(This article is adapted from Darla’s book Trust God No Matter What! Follow this link to learn more.)
Author note: After another General Conference, I feel so much gratitude for the opportunity to be immersed in light and truth. Part of learning “line upon line” is to become better at recognizing and letting go of previous misconceptions. General Conference always helps me do that. In President Uchtdorf’s talk “Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth” in our last October conference he said, “It seems to be a trait of humanity to assume that we are right even when we are wrong.” In my experiences over the years, believing things that are not true has accounted for most of my doubts, fears, and lack of trust in God. Deception is one of the adversary’s best tools; consequently, I keep coming back to the necessity of recognizing it. Matthew 24:24 warns that in the last days, “if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” I have found it vital to seek the Spirit to help me sort truth from error. The following chapter from my Trust God book documents some of that seeking.
One morning when all my children were still young, I crept out of bed early, grateful for some time to myself with the scriptures. I remember precisely why I was looking for answers. I’d recently attended a presentation about the five wise and five foolish virgins; I was more than a little scared of being one of the foolish with no oil in my lamp.
The spirit of fear doesn’t come from God, and I wanted to get back into the faith mode; I wanted to believe I could be among the wise virgins. Somehow the idea I’d heard of gathering one drop at a time through one righteous act at a time didn’t seem entirely right. So much of my problem seemed to be connected with my never-ending to-do list. Could doing still more really fill my lamp? Daily serving a large family of young children and fulfilling numerous church callings, the more I pushed myself to do more, the more exhausted I was and the emptier my lamp felt.
I opened my scriptures and started looking up references that contained the word “virgin.” I sat there amazed when, in the early morning stillness, two scripture verses gave me a precise explanation of what it takes to be one of the wise virgins. The Lord said, “And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins. For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived . . . shall abide the day” (D&C 45:56-57, emphasis added).
I’ve since learned that only as I take the Holy Spirit as my guide can I even abide this day—let alone the day of the Second Coming. Only the Holy Ghost can keep me from being deceived, and can keep my perfectionistic nature from misinterpreting the best messages. I have learned that I am foolish to think I can fill my lamp with oil by running hither and yon “doing” without the Spirit. Even my best-intentioned service can hinder and not help if not directed by the Spirit. I am wise only as I listen to the Holy Ghost and follow the promptings. And I can avoid deception and discern truth only as I take the Spirit as my Guide. That scriptural formula from Doctrine & Covenants 45 is the basis for this chapter.
The Many Faces of Deception
I’ve been deceived about many things in my life; I’ve believed in lots of myths, false traditions, and what author John Turpin calls “false member teachings” taught in lieu of solid doctrine. [i] Nothing can mar my ability to trust God more than being deceived about fundamentals. Over and over I’ve learned that the problem is never with God’s plan or His doctrine or His character, or what He expects of me but with my incomplete or faulty understanding of it.
The Devil is the Great Deceiver
How does deception come about? How do false ideas implant themselves in my mind even though I sincerely see myself as a seeker of truth? The following scripture answers those questions:
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. . . wherefore, he [Lucifer] 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.”
(2 Nephi 2: 16-18)
Much of the emotional pain I’ve known in my life has been the result of Satan’s subtly enticing me to believe things that aren’t true; he concentrates his deceptions on the things he knows will make me most miserable. That’s his job! (see 2 Nephi 2:18) He doesn’t care how he makes me miserable, as long as he accomplishes it. If he can’t ensnare me into abusing alcohol and drugs, he is just as satisfied to make me miserable by bombarding my mind with constant “evidence” that I am not measuring up.
Deception is one of the devil’s primary tools for misery-making and for eroding our trust in God. Part of the deception is not realizing when it is happening. This could be another definition of “foolish” virgin: being blinded to the subtle false beliefs that operate subconsciously. That understanding gives me great motivation to pay attention to the guidance of the Holy Spirit that is so often connected to my internal voice. When I look for guidance on the outside, not trusting my true internal voice, I often miss what the Lord is trying to tell me and listen to some “arm of flesh” message instead.
The Challenge Has Always Existed
Satan deceived Cain. He deceived all but a handful of people in the days of Noah. He deceived Laman and Leumuel. The challenge of sorting out doctrine from myths and traditions is nothing new. When the Pharisees found fault with some of the disciples for eating with “unwashen hands,” the Savior said, “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups; and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them Full well ye reject the commandments of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:7-9). He continued, “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered; and many such like things do ye.”
My husband was raised in the Salt Lake Valley, but did not join the Church until he was nearly forty—just before I met him. “Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” was one thing that kept him on the outside for so long. He and his friends used to call members “latter-day Pharisees” because of all the many “traditions of men” they seemed to use as measuring rods by which to judge non-Mormons as “less-than.”
Dispelling Myths with Gospel Light
So—the adversary, the great deceiver, has always been at work trying to convince people to believe myths and false traditions that would cause misery and emotional pain and distract them from true gospel principles. He is the source of all the false traditions of the father referred to in Doctrine and Covenants 123:7: “urged on and upheld by the influence of that spirit which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies, upon the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion.” Taking the Holy Spirit as our guide is the only solution, the only safeguard from deception.
Now, let’s examine specific myths rampant in our current culture, and attempt to cast the light of gospel truth on each one. I’ve only reached these new conclusions as I’ve asked for the Spirit’s guidance, and I ask you to accept only what the Spirit confirms as truth to you. We can usually tell that the Spirit is showing us the truth if the idea resonates with an “Ah-ha”! kind of feeling and sheds more light on our lives.
Myths That Cause Unnecessary Pain and Erode Trust in God
I’ve learned that the roots of my self-doubt and self-persecution grow deep in the soil of false ideas and myths. Here are some examples:
- To be righteous I have to always be nice, happy, busy, in a hurry, striving.
I’ve written a lot about this myth and how I’ve benefited from seeing that it IS a myth. Suffice it to say that the truth is found in the example of the Savior. He always put the eternal well-being of his children above their comfort in the moment. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, who never hurried, whose life epitomized surrender to His Father’s will.
- Service is the panacea for all ills. Lose yourself in service and you’ll forget all about what’s bothering you. Any action but service is selfish.
The scriptures teach the true doctrine of service: King Benjamin taught, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). I have experienced the joy of that kind of service many times. For example, I vividly remember an experience years ago in a Church farm apple orchard. Late afternoon sunshine made dappled leaf shadows on our faces as we climbed the ladders and picked the fruit. Just a hint of fall was in the fresh-smelling air. The feeling of camaraderie was palpable as ward members joined together in this happy labor. I thought at the moment there was nowhere I would rather be. I had come to the orchard with a full cup. I had strength, I was emotionally intact. And I was there because I truly wanted to be.
How different from another time I remember when I went in a desperate attempt to fill my own unmet needs—to prove that I was worth something. Even though I was already worn out and my family needed me, I went out of duty because I needed the others involved to think well of me—no matter how many personal priorities I had to ignore. At other times I have turned to service looking for an excuse not to look at my problems, not to think, not to feel.
Service was never meant to keep us from facing personal conflicts or family problems. Secondary service to those outside our home can distract us from filling primary responsibilities. Service was never meant to eclipse our lives so we have no time for a personal healing journey with our Savior. Only He can heal us from personal and family issues.
There is danger in service that we use as a substitute for the Savior’s healing love. It comes with an agenda, with the unspoken message that you had better cooperate to meet my needs. In effect, I’m saying, “You better appreciate and validate me and want what I am willing to give and not something different. And if you don’t, what you will feel from me is disappointment, maybe even rejection.”
There is such a difference between this kind of codependent service and Christian service—between serving to fill our own needs and serving out of charity when willingly led by the Spirit. When our heart’s desire is aligned with what we are doing, the energy flows. Our service is honest. People pleasing is not honest, and it drains energy. Service that drains or weakens either the giver or the receiver (instead of filling and strengthening) is not the real thing. Service when we are running faster than we have strength or giving more than we have to give, has consequences that are not positive.
The Savior’s unwavering service and sacrifice was motivated solely by His love for us. If I am motivated by that same love, I can rise above my broken-ness, my sins, weaknesses, my lack of understanding, my prejudice and judgments, my impurities, my woundedness to truly bless others. I can know when my help might hinder, or when my strength might be better spent on building up my own spiritual stores. When I offer water to the thirsty I can only truly give from whatever the Savior has given me. The Savior always offers Living Water. Some of my time must be spent in seeking and receiving that Living Water, and the wholeness that it brings.
- God can never accept me until I somehow achieve perfection in this life.
I remember my relief upon hearing quotes from Elder McConkie and from the Prophet Joseph that it will be a great while after we leave this life until we actually achieve perfection—and that the Lord does not expect it here. The Book of Mormon tells us how we can become perfected in Christ, only through His grace, and by the power of God. (See Moroni 10: 32, 33.) There is no other way.
How sad that I was middle-aged before I even read the footnote of that oft-misunderstood “Be ye therefore perfect” scripture in Matthew 5:48. The footnote explains that the word “perfect” is from the Greek word that means “complete, finished, fully developed.” Am I going to be fully developed or finished anytime soon? Not a chance!
I remember hearing a talk about this scripture where the speaker pointed out the context of the whole sermon Jesus gave which he concluded by saying “Be ye therefore perfect.” Jesus was talking about loving perfectly, loving as He loves, being born of the Spirit so that natural man tendencies are overcome and charity becomes our motivating force. And Jesus was talking about accepting His perfect love for us, letting Him lead us through the process of spiritual rebirth. He certainly was not commanding us to love perfectly without His help. He wasn’t commanding us to never make mistakes—which has often been my own flawed definition of being perfect. Those new perspectives on that scripture settle gently on my soul, comforting, encouraging—so opposite an effect from the “do everything right, be perfect now” false doctrines.
Here’s another myth along the same lines:
- I have to “do all I can do” and make myself worthy before I can get the Lord’s help. I have to make myself worthy of the Atonement.
That is precisely like saying I have to make myself well before I am worthy to go to the doctor. There is also real danger here of falling into the trap of thinking that the less I need the Atonement, the better I am. This is one of the most pervasive and powerful of Satan’s deceptions; it keeps me from drinking deeply of the true gospel of repentance. Satan tempts me to wander off instead into Korihor’s “management of the creature” ideas (that my success and happiness depends on how well I manage my own life—on my planning and goal setting and self-improvement and accomplishments).
How many times has my spiritual progress been stalled because I haven’t taken my whole mixed-up self to the Lord—right now? The false idea that “all I can do” must come first puts me just where the adversary wants me because all I can do myself is of no import spiritually. I can’t make myself worthy. Only the cleansing power of the Atonement and the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost can cleanse me and make me whole. I need spiritual help to even begin the cleansing process. When the Lord said, “Come unto me,” he meant now, in whatever spiritual condition we find ourselves. He wants to walk with us every step of the way. So often it is only my prideful thinking that I should be able to do it by myself that keeps me from letting God do His work in my life.
A friend of mine said, “The Atonement is one of the least understood principles in all our ’self-help‘ society. We have been mercilessly taught for decades that we have what it takes to change our lives, that all we have to do is learn more, try harder, do more. This is the lie that keeps us from the real Changer of lives and hearts.”
- Right choices should protect me from adversity.
One day I had a conversation with a woman who was hurting badly because she felt her trials were evidence that the Lord didn’t love her. The following revelation, giving to Joseph Smith, one of the most righteous men who ever lived, reveals the truth:
If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils . . . If thou are accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee . . And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
(D&C 122: 5-8)
I’ve been inspired by the perspective of many who have suffered severe trials such as Rob, a burn victim. He said, “I would not now wish one thorn less on the path I’ve been on.” He explained how his experiences had helped him to know that the Redeemer and Heavenly Father live and love Him, and that he has begun to really enjoy the peaceable things of the Spirit. He said, “I testify that the Lord does support those who love and serve Him in their time of affliction and that He eases their burdens according to His infinite love and wisdom.”
The promise that all things shall give us experience and be for our good casts an entirely different light on any difficult experience.
A part of the myth that right choices should protect me from adversity is believing that there is intrinsic value in the absence of pain. Rex D. Pinegar, in a 1993 general conference session said, “The Lord’s peace is not without pain, but in the midst of pain.” Kahlil Gibran said, “And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; and you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your field. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” [ii]
I’ve heard that the height of joy we experience is equal to the depth of the pain. Christ descended below them all—and so experienced the greatest joy. True joy and honest sadness are opposite sides of the same coin. If I numb out and refuse to go deeper into sadness when sadness is appropriate, I also shut myself off from joy. Honest sadness and grief are free-flowing. They make me feel more alive. Depression and despair, however often involve blocking, stuffing, not feeling or expressing honest emotion.
As I accept the need to be willing to feel, to accept what is, to feel the freeing emotion of grief, I can turn away from the binding emotions of depression and despair. When I stay close to the Lord many times, He eases my burden, eases my pain, helps me sort out my accountability from the accountability of my loved ones.
Which brings me to some family-oriented myths that have caused me pain—all intertwined with misunderstandings about accountability:
- Nothing is more important than family
Because the family IS so important, this one can easily slip by as the truth. However, the family unit is composed of other people over whom we have no control, only influence. For those whose families are broken apart, in chaos, or nonexistent, this myth can be a killer. It is vital to recognize that one thing is more important than family—and this one thing does not depend on the decisions of others, only our own. It is our personal relationship with our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). This is the “good part” the Savior referred to.
After I divorced and re-married, the difficult consequences of my divorce and trying to “blend” families were settling in on me. I was ward organist, and during one fast and testimony meeting I was sitting behind the organ where I had a pretty good view of many families in the ward, but wasn’t conspicuous myself. As the meeting progressed I found myself looking at all those seemingly perfect intact families and thinking, “Why couldn’t I have had that? What is wrong with me? Am I basically flawed or what?” I found myself stuck in the thought that if the intact family is what matters most, then I had already failed, and I might as well just give up. My emotional pain at that moment was so sharp I could hardly breathe.
Shocked at my thoughts, I realized that words that caused such despair could not be coming from the Holy Ghost and could not be true! I prayed a heartfelt prayer to know the truth about my situation; the message I received then was hope and love. Tears streamed down my face as I felt the Lord’s assurance that I was still one of His priceless children, that He knew me and loved me, that all was not lost.
I began to regain my spiritual sanity as I recognized that while there are many things about my family situation I cannot control, I am in control of (or at least am in control of my choices in regarding to) the one thing more primary, more important than family—my relationship with God and Christ. They must be the primary source of my security and support, not the family. It is to God and Christ that I owe my primary allegiance. It is Christ’s name I agree to take upon me each time I take the sacrament; It is His family that is most important to belong to. No one need be lost spiritually because of situations in the family over which we have no control. We are accountable only for our own choices.
Reality tells us that many people have to step away from family—some in order to join the church, some in order to extricate themselves from seriously dysfunctional family systems that threaten their ability to live a life of discipleship. In Matthew 10: 35-37 the Savior said, “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother; and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Fortunately, not many of us must make the choice between family and the Lord; but when the choice must be made, choosing to follow the Lord is always right.
I love the scripture, “Wherefore, I beseech of you brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ” (Moroni 7:19). If I choose to “lay hold upon every good thing” and am born again as a child of Christ, I will be part of His heavenly family no matter what choices others make. I believe all who accomplish that goal will be sealed together as His.
Here’s another killer myth:
- Mothers are responsible to set the mood [or tone] in the home.
With intense feeling, Colleen Harrison, mother of twelve children, said she was, “writhing in pain over the insane pressure of believing I was to be THE one who sets the mood in the home. With 13 (THAT’S THIRTEEN!!!) other people living there with me, I’m supposed to set the mood in the home. Who am I supposed to be?” she asks. “Not even God [will trample agency to] ‘set the mood’ in others who don’t choose to be influenced. Look at our Heavenly Father and Mother and how not peaceful and perfect the ‘mood’ got in their home during the war in heaven!! Was that HER failure? Was our Mother in Heaven accountable for Lucifer’s bad moods and bad choices? Look at the Lord and the original Twelve Apostles. In spite of having the Lord right with them, walking and talking with them, they sometimes bickered and expressed negative thoughts and feelings! Another example is Sariah: was it her failure to set the proper tone or mood in her home that caused the lack of love and harmony which Laman and Lemuel’s choices brought about?”
Colleen put into solid words the frustration that so many mothers have felt with that concept. The clear truth is that we can only control our own emotional temperature. And while our example and influence in the home is great, each person chooses how they will respond. The Lord said, “And let every man choose for himself” (D&C 37:4).
In order to exert righteous influence, the mother needs to put first whatever makes her feel strengthened by the Lord’s support. That usually includes prayer, scriptures, meditation, and exercise. The Savior tells us in the Mary/Martha story that the “good part” is not focus on serving others, it’s focus on the Savior. (see Luke 10:42.) As He fills our spiritual needs and strengthens us, the resulting influence prepares us to offer the most important kinds of service.
When a mother operates in the flow of the Spirit and feels spiritually supported, she has a circle of influence, an unseen flow of light around her. She invites her children to be part of that and share the good feelings, honesty, healing, and joy. It happens “without compulsion” as Doctrine and Covenants 121 describes. They use their agency to choose to partake—or not.
If I choose to react negatively to someone else’s negativity, the flow of the Spirit is interrupted. But if I choose to focus on Christ, the flow of light and feelings of love and support from God to me can remain unaffected–separate from the choices of anyone else. I’ve seen those who choose to “stand” in this “holy place” no matter what anyone else chooses.
Each mother can create a personal Zion, where she and God dwell together—but it’s an ongoing process and a daily choice and other family members may or may not choose to dwell in that “Zion spirit” with her. There is an awesome flow of the Spirit when we make choices that can lift and bless others who choose to be blessed. But choice is always supreme.
Anytime I feel disconnected from God, I can choose to do the things that are most likely to renew that connection. I am highly motivated to do so when I realize that I can’t lift anyone else if I’m feeling bad about myself.
The next myth goes one step father and is even more dangerous:
- It is my responsibility to get my children to the celestial kingdom and if they don’t make it, I won’t either.
Can I fail at other people’s stewardships? Here’s another accountability issue. Once parents have taught their children correct principles, how can we think we are accountable for their choices in regard to those principles? How could a just God hold one person accountable for the choices of another over which he has no control and all too little influence? How many hours in a week do the average parents see their teenagers? What other influences are they being subjected to when they are not at home? Even in the most perfect setting—a home with a perfect Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, 1/3 of the children chose to turn away from the truth. Can any mortal parent provide anywhere near a perfect environment? Were Adam and Eve to blame for Cain’s choices? Did they lose their exaltation because he lost his? Were Lehi and Sariah accountable for Laman and Lemuel’s choices? Would the Lord bar the way for their eternal progression because two of their sons repeatedly chose to ignore spiritual counsel—even from angels?
I remember a day when I requested time with the bishop because my heart was breaking over some wrong choices one of my sons was making. I admit I was feeling it must somehow be my fault. After I had told the bishop the sad story he said, “Darla, you need a blessing,” and proceeded to lay his hands upon my head and give me one. I was reminded of the reality that I cannot choose for anyone but myself—it infringes on God’s sacred law of agency to even try.
I cannot repent of anyone else’s sins or be responsible for anyone else’s choices but my own. “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 (2 Nephi 2:27). It makes me crazy when I try to exert control where I have none—over the choices of my loved ones. I repeatedly fail; success is impossible because I am on Satan’s turf. He was the one who came up with the idea of making everyone choose the right. When I step over that line I waste my precious energy on a futile, unrighteous cause.
The Truth Makes Us Free
We have the formula: knowing we are human and vulnerable to deception, we need to take our thoughts to the Lord and receive the truth. Only following this process throughout our lives can we avoid Satan’s deceptions. Only as we take the Holy Spirit as our guide, shall we abide the day. In John 8:31-32, Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed: And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The truth really does make us free. Not free from trials or sorrows, but free from the bondage of the devil, free from the emotional pain that comes from believing things that are not true. Free to trust God, no matter what!
[i] See John C. Turpin, Stress Reduction for Mormons, Covenant Communications, American Fork, UT, 1991.
[ii] Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, 1923, Alfred A. Knapf, inc., New York, 52.