He Did Deliver Me from Bondage
by Colleen C. Harrison
I OF MYSELF AM [NOT] MORE THAN A MORTAL (Mosiah 2:10)-Part 1
Step Five: Honestly shared this inventory with God and with another person, thus demonstrating the sincerity of our repentance, and our willingness to give away all our sins that we might know Him. (Mosiah 26:29; Alma 22:18)
Principle Five: I must be willing to tell the whole truth to another person about my weaknesses and my failings when I am moved by the Spirit of the Lord to do so.
A friend and I were once discussing the phenomenon of “perfectionism” and how prevalent it seemed to be among the LDS communities we had lived in. She recounted to me that she had heard a General Authority, speaking at a Stake Conference, say that one of the worst things the Saints can do for each other is to appear to be too perfect-that by refusing to admit our struggles and maintaining instead the appearance of perfection, we sow seeds of discouragement. If an apostle didn’t say it, one could have and should have-for it is a truth worthy of prophetic utterance.
My friend and I continued to talk of how we had fallen prey to this lie ourselves. We shared stories of the inhuman amount of commitment and pressure we had taken upon ourselves and exercised upon our families. Tender family relationships had been damaged by our private (and sometimes hysterical) efforts to appear as perfect as possible to others, to hide the weaknesses in ourselves and our families. We thought we were failing the Church, and even the Lord Himself, if we didn’t always put our “best foot forward.”
As I prayed to understand how I had taken yet another gospel principle, in this case the invitation to be perfect extended by the Savior Himself (Matthew 5:48), and turned it into an indictment and sentence of isolation, a most amazing insight began to enlighten me. I saw the truth that when I had come into the Church many years before, I had been in full flight from the “wicked traditions” of my family of origin-their addictions, and the lies they told to cover them. With these addictions and lies, I had brought a sick sort of secrecy with me. I had spent years learning to keep up an outward appearance of “fineness,” when in private, everything was chaotic, even traumatic. Once in the Church, and feeling desperately grateful for its miraculous way of life, I desired with all my heart to live up to the lofty standards it invited me to strive for. I wanted to qualify. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be worthy. I wanted to be accepted. I didn’t want anyone to think the Gospel wasn’t working, lest they think it wasn’t true. And thus, as crazy and paradoxical as it may sound to some, my loyalty to the Gospel, combined with my background of hiding the socially unacceptable “stuff” in my family’s private life, forged a prison in which I was to live for many years-the emotional prison of looking good on the outside while suffering in a private “hell” within. While “acting as if,” I was perpetuating the condition mentioned in 2 Nephi 9:34:
Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell. (2 Nephi 9:34)
Wo also to the pretender of anything.
WE MUST OPEN A “CORRESPONDENCE.”
And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins. (Alma 24:9)
Step Five encourages us to be totally honest with someone besides God. As long as it is only to God that we do our confessing, we are still prey to the lie that if someone else, someone mortal, knew all about us, they would hate us or shun us in revulsion. Also, opening up to another person helps us to be serious about our repentance. We’re not just pretending to be clean. We’re willing to be totally honest now.
As I heard it so aptly put recently,
Some of you know what it is like to do something that makes you feel as if you just drank raw sewage. You can wash but [inside] you can’t get clean.” (Stephen E. Robinson, “A Practical Approach to the Atonement: Believing Christ,” BYU Magazine, Nov. 1990, p. 26)
Because of my fear of total honesty about my personal life, I went for years at the mercy of the adversary’s tactics to make me feel abnormal and exceptional in my hidden weaknesses and foolish mistakes.
I see today, that living in that solitary confinement of self-imposed darkness was one of the greatest deceptions I ever practiced. As the following verse from James indicates, I was cutting myself off from the supportive prayers of my fellow church members:
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. (James 5:16)
Instead of this candid, honest spirit of confession of my own humanity, I had assumed a spirit of fear-fear of the judgment of others, fear of not setting a good example as a member of the Church. Even though part of our common covenant at baptism is “to bear one another’s burdens” and to “mourn with those that mourn; yea and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9), I still hid behind a “Sunday smile,” refusing to allow others to share and bear my greatest burdens and sorrows-my own fears and feelings of inadequacy. I would accept or give a casserole, all the while hiding from myself and others my deepest need to be known and accepted, despite my weaknesses.
As I internalized the principle in Step Five, I faced one of the most terrifying truths I had ever faced. I had to leave all this pretending and pretense behind. I had to become willing to acknowledge and accept my real self, my “compound” self, my whole self-shortcomings, foolish choices, imperfect behavior, and all. And like King Benjamin, I had to be willing to be disclosing in public-to confess to others that I am only a “mortal man,.subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind” (Mosiah 2:10-11).
IT IS THE WEAKNESS WE MUST ADMIT
Many of us, when confronted with Step Five, are petrified at the idea of being 100% self-disclosing, thinking that means we must dredge up and rehearse all the sins we’ve ever committed. It’s understandable that we would think that. Most repentance processes focus on what we have done.
In pursuit of a heart-deep and mighty change, however, we in Twelve Step recovery work have come to realize that our behaviors, though they must be admitted and amended if they have harmed others (see Steps Eight and Nine), are only the acting out of beliefs and feelings we harbor in our hearts. It is these “defects of character” that we really need to own and humbly admit. When and where have we been fearful, resentful, selfish, angry, greedy, self-serving, self-righteous, self-willed, or self-pitying? How have these character defects affected those around us?
TO ADMIT WEAKNESS IS NOT A SIN
There are many “philosophies of men” that would encourage us to never speak negatively of ourselves. My question is: what if speaking “negatively” of myself is the equivalent of speaking honestly of myself? Isn’t admitting that I have allowed an occasional impulse to grow into a habit, and a habit to grow into a compulsive-addictive behavior pattern admitting the truth? Is that a negative act? Does that tear me down? Or does it open my heart and mind to the truth and to the Spirit of Truth, who can then restore me to the ability to repent and forsake my negative habits and acts? I have lived the reality of the latter. Telling the truth about my weaknesses to the Lord and to the appropriate other people has enlisted His power and theirs in overcoming my weaknesses.
To admit no need of repentance to one another, to thus promote a program of perfectionism to one another, instead of promoting Christ’s gospel of repentance, is seriously near an anti-Christ position. We, of all people, should desire never to give this impression to each other.
Let not any man publish his own righteousness, for others can see that for him; sooner let him confess his sins, and then he will be forgiven and he will bring forth more fruit. (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 194-195)
We often act as if to admit imperfection is a sin, but without that admittance we are not ready-not humble and broken-hearted enough-to allow the Savior to serve us in the very way He was sent by the Father to serve us. I humbly confess, today, that in all those years of not admitting to others my need for repentance, I was promoting the fallacy that Christ’s gospel is a program of self-sufficiency and self-perfection, when in reality and truth, it is a program of humility, repentance, personal atonement and remission of sin.
And the seed of Israel.stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. (Nehemiah 9:2)
If we truly desire to be the “seed of Israel” in our inner hearts, as well as in our outward lineage, we must be willing to do this ultimate soul-cleansing act of humility, being willing to be humble, and even humiliated if necessary, before another person as well as before God.
By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins-behold he will confess them and forsake them. (D&C 58:43; emphasis added)
The second half of this chapter will be posted next week.
He Did Deliver Me from Bondage can be found at most LDS bookstores or purchased online at www.rosehavenpublishing.com
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.