, taped an image of a piano keyboard to the ceiling, and generally overwhelmed him with attention. I suppose I was kind of a father on steroids. During this phase, when our son was six or so, I remember driving with him while quizzing him on, of all things, multiplication! I know, pathetic.
Anyway, I asked him what three times four equaled.
“Eleven,” he answered.
“No, Son,” I moaned. “Come on, we’ve worked on this. It’s not eleven. Multiplying is just a quick way to add. So three times four’ is just like adding three fours together: four plus four is eight, plus another four equals twelve. Got it? Okay,” I pressed, “let’s try that again. What’s three times four?” I looked at his reflection in the rearview mirror as we drove. “Come on, what is it?”
My little boy puffed out his chest and lifted his chin. “Eleven!” he shot back.
I certainly got what I deserved, but the story taught me a deeper point. Although I was right on the math, I was wrong about something elsewhat you might think of as a deeper kind of maththe spiritual arithmetic, if you will, that governs our relationships. And when we are wrong in this deeper way, it tends to ruin everything else.
When Jesus appeared to the Nephites, he expressed concern about a dispute they were having over the manner of baptism. “There shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been,” he said, “neither shall there be disputations among you concerning points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me.” Think about it: He chastised all parties to the argument even though, presumably, some probably had been right. Jesus was teaching that righteousness and discipleship are not simply a function of getting the gospel details right. He was teaching them, and us, that there is a deeper gospel, and that if we want to be his disciples, we must live the gospel in this deeper way.
He makes a similar point in section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants. There he declares that if we preach the truth without his Spirit, our teaching is not of God. Think about it: This implies that if we don’t have the Spirit, what we are saying is not of God even if what we are saying is true!
Once again, there appears to be a deeper truth than what we say, or teach, or do, and we are not the Lord’s disciples unless we are striving to live truthfully at this deeper level.
What is this deeper level? As we discussed earlier, the Lord requires that we live the gospel at the level where holiness is forgedat the level of our hearts. “For behold,” Mormon taught, “if [a man] offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. . . . If a man . . . giveth a gift . . . grudgingly, . . . it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.”
This may seem to be an impossible standard, as our hearts so often are not pure. But when we look at Mormon’s words, I think the standard is not as impossible as it may seem. Mormon says that if we give a gift grudgingly it is counted the same as if we hadn’t given it at all. Don’t our own lives tell us that this is so? When we drive our kids somewhere, for example, but do so angrily, are the kids likely to respond gratefully? If I do something my spouse wants me to do but do it resentfully, isn’t my spouse likely to respond to me in about the same fashion she would have had I refused to do it at all?
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<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ />1pt 0cm; line-height: 150%; text-align: left;”>Mormon is making a statement here not merely about how our actions are received by the Lord but also about how they are received by our fellow beings. It turns out that children, spouses, siblings, neighbors, coworkers, parents, and the other people in our lives all respond to us based on what they feel from us. This is often why our otherwise helpful outward actions are sometimes dismissed by others, or unappreciated, or ignored. If they sense that our outward kindness is really just masking an inward resentment, they do not “count our actions for righteousness” but rather count them as if we hadn’t done them at all.
So it seems it is with God, although for an entirely different reason. The Lord wishes to bless us and change us. He wants us to pray to him, for example, so that he can speak with us, but what can he do if we are just going through the motions? However, Mormon’s words don’t imply a standard of perfection at the level of our hearts but rather a standard of meekness and humility.
Having real intent doesn’t mean that I am perfect. It may mean that I really want to do what is right and to do it in the right spirit, even if I am presently struggling to do so. That would certainly be a soul that the Lord could bless. And while my intentions in giving a gift may not be perfect, I may offer a gift wishing that I could love more than I do and hoping that the Lord could help me. That would be a long way from doing something grudgingly. In fact, it would be the kind of humble offering that the Lord could make beautiful.
“When thou doest thine alms,” the Lord taught, “do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. . . . But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” I don’t know about you, but I find that last bit remarkable. What does it mean that one hand doesn’t even know what the other is doing?
I believe it means that when our hearts are yielded humbly to God, and our former self-concern is replaced with concern for others and for the Lord, we feel neither the need nor the desire to claim righteousnesswhether to persuade our own minds or the minds of others on that subject. Because of this, we have no need to take note of, or relish in, any “good” that we do. Our left hands don’t even notice what our right hands are doing. They don’t need to. They aren’t trying to prove anything.
The brilliant British writer G. K. Chesterton echoed this insight: “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men [and women] with common curiosity and pleasure. . . . You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, and in a street full of splendid strangers.”
Part of the tininess of life when we are burdened by up-ness is due to the fact that up-ness is always focused on the shallow aspects of the gospel rather than upon the deep. At the level of my outward performances, I may be able to consider myself better than my neighbor, but a focus on the deeper gospelon the state of my heartnever allows this. In the moment I believe myself purer than others, I become least pure. When I think myself more humble than others, my humility is gone. To see myself as the one who serves most is to reveal myself as one who has not been serving at all.
“[The outward laws] ought ye to [do],” Jesus reassured the Pharisees. But then he moved the earth from beneath their self-assured feet when he added that in addition they must “not leave the [inward laws] undone.” This is a passage that I had quite forgotten one day when I ran out of gas on a freeway.